Tours of the White House are available Tuesdays through Saturdays and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. To request a tour, contact your congressional representative. Tours can be requested as early as six months in advance, but no less than 21 days in advance. Just don't wait too long, as spots fill up quickly.
To book a tour at the Capitol, you can use the online reservation system. Visitors to the Capitol will tour the crypt, rotunda and National Statuary Hall.
You don't need reservations to tour the National Archives Museum. Split into five vaults, the museum houses handwritten letters from George Washington, telegrams from Abraham Lincoln, a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation and much more. One impressive stop is the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, home to the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.<br/> The Smithsonian Institution is composed of 19 museums and the National Zoo. The museums are popular stops on most families' itineraries.
The National Museum of Natural History houses an exhibit on gems and minerals where families can ogle precious stones, including the Hope Diamond.
Exhibits at the Museum of American History include not only a fragment of Plymouth Rock, but also Old Glory, the flag that inspired our national anthem.
Erin Simmons, a mom of two from Newnan, traveled to Washington with her family in February.
"Honestly, the boys' favorite part was seeing Old Glory. Brennan, my youngest son, was moved to tears seeing the flag," Simmons said.
There are also several places in Washington that you wouldn't immediately think to take the kids.
The National Portrait Gallery, for example, offers a Young Portrait Explorers program for kids up to age 5. For families with kids ages 4-14, you can borrow a Portrait Discovery Kit. which includes historian guides, seek-and-find cards, and a compare and contrast activity. On select Saturdays and Sundays, the Gallery Education Center holds Portrait Story Days, where you can listen to a story about a historical figure and create your own piece of art to take home.
At the U.S. Botanic Garden, kids 9 and older can become junior botanists by checking out kit. If they complete all the adventure sheets in the kit, they will receive an apprentice junior botanist badge. Once the sheets are botanist-approved, they will receive a certificate in the mail, along with tools to continue the study of botany.
The National Building Museum houses exhibits that showcase architecture and engineering, plus plenty of activities to engage kids of all ages. Visit the Building Zone so your kids can test their tower and arch-building skills, or drive toy trucks and bulldozers. For a fee, families can also check out tool kits, which have activities to complete, such as investigating tools and building materials, designing a floor plan, and identifying architectural patterns.
The International Spy Museum houses artifacts depicting the lives and tools from the earliest spies to today's cyberterrorists. The museum also has an exhibit dedicated to James Bond villains, including props from "Spectre," the latest film in the series. Families with kids 12 and over older can buy tickets for Operation Spy, an interactive experience where you must put your surveillance and code-cracking skills to use. You can also participate in Spy in the City, a GPS-guided sightseeing/sleuthing tour that sends you out and about the neighborhood surrounding the Spy Museum. Families can also pick up a Family Missions Guide to complete a scavenger hunt through the museum.
The Newseum features exhibits on civil rights, the Vietnam War, 9/11, Pulitzer Prize-winning photos and more. A daily changing gallery showcases the front pages of 80 of the world's newspapers. Kids can learn to "be a reporter" at stations where they can prepare a front-page news story or make their TV journalism debut reading from a teleprompter and reporting breaking news. Also, check out the view from the Hank Greenspun Terrace, which overlooks Pennsylvania Avenue and has an 80-foot-long exhibit rail that tells the history of our nation's capital.
If you don't mind crowds and are looking for something to do for Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, Washington is the place to be.
Ada and Eric Cornwell of Newnan spent last Memorial Day in Washington with their sons, Grayson, 12, and Will, 10.
"We visited through Memorial Day weekend, so the concert on the Capitol lawn was amazing. We were able to sit on the steps of the Capitol to watch the concert and fireworks, which was so patriotic and beautiful," Ada Cornwall said.
There's also nothing quite like celebrating Independence Day by watching the fireworks show along the National Mall each year.
Whenever you decide to visit, Simmons suggests researching and planning your trip as a family, and reading to your kids about all the sights you will see.
"There are so many kids' books that you can get to talk about the founding of our country and the government, and having that little bit of a connection when you get to D.C. will make it much more enjoyable," she said.