Things to do in Washington D.C. and Arlington, Virginia
A trip to our nations capital, Washington DC, is one that should be on every Americans list. But a day trip to Arlington, Virginia should be included on that trip as well. Arlington is a quick 15 minutes outside the city, and definitely worth the trip. The most famous spots are, Arlington National Cemetery and The Pentagon.
WHAT TO DO:
Arlington National Cemetery
We grabbed a late breakfast and headed to Arlington National Cemetery first. We had rented a car, so drove straight to the parking lot which was $2 an hour.
Arlington National Cemetery is free admission, but we recommend taking their hop on/hop off tour to see all the sites without having to walk a whole lot. We purchased our tickets at the ticket office inside the visitors center just before boarding. The Arlington Tours Tram arlingtontours.com leaves every 15 minutes, and is $13.50 per adult. It takes you to all the main spots in the cemetery.
John F. Kennedy Grave and Eternal Flame
First up, John F. Kennedy’s grave and the Eternal Flame. You have the option to get off the tram and walk to the gravesite, or stay on the tram...unfortunately, you cannot see it from the tram. It’s worth the quick walk.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier/ Changing of the Guard
Another main spot we got out for was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Changing of the Guard. This place was one of my favorite places when we were there 13 years ago. The guard changes every 30 mins on the hour and half hour in the summer, and every hour on the hour in winter. The ceremony was awesome to watch. We stayed for 2 “Guard Mountings” or changing. In between the half hours, you can walk around the Memorial Display Room where you can learn all about the Tomb and it’s meanings.
It ended up raining on us for the first changing, so they did it a bit differently, but the second time was exactly how I remembered it.
Iwo Jima Memorial
We hopped back on the tram and headed for the Iwo Jima Memorial. It was a bit of a walk from the tram, they told us, so we decided we would drive to it when we were done at the cemetery.
Arlington Cemetery/Grave sites
The Welcome Center has lots of info on everything in the cemetery, and you can look up any family members or names you know on their computers in the center, and they will give you a print out of where the grave is, so you can go visit.
The Pentagon Memorial
After our tour at Arlington, we headed to The Pentagon where we were able to see the 9/11 Memorial and the crash site. The Memorial is very unique and has so much symbolism and meaning in everything in the memorial. There is a phone number you can call, that will give you a tour where you can walk through the memorial and get all the information about the memorial and 9/11 at the Pentagon.
WHERE TO EAT:
Rocklands Barbecue and Grilling Company
We were searching for some different restaurants, and stumbled on Rocklands Barbecue and Grilling Company. It was delicious BBQ with their own "famous bbq sauce". We ordered the family special and had tons of leftovers between the 4 of us. That way, we were able to try lots of different things on the menu. The decor inside and outside was really fun too. They have peanuts available as an appetizer while you're waiting for your food as well.
We ran into Cosi while looking for somewhere to eat for lunch. Then we found out Cosi actually has several locations on the East Coast, and some in the Midwest as well. They had a great selection of salads, sandwiches, and pizzas.
We spent our first day in Arlington, and then headed to D.C. for the next three days. Here's our Itinerary below:
Where to Stay:
Kimpton George Hotel
We stayed at Kimpton George Hotel, and it turned out to be the perfect spot to stay in D.C. because it is all decked out in George Washington decor.
It’s a really nice hotel, and the staff treated us very well. We got there a little early, and our room wasn’t ready yet, but they were more than happy to store our luggage for us, so we didn’t have to worry about leaving it in the car. They had a water station in the lobby for us to cool down and enjoy, before we headed back out.
When we got back to the hotel, we got our keys and headed to our room. There was a fruit platter and cup full of cookies for us to enjoy.
And they had a handwritten note welcoming us to the hotel. We loved that little touch. The decor in the room even tied into the George Washington theme, but nothing about it felt cheesy or tacky at all. It was all very elegantly done.
The beds were super comfy, and we had a fully stocked mini bar with all the drinks and snacks you could want. We had a wonderful stay with Kimpton George. Reserve your room here!
What to Do:
We headed to the Holocaust Museum the first part of the day, and had advanced tickets from their website. When we got to the museum, we heard that the same day tickets were being given away for an hour and 20 minutes later. T Holocaust Museum is free to the public and open every day except some holidays. You can reserve your tickets online, and pay a small handling fee, or you can head to the museum for same day tickets. They start handing them out at 9:45 am, and have certain times you can enter the museum.
As soon as we entered the museum, we saw a Holocaust survivor giving a presentation and answering questions. Then we were given a "passport" that had a different personal story for each person. We spent over 2 1/2 hours at this museum, because there was so much to see.
Daniel's Story was a really great exhibit for children, but even us adults loved going through it. It takes you through the life of Daniel who went through the Holocaust.
