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Washington DC Family Travel Guide: Plan the Perfect Vacation to America's Capital City

Washington D.C. Family Travel Guide: What You Need to Know for Your Next Trip to America's Capital City

Washington, D.C. is a city rich in history, culture, and politics. As the capital of the United States, it is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in the country that includes the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, among so many more.

The city offers easy access and navigation through three airports, a world-class public transportation system, unique attractions, award-winning hotels and hundreds of free things to do.

Washington, D.C. is much more than just a city of monuments - It's also a vibrant and diverse city, with a thriving food scene, world-class museums, and a calendar full of cultural events and festivals.  During your visit, explore the iconic monuments and museums along the beautiful National Mall, as well as the city’s vibrant neighborhoods filled with character and charm.

Know Before You Go

Here are a few things to know before you go to Washington, DC:
  • Location: Washington, D.C. is located on the East Coast of the United States, between Maryland and Virginia with three DC-area airports that include:
    • Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA)
    • Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)
    • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)
  • Climate: Washington, D.C. has a generally temperate climate, with pleasant springs and autumns, and mild winters with approximately 14.3 inches of seasonal snowfall. The city experiences all four seasons, with temperatures ranging from the mid-20s to low 30s in the winter and the mid-70s to low 80s in the summer.
  • Transportation: Washington, D.C. has a reliable public transportation system, including the metro, buses, and taxis. The city is also bike-friendly, with a network of bike lanes and rental options.
The map of Washington DC below, from the the official visitors guide, shows all of the points of interest you would want to visit during your trip.

When to Visit

Washington D.C. can be visited any time of year, as the city offers a wide range of attractions and events throughout the year. That being said, the best time to visit will depend on your interests and what you hope to see and do during your trip.

Here are a few things to consider when planning your visit to the capital:
  • Spring (March-May): Spring is a popular time to visit Washington, D.C., with mild temperatures and the National Cherry Blossom Festival in April, which attracts visitors from around the world.
  • Summer (June-August): Summer can be hot and humid in Washington, D.C., but the city offers plenty of indoor attractions and a calendar full of outdoor events and festivals.
  • Fall (September-November): Fall is a beautiful time to visit the capital, with cooler temperatures and stunning foliage in the city's parks and gardens.
  • Winter (December-February): Winter can be cold in Washington, D.C., but the city is known for its holiday lights and events, including the National Christmas Tree lighting on the National Mall

How to Get There

Washington, D.C. is served by three major airports:
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA): Located just across the Potomac River from downtown Washington, D.C., Reagan National Airport is the closest airport to the city center and is easily accessible by metro or taxi.
  • Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD): Located about 25 miles west of the city, Dulles Airport is a major hub for international flights and is easily accessible by taxi or the Silver Line express bus.
  • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI): Located about 35 miles northwest of the city, BWI Airport is a major hub for domestic flights and is easily accessible by taxi or the B30 express bus.
No matter which airport you arrive at, you'll find plenty of transportation options to get you into the city. For our trip, we flew direct on United Airlines into IAD and used DCA Car for a transfer into the city. For most first-time visits to a new airport, I like to pre-book a car transfer service for ease of use, reliability and not having to wait around for an Uber or taxi.

Where to Stay

Washington, D.C. is a popular destination for travelers, with a wide range of accommodation options to suit every budget and preference.

For our recent trip, we stayed at the JW Marriott Washington D.C., which is conveniently located near the White House and National Mall. 

I was able to use Marriott Bonvoy points to cover the cost of our stay and our Marriott Bonvoy Titanium hotel status got us a room upgrade and free breakfast (club lounge access).

Here are a few top hotels to consider for your trip to the capital:

