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Family Vacation Ideas

Top Washington D.C. attractions

Although some of the monuments and attractions in the Washington D.C. area are subject to individual tastes, there are several "must see" attractions you won't want to miss! Admission is free unless otherwise noted.

The White House

White House [Click to enlarge]This tour is tough to book no matter how far in advance you try. There are a limited number of tours available, and there seems to be no clear-cut system toward booking them. You'll need to visit your Congressman's Web site (or call) to request tickets. Then keep your fingers crossed. We requested 7 tickets for our party four months in advance. Despite that, we were only able to obtain four tickets.

White House Tours

The tour is pretty cool, although not as cool as it used to be. Years ago, you had a tour guide to walk you into each room, and explain the details and history of the room. Today's tours are self guided with signs providing a bit of details about the rooms. Although there is a Secret Service agent in each room to answer any questions, it's just not the same as it used to be. Also, there are no cameras allowed anywhere in the facility.

Capitol Building

Capitol Building, Washington DC [Click to enlarge]Although you can just go to the Capitol Building and wait in a long line for a tour, you're better off obtaining tickets in advance through your Congressman (as detailed above). You'll get a walking tour of many parts of the complex including the old Supreme Court Chambers, the Rotunda, and even the House & Senate chambers.

We even got to sit up in the balcony while the House of Representatives was in session! This tour can easily last a couple of hours (depending on your guide) and will be filled with lots of interesting stories.

Lincoln Memorial

No Washington D.C. vacation is complete without a short walk to the end of the reflecting pool and the Lincoln Memorial. Climb the steps to the top to see the giant statue of 'Honest Abe'. See some famous Lincoln quotes- including the Gettysburg Address etched into the stone. Take a walk around the perimeter to see each state engraved into the facade, and don't miss the great views from the top of the steps.

Smithsonian Museums

Smithsonian Air & Space MuseumIn case you didn't know, The Smithsonian is actual several museums- not just one! You'll want to visit the Air & Space Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the American History Museum are three museums you won't want to miss.

You can see the Apollo Lunar Module, the Hope Diamond, and Dorothy's ruby slippers during your visits. There are 19 Smithsonian Museums & galleries in all, so you'll need to pick and choose among the rest depending on your interests.

Bureau of Engraving & Printing

Bureau of Engraving & PrintingThis is a very interesting tour of where our nation's currency is made. You'll get to see real money being made and learn all about how it's made. The tour lasts about an hour but you'll need to get there early in the morning to get tickets. You can only get tickets for the same day, and the line begins forming around 6:00 a.m. Don't worry, we didn't get there until 7:30 and were still able to get tickets for the 11:00 a.m. tour.

Washington Monument

Washington MonumentThis is a really neat tour offering great views of Washington D.C. and the surrounding areas. There are maps by each of the windows with the major attractions labeled to give you an idea of what you're seeing. In the 'old days' you used to have to take the steps to the top. Now, the steps are closed and it's a nice cool elevator ride to the top. You'll learn some interesting facts about the monument on the way up and down.

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National CemetaryArlington National Cemetery contains the remains of over 300,000 American veterans dating back to the American Revolution. Although visiting the cemetery is free, there is a charge for the bus tours (which are highly recommended). You'll see the Tomb of the Unknowns, The Eternal Flame (JFK's grave), visit Robert E. Lee's house and more. Arlington National Cemetery is very moving and highly recommended tour.

Vietnam Wall

Vietnam Wall, Vietnam MemorialAlthough nobody would ever call this a 'fun attraction', no visit to Washington D.C. is complete without a trip to the Vietnam Memorial. This short solemn walk will move you whether or not you knew anyone who died in the conflict. Nearly 60,000 names are inscribed in the black granite which is actually two walls (East/West) each about 250 feet long.

National Archives

Declaration of Independence, Washington D.C.This is a very interesting tour where you can see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta, and many other historically significant documents. The main tour consists of a large round room in the main main chamber of the National Archives called the "Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom". You can walk around at will for as long as you want.

National Archives Building, Washington D.C.The documents are arranged in a circle around the outside of the room. A new group is let in every 10-15 minutes so it can get crowded if many people stay longer than that. Usually, it's not too bad. You can also see a worthwhile presentation in the theater of the archive building. This is a short video explaining the history of the National Archives, its purpose, and details surrounding the many documents stored there.

More Washington D.C. vacation information:

Washington D.C. vacation overview

Washington D.C. vacation planning

Other things to do in Washington D.C.





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