As our nation’s capital Washington DC is a top tourist destination for families. Washington DC is filled magnificent monuments, memorials and museums that celebrate America’s history. It also happens to be one of the easiest cities to navigate around. Washington DC visitors have many choices when it comes to seeing the sites, but nothing beats a self-guided walking tour. (Plus it’s FREE! And nothing beats free.)
While living in Washington D.C our family played tour guides for many of our friends and family. Our first time touring the city we forked over the big bucks for a double-decker multi-day pass, but we quickly learned there was a better way. A short six-mile self-guided walking tour of the monuments and memorials!
We passed this knowledge on to our family and friends whenever they visited. And it soon became a favorite. This saved our guests from having to pay a tour guide and also, gave them the freedom of taking an extra break or splitting it up to multiple days. Follow our lead and you won’t be disappointed.
Where to Start Your Washington DC Walking Tour
We always started our walking tour at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial which is about a 10-minute walk from the closest Metro Station. Depending on your hotel’s location you may want to start at a different spot and that is just fine. If you are coming from a surrounding area, I highly recommend taking advantage of public transportation, particularly the Metro train, to get around as parking can be difficult.
First Stop- The Thomas Jefferson Memorial
This is one of my favorite spots to visit, especially at twilight. The lighting casts a glow on the water and highlights the 19 foot tall Thomas Jefferson statue as he holds the Declaration of Independence.
Honoring one of our Founding Fathers the Thomas Jefferson Memorial was dedicated on April 13, 1943, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Looking over the Tidal Basin, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial is located at 16 East Basin, SW in Washington DC.
Second Stop- The Lincoln Memorial
Located at Two Lincoln Memorial Circle NW, the Lincoln memorial or as my kids like to call it “the backside of the penny” is just over a mile from our starting point. For younger kids, this is probably one of the most recognizable memorials because of the connection to the penny.
Dedicated in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial is a symbol of our country’s unity and honors a man that brought the principle of “All men are created equal” to life. Carved into the sides of the memorial are two of President Abraham Lincoln’s speeches that we made sure to read aloud to our children each time we visited.
OneMomsMess Tip: While walking up the steps take a moment to stop at the marker marking the spot that Martin Luther King, Jr gave his famous “I have a dream” speech.
Third Stop- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
A short jaunt from the Lincoln Memorial is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Bring tissues. This is one of the hardest memorials to visit for our military family. There are three memorials located in this area; The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, The Vietnam Woman’s Memorial and the Three Soldiers statue.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall lists more than 58,000 names of service members who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War. This powerful memorial can be overwhelming but gives us the opportunity to honor the many lives that were cut too short during a time of war.
OneMomsMess Tip: If you want to find the name of a fallen relative or friend while visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, check the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s Wall of Faces.
Fourth Stop- The White House
Home to the President of the United States, the White House is the most iconic stop on our tour. The most popular view is along Pennsylvania Ave and is just about a mile from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Of all our stops, this is the highlight for me. I loved being able to see THE White House. Oh, if those walls could talk. There is so much history that walks those halls and overall, it symbolizes America.
OneMomsMess Tip: Would you like to get an inside peek of the White House? Be prepared to jump through a few hoops. Tour requests must be submitted to your local member of congress and can be requested as up to three months in advance. Depending on the official White House schedule, self-guided tours are granted Tuesday – Thursday 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and Friday – Saturday 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., federal holidays are excluded.
Another way to get closer to the White House is by attending one of the holiday events hosted by the President and First Lady.
During the time we were stationed in Washington DC, our family was blessed enough to attend both, the Lighting of the National Christmas Tree and the White House Easter Egg Roll.
Tickets to the once in a lifetime events are granted through a random online lottery held by recreation.gov. I, highly recommend applying for tickets if you are in the area during either of these times.
Fifth Stop- The Washington Monument
The Washington Monument was built to honor the first United States President, George Washington. We never made it to the top, as our little one is scared of heights, but I can only imagine what it’s like.
The Washington Monument is viewable from just about everywhere on our tour, but our favorite view was from Constitutional Ave, NW and 14th Street, NW.
Sixth Stop- The National Mall
Remember how I mentioned that you could break your walking tour into multiple days? This is the perfect place to spend a couple of days.
Washington DC is home to 17 Smithsonian museums and 11 of those are located along the National Mall. From air and space travel to prehistoric dinosaurs, there is a Smithsonian Museum to satisfy everyone.
We spent many days exploring the Smithsonian museums that are located within the National Mall. Of course, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History was a family favorite.
The kids got a kick out of seeing “The Night of the Museum” museum in real life and I can’t tell you how many times they tried to reenact scenes from the movie. And I’m not sure what it is about 10-year-old boys, but they love rocks. Our son could spend HOURS walking in the Hall of gems. I will admit that I could spend just as long admiring the Hope Diamond. Gorgeous!
Seventh and Final Stop- The U.S. Capitol
We’ve finally come to our last stop on the Washington DC walking tour. At the end of the National Mall is the U.S Capitol Building. While some are happy to just stand outside and take pictures, the US Capitol Building is open to visitors Monday through Saturdays.
Our family self-guided walking tour takes us through Washington DC and hits many of the must-see monuments and memorials. Best part? It’s short enough to be completed in a day, but there are plenty of opportunities to extend the tour over a few days.
Many of our stops offer tickets for those that would like to explore a little more thoroughly. The wonderful part about those tickets is that they are free.