Washington D.C. is a great city. I’ve been there twice and I could probably go there 10 more times and not tire of it. It is the perfect U.S. city for getting your feet wet if you want to travel with autistic children. There are enough museums to keep you busy, the metro system is excellent, and there are so many wonderful monuments to explore. You can find so many things to do both in and around the city.
I like taking public transportation whenever it is convenient and available, so I never used my car for going into the city. Finding a hotel on the metro line is imperative. You do not want the hassle of finding parking and dealing with traffic. Always use the metro, it’s very easy and we had it totally figured out by our third day. I ordered my metro cards online and had them delivered to my home, already loaded. No need wasting time at a kiosk trying figure out what kind of card to buy. We stayed a little further away from the city on this last visit to save money. The hotel was great, and we were still within walking distance to a metro stop. Washington is one of those cities that you need to book your hotel far in advance to get the best rates. I paid around $150 a night for a very spacious and nice room with free breakfast, and parking. I would have paid more than double that for a hotel inside the city with room to accommodate all five of us. On my first trip I stayed at the Hotel Lombardy in the Foggy Bottom district. I can highly recommend this charming hotel.
We didn’t get a chance to visit every museum but we saw plenty. The best part about the museums is that they are all free. This is great because if the kids get bored you can just leave and not feel like you wasted your money. You can also just leave and come back if you need a break. Try not to visit more than one museum a day. I think it’s easy to get museum burnout and the kids will get sick of them. You want to be able see the museums with fresh eyes. Most are so large you could spend hours wandering through them. The queues to get into the museums can be long depending on when you go. You will have go through metal detectors and have your bags searched. It’s similar to going through airport security. There are strange rules about backpacks too. I usually carry a small Vera Bradley bag that I wear as a backpack. Although there were women carrying far larger purses, I was told to wear my bag on one shoulder or carry it. The free museums are a great way to take potty breaks as well. Most of the shops and restaurants inside the city center require you to buy something to use the bathrooms, and the bathrooms are kept locked. We got stuck having to buy something at McDonald’s to get the bathroom code so the boys could use a toilet. Try to stop into one of the less popular museums for bathroom breaks. You will probably end up finding something you’d like to explore while you’re there as well.
The National Air and Space Museum was a first for us. This museum was skipped on the first visit. To be honest, I was not huge fan of this museum. It was in no way terrible and certainly interesting enough. It just didn’t really wow me like some of the other museums we visited. None of us are really thrilled by planes and other aircraft so this museum kind of bored us. The boys did like the exhibits about space much better, but this isn’t a museum I’d make my way back to unless I was spending a lot of time in DC. If you or your kids really love planes and space, then it is a must see. Even I have to admit that the planes suspended from the ceiling look pretty darn cool.
We also visited the National Museum of American History, and this was another first visit. I really regret skipping this museum the first time around because it’s awesome. There are so many thing to look at and cool exhibits. There’s so much variety at this museum that you’re bound to find something the kids will love. This museum was my favorite one with the kids because it had enough to keep them entertained and engaged. The boys loved seeing Julia Child’s kitchen and sitting in an old public transportation bus. I absolutely adored the First Lady and American Presidency exhibitions. Everything is showcased here, from the dresses the first ladies wore, presidential carriages, and President Lincoln’s top hat. The Food and Transportation exhibitions were loved by all of us. Plenty of old cars, trucks, and trains for the kids to marvel at. The Food exhibit showcased how food and food production has changed since the 1950’s. It was fun to look at old soda cans, commercials, and cereal boxes and such. The food exhibit is also where you’ll find Julia Child’s kitchen. There were so many things we saw and loved here. We didn’t make our way around the entire museum, but I really enjoyed everything I saw. Don’t forget to check out the bank vault, Dorothy’s ruby slippers, and the Inventions exhibit.
You cannot visit Washington DC without stopping at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. To skip this museum would be so wrong it’s almost criminal. Dinosaurs, gemstones, and animals galore. This museum gets VERY busy. I would definitely avoid going here during the weekend. Try to arrive here at opening time or after four o’clock on days when the museum is open until seven. The crowds at this museum definitely dampened the experience for us, but it is still a fantastic place. I definitely loved it more the first time around when the crowds were less insane. It was difficult to read the plaques on many of the exhibits as there was so many people around. We spent a lot of time in the Africa exhibit as there were few people in there. It turned out to be an overlooked gem so don’t skip this section.
The beautiful United States Botanical Gardens are definitely worth a stop. I do not know much about plants, nor do I really care about such things, but I really enjoyed our time here. It was definitely interesting to walk through and see all the plants set up in replicas of their native environment. You could walk through a desert and mini rainforest. They also have pretty nice bathrooms and this place is never too busy.
The National Gallery of Art. I am totally smitten with this place and it is my personal favorite museum to visit. Only my daughter really enjoyed this one, and unfortunately the boys were begging to go after thirty minutes. We stayed an hour and it definitely was not long enough at this fabulous museum. My daughter and I both agreed that we needed to come back here but we sadly never did. There are wonderful works of art here and the museum itself is just marvelous. It is kind of boring for young kids so this isn’t a place I’d rush to with them in tow.
If you aren’t a fan of museums there’s plenty to see without ever stepping inside a building. Be sure to walk around the magnificent monuments, the White House, and all the memorials. You cannot beat climbing the stairs to see the Abraham Lincoln statue, or reading the scriptures inside the Thomas Jefferson memorial.
Don’t forget to stop and rest along the way. Some of the monuments are a long walk from each other. Let the kids sit if they need a break. We took breaks right on the grass. It also gave us the chance to soak in the beauty of the cherry blossoms.
All the fountains are fun too. The boys loved putting their hands in them. Heck I did too.
You can travel with autistic kids and Washington DC is a great place to start.