  • The Mayflower Hotel, Autograph Collection: A luxury icon in the Washington, D.C. landscape for nearly a century, The Mayflower Hotel, Autograph Collection is a destination unlike any other.
  • The Ritz-Carlton Georgetown: Located in the trendy Georgetown neighborhood, this luxurious hotel offers a sophisticated and elegant atmosphere.
  • The Ritz-Carlton, Washington, DC: The Ritz-Carlton, Washington, D.C. blends contemporary style with legendary Ritz-Carlton service. In its fashionable West End location, you are steps away from the central business district, Embassy Row, and historic landmarks, including the White House, Lincoln Memorial, and the Smithsonian museums.
  • The Willard InterContinental: Located in the heart of downtown, this luxurious hotel has been a favorite of presidents and dignitaries for over 150 years.
  • The Hay-Adams: Located across from the White House, this luxurious hotel offers stunning views of the city's landmarks and top-notch service.
  • The St. Regis Washington, D.C.: Located in the heart of downtown, this luxurious hotel offers top-notch service and amenities, including a rooftop pool with views of the city.
  • Park Hyatt Washington, DC: Set on the prestigious corner of 24th and M streets, at the convergence of Georgetown and city center, Park Hyatt Washington D.C. celebrates the blend of modern metropolis and iconic Americana.
No matter which hotel you choose, you'll be well-placed to explore all that Washington D.C. has to offer. For more great hotels, check out these Virtuoso Collection hotels for extra amenities.

Things To Do & See

There's no shortage of things to do and see in Washington, D.C. and as the capital of the United States, the city is full of iconic landmarks, world-class museums, and a vibrant cultural scene.

Here are just a few of the top attractions to add to your itinerary:

  • Visit America’s Front Yard and its iconic memorials:
    • The National Mall is the heart of the city, with many iconic landmarks and memorials that can’t be missed:
    • Lincoln Memorial
    • Washington Monument
    • Reflecting Pool
    • Vietnam Veterans Memorial
    • World War II Memorial
    • FDR Memorial
    • Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
    • Thomas Jefferson Memorial
    • Korean War Veterans Memorial

  • Explore the Smithsonian Institution: With 19 museums and galleries, the Smithsonian is one of the world's top cultural institutions. Don't miss these great museums, all with free entry:
    • National Museum of American History
    • The National Air and Space Museum
    • The National Gallery of Art
    • The National Zoo
    • National Museum of American History
    • National Museum of African American History & Culture
    • Smithsonian Castle

  • Tour the White House: While tours of the White House are available by request, they must be made through your congressional representative's office, so be sure to plan ahead if this is something you’d like to do.
  • Visit the United States Capitol: The seat of the U.S. government, the Capitol is open for tours and offers a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of our country's democracy.
  • Learn about the Federal Triangle and explore all of the institutions and buildings that comprise this area
  • Explore the city's neighborhoods: From the trendy streets of Dupont Circle and Georgetown to the bustling Chinatown and Little Ethiopia, Washington, D.C. is a city of diverse neighborhoods, each with its own unique character and charm.

Where to Eat

Washington, D.C. is home to a thriving food scene, with a wide range of dining options to suit every taste and budget.

Here are a few top places we dined at during our stay in the capital:
  • The Hamilton: A uniquely eclectic experience located just steps from the White House, The Hamilton has quickly become Washington, DC’s favorite gathering place for music, art, entertainment and inventive dining.
  • Old Ebbitt Grill: Established in 1856, Old Ebbitt Grill is Washington's oldest saloon, just steps from The White House and museums on the national mall. 
  • Vue: Located on the 11th floor rooftop of Hotel Washington, with views of the White House and Washington Monument
  • Cascade Cafe: Located at the National Gallery of Art in between the main building and East Building, with lots of casual options like pizza, sandwiches and more.
  • Rasika: Located in the West End neighborhood, this popular Indian restaurant is known for its modern takes on classic dishes and delicious cocktails.
Since we had lounge access at the JW Marriott Washington DC, we enjoyed daily breakfast in the lounge, lunch at quick service spots and most nights had a nice dinner at the restaurants above.

No matter what you're in the mood for, Washington, D.C. has a restaurant to suit every taste. So whether you're looking for a quick bite on the go or a fancy night out, the capital has something for everyone.

Overall Impression

If you're planning a trip to Washington, D.C., I hope some of the information here can help you plan out your next trip to America' Capital City.

There is so much to see and do, but if you have only a short stay (like we did at 3 days), be sure to add some of the city's top attractions to your itinerary that include The National Mall, which is a must-see, with its sprawling green spaces and iconic memorials; The Smithsonian Institution, another one of our highlights, with its 19 museums and galleries showcasing everything from art and history to science and technology and a visit to The White House, even if only from the outside gates.

No matter what you are interested in, Washington, D.C. has something to offer for everyone, as there is so much to do and explore throughout the city that you'll leave wanting to come back soon and experience it again.

I hope this family travel guide helps you plan out your next trip to Washington DC and gives you a glimpse into highlights of the city, as well as a look the best places to stay and things to do and see in America's Capital City.