Wow, the biggest decision when planning an inexpensive trip to Washington is where to begin because there are so many options that the kids–and adults–will enjoy. Here are some suggestions on how to get started:
1–If you don’t mind spending some money up front you can get a discount card for each family member for a Washington DC Explorer Pass. This entitles you to up to 40% discount on 14 of the major attractions in the city. Entrance fees (including taxes) to these places are included in the pass. You can choose three or five attractions with your pass. Three choices are $54 for adults and $34 for children 7-12. Most places admit children under seven free. Five choices are $84 for adults and $54 for children 7-12. The choices, including the entrance fee without the pass, are:
International Spy Museum (save $23.21) – Has great interactive activities for kids
Madame Tussauds DC (save $23.27) – Has lots of current music stars the kids will enjoy
George Washington’s Mount Vernon (save $20) – Kids will enjoy seeing the grounds in particular
Washington Nationals Ballpark Tour (save $15) – Hey, it’s the national pastime. What kid doesn’t like baseball? Enough said!
National Geographic Museum (save $15) -Kids will love the “Earth Explorers” hands-on activities through September 17
Bike and Roll DC Bike Rentals (save $25.38) – A great way for the entire family to explore the sights
National Building Museum (save $10) – Lots of interesting exhibits for the entire family to enjoy
Round Trip Mount Vernon Cruise (save $28) – Includes 4 hour visit to MV, which probably should be booked at the same time using the Explorer Pass choice
Washington Walks Walking Tour (save $20) – Lots of choices for tours. The kids might really like the few devoted to spooky or haunted sites.
The Capital Wheel (save $16.50) – A great view of the water and National Harbor. Besides, doesn’t everyone love a ferris wheel?
Big Bus DC Panoramic Night Tour (save $39) – Everything in DC becomes more special when viewed at night. A real treat for the entire family
Washington Monuments Cruise by Potomac Riverboat Company (save $30) – DC is always fun to view from the water. Kids should really enjoy this.
Newseum (save $26.38) – Great interactive opportunities for kids (and adults). Actually, kids go free from July 1 through Labor Day
Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus Washington DC One Day Classic Patriot Tour (save $39) – Spend as much time as you want at a sight, just hop off and get back on later
2–Visit the Smithsonian Institute complex with its 17 museums and galleries. The most popular are the National Zoo, the Museum of Natural History, the Air and Space Museum, the Udvar-Hazy Center, the American History Museum, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Admission is free to all Smithsonian buildings except the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
3–The Puppet Playhouse. Tickets to these masterful performances are $12 for people two and up. Tiny Tots performances are $6. Featured shows are “Cinderella” in May, then the “Wizard of Oz”, and finally “Circus.”
4–Free parades along Constitution Avenue include the National Memorial Day Parade and concert and the annual Fourth of July Day parade and fireworks display at the monument.
5–Visit the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center for daily performances at 6 p.m. See musical performances of all types every day of the year.
6–The Strathmore Backyard Theater for Kids – Thursdays mornings at 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., July 6-27. Tickets are $8-$10. Music and laughter for family fun.
7–Bureau of Engraving and Printing – On your 45-minute free tour (through September 1) you can see millions of dollars being printed and bundled. Tickets at the door are for set times.
8–Butterfly Pavilion – Timed tickets for the Smithsonian exhibit at the pavilion are $6 for adults and $5 for children.
9–Stare up at the stars in Rock Creek Park at the parks Nature Center and Planetarium. On Wednesdays at 4 p.m. there’s a special program for young astronomers (4 p.m.). Saturdays and Sundays feature a seasonal night sky (1 p.m.) program and “Exploring the Universe” (4 p.m.). All programs are free.
11–Visit the largest Catholic Church in North America, the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The Shrine is open 365 a year, with free tours daily and free organ concerts on Sundays at 6 p.m.
12–Enjoy the Live! Concert Series on the Plaza at the Ronald Reagan Building which features all kinds of music free from August 1 to September 30. (2017 schedule to come)
13–Visit Ford’s Theater, where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Tickets are free and have a set time on them, as many very popular attractions in DC do. Online reservations have a $3 service charge and by phone reservations have a $6 service charge. If you get the full tour, which includes the museum, the theater (with park ranger talk), Peterson House where Lincoln died, and “aftermath” house where memorabilia is kept the visit will take about two hours.
14–Check out the free Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall between 4th and 7th streets, June 29-July 4 and July 6-9. The 2017 theme is the circus arts. There will be crafters, musicians, cooks, and artists to entertain the entire family.
15–Attend a solemn parade at the Marine Corps Iwo Jima War Memorial. Every Tuesday night at sunset from late May to mid-August visitors can experience a sunset parade at this memorial in Arlington. The parade includes patriotic music by “The Presidents’ Own” Marine Band, the U.S. Marine Band Drum and Bugle Corps, and precision moves by the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon. Free!
16–Visit Arlington Cemetery and see Kennedy’s grave and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. No tickets or reservations necessary.
17–Hear free military band concerts during June, July, August most nights of the week: U.S. Navy Concert Band at 8pm Monday on west steps of the Capitol building and 7:30 Tuesday evenings at the Navy Memorial. The Air Force Concert Band performs Tuesdays at 8pm on the Capitol west steps, Fridays at 8pm at the Air Force Memorial, and Saturday evenings at 7pm on National Harbor. The Marine Concert Band plays at 8pm Wednesdays on the west Capitol steps and on Fridays at 8:45 at the Marine Barracks. And the Army Band has a Twilight Tattoo on Wednesdays at 7pm at Fort Meyer in Arlington during May-August and Fridays at 8pm on the west steps of the Capitol.