Visiting Washington allows families to learn about U.S. history in a fun, interactive way. The historic sights are awe-inspiring, the monuments thought-provoking, and many museums are free and filled with hands-on activities.
A visit to the nation's capital is a perfect family vacation. There's plenty to do day-to-day with lots of room to run and play outdoors. Best of all, most of the museums, tours and exhibits in Washington are free. Add a trip to the Virginia coast and you can even take in a theme park:
A guided tour inside the house at Mount Vernon allows visitors a peek into where history was made. We enjoyed exploring the grounds with views of the Potomac, Washington's tomb, the slave quarters, and the children's interactive area where our daughter dressed in period clothes and played games children of that era enjoyed playing.
For a tour of the Capitol building, visitors obtain free tickets on a first-come, first-served basis, at the Capitol Guide Service kiosk located along the sidewalk southwest of the Capitol (near the intersection of First Street SW and Independence Avenue). Ticket distribution begins at 9 a.m. daily.
Most families won't be able to tour the
Kids will enjoy the free tour at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Obtain a ticket at
Free exhibits and museums
The Smithsonian Institution is the world's largest museum and research complex with 18 museums and galleries. The Smithsonian Castle is a good place to start. It's easy to spot on the Mall and offers a visitors center with free maps and brochures.
Nearby, the National Air and Space Museum is the most visited museum in the world. Climb inside the cockpit of a DC-7, view
The National Museum of American History is closed for renovations through summer 2008. If you go after that, expect to see Dorothy's ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, the original Kermit the Frog puppet, gowns worn by first ladies throughout history, and the original Star-Spangled Banner that flew over
The National Zoological Park is under major renovation, however the Giant Panda Exhibit is celebrating the birth of a new baby and worth a visit. In the Great Ape House, our 10-year-old and I were nose-to-nose (a glass window separated us) with Tina, an orangutan. It was a thrill to stare into the eyes of this beautiful animal. This is an amazing zoo, and it's always free.
The Lincoln Memorial is spectacular at night. Built to resemble a Greek temple, it has 36 Doric columns, one for each state at the time of Lincoln's demise. Lincoln looks out on the 555-foot
Near the Lincoln Memorial is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial or "The Wall." Its simple black polished granite panels list names of more than 58,000 Americans who died in the
Make sure you leave enough time to explore all of the monuments and memorials. Go on a day when you're ready to walk -- the distance from monument to monument is greater than it looks.
Along the George Washington Parkway
The Cascading Great Falls of the Potomac plunges more than 75 feet through a gorge of large boulders and jagged rocks. We enjoyed watching kayakers paddle upstream like salmon spawning in turbulent white water. For more information, www.nps.gov.
We chose the St. Gregory Hotel (2033 M St. NW, Washington, D.C., 800-829-5034, www.capitalhotelswdc.com) because of its location near
The best time to visit our nation's capital is spring or late summer.
It's a historical journey that the entire family will remember.