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Washington D.C. for Families:
Five Great Days Discovering our Nation's Capitol

Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery

Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Vietnam Veterans Memorial

National WWII Memorial
National WWII Memorial

Mt. Vernon
Mt. Vernon

Mount Vernon

"I can truly say I had rather be at home at Mount Vernon with a friend or two about me, than to be attended at the seat of government by the officers of State and the representatives of every power of Europe." George Washington

Although George Washington was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, he resided at Mount Vernon at various times as a child, teenager, and adult. After his service in the Revolutionary War, Washington returned to Mount Vernon to focus on his farming operation. Following a unanimous election to serve our country as the first President of the United States, he visited his home only fifteen times during two terms. Finally, he returned to Mount Vernon, only to die eight years later.

Not too many people know that George Washington had a green thumb. And he was quite a businessman. Get a behind-the-scenes look at how this man lived. While you're there, you can walk in the steps of 18th-Century farmers by cracking corn, harvesting crops, building a fence, tasting a hoecake, visiting animals and touring the 16-sided barn designed by Washington. Kids can also harness the life-size fiberglass mule "Nelly," crawl into a Revolutionary War tent, explore Martha Washington's travel trunk, play colonial games, use 18th-Century tools and write a letter to George Washington.

A 30-minute guided walking tour shares the contributions of the African-Americans who built and operated Mount Vernon. Another highlights the former President's design and love for his gardens. Yet another provides a tour of the mansion. Finally, a public wreathlaying on the tombs of President and Mrs. Washington takes place daily at 10:00 a.m. For a unique perspective on Mount Vernon, take a 30-minute narrated voyage on the Potomac River.

Hungry? The costumed waiters in the Colonial Inn serve lunch daily and elegant candlelit dinners Monday through Saturday-both with a colonial flair. If that's too fancy for you, Mount Vernon also has a food court serving breakfast, lunch and snacks.

Mount Vernon has been authentically restored to its original appearance. Come see why this Virginian estate receives one million visitors annually.

Arlington National Cemetery
Stop at Arlington before returning your rental car. There's a small fee for parking, but admission to the cemetery is free.

Here you will find a map to guide you to the gravesites of the two U.S. presidents buried on the property: President John F. Kennedy and President William Howard Taft. Additionally, Mrs. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, brother to the former President, are buried in Arlington. A full list of memorials, monuments and buildings to view may be found on the website.


DC Ducks Tour
For a truly great time with the kids, plan to take a tour on a fully-restored 1942 "Duck." Your 90-minute tour begins at Union Station, then 'waddles' down past the National Mall to the Potomac River, where it makes a splash into the water. You'll be treated to corny jokes and historical facts.

International Spy Museum
Your first 'mission' is to choose an identity and memorize important facts. If you forget this background information regarding your cover, you will be compromised and you may be 'killed.' Once ready, you are led to the briefing room before 'enrolling' in Spy School. But be careful: someone could be watching you!

Sound exciting? It is as fun as it sounds! You'll learn details about real spies: The truth behind history, the Spies Among Us, Cold War espionage, and spies today. Thousands of incredible artifacts are on display such as a lipstick pistol, a coat with a buttonhole camera, a wristwatch camera, and a shoe with a heel transmitter. Familiar tunes play as you discover infamous fictional spies on your journey.

Want to take home an unusual gift or souvenir? You'll undoubtedly find it in the Museum Store. Hungry? Stop at the Spy City Café or Zola. (Look for the restroom hidden behind a revolving door at Zola.)

Editors Note: Purchase tickets ahead to avoid disappointment. This is currently the most popular museum in DC. When we toured, we allowed two hours and ran out of time. There wasn't an adult or child who wasn't completely engaged in the experience, and the museum was packed to capacity.

Washington Walks for Kids
If it's a Friday or Saturday evening, you're in luck. Fun for kids four and older, topics of these walks on the National Mall include "Goodnight, Mr. Lincoln" or "In Fala's Footsteps." The first gives a kids-eye-view of Mr. Lincoln and reveals little facts like 'what his pj's were like.' The second is about FDR's time in Washington-through the eyes of his dog, Fala!


