During the summer, Washington D.C. makes a great travel location for anyone wishing to view some wonderful sights from American history. Intellectual appeal was the driving forces behind our recent trips to Washington D.C., but patriotism certainly went on an upswing once we arrived. Washington D.C. can be a highly affordable vacation spot for those on a budget, and is a particularly fantastic place to visit for those with children or teenagers. Here are some tips on how to make Washington D.C. as budget-friendly as possible.
We have had better luck with finding hotels in and around Arlington than anywhere else. Not only is this a safe area to stay for those with small children, the hotels are highly affordable and offer some great amenities not necessarily offered at the more expensive hotels in the heart of the city. My absolute favorite Washington D.C. hotel is Holiday Inn, Rosslyn. The price per night tends to be under $100 (sometimes considerably less than that) for a hotel that overlooks the city and has an indoor pool. You can find special deals on this at any of the major sites for booking hotel rooms (Orbitz is my favorite, but you can also check Travelocity or CheapHotels), but I’ve found increasingly that going to the hotel’s main website (holidayinn.com) will offer the best possible deals. Make sure if you’re an AAA member that the AAA price actually is cheaper than any other price, as it often is more expensive. Other good options include the Sheraton National Hotel and Hilton Arlington.
Eating in Washington D.C. for cheap is relatively easy to do. There are sidewalk vendors offering everything from pretzels to hot dogs for those who like the idea of a picnic, and the giant McDonald’s is a must for those with small children (hint: let them throw out their own trash one piece at a time to keep them entertained while you take a break from walking…the trash cans talk, which is a huge hit with any child under 10). We also liked eating cheaply in the food court by the Air and Space Museum (http://www.si.edu/dining/default.htm). For those who would like to try something different or who aren’t bringing small children, the website http://www.dc-eating.com/ has many great options broken down by type of food with specific reviews by restaurant. With most family trips, we often end up taking advantage of continental breakfasts and microfridges in the hotel room so that we can buy our own groceries.
Getting around D.C. can end up being the most expensive part of the trip. If you are unaccustomed to large cities, learning where you can and cannot park your car can be a tricky business. You often cannot park particularly close to the places you’d like to see, and parking that is legal is often paid parking. Weekends are a bit of an exception, and with a bit of hunting and luck, you can find on-street parking within an easy walk to the National Mall. During the week, you might want to pursue another option for getting around the city so you don’t spend most of your time trying to figure out where to place your car, or worrying about having it towed. Taking the Metro is inexpensive and easy, with many locations all around the city (http://www.wmata.com/). It can take a bit to get used to this sort of transportation if you are from the suburbs, as we are, but it’s a learning experience in itself for children and adults alike. One of the best finds for us was the Tourmobile option based out of Arlington National Cemetery. You can park at the cemetery for a fee, then pay for a tour of either the cemetery alone or the whole city. This is a bit more costly than just going by foot or taking the Metro, but you get a tour in with the deal (http://www.tourmobile.com/). We found this well worth it, particularly on our first visit to the city. You can reboard free all day. A slightly more expensive option that kids will clamor for is the Duck Tours (http://www.dcducks.com/) in which tours are conducted on amphibious vehicles (both land and sea) shaped like boats that drive through the streets.
For things to do and see, Washington D.C. may well be one of the most inexpensive places to which we’ve traveled. Most of the museums are free or only ask for a small donation, and you could easily spend several days (even as long as a week) just touring the various Smithsonians (http://www.si.edu/). We particularly like the Air and Space Museum and the National Art Museum. The Holocaust Museum is a fantastic museum, but definitely hard to get through. The National Mall only has sidewalk vendors-don’t expect a Sears here! Here you can hang out, have picnics, etc. The monuments are a good look back at America’s history, though we’ve found that smaller children tend to prefer Lincoln to some of the others. Most kids don’t tend to really “get” the Vietnam memorial, but it’s really a must-see for adults, and there are plenty of wide open spaces and various other statues and monuments for children to check out while their parents are trying to take in the awe-inducing Vietnam memorial. The Capitol, White House and Washington Monument are all also good bets. Arlington Cemetery is free to tour by foot, but you must pay for driving tours. Younger people in your party may appreciate the driving tours, because the walking tour is quite strenuous (http://www.arlingtoncemetery.org/).
There are so many things to do and see in Washington D.C. that a single article could not hope to cover them all. We have gone for both day and week long trips and in both cases felt like we had not stayed long enough to see everything we wanted to see.