Find family-fun activities in our nation's capital.
A short road trip away from the New York City metro area, Washington, DC, always serves as a great destination for a family looking to get in touch with our country's history. Whether you want to explore some of the best museums in the nation, experience the grand monuments that commemorate the finest leaders of our past, or simply discover the metropolis that is the heart of our government, Washington, DC, is the place to go.
There is no doubt about it - the entire family will love a chance to get a glimpse of the White House. Of course, you can see 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from afar, but to experience the inside, a family must plan ahead. Tours of the President's home are conducted Tuesdays through Saturdays, 7:30am to 12:00pm. However, after a post-September 11, 2001, boost in security, the White House requires that groups submit a request six months in advance through their Congressional Representative. If you are lucky enough to get clearance, marvel at the beautiful assortment of furniture and art that has been collected by first families for more than 200 years. And of course, marvel at being inside the White House! For more information on White House tours, visit www.whitehouse.gov/about/tours-and-events.
At the National Archives families can get up close and personal with the documents that serve as the backbone of the U.S. government. On display in the Rotunda of the Exhibition Hall are the "Charters of Freedom:" The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and The Bill of Rights. For any child that has spent time studying early American history, this experience can be exciting.
If you need a way to get your kids interested in any of the 17 Smithsonian Museums that are sprinkled throughout Washington, DC, just reference the comical Ben Stiller movie, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. A favorite of those interested in planes or space travel is the National Air and Space Museum. From the 1903 Wright Brothers' flyer to the Apollo 11 command module, there are tons of fun and interactive exhibits to explore. After more than 15 years of planning, the National Museum of the American Indian was constructed on the last open space on the National Mall in 2004. Our Peoples: Giving Voice to Our Histories is a fascinating exploration of the struggles of Native Americans presented in their own words, with displays of objects and artifacts documenting their lives. And although not exactly a museum, the National Zoo is also a member of the Smithsonian Institute. Established 1889, the zoo is home to more than 2,000 animals of 400 different species, many of whom are rare or endangered, including the giant panda.
And of course, the highlight of any trip to Washington, DC, is a visit to the beautiful monuments that honor the heroes of our nation. There are hundreds of memorials of all shapes and sizes scattered throughout the city, but the two not to be missed are centrally located on the Mall. The Washington Monument rises 555 feet above ground and a quick elevator ride to the observation deck at the top offers a magnificent view of the entire city. To the west, beyond the Reflecting Pool and the National World War II Memorial, is the stunning neoclassical structure that surrounds a larger-than-life statue of one of our nation's most beloved presidents, Abraham Lincoln. The grandeur of the Lincoln Memorial seldom fails to render visitors silent for a few moments. Inside the monument, read the Gettysburg Address, which is inscribed in the limestone structure, and look closely at Lincoln's head-occasionally birds make their nests upon it!
If the family takes an interest in Lincoln, head to Ford's Theatre, the site where John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. Seated in the newly renovated theater, visitors hear a Park Ranger "talk" about the events of that evening. In the basement of the theater, there is a small museum that contains a variety of historic artifacts and interactive exhibits illustrating Lincoln's presidency and the Civil War. Note the theater is an active playhouse and thus visitors should check the Web site as visiting hours vary if there is a performance scheduled. Also, if your family is interested in theater, you should consider purchasing tickets to a show. Across the street is the Petersen House where Lincoln eventually died hours after being shot.
Although technically located outside of DC, Arlington National Cemetery is a must-see for all visitors to our nation's capital, as it is the resting place for more than 300,000 American citizens, including veterans from every war (Revolutionary through Iraq and Afghanistan) buried on the grounds. Overlooking the Potomac River, the most popular stops include the Kennedy graves, the Tomb of the Unknowns where visitors can watch the Changing of the Guard, and Robert E. Lee's former residence, the Arlington House. The grounds are spread over 200 acres so families should take a tour to limit walking.
If time permits and the family is still hungry for more DC attractions, the kids will enjoy seeing where money comes from at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. At the Postal Museum they can climb aboard an original Pony Express mail wagon. The International Spy Museum and the Newseum might be fun for families interested in espionage and newspapers, respectively.
For more general information, contact the Washington DC Convention and Tourism Corporation at 800-422-8644 or www.washington.org. Please keep in mind that visitors are subject to a baggage search at many of these attractions, so try to carry as little as possible. And for the family that doesn't want to drive, consider taking Bolt Bus. The company offers free WiFi, extra legroom, and fares as low as $1 from New York City to Washington, DC.