Washington DC - Part 2: Monuments, Natural History Museum, National Archives, Library of Congress, and more

Washington DC - Part 2: Monuments, Natural History Museum, National Archives, Library of Congress, and more

Catch up on Washington DC - Part 1: National Zoo & Arlington National Cemetery.

We were so excited to get into the heart of Washington DC to explore. We finally got to take the Metro into the city - the kids’ first time on a subway. Days 2, 3, and 4 (out of 9) exploring DC found us on the Mall visiting monuments, museums, and all three branches of the United States government. In those three days, we walked over 15 miles and saw the most amazing things. We loved it!

Metro & Other Transportation

Taking the Metrorail is so easy in the Washington DC area. Although our campground, Cherry Hill Park, does offer buses that take you to the Metro station or also straight into the city, driving ourselves to the station and leaving our car there gave us much more flexibility in our time. We were able to purchase pre-loaded SmarTrip cards right at our campground to pay for the Metro. At the stations, you can reload your card if you need to add more money at any point. Just a quick tap of the card at the turnstile and you are on your way. It was really fun for these suburban kids to learn how to read the line maps and figure out which color line we needed to take, which stop we needed to get off at, and if we needed to change lines mid-way to our destination. They also learned the rules of getting on and off quickly and how to hold on when there are not any seats available. As I said, it was very easy to navigate and a great life lesson for the kids.

The other great part about DC is there is another public transportation option right on the Mall. The DC Circulator is a bus that just circles the Mall and has stops all along the way. When we were there, it was free. However, I believe it is back to its normal fares, which are still very inexpensive. Kids under 5 are free, seniors are 50 cents, and adults are $1. It is such a nice service when your feet are so tired and you just need to get from one end of the Mall all the way to the other end.

There are also scooter and bike rentals all over. We did not use them, but again if you want to zip from one museum to another or from the Lincoln Memorial at one end to the Capitol building at the other end, these are a great option.

Monuments & Memorials

Over the course of the three days, we spent quite a bit of time walking around the monuments and memorials. The Washington Monument is beautiful and impressive - later in our trip, we were able to get reservations to go to the top. We will share more about that next time. The Lincoln Memorial is dramatic and quite humbling. It, of course, was crowded. I wished we could have had some more time there, but with all the people waiting for pictures, we needed to move quickly. We only saw the Jefferson Memorial from a distance across the Tidal Basin, but it is iconic and I am glad we got to see it from afar. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is beautiful. The memorial looks out over the Tidal Basin and is definitely worth spending some time at, reflecting on what he accomplished and how far we have to go.

The most impactful memorials for me were the war memorials. The WWII Memorial was incredible with its fountains and all the states represented. The bronze images on the walls draw you into the history and stories that encapsulate the war. The District of Columbia WWI Memorial is small and tucked back to the side but it is a quiet place to remember such a sobering time in history. Personally, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was the most heart wrenching. So many names. So many lives - husbands, brothers, sons, fathers. My father is a Vietnam veteran, and while we were there we found the names of some of his friends and squadron mates. It was emotional.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

We loved the Natural History Museum! The animals, skeletons, and fossils were so well presented and the kids loved seeing it all up close. Maybe even more fun was the hall of gems and minerals. It’s huge! There is so much to see. Our youngest is a budding mineralogist and has been educating the rest of us for the last few years and his excitement is contagious. So seeing all of the rocks and gems from around the country and around the world was incredible. The Hope Diamond is there and is of course impressive, but the entirety of the collection is just awesome! We spent probably 4 or 5 hours in this museum and it was one of our favorites.

International Spy Museum

Okay, the spy museum is just cool! Really, really fun! It is highly interactive and we learned the craziest ways that spies have concealed and passed along information. There are gadgets galore, unbelievable life stories of spies, and details of missions we had never heard of. It really was a great museum. We spent about 3 hours there but could have spent much more. Put this one on your must-do list. Note: This is not a Smithsonian museum, therefore is not free.

National Archives

National Treasure, Nicolas Cage, Declaration of Independence. We came in prepared to see the National Archives, having the image of the building and the rotunda fresh in our minds from the movie. But, it was way, way, way more awesome than we imagined it would be. We all LOVED seeing the Charters of Freedom - the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights - in addition to other documents such as an original Magna Carta (there are several). The room itself is beautiful, but it truly is incredible to see the actual documents, notice the different handwritings and signatures and spellings, etc. We spoke to the guards who are extremely knowledgeable and have stories to share. Unfortunately, when we were there the public vaults were not open, so really the rotunda was the only part we were able to see. However, it is amazing to think of all the Archives holds - the details of this country. Understandably, no photographs are allowed. This was absolutely one of our favorite stops in DC. Note: You need a timed entry reservation.

Library of Congress

What can I even say? Library of Congress was my personal favorite place in all of DC. It is the most beautiful building inside. Everywhere you turn, there is something beautiful and meaningful to notice. That is not even including the books. Oh, the books. There was a Gutenberg Bible on display. That was pretty amazing! Thomas Jefferson's library is there. Did you know that he donated most of his books after the original Library of Congress was burned by the British in the War of 1812? Then to look down on the reading room. Ack! Did you know they even have a children’s literature section? Someday I want to register at the LOC and have access to the reading room. I just want to wander around there, pick a topic to research, and just see what I find. I also want to spend hours in the children’s literature section. Please, if you go to DC, go to the Library of Congress. You will not regret it. Note: You need a timed entry reservation.

US Capitol, Supreme Court, White House

While we could not schedule tours of any of these iconic buildings due to Covid and security restrictions, we were able to walk by and at least see them. I never really understood the geography of Washington DC before coming in person. I did not realize that the Supreme Court is across the street from the Capitol, but they are both across the Mall from the White House. Somehow just seeing the layout of the town will make news stories about events happening in DC make a little more sense.

The buildings are all beautiful, but the White House is smaller than I would have expected. I had been told that, but it was hard to imagine until we saw it. Snipers walked the roof of the White House and you certainly cannot get particularly close. However, just a block away is the White House visitor center which is part of the National Park Service, so we went there to see artifacts, models of the White House, and a short film. The kids’ earned another Junior Ranger badge here and it was worth the short stop.

Final Thoughts

Well, we have now shared four total days of exploring Washington DC and we were just getting started. We still had so much more to do - more museums and more adventures. Coming soon.

Watch the video:

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Where We Stayed

Cherry Hill Park



National Mall & Memorial Parks


National Museum of Natural History


International Spy Museum


National Archives


Library of Congress


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