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Plan Ahead for These Washington, DC Landmarks & Tours

Washington, DC is a treasure trove of activity boasting museums, monuments, landmarks, and more! What better way is there to enrich your children’s minds and pique their interests in history than to explore the epicenter of our nation’s capital? Most of these amazing places require a bit of advance planning to visit, but are well worth the effort!

The White House
Tours of the White House need to be made through your member of Congress. Visit the US House of Representatives website to determine your representative and send him/her an email to initiate the request process. Tours are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis and it is recommended to submit your request as early as possible — don’t be surprised if response from your representative takes several weeks or months. Requests can be submitted up to six-months in advance and no less than 21-days in advance.

Tours are arranged for groups of 10 or more so smaller groups and families should request to join a tour. Self-guided tours are available from 7:30-11:30 am Tuesday through Thursday, and 7:30 am to 1:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Note: you will need to provide a government-issued ID or passport to enter the White House on the day of your tour.

Additionally, if you are not able to schedule an in-person tour of the White House, you can always check out the online virtual tour!

US Capitol Building
The home to Congress is open for free tours Monday through Saturday from 8:50 am-3:20 pm You must request a tour in advance and can do so a couple different ways: through the office of your senator, through the office of your representative, or through the online booking tool. Tours fill up quickly and it is recommended to book your tour in advance, though a limited number of same-day tour tickets may also be available at the Capitol Visitor Center. Visitors are encouraged to enter through the Visitors Center, which is open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.

The Senate and House galleries are open to visitors whenever either legislative body is in session, however the galleries are not included as part of the US Capitol tour. When the House of Representatives is not in session (see their schedule here) or when the Senate is in scheduled recess (see their schedule here), the gallery is open to those with passes — visitors may obtain gallery passes from the offices of their Senators or Representative.

Library of Congress
Those visiting the impressive Library of Congress have a few options to explore — there are guided and self-guided tour options, as well as exhibits and installations that are on display. Free, one-hour walking tours of the historic Thomas Jefferson building are provided by library docents Monday through Friday from 10:30 am-3:30 pm, and Saturday 10:30 am-2:30 pm. Docents discuss the library as America’s oldest cultural institution, its history, collections, and services. Space on these tours is available on a first-come, first-served basis for groups of fewer than 10. To join a tour, check in at the Visitor Tour area approximately 20-minutes before scheduled tour times. If you choose a self-guided tour, check out the library’s handy brochure for a map and instructions.

Popular exhibits include a replica of Thomas Jefferson’s library and a map room, which showcases the first known map that uses the word “America” to identify North America. The library’s website has a full calendar and exhibit listings.

Washington Monument
The Washington Monument allows a breathtaking, bird’s eye view of Washington, DC. The monument is open daily from 9 am-5 pm, with the last tour at 4:30 pm. Summer extended hours (Memorial Day to Labor Day) are 9 am-10 pm with the last tour at 9:45 pm. Tours are available for those ages 2 and older.

Same day tickets are available at the Washington Monument Lodge, located along 15th Street, on a first-come, first-served basis. One person may obtain up to six tickets and request their preferred ticket time. Be aware that during peak season (April-September) tickets run out quickly and many visitors form a line to wait for the ticket window opening well before 9 am. To schedule in advance, call (877) 444-6777 for individual tickets, (877) 559-6777 for group tickets, or order tickets online (there is a $1.50 service fee for tickets reserved online). These tickets are also available for pick up at the lodge on the day of your tour.

State Department Diplomatic Reception Rooms
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the Department of State are used for official functions hosted by the Secretary of State and other high-level government officials. They are open for free, pre-arranged tours and feature an impressive collection of 18th century American furniture, paintings, and decorative arts. Guided tours take place Monday through Friday at 9:30 am, 10:30 am, and 2:45 pm. Tours are 45-minutes long and reservations are required. It is recommended to make your reservation 90-days in advance due to the large volume of tour requests. To make a reservation, leave a message at (202)-647-3241 or fill out the online reservation request form.

The Supreme Court
The highest federal court of the United States is open to the public both when Court is in session and when it is not sitting. Although guided walking tours are not offered, visitors are encouraged to tour the building on their own and take advantage of a variety of educational programs. Court is in session October through April and visitors may view Courtroom sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays from 10 am-3 pm. Be advised Court sessions are open on a first-come, first-served basis and it is suggested to arrive well in advance — seating begins at 9:30 am for those who wish to attend an entire argument and shortly thereafter a “three-minute line” will be available for those who wish to observe the session for only a brief period of time.

Other activities available include courtroom lectures, a visitors’ film, and other court-related exhibitions. Lectures in the Courtroom take place every hour on the half-hour on days that Court is not in session. Trained Docents lead these 30-minute programs, which are designed to introduce visitors of all ages to the judicial functions of the Supreme Court, the history of the Building, and the architecture of the Courtroom. Throughout the day, the ground floor theater continuously shows The Supreme Court, a 24-minute film that examines the history of the building and features interviews with the Chief Justice and both sitting and retired Justices. The Supreme Court website has a full listing of current events and exhibits.

Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery
If you’re thinking of touring Arlington National Cemetery, don’t miss the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. The tomb houses three unidentified fallen servicemen who represent all those that remain unknown and was created after the end of World War I. Since then, it has been guarded all the time. Normally, the guards relieve each other from duty every hour, but from April 1 through September 30, there are also half-hour changes, making the chance to witness the ritual even greater. From the immaculately uniformed soldiers to the inspection of the weapons, this is a must-see event for those touring the cemetery. Learn more.

Pentagon Tours
The Pentagon, the Headquarters of the Department of Defense, offers a free 60-minute and 1.49-mile walking tour that explores the missions of the Joint Staff, Armed Services, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Explore the world’s largest office building by scheduling a tour. You can reserve a tour from 14- to 90-days in advance here, but not within 13-days or more than 90-days ahead of time. Book within the time frame as early as possible since tours fill up quickly. Learn more, including important requirements and restrictions, here.

White House Garden Tours
In 1972, first lady Pat Nixon decided to open up the White House gardens for tours twice a year and that tradition has continued today. The tours usually take place on two days in the Spring and feature the White House lawn as well as the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, the Rose Garden, the Children’s Garden, the White House beehive, and the White House Kitchen Garden.

Dates for the tours vary each year. To get the most up to date information, visit the White House website and enter “White House Garden Tours” in the search box. Typically, the free tickets are distributed on a first come, first serve basis at the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion located at 15th and E Street Northwest on each tour day beginning at 9 am.

White House Kitchen Garden Tours
The White House Kitchen Gardens are the first lady’s personal vegetable gardens and were the first vegetable patches planted at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt tended to the Victory Garden in the 1940’s. These gardens are regularly open for free tours, typically on weekday mornings, for school and community groups with an interest in gardening and healthy eating. A maximum of 25 people may tour the garden at one time, and there is no age limit.

Interested groups must fill out an application on the Kitchen Gardens section of the White House website. Note, due to the volume of applications submitted, a tour is not guaranteed to every group that applies. Representatives from the White House Visitors Office will contact successful applicants within one month of application submission.

Disclaimer: This event is subject to last minute cancelations and changes that might not be reflected in this post. Please, always confirm with this family-friendly business by calling or clicking.

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