There are so many things to see and do in Washington D.C., and many of them are free. This makes it a great place to visit with children, especially if your family likes vacations that are educational. This one-day itinerary will take you around many of the most monumental sights in town, and it won’t cost you a thing.
Take the Metro to the Smithsonian station and begin the day’s tour of memorials and monuments at the Washington Monument. You can stand outside and take pictures or buy a ticket to take the elevator up to the top for an amazing view of the city.
Washington Monument Trivia: the stones are two colors because construction on the monument was stopped for several years and then restarted, with materials to finish the structure having to be gathered from a different part of the stone quarry.
From the Washington Monument, walk west and south to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. It is about a fifteen to twenty minute walk, the end of which will take you around the tidal basin. When you get to the memorial, you can grab a seat on the steps or in the surrounding grass to rehydrate and have a snack, and then hightail it up the steps (or elevator) to enjoy the shade inside the statuary chamber.
The Jefferson Memorial includes a large statue of Thomas Jefferson and engravings of his work on the walls of the rotunda, including excerpts from the Declaration of Independence. Downstairs you’ll find an exhibit that details Jefferson’s life and contributions to America, as well as a book store and the all-important bathrooms. Make everyone take a restroom break, refill your water bottles, and then prepare for the long walk to the next memorial site.
Continue your walk along the tidal basin on the way to the Lincoln Memorial, but first you’ll want to make sure to pass through the surprisingly underrated Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. The entrance to this memorial is just as unassuming as the sight’s reputation, but don’t let that discourage you from pressing on down the path. Just when you’ve become convinced that FDR has been honored with a few park benches and overgrown baseball diamond, the path will open up into a large stone area set off with a breathtaking water fountain. Stop, gaze in wonder, and then move on to yet another water fountain, and then another. The Roosevelt Memorial is a sprawling oasis of granite, waterfalls, massive stones, and bronze statues. The amount of ground the memorial covers seems to be a testament to the number of years Roosevelt’s presidency spanned, the most of any American president.
As you reach the end (or the beginning, if you’d come from the other direction) of the memorial, take some type to stop into the bookstore and exhibit hall to learn more about the Depression-era president and the New Deal. Your kids may be ready for another snack and trip to the restrooms, and this is another timely spot for a quick rest. Brace yourselves for another walk to the Lincoln Memorial.
You can climb the stone steps where many historical speeches have been given, including Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech, or you can hop in an elevator. The walk up the steps will reward you with a stunning view across the reflecting pool that gradually reveals itself to you as you descend the steps. However, the steps can be very slippery if it has rained recently, so be careful and watch the little ones in your party. Of course, whether you take the steps or an elevator, the view from the top is the same. Stand at the base of the Lincoln statue and be awed by the stone incarnation of a man who was reportedly imposing in real life, then read the Gettysburg Address on one wall and his second inaugural address on the other.
Lincoln Memorial Trivia: Abraham Lincoln’s hands are set in the American Sign Language signs for his initials – A and L.
Are you ready boots? It’s time to start walking again, this time to the nearby Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Steady your heart and do not be ashamed if you find yourself crying for the men who died in a war you’re too young to remember.
I don’t know what it is about that black, shiny wall, but it’s moving. There’s no eloquent declaration of national sentiment on a placard, no photos except for the ones that may have been left by visitors, but the air itself seems to be sacred there.
The wall lists the names of all the men and women who were lost in Vietnam either through death or declaration of “missing in action”. The names are listed “in the order they were taken from us.” At one end of the wall you’ll find books that list the names in alphabetical order, along with the rank, hometown, date of loss, and location on the wall. Walk softly here with your children, but do walk.
As you walk away from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, go left to Signers Island, the country’s memorial to the original signers of the Declaration of Independence. As you cross the wooden bridge and read the golden signatures emblazoned in the rock, remember that these 56 men risked their lives when they put their names on that paper over two hundred years ago. Had the Revolutionary War been lost, every one of them would have most likely been charged, convicted, and executed for treason. The signatures memorialized here sealed not only our country’s fate, but the fate of these forefathers as well.
At this point, your feet are probably ready to fall off. You can continue your walk and visit some of the city’s other landmarks, including the nearby World War II Memorial and Korean War Memorial, or collapse in a heap for a picnic. If you need to catch a metro back to your hotel or campground, the closest one from this finishing point is the Federal Triangle stop, which you’ll find right across the street from the IRS building. Should you be afraid to get that close to the IRS, you can also walk back to the Smithsonian station.
All photos by Britt Reints