The National Mall
Today is the day to get out and discover the monuments on the National Mall. Officially, the Mall begins at 3rd Street and stretches to 14th Street. Visitors and locals consider the Mall to be the entire green space from the grounds of the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. Since 2000 the Washington Monument's observation level has undergone an extensive restoration, and was just completed in Spring 2005. Food and restrooms are easily found while touring, so go ahead and make a day of it. When the sun sets, the monuments take on an inspiring glow. (Monuments are open 24 hours daily.)

Old Town Trolley Tours
This is a fun way to spend the day touring the major sites, as the trolley offers 'hop-on, hop-off' privileges and entertains riders with historical facts and lore. The trolley runs all over the city, from Georgetown to Arlington and to the National Mall. It'll pick you up from many hotels, including the Renaissance.


National Air & Space Museum
Flying machines are the obvious attraction here, from the Wright Brothers' Kitty Hawk Flyer all the way to the Apollo 11 Command Module. Kids will probably get a big kick out of the moon rock on display, as well as numerous films-including an IMAX. Hands-on science experiments teach the basic laws of aerodynamics. The larger exhibits are housed at the new Stephen Udvar-Hazy Center, located near Dulles Airport. A shuttle (fee) transports guests.


The White House
You have to plan way ahead for this tour-five months minimum, in fact. Due to security concerns, you must apply through your congressman for tickets. A background check is run prior to issuing tickets.

The Smithsonian
There are fourteen museums to choose from-all free. One of the favorites, the National Museum of American History, has been dubbed "America's Attic." Here you'll find such treasures as the First Ladies' inaugural gowns, Dorothy's Ruby Red Slippers, and the flag that inspired the Star-Spangled Banner." The little ones can operate a cotton gin or send a message via telegraph.


  • Watch weaving, beadwork, and basket making at the new National Museum of the American Indian.
  • Marvel at the Hope Diamond, explore the Insect Zoo, and dine in the dinosaur café at the National Museum of Natural History.
  • Craft a souvenir postcard at the National Postal Museum.
  • Observe money being made at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
  • Visit the giant pandas Mei Ziang and Tian Tian at the National Zoological Park.
  • Create an art project to take home at the Sackler Gallery.
  • Check out Houdini's magic tricks at the Library of Congress.
  • Watch marine life at the National Aquarium.
  • Be amazed by the 11-foot globe in the main hallway of the National Georgraphic Explorers Hall.
  • Gawk at the pool of live leeches or take part in a program designed for kids at the National Museum of Health and Medicine.
  • Take the clock tour and get a great view of the city at the Old Post Office Pavilion.
  • Watch the trains come and go and dine in kid-friendly restaurants at Union Station.
  • Paddle across the Potomac River in a canoe or kayak, launching in Georgetown at Theodore Roosevelt Island.
  • Rent a paddleboat near the Jefferson Memorial.
  • Tour the planetarium, have a picnic, or go horseback riding at the Rock Creek Park and Nature Center.
  • Sign up for a guided tour of the U.S. Capitol.
  • Learn about the Holocaust through a child's story at the haunting United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  • Ride a mule-drawn barge up the C&O Canal while costumed guides play period music and tell stories about family life on the barge. (Georgetown, 30th & Jefferson Streets.)
  • Listen to an evening concert on the Washington Monument grounds.
  • Catch an outdoor movie presentation on the grounds of the National Mall Monday evenings, mid-July to mid-August. (Screen on the Green)
  • Ride the Metro to get around the city. It's clean and a fast, reasonable way to navigate the city. (Purchase a day pass after 9:30 am for a great bargain.)
  • Tour Ford's Theatre where former President Lincoln was shot, then walk across the street to see the (very small) bed where he died.
  • Take in a free concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Where to stay, where to dine, how to get around, and what you must do--and when--to tour the White House.

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