The Smithsonian Museums
We had tickets to another museum after the Holocaust Museum, but we spent way more time in there than we had expected, so we ended up heading to the Smithsonian Museums, since they are open until 5:30 pm. The Smithsonian has eleven museums all in the same area, the National Mall, and has six other museums in the area as well. All of the museums are free to the public.
National Museum of American History
We started at the National Museum of American History. We spent a little more than an hour here, because they ended up closing shortly after, so we ended up going back another day to finish some exhibits. One of our favorites was the First Lady exhibit, where they had several First Lady's Ball Gowns, and the White House china throughout the years.
Bureau of Printing and Engraving
The Bureau of Printing and Engraving is definitely one where we recommend taking some time out and taking a tour. Tickets are free, and you can get them around the back of the building at the ticket booth. Times are listed on the window, and you can ask for whichever tickets will work best for you. Originally, we had tickets for 2:45, but were going to miss that time, so we were able to pick up tickets for 5:45, which was one of the last tours of the day, so we barely made it. The tour takes around 45 minutes, and you get to see money being printed. Unfortunately there's no photography allowed in that area, so we only got pictures of the gift shop. (where you can actually buy newly printed money).
National Museum of Natural History- Smithsonian
The next day, we started at the National Mall, and finished the American History Museum. Then we headed next door to the National Museum of Natural History. This one has a very cool dinosaur exhibit with lots of different skeletons from various animals.
National Air and Space Museum
We headed to the National Air and Space Museum next. Coming from a hometown where lots of Space and Aircrafts are made, and a famous Air Force Base, we had to check this museum out. There were some really cool exhibits here including the original Wright Brother's Flyer, the Command Module of Apollo 11, and a cool lunar exhibit as well.
You can't go to Washington D.C. without seeing the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. You can see both of these at The National Archives. There are no tickets to get in, you just have to get in line, and wait your turn. There is no photography in the room, so I don’t have pictures for it, but it is pretty awesome to see the signatures and original documents written by our forefathers.
After we finished up at the museums, we headed to all the memorials. If you don’t mind walking, you can park your car, and walk to most of the memorials.
Be sure to take the elevator downstairs to see more!
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
This one was new to us, as it was built in 2011. It is very close to the FDR Memorial and across the pond from the Jefferson Memorial.
This memorial takes you on a walking path throughout FDR’s presidency.
The WWII Memorial was really awesome. It is across from the Washington Monument, and is very well made. It has a fountain, where you are actually encouraged to put your feet in, as a tribute to the soldiers who did after they won the battle…
The Vietnam Memorial has all the names of those who gave their lives etched on a large black wall.
The Lincoln Memorial is one I would suggest going to at sunset. You will have a beautiful view of the Washington Monument and the Reflection Pool as the sun is setting. Also, make sure to go downstairs for more!
Years ago, we had a private tour of the capital with our Senator. We didn’t think we would be able to take a tour of the Capital, but we still wanted to see it, so we headed inside. We were able to walk right in to the next tour of the Capital building. Free tickets, and walked right up. We may have gotten lucky, but if you think you’d like to take a tour, you can request advanced tickets here.
Library of Congress
After our tour of the capital, we were welcomed to head to the Library of Congress. None of us had ever been, and we thought it was really cool. We got to see the Gutenberg Bible (the first Bible made on a printing press), Thomas Jefferson’s personal library, (they’re still looking for some books that he owned), and there was a special exhibit all about baseball…and for this baseball loving family, we were loving it!
After we finished at the Library of Congress, we headed to Ford’s Theater where Lincoln was shot.
The tickets are free when you go to the ticket office, but if you want to purchase tickets ahead of time, it will be about $3 surcharge per ticket through Ticketmaster You can check to see how many tickets are left the day you want to go, but we walked right in and were able to jump in the next tour.
They do have an audio tour available for about $5 each, or you can go to the presentation in the theater at certain times. There is a whole museum before entering the theater that can take you a bit if you want to go through it, which we recommend. After, you can head across the street to the Petersen's House, where Abraham Lincoln was taken, and later died in the bedroom there.
We hadn’t heard about this museum before we went, but happened to drive past it, and decided to go. It is all donation based for tickets, so you pay what you want. There are some really great exhibits in there, but I recommend not missing “The Stories of The Bible” which is an Interactive Exhibit, that takes you through the Bible. It was really awesome.
Unfortunately we were not able to get tickets for a White House tour for the time we were in D.C. It is recommended to get your tickets super early, which you can do by clicking here.
Tips for your trip:
The Circulator was our best friend in D.C. It’s a bus that will take you all around the memorials, museums, and the National Mall. It is $1 per person, per ride. But you can buy a discounted pass for as well, with the SmarTrip®Card.
Ride DC Trip Planner
We personally didn’t use this, but heard about it while we were there, and thought we should mention it, in case it helps you on your trip!
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