Family Travel Survival Guide: Washington, DC

Monuments and Memorials, The White House and the Capitol
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The US Capitol at Sunset
A CAPITAL SIGHT: The U.S. Capitol building, which anchors the eastern edge of the National Mall (Brand X Pictures)

Monuments and Memorials
Don't make the mistake of merely gazing at DC's grand, utterly iconic structures from your car window or tour bus. The monuments and memorials on the National Mall and its surroundings lure visitors to get a good look. And the closer you get, the more amazing detail you see.

The Washington Monument is the centerpiece of them all, looming large over the National Mall at just over 555 feet high. The monument is both the world's tallest obelisk and the city's loftiest building. Show your kids where the stone changes in color about a third of the way up, marking where construction came to a halt due to lack of funds during the American Civil War then resumed 12 years later. For a different perspective, take a tour of the interior. An elevator whisks you to the top, where windows on all four sides offer some of the best views of the city.

At the west end of the Mall, just in front of the Reflecting Pool, the Lincoln Memorial honors the 16th president with a neoclassical structure and, inside, a 19-foot statue of Lincoln. Young history buffs will recognize the famous Gettysburg Address etched into one of the walls. Park rangers are on sight to answer any questions and talk about Abraham Lincoln and the memorial.

As you wander around the Mall, you'll likely come across the Vietnam War, Korean War, and World War II memorials. Kids of all ages may be impressed by the designs, but older children likely will have a better appreciation for their significance.

Located on the Tidal Basin of the Potomac River just off the Mall, the Jefferson Memorial is a riveting sight—and that's from across the water. Close up, it's even more impressive. A 19-foot bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson stands under the center of the dome, while passages from his writings and the Declaration of Independence are carved into the walls. For another view, take to the water. Paddleboat rentals are available just across the tidal basin from the memorial ($16 an hour for a four-passenger boat).

White House and Capitol Building
The home of the president and heart of the government are, without a doubt, two of the most important structures in Washington, D.C. Anyone with an interest in American history and government shouldn't miss a chance to tour these venues and view the nation's policy-makers in action. Older children will get the most out of their visits; youngsters might get antsy before the tours are done. To visit the White House, contact your state representative to reserve a tour time—and do so early, because spots are limited. Capitol tours are available on a first come-first serve basis. You can pick up tickets for scheduled times throughout the day at a kiosk outside of the Capitol starting at 9 a.m. daily, and you should plan to get there early during the tourist season.


Linda Samuel is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

Published: 13 Jun 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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