Last Updated on November 1, 2015 by Jody Halsted
Our nation’s capital has so much to see and do for free, that you may not need to spend a thing beyond accommodations. Our family of nine (and including the occasional foreign exchange student), frequently take day trips to Washington D.C. to take advantage of all that that great city has to offer.
We are blessed to live in the countryside of Virginia, only 90 miles south of the District of Colombia. Home educating our kids and managing our own small organic farm keeps us quite busy, but family travel is a big part of our lifestyle and we do our best to make it affordable and educational.
Having a large family like ours, means we need to be as resourceful as possible to keep within a budget. And when you have a love for travel and adventure like we do, you can usually find a way to make it happen. For anyone who has to take expenses into consideration when travelling, Washington DC is a very enticing place to go!
For our typical trips to DC, we drive in and park along the National Mall. Usually you can find free parking – but be aware you will need to move your vehicle at 4 pm for rush hour on a weekday. There are many parking garages that you can find that are not too expensive, and you can have peace of mind about not rushing back to move your car. When driving, the traffic cameras are ubiquitous! Twice we have received speeding violation tickets in the mail after our trips! If you park on the Mall, you can walk the whole day and see many beautiful and historical monuments. We normally pack enough food and fill up a cooler of water from home to have a picnic on the mall lawn for our meals. This saves us money, though we have treated ourselves to eating at one of the many delicious restaurants in the area on occasion.
Beyond all of the amazing Smithsonian Museums that we tour with the kids, the Monuments are truly rewarding to see. The gorgeous white marble buildings, classical architecture, statues and history of them all are astounding. So far, the ones we have visited and enjoyed for the age range of our family (11-54 yrs. old currently) are the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument, Capitol Building and the Vietnam War Memorial. We have toured many more. These are just a few of the highlights of the Mall that can be accomplished in one day (with some good walking shoes and water bottles!) If you have little ones, consider bringing a stroller as you will be trekking quite a distance.
Climbing the marble staircase to the Lincoln Memorial is easy enough, and the view from the top is especially beautiful at night. Inside the Monuments are museums for more historical learning on the particular site. We were excited to have had a personally guided tour of the Capitol Building by the staff of our local congressman Eric Cantor (who also happens to be the House Majority Leader). The older part of the building is filled with exquisite art, architecture, sculptures and mosaics. There are depictions of Americas History in large oil paintings that you and your family can learn from. Much can be learned and gleaned from these fabulous historical places. We also love the Jefferson Memorials that is fronting the Tidal Basin. There is a small museum underneath it to learn more about that great president of ours. It too, is beautiful all lit up at night.
We have not yet had the opportunity to travel up to the top of the Washington Monument (the 555’ tall obelisk). It suffered some damage and shifted in the earth quake we experienced 1 ½ years ago and is not open to go up into yet. From there, you can easily walk over to the White House to view either in the front or back. We have not been inside the White House ever. Tickets need to be ordered online months before to get a tour.
Just a short drive from the Mall over a bridge on the Potomac River is the Arlington National Cemetery. Parking fees are minimal and it is so worth the visit there. We had a great surprise one day to see the “Changing of the Guard” plus a “Laying of the Wreath” ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. For over an hour we witnessed a marching band and representatives of all of the military’s units marching in unison with their guns and the Minister of Defense of Iraq placed a wreath at the Tomb. It was truly memorable for my family- and our French guest. We admired the somber, yet beautiful, multiple rows of white grave markers and the Eternal Flame at the grave of President John F Kennedy.
These great monuments are just a small part of the fantastic sights of Washington DC. For every age, there is an unlimited amount of things to see and do in our beautiful Nations Capitol! When traveling with family (especially one as large as ours), DC can be a very affordable place to visit and perfect place to see many of our country's beautiful National Monuments.
Susan Verbeeck is a mother of 9 who currently lives in Virginia. You can read her daily musings on life, homeschooling and organic farming at Grow In Grace Life.
family at capital building and Washington Memorial: Susan Verbeeck