Looking for a fun, surprisingly low-cost family vacation? Washington, DC could be a great option. Full of museums, galleries, and monuments, our nation’s capital has a ton of things for people of all ages to see and do. The best part? Most of the 19 Smithsonian museums, as well as the National Zoo, are free! Here are five free things to do with your family in Washington, DC:
National Mall and Memorial Parks: There are nearly 20 memorials and monuments on the National Mall. You can climb the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial, see the 555-foot Washington Monument (the interior is currently closed following a 2011 earthquake), explore the four outdoor rooms of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and lots more. See a full list of memorials at www.nps.gov/nama/planyourvisit/index.htm. Because you’ll be walking long distances throughout the Mall, be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring a stroller for younger kids.
Older kids can even become a National Mall Junior Park Ranger. Go to Junior Park Ranger to download and print out a Junior Ranger Booklet. It has activities for kids to do and questions for them to answer as they explore the Mall. Once they complete the booklet, they can bring it to the Ranger Station near the Washington Monument (or mail it in) to get their Junior Ranger badge.
National Zoo: The Smithsonian National Zoological Park is home to giant pandas, Asian elephants, great apes, and lots of other amazing animals. At the zoo’s interactive Kids’ Farm, designed for children ages 3 to 8, kids can pet and groom cows, goats, alpacas, and other farm animals. They can also explore the Pizza Garden to learn how various pizza ingredients are grown. Go to nationalzoo.si.edu to plan your visit.
National Air and Space Museum: Got a little airplane or rocket ship lover? The National Air and Space Museum has hundreds of aircraft, spacecraft, missiles, and rockets on display. See Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the Apollo 11 command module, and many other cool flight-related artifacts. Learn more at airandspace.si.edu.
National Museum of American History: This museum is packed with historical artifacts the whole family will love. Moms and daughters will enjoy seeing the collection of First Ladies’ inaugural gowns. Dads and sons will love the cars and trains from different eras. You can see the original Star-Spangled Banner, TV and movie items like Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and a Kermit the Frog puppet, and an exhibit about the Girl Scouts from 1912 through today. There are also lots of interactive activities throughout the museum for kids who like to be hands-on. Plan your visit at americanhistory.si.edu.
Arlington National Cemetery: For older kids who appreciate a bit of history, this cemetery is a can’t-miss. One of the nation’s oldest national cemeteries, it is the final resting place for thousands of veterans, including Civil War vets. You can visit the grave sites of Presidents John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft, world-champion boxer Joe Louis, and many other famous people. Don’t miss the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns, which takes place every half hour from April 1 to September 30 and every hour from October 1 to March 31. Learn more about the cemetery at www.arlingtoncemetery.mil.