I just returned from a 2-night/3-day trip to Washington, DC with my three kids. Our official reason for this trip was to visit the Russian Embassy to obtain updated Russian passports for my sons.
My original plan was to take the trip with just my two boys while my daughter stayed back home with my husband. Due to my husband’s new job, I ended up having to book my daughter a last-minute ticket to join us. So this turned into another solo trip with my three kiddos.
We flew in a few days early in order to see the city. Aside from our morning at the Russian Embassy, I had 48 hours to enjoy Washington, DC with kids.
Hyatt Place Washington DC/National Mall
Our respite in the city was our hotel, Hyatt Place Washington DC/National Mall. I loved the location of the hotel, just 4 blocks south of the National Mall. The hotel is surrounded by low-key government buildings. Bonus for families with picky-eaters: there is a McDonald’s just two blocks away and a Subway restaurant nearby.
On the weekend, the neighborhood around the hotel was very quiet. Despite the location near a freeway, we couldn’t hear any traffic noise on the 11th floor.
We stayed in a room with two queen beds and a sofa bed. I shared a bed with my daughter, and each of my boys had their own beds. At least there was no fighting over sleeping arrangements.
The hotel lobby is on the 3rd floor. Near the front desk, there is water and fruit.
I had the fitness center all to myself one night.
The free breakfast was similar to other Hyatt Place locations. The hotel recommends certain hours when the breakfast buffet will be less crowded. Even though there was a middle school field trip group staying at the same time, we never had any problems getting food or a table.
Unfortunately, the rooftop pool is only open during the summer months. I prepared my kids for this ahead of our trip so they would know what to expect.
I appreciated the friendly staff at this hotel. They were happy to provide us with maps of the city and recommend restaurants and the best way to see the monuments.
Overall, I love the consistency at Hyatt Place locations, and this location was no exception. Hyatt Place Washington DC/National Mall costs 12,000 World of Hyatt points per night.
When we landed at Reagan National Airport (DCA), we could see the Capitol Building and some monuments from the air. The kids were so excited to catch a glimpse of those that we decided to start visiting the monuments first thing.
The hotel staff recommended walking to the National Mall and catching the Circulator bus to the Lincoln Memorial, so that’s what we did. I paid $1 for the Circulator bus, but my kids were free.
Due to heavy traffic in the area on a Saturday, it took us 45 minutes to drive 2.5 miles. We may have been able to walk faster than that. But it turns out, we needed to save our legs and stamina for the rest of the day.
We saw the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the World War II Memorial.
Since we were already getting tired at this point, we stopped at an ice cream cart near the Washington Monument.
We walked the rest of the National Mall and admired the architecture of the surrounding buildings and the outdoor sculpture garden on our way back to our hotel. Of course my younger kids wanted to ride the carousel.
We were totally exhausted by the end. I tried to rally the kids to go out to dinner, but they were too tired to leave the room. After all, we had woken up at 5 a.m. to catch our flight and spent 4 hours walking around. We ended up ordering food from our hotel for dinner.
Smithsonian’s National Zoo
On Sunday, we took an Uber to the zoo. Our driver dropped us off at an entrance near the pandas, so we saw them right away.
And oh boy, the pandas alone were worth the trip. We could have watched these fluffy, cuddly bears all day. They rolled down the hill, climbed trees, played with stuff in their enclosures…we spent almost an hour at the panda exhibit.
The zoo was a little confusing to us. It’s free, like many of the other museums and monuments in the city. But since there are no lines to pay, there were at least 10 or more entrances to the zoo. We found the layout very weird.
Near the sea lions, one of my kids wandered off and went missing for 10-15 minutes. During that time, I could not find one single zoo employee to help me figure out what to do.
After being reunited, we worked our way through more animal exhibits towards the carousel. My kids were hangry at this point, since the only real food we saw was back at the panda area. We saw a ton of ice cream vending machines all over the zoo, however.
We ate a quick lunch, rode the carousel and decided to leave the zoo, even though I’m sure we didn’t see everything. By then, all of the parking lots were full, and the entire perimeter road was closed to cars. We had to cross a bridge and walk for a while to get to a spot where we could call an Uber.
The zoo wasn’t my favorite zoo I’ve visited, but since pandas are only in three zoos in the USA, I recommend visiting the zoo.
The White House/Founding Farmers
Later that afternoon, I took the kids to see the White House. When we arrived, it was peaceful and pretty. We took photos near the front gates and across the street in the park.
After a little while, many police came and started blowing whistles and hustling everyone away, even past the park. I’m not sure exactly what was going on. Maybe the president was arriving or leaving.
That night, we had dinner at Founding Farmers. Several friends and blog readers recommended this restaurant, and I was determined to have at least one meal that wasn’t fast food. The menu was unique and the food was great!
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
On our last day in Washington, DC, we spent the morning visiting the Russian Embassy. We still had a free afternoon before we had to head back to the airport.
We chose to spend our remaining hours at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. And it did not disappoint!
Since admission was free, we splurged and saw a planetarium show and an IMAX film on pandas. Both were entertaining and educational.
We have visited a few other really good air and space museums around the country, so I honestly wasn’t expecting much from this museum. But, I was pleasantly surprised at not only the size of the museum but the quality of displays. My 13-year-old was thoroughly engrossed in the aviation exhibits.
We could have spent more time there, but we had to get back to our hotel to grab our stuff before leaving for the airport. On our walk back, there was a commotion on the street. Several motorcycle police were moving cars out of the way, and we didn’t understand what was happening. Should we keep walking? It turns out, the VP’s motorcade was coming and drove right past us.
The Reality of Visiting Washington, DC with Kids
I’m going to be completely honest with you. I don’t recommend this city with young kids. Of course, all kids are different, and some will tolerate a trip like this better than others.
This trip to Washington, DC with three kids by myself was a bit of a beating for me. My kids are not good at schlepping around. They do much better on trip where we spend a lot of time at the pool or beach and have downtime in the room with one outing per day (like our recent trip to Hawaii). Walking around DC was kinda like walking around the Disney parks all day, except without the rides.
Don’t get me wrong; we saw some very cool things. I’m so thankful that we could use miles and points to make this trip happen. But, most of what we saw was completely over my kids’ heads. My oldest was more concerned about how his selfies were going to look on Instagram. My younger two kids were constantly fighting about, well, everything! They especially argued over who would stand where and how to pose in each photo. Ugh.
It didn’t help matters that we were running on low amounts of sleep that first day. And, the boys and I were a little nervous and apprehensive about visiting the Russian Embassy, which didn’t occur until our last morning.
Although my kids are “older” at 7, 10 and 13, they still get hangry when they haven’t eaten in a few hours. They still spill drinks, order weird food I tell them they might not like and then they insist on also ordering other food when it turns out I was right.
I must confess that several times during the trip, I thought about how I would much rather be on a cruise. Or sitting on the beach. Or reading a book by the pool.
This is the reality of traveling with kids, especially without the help of a spouse. So this trip definitely falls under the category of being a “trip”, not a “vacation”. However, I know that my kids enjoyed parts of it. Maybe they will even retain a bit of knowledge from what they learned and have the desire to learn more and return to Washington, DC when they are older.
The bottom line is that we accomplished our goal for this trip, which was to update our boys’ Russian passports in order to make a trip to Russia in the near future. Falling in love with pandas and doing handstands in front of the Washington Monument were just bonuses.
Have you been to Washington, DC with kids? What do you think is the best age for this trip?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.