Washington D.