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A Mini Travel Guide to Washington, D.C. for Families on a Budget

Looking for a fun, budget-friendly and educational family vacation? Well, guess what? A big city getaway doesn’t have to mean a big city price tag.

Many parents think traveling to our nation’s capitalWashington, D.C.will require a big budget. If you plan ahead, however, and take advantage of a few budget-friendly travel hacks, D.C. could not only be your kid’s new favorite vacation spot, but also your bank account’s.

The Best Places to Keep Your Kids Entertained for FREE

One of the top reasons why D.C. can be an affordable vacation spot is because of the ample amount of FREE entertainment for your family. Unlike most historic areas that charge admission for every museum and iconic site, a majority of the major museums in the National Mall are open to the public—at no cost. This perk also includes the monuments and Smithsonian’s National Zoo!

That said, here are my favorite must-see (and free) family-friendly places in the D.C. area.

Smithsonian’s National Zoo:

Washington DC travel guide for families on a budget

(source)

Located a few miles outside the National Mall, the zoo is my family’s all-time favorite to visit. Not only is the admission free for all ages, but you can also see your kids’ beloved animalsfrom lions to elephants, tigers, and giraffes. Oh, and don’t forget to catch the gorillas. They are amazing creatures and your kids will be just as fascinated to see them.

*While admission to the zoo is free, parking is $20 per day.

National Museum of American History:

Washington DC travel guide for families on a budget

This museum is chock-full of exhibits both children and parents of all ages will love. Located in the basement of the museum are planes, trains, and automobilesa young boy’s dream come true. And, for young girls, a collection of the First Ladies’ inaugural gowns, complete with shoes and jewelry.

For the wee ones (think ages 0 to 6), be sure to visit the new “Wegmans Wonderplace” for fun activities to bring history to life.

And, a trip to this museum would not be complete without viewing the flag that inspired the “The Star-Spangled Banner.” What a beautiful display of American history for all to see.

National Museum of Natural History:

Washington DC travel guide for families on a budget

A trip inside this museum is essential. Not only can you view relics of extinct animals, but also of ocean life. There’s even a giant whale on display in the ceiling. Little boys will love the dinosaurs, and the girls will love the diamonds and jewels on displayincluding the beautiful Hope Diamond. Okay, maybe mommy will love it more.

If you start to feel hungry, many of the museums have cafeterias where visitors are welcome to eat packed lunches, or grab a bite of cooked food or a salad (because sometimes you just don’t want to serve your kid a hot dog from a random hot dog stand!).

Tips & Tricks for Getting Around Town

Washington DC travel guide for families on a budget

Coming from a small town, the idea of “big city” driving (and parking) can be intimidating. Lucky for me, I have a husband who considers himself savvy in this arena. Before our trip, we planned ahead and knew exactly where we wanted to be within the D.C. area so we could park as close as possible.

If you’re not big into driving around town, The Metro is a great means of public transportation as well. But, only if you’ve got a small vacation crew or are flying into the area and won’t have a vehicle.

What many large families don’t realize is the minimum Metro ticket is $10 per person (that’s $8 worth of travel and $2 for the reloadable pass). Being a family of 6 (4 adults and 2 kids), it would’ve easily been $60 just for the tickets to travel from our resort’s location into the hub of D.C.

Obviously, my mommy budget radar was going off! There was no way I wanted to spend that much money only to have to quickly load my two kids and a stroller onto the crowded Metro. Not to mention, how would I entertain the kids throughout the multiple stops the Metro makes? Personally, I would much rather be stuck in traffic in my mini van, loaded with DVDs and snacks, versus a stroller and no cell service.

So, what did I do? I quickly searched and found several parking garages located blocks from the National Mall at an investment of $15 for the entire day! We saved almost $45 by going this route. Plus, we were able to load the car with raincoats, umbrellas, and snacksitems we were thankful to have nearby, but would not have wanted to cart around all day.

Tripbound Tip: If your kids are early risers, you can take advantage of the FREE parking located behind the Lincoln Memorial. These spots go FAST in the morning hours. But, if you get there early enough, you can snag one for easy access to various hotspots.

When and Where to Stay During Your Visit

Washington DC travel guide for families on a budget

If you live within driving distance, D.C. is a wonderful day trip. Many people, however, are not located an easy 1- to 2-hour drive from our nation’s Capital. That said, if you need to stay for a few days, there are several great options to keep your family happy and remain within your budget.

And, with that, I would highly recommend a weekend trip. Unlike most vacation spots, hotels and resorts in D.C. often lower their rates on the weekends. That’s because it tends to be a big business and government destination, with rates higher Monday-Thursday and lower Friday-Saturday to fill empty rooms with weekend travelers.

But, if you really want to save your money, I would recommend staying about 15 minutes outside the D.C. area in National Harbor. It’s a beautiful, family-friendly location that’ll give you a laid back feel, while still being close to the big city.

Traveling with multiple families? Wyndham National Harbor is the perfect spot as it has one- to three-bedroom units with fully-equipped kitchens, guaranteeing you’ll save some extra cash. All because you’ll be able to cook meals from the comfort of your suite. Oh, and fight the crowds at restaurants across the area!


As a mommy on a budget who loves to travel, I’m here to tell you Washington, D.C. is the perfect place to build great family memories without spending a fortune. So, be sure to add this destination to your vacation wish list.

Washington DC travel guide for families on a budget

Or, if you’re ready to make it a reality and book the trip ASAP, give us a call today at 1-888-816-5214. One of our friendly and knowledgeable travel coordinators will be happy to assist you and take the stress out of booking.

Not only will your kid’s love seeing history first hand, but their teachers will also thank you for making history truly come to life!

Tell us: do you plan to take the family to Washington, D.C. in the near future? If so, what are you looking forward to the most? And, if you have already, what’s a must-see spot? Share your questions or comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

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