Washington, D.C., is a place we all read about in history books and see in the movies, but not everyone thinks to visit this amazing city.
Many believe a visit to D.C. would be a costly venture, and still others think RVing in or near such a large city would be difficult. I can tell you from experience that these things just aren’t true.
Thanks to the free admission at the Smithsonian museums and galleries, and the iconic monuments and memorials that are free for anyone to take a gander at, this city is actually one of the most affordable places we have visited.
As far as RV parking goes, the public transportation system makes parking an RV at one of the campgrounds just outside the city and riding in a breeze.
While some attractions may offer special tours or add-ons for a fee, every attraction I have listed in this post is free for the public to enjoy. This means that, aside from the cost of your site, transportation, and food, your trip to Washington, D.C., doesn’t need to cost you a dime.
The National Museum of American History
The perfect museum for people with any interest at all in the history of our country, The National Museum of American History offers a peek into many different points of our past. With information on everything from the food we eat to Thomas Edison, this is a truly interesting and engaging museum for people of all ages.
My son was especially entertained by the “Object Project” exhibit, which discussed the many objects we now take for granted that changed the way people live their day-to-day lives. This exhibit had plenty of hands-on activities and interesting ways of presenting information which really captivated my child’s 4-year-old mind. He especially enjoyed the old-fashioned bicycles which visitors were allowed to sit on.
Meanwhile, I was intrigued by the “America on the Go” exhibit. This room explored the history of transportation in America including personal automobiles and various forms of public transportation. The exhibit even featured a travel trailer from the 1930s, which was incredible to see and likely had me more excited than the average Joe, for obvious reasons.
This museum sparked tons of great conversations with my 4-year-old son, who was genuinely curious about much of what the museum had to show him, making it the ideal stop for a homeschooling or road-schooling family. For this reason, as well as the entertainment value, I 100 percent recommend this stop to anyone planning on visiting the area.
For more information, visit americanhistory.si.edu
The National Museum of Natural History
Another gem of a museum, this hall of amazing information was enormous. You will definitely want to give yourself a full day to enjoy everything this place has to offer. The museum covers everything from the creatures of the ocean to the animals of the African savanna, and gives you a peek into the how and why behind the way our world works.
I truly enjoyed the “Hall of Human Origins” exhibit, where we learned about the evolution of our species as well as the many other human species that once roamed the earth. It was a fascinating exhibit that really got me thinking.
My son, on the other hand, got a huge kick out of the dinosaur room and really wished it was bigger. We actually learned a new thing or two in this room despite my son already being obsessed with the subject and talking about it constantly, so you can bet it was pretty thorough.
Once again, the Smithsonian Institution blew me out of the water with their museum, and I will recommend this stop to anyone asking my opinion.
For more information, visit naturalhistory.si.edu
The National Air and Space Museum
The third Smithsonian museum we visited was more for the sake of my husband and son than it was for myself. Nevertheless, the Museum of Air and Space was interesting enough, and I believe the space enthusiasts in my family thoroughly enjoyed their visit.
The walk though the replica Spacelab was cool and gave examples of how an astronaut might bathe, exercise, and eat in space. There was a long line to go through, but it moved quickly and it was worth it to see the inside of this incredible spacecraft.
My personal favorite exhibit at this museum was the room centered around the Wright Brothers and all of the work they put into the world’s first airplane. It explores the various trials and errors the brothers worked through and the reasons why certain designs worked better than others.
This museum is definitely geared toward those interested in flight and space, and would be enjoyed by anyone with a specific interest in those areas. Others would likely find something interesting to look at, but may not want to spend as much time in the museum and may enjoy a visit to another Smithsonian museum or gallery better.
For more information, visit airandspace.si.edu
The White House
After looking at it on a page or a screen for so many years, it was a bit surreal seeing The White House in person. We did not take advantage of the daily tour option because we lacked the time. However, just viewing it from the outside was an interesting experience.
Next time we visit we will likely go inside, but for this short trip seeing the house from a bit of a distance was just fine.
I definitely recommend seeing The White House while you are in D.C. If you have time, be sure to take a free tour. Just know that tours must be scheduled at least 21 days in advance, and it is recommended that you schedule as much as six months in advance if possible.
For more information, visit www.whitehouse.gov/participate/tours-and-events.
The Washington Monument
The Washington monument is really just that — a monument. However, after a long day at the museum, it was nice and relaxing to visit the monument in person, and then hang out in the surrounding grass afterward.
Our visit to the monument did instigate a short discussion about George Washington, so that was a plus for us. Currently my son has little interest in such things, but there is no harm in planting seeds and encouraging him to learn about the birth of our nation.
You can get free tickets to go up into the monument and get a bird’s eye view of our nation’s capitol. However, tickets are limited, so you will want to arrive early in the day. Another option is to pay a small fee to reserve your tickets in advance.
For more information, visit www.nps.gov/wamo.
Other notable attractions
- Other Smithsonian Museums and Galleries (www.si.edu) — The Smithsonian Institution has a collection of 19 museums and galleries including a zoo and an aquarium. Admission to these fantastic places of knowledge is always absolutely free, and the facilities and exhibits are top-notch.
- Lincoln Memorial (www.nps.gov/linc)— This iconic memorial is an amazing way to introduce young children to Honest Abe.
- US Bureau of Engraving and Printing (www.moneyfactory.gov/washingtondctours) — Watch as dollar after dollar is printed on this fascinating tour. The tour is free, but tickets are required, so be sure to arrive when the ticket booth opens at 8 a.m. to ensure you are included in the tours of the day.
- The Library of Congress (www.loc.gov) — The world’s largest library, this enormous collection of books, recordings, photographs, and more houses something for everyone.
Where to Eat
- Good Stuff Eatery (www.goodstuffeatery.com) — Serving up “the best burger in D.C.,” this burger joint has the classic American meal of burger, fries, and a malt down pat. The lines do become long around lunch time, but the staff works quickly and the food is well worth the wait.
- &pizza (http://www.andpizza.com) — This local pizza place is the place to go when you are craving a good slice. Just a short walk from several Smithsonian Museums, it is convenient and delicious. All ingredients are locally sourced whenever possible, and vegetarian and gluten-free options are available.
- Founding Farmers (www.wearefoundingfarmers.com) — This place is popular, so you will want to make reservations. That said, it is pretty casual, so don’t worry too much about dressing up unless you simply want to. The chicken and waffles is one of the more popular menu items, but I think anything you order would be equally delicious.
- Compass Coffee (www.compasscoffee.com) — If you are in the mood for a cup o’ Joe, Compass Coffee will get you fixed right up. If you don’t want to take my word for it, try reading the consistently amazing reviews. The Nutella Mocha is to die for, and the brewed coffee definitely lives up to the hype.
Where to Stay
- Greenbelt National Park (www.nps.gov/gree) — Greenbelt National park is gorgeous and absolutely full of wildlife. It is truly an escape from the hustle-and-bustle of the city, but still located just about 10 miles outside of Washington, D.C., and just a few minutes from a train that will take you right into the city. The campground in the park is primitive, and does not offer any hook-ups. They do have bathhouses though, as well as a dump station. This is the budget option in the area, and site fees are only $16 a night.
- Adventure Bound Camping Resorts — (abcamping.com/washingtondc) — With sites ranging from $45 to $66 a night, this campground is a bit more expensive, but offers hook-ups in exchange for the extra cost. The park also has a pool with a slide and planned activities for kids. Adventure Bound is located about 15 miles from Washington, D.C.
- Cherry Hill RV Park (www.cherryhillpark.com) — Likely the most convenient option, Cherry Hill RV Park offers visitors full hook-ups, two pools, mini-golf and free Wi-Fi. City buses stop right in the park, making transportation into the city easy peasy. With rates starting at $68 though, it is also the most expensive option.