How Much Does a Trip to Washington DC Cost?


How much does a trip to visit Washington DC Cost? When people talk about a trip to Washington D.C., the first thing that typically gets discussed is the fact that most of the museums are FREE. But there are still costs and fees involved in your trip! Here are some tips to help plan your vacation to Washington DC!

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How Much Does a Trip to Washington DC Cost?

When you are planning your trip to Washington DC, you need to do some planning and then figure some things in your budget.

Plan Your Tickets

Even though most of the tickets for the museums and buildings are indeed free, you need to have timed tickets for many of the tours. The best way to get these tickets for some of the locations is to order them online before you go. But make sure you reserve your ticket early since most of the reservation dates fill up very quickly, especially during peak season. There is typically a $1.50 or $3.00 fee for reserving the tickets online but that is better than hoping you will be able to get a ticket the day of your visit.

Some of the attractions like the Holocaust Museum and Bureau of Engraving open their ticket office early each morning. You can stand in line and hope to get a ticket, but if you have a large family or group, you may or may not even be able to get a ticket.

Real life tip: Make a list of the attractions you want to see when you are in Washington D.C. Start going through the list to reserve tickets as soon as you know your tour dates. It’s well worth the reservation fee to get your tickets confirmed online!

If you are hoping to tour the White House, Capitol Building or Supreme Court, you would do well to contact your Senator or Congressman’s office. Each of their websites has a place to request tour information. You will fill out a brief form and they will get in touch with you. This is a great way to get a guided tour of the Capitol instead of having to stand in line.

Food Options

There are some food & ice cream trucks on the National Mall, but don’t plan on these for your main source of food. There are also cafeterias in the basement or main floor of many of the historic buildings. On the day we were taking our tour of the Capitol building, we were able to grab a slice of pizza in the Longworth Office building adjacent to the Capitol. When you start thinking about your lunch plans, ask the closest information desk at whichever museum or building you are entering. They will be able to tell you where the best place is to get food from that place.

And of course, there’s not much more fun than eating a giant hot pretzel while you do some people watching outside the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum!

If you are planning on visiting the Capitol building, remember that you cannot have food in your bags. You will probably be asked to remove any water bottles or snacks. So on the day you tour the Capitol, just plan to consume any snacks prior to arrival.

Our best option was to pack a water bottle and granola bar for the mid-morning recharge and then spend money at the cafeteria or food trucks for a quick snack around lunch. We rarely eat a full lunch when we’re on these type of city tours. We just snack until we get to the end of our day and then eat a good dinner closer to the hotel when we have finished our tour for the day.

Real Life Tip: There are several parks with picnic benches and a few tables scattered around the National Mall area. Across from the National Archives is a great place to recharge, rest and eat a quick granola bar and drink some water in the National Sculpture Garden!

Parking Limits

Parking for most of downtown D.C. is minimal and difficult to find. Do yourself a favor and just plan to walk or take public transportation.

Be aware that the Metro works a bit different than in cities like New York City or Boston where you pay one fee to ride anywhere. The Washington DC Metro requires you to tap your card to enter and then tap again when you leave. You pay when you leave based on how far you ride. If you don’t have enough money on your card, there are recharge stations at the turnstiles.


Washington DC Metro


If you are downtown near the National Mall and want cheap transportation, check out the DC Circulator Bus. You can board at most of the major museums and monuments for $1.00 and ride wherever you need to go in the downtown tourist area. This is not a sightseeing tour bus and provides no narration or local tour information on the ride.

If you are looking for a more fun touristy thing to do to help you enjoy the city, check out Old Town Trolley Tours!

Historic Tours Old Town Trolley Tours

Lodging Options

Depending on when you are planning to visit the Capital you will find that hotels can be extremely pricey downtown. In a perfect world, we could all plan to visit tourist destinations during the off season when things are cheaper; but since most of us don’t live on that particular schedule, we have to just figure out ways to save money.

We found that we were able to save several hundreds of dollars by choosing to stay in Springfield, Virginia and take the metro rail into the city each day. If your party is small and you are able to stay in the city, then you will be able to benefit from less public transportation costs and less time navigating the Metro.

Tips for Services

We stayed at the Homewood Suites in Springfield, Virginia which offered a free shuttle to the Metro station each morning and evening. This is a valuable service offered by many hotels. But don’t forget that while tips are not required they are considered good manners. Keep out several dollars for your ‘free’ shuttle services to tip the drivers for their pick-up and delivery to your destination.

If you stay for several days, don’t forget to tip your hotel maid service as well.

A trip to Washington DC is a great family experience and well worth the planning involved to make it a success! Have you visited the Capital? Got any tips for others who are planning their first visit? Please share! I’d love to hear from you1

While you are in Washington DC, make sure you enjoy the free walking tour of the Washington DC Monuments and Memorials!

Free Walking Tour Washington DC Monuments
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  1. Tip! If you have a veteran in your family you can enter most of the museums at any time. Be sure they take ID or documentation that they are indeed a veteran. Also, uniformed military members have the same privileges.

  2. These are great tips. I’ve been to D.C. but my boys haven’t. I’d love to take them. Reserving the tickets is a smart idea.

  3. I was just telling my husband we need to take our daughter to Washington D.C. We have not planned anything yet, but I love researching and getting info.

  4. I live within an hour of DC and have visited many times. If you have friends who want to see it all in a day I highly recommend the “on-off” tour bus. You can get a great overview and lots of knowledge from the tour and get off at any point of interest. But you should advise your friends that it can take a whole day to do just one museum.

  5. I went to Washington DC a few years ago and had a great time. Lots of sight-seeing and the museums were a pleasure to visit.

  6. These are such important tips when Traveling to Washington DC! I sure would love to take a trip with the kids and the metro system sure is different than where I live. There are a lot of things to know about visiting and these tips are really helpful.

  7. Super tips! I would totally be that person to show up with a big group of people looking to score tickets to the museums. Great advice to plan and reserve tickets ahead of time!

  8. I’ve been to DC twice, both on tours. I’d like to do it sometime on our own, these are some great tips.

  9. That sounds pretty fun to go on a trolley tour in DC. I need to get a guided tour set up for my kids. I want them to learn about American history thoroughly.

  10. We are looking for a family trip to D.C. this spring or fall. Four adults (2 seniors) and a 17 and 9 year old. My husband and I have been there but not the rest and it was a number of years ago.

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