As our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. is a top tourist destination for families. Washington is filled magnificent monuments, memorials and museums that celebrate America’s history. It also happens to be one of the easiest cities to navigate. Washington D.C. visitors have many choices when it comes to seeing the sites, but nothing beats a self-guided walking tour. (Plus it’s FREE! And nothing beats free.)
While living in Washington D.C., our family played tour guide for many of our friends and family. Our first time touring the city, we forked over the big bucks for a double-decker multi-day pass. But we quickly learned there was a better way: a short six mile self-guided walking tour of the monuments and memorials!
We passed this knowledge on to our family and friends whenever they visited. And it soon became a favorite. This saved our guests from having to pay a tour guide and also, gave them the freedom of taking an extra break or splitting it up to multiple days. Follow our lead and you won’t be disappointed.
Where to Start Your Tour
We always started our walking tour at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, which is about a 10 minute walk from the closest Metro Station. Depending on your hotel’s location, you may want to start at a different spot and that is just fine. If you are coming from a surrounding area, I highly recommend taking advantage of the public transportation, particularly the Metro train, to get around as parking can be difficult.
First Stop – The Thomas Jefferson Memorial
This is one of my favorite spots to visit, especially at twilight. The lighting casts a glow on the water and highlights the 19 foot tall Thomas Jefferson statue, depicting our third president as he holds the Declaration of Independence.
Honoring one of our Founding Fathers, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial was dedicated on April 13, 1943 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Looking over the Tidal Basin, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial is located at 16 East Basin, SW in Washington D.C.
Second Stop – The Lincoln Memorial
Located at Two Lincoln Memorial Circle NW, the Lincoln memorial (or as my kids like to call it, “the backside of the penny”) is just over a mile from our starting point. For younger kids, this is probably one of the most recognizable memorials because of the connection to the penny.
Dedicated in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial is a symbol of our country’s unity and honors a man who brought the principal of “All men are created equal” to life. Carved into the sides of the memorial are two of President Lincoln’s speeches that we made sure to read aloud to our children each time we visited.
TravelingMom Tip: While walking up the steps take a moment to stop at the marker marking the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech.
Third Stop – Vietnam Veterans Memorial
A short jaunt from the Lincoln Memorial is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Bring tissues. This is one of the hardest memorials to visit for our military family. There are three memorials located in this area – The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, The Vietnam Woman’s Memorial and the Three Soldiers statue.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall lists more than 58,000 names of service members who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War. This powerful memorial can be overwhelming, but gives us the opportunity to honor the many lives that were cut too short during a time of war.
TravelingMom Tip: If you want to find the name of a fallen relative or friend while visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, check the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s Wall of Faces.
Fourth Stop – The White House
Home to the President of the United States, the White House is the most iconic stop on our tour. The most popular view is along Pennsylvania Avenue and is just about a mile from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Of all our stops, this is the highlight for me. I loved being able to see THE White House. Oh, if those walls could talk. There is so much history that walks those halls and over all, it symbolizes America.
TravelingMom Tip: Would you like to get an inside peek of the White House? Be prepared to jump through a few hoops. Tour requests must be submitted to your local member of congress and can be requested as up to three months in advance. Depending on the official White House schedule, self-guided tours are granted Tuesday – Thursday 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and Friday – Saturday 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., federal holidays are excluded.
Another way to get closer to the White House is by attending one of the holiday events hosted by the President and First Lady.
During the time we were stationed in Washington D.C., our family was blessed enough to attend both, the Lighting of the National Christmas Tree and the White House Easter Egg Roll.
Tickets to the once-in-a-lifetime events are granted through a random online lottery held by recreation.gov. I highly recommend applying for tickets if you are in the area during either of these times.
Fifth Stop – The Washington Monument
The Washington Monument was built to honor the first United States President, George Washington. We never made it to the top, as our little one is scared of heights, but I can only imagine what it’s like.
The Washington Monument can be seen from just about everywhere on our tour, but our favorite view was from Constitutional Ave, NW and 14th Street, NW.
Sixth Stop – The National Mall
Remember how I mentioned that you could break your walking tour into multiple days? This is the perfect place to spend a couple of days.
Washington D.C. is home to 17 Smithsonian museums and 11 of those are located along the National Mall. From air and space travel to prehistoric dinosaurs, there is a Smithsonian Museum to satisfy everyone.
We spent many days exploring the Smithsonian museums that are located within the National Mall. Of course, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History was a family favorite.
The kids got a kick out of seeing the Night at the Museum museum in real life; I can’t tell you how many times they tried to reenact scenes from the movie. And I’m not sure what it is about 10 year old boys, but they love rocks. Our son could spend HOURS walking in the Hall of gems. I will admit that I could spend just as long admiring the Hope Diamond. Gorgeous!
Seventh and Final Stop – The U.S. Capitol
We’ve finally come to our last stop. At the end of the National Mall is the U.S. Capitol Building. While some are happy to just stand outside and take pictures, the US Capitol Building is open to visitors Monday through Saturdays.
Our family self-guided walking tour takes us through Washington and hits many of the must-see monuments and memorials. Best part? It’s short enough to be completed in a day, but there are plenty of opportunities to extend the tour over a few days.
Many of our stops offer tickets for those that would like to explore a little more thoroughly. The wonderful part about those tickets is that they are free.