Washington DC with kids: When you have an hour or less

There’s so much to do in Washington DC with kids, families cannot possibly do it all in one visit. However, sometimes, you may find yourself with an hour or so free on our around the Mall. Here’s what we recommend:


National Archives:

Unless you plan to do some serious research on your family tree or a historical event, the main attraction in the National Archives is the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, all located in the Rotunda. Tickets are free, but run with timed entry, and should be reserved in advance. Reserve your time here. Be advised there is a $1.50 service charge, and no refunds. If you’re rather skip the charge, you can get timed tickets at the archives on the day of your visit (but may need to wait).

Once inside (past security) at the time of your visit, there will—depending on the season—be a wait to see the Charters of Independence (the documents listed above). We waited about 25 minutes for our turn. Was it worth it? Yes, absolutely. Adjacent to the charters is a small museum that shows how the archives work to store so much information, and includes some fun exhibits like letters to the president that have been archived. The museum is worth about 20 more minutes of your time.
Location: The archives are located at Constitution Ave between 7th and 9th streets, and open from 10 am to 5:30 pm.

Ford Theater:


Ford Theater, where Lincoln was shot, and the adjacent home where he died, take about an hour to tour, depending on the season. It requires a free timed ticket, but even in peak season, we were able to get one the day-of, at the time we wanted, without a problem. Once you have your ticket, you go right in at the time designated, and sit in the theater, looking directly at Lincoln’s presidential box. Tip: for the best view, sit on the left-hand side. A park ranger gives a 15 minute presentation, describing what happened that night—John Wilkes Booth’s plan, how he accessed the box, and the timeline of the president’s evening. It’s very interesting.

Afterward, your ticket also allows entry to the house across the street where Lincoln died. Unlike in the theater, where every ticket-holder is allowed in en masse, ticket-holders are allowed into the home in smaller numbers. This means waiting in line outside. During our visit, we decided to skip this stop, because of the heat. If you wait to do it, allow closer to two hours to tour the whole Ford Theater site. There’s also a small but good museum to tour (also free, and included in some timed tickets…if you want it, your times are more limited.)
Location: Ford Theater is located at 511 10th Street NW, about three blocks up from the Mall.

Festivals on the Mall:

During most times of the year, the National Mall hosts ongoing outdoor festivals and street fairs. The Smithsonian institute runs several, including the Folk Festival in June and July. These festivals are free, educational, and colorful. They make for a good break from museum touring while in the area. During our most recent visit, we explored booths and checked out artisans from China and Kenya.

We were told the National Park Service has begun to limit permits for Mall festivals, so catch one while you can!

What’s your favorite pit stop in Washington DC?

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