A Great Vacation On a Budget: a Guide to Visiting Washington DC


Is your family looking for a great vacation spot? Are you tired of shelling out money for every little thing at tourist traps and theme parks? For an amazing vacation on a cut rate budget, Washington DC can’t be beat. The nation’s capital has history on every corner and something fun for anyone in the family.

1. Government Buildings

Government facilities, the ones that offer tours, are free to visit in Washington DC. Some great examples are the Capitol, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, where paper money is created. These are national landmarks and are a must-see on any trip to DC. It is hard to do them all in one day, but two days would easily let a family tour these buildings and still fit in many other activities.

The trickiest one to visit is the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. They do a limited number of tours each day, and you get a ticket in the morning before they open. This leads to long lines during peak travel season, and you will have to plan time later that day to come back for the tour. The National Archives would be the perfect building to tour in the meantime.

The Archives house many important national treasures, but the crown jewels of the collection are the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. You can walk through the Archives at your own pace, there is no tour guide. There are some activities just for kids, such as a room devoted to genealogy, which help explain some of the types of records kept in the Archives.

The Capitol and Library of Congress go hand in hand and fit in well as the start of a day in DC. The Capitol should go first. It is recommended that you book a tour time in advance, to make sure you get to pick the best time for your family. There is a guided tour which explores many of the historic features of the capitol building. There is also a self guided museum section that gives a lot of history of the building. When the tour is over you can grab lunch at the Capitol’s cafeteria, and you might even meet a member of Congress.

The Library of Congress is connected to the Capitol via a beautifully decorated underground passage. The visitor’s section of the library holds unique works, such as an original Gutenberg bible and the collection donated by Thomas Jefferson to start the library. There is also an observation platform that looks out over the famous reading room. Tourists aren’t allowed in the library proper, only people there for legitimate research can enter that part of the building.

When preparing to visit the government buildings remember that there are a few rules. You will have to go through a metal detector, and may have your bags searched, when entering any government facility. It’s kind of like the airport, so be ready to take off your shoes and belts. Also, the Capitol is very strict on food and drink. Nothing will be allowed in unless medically necessary, so don’t pack a lunch that day.


2. National Monuments

Washington DC was laid out to display monuments. The city’s street pattern was even designed with spaces for statues that could be seen for blocks. There are certain monuments that just can’t be missed on a trip to DC, and a little planning will make for a fun day.

The National Mall hosts many of the most famous monuments. They are laid out in a pattern that makes it easy to walk around the mall and hit all of them. There are two Metro stops, one on the north side of the mall and one on the south side, right in the middle, that make good points to start the journey. The first stop should be the Washington Monument.

The monument does have an elevator that goes to the top for a spectacular viewing platform and a small history museum. You need to get tickets ahead of time and getting them online requires a small fee, only a few dollars. Continuing west down the middle of the mall you will come to the World War II Memorial, one of the newer memorials on the mall. There is a park ranger station near the WWII Memorial which has a bathroom and water fountain.

As you continue along, head to the north side of the mall and you will visit the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. This unique site is a moving tribute that can be quite emotional. At the west end of the mall is the Lincoln Memorial, one of the most iconic sites in Washington DC. Climb the stairs to visit Lincoln and read some of his greatest speeches, and then be sure to visit the small museum underneath the monument. This Lincoln Memorial is a great spot to come back to at night as well.

The last leg of the journey around the mall goes south, around the tidal basin. Here you will visit the Roosevelt and Jefferson Memorials. The Roosevelt Memorial is a great place to give kids a history of the war apart from military facts. If you follow this route you will end up back at the middle of the mall, near the Washington Monument. There are many other small monuments to see on the mall as well.

3. Museums

Washington DC is the home to the majority of the museums owned by the Smithsonian Institution. Many of them are on the National Mall, and the subjects they encompass leave something for everyone. One of the greatest treasures in the museum system is currently on display in the National History Museum, the flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner. Other famous museums include the Air and Space museum and the Natural History museum, which features a large collection of dinosaurs. Additionally, Washington DC features the National Zoo, an ever popular spot for children. All of these museums are free to visit at any time.


There are tons of things for a family or couple to do in Washington DC. There are enough museums, monuments, and memorials to fill a travel book, and almost all of it is free to enter. If your family is searching for a budget friendly vacation spot, there is no better choice than Washington DC. The most popular time to visit is in early summer, when Congress is still in session and the cherry trees around the mall have started to bloom, but one of the most economical times to visit is in early August. The cherry blossoms are gone and Congress is still on break, so there are fewer tourists in town. That’s the time to get a great deal on a hotel and skip a lot of the long lines and huge crowds at the memorials. The rich history of Washington DC leaves travelers with a sense of awe, and following this guide will help with planning the perfect vacation, one that your family will remember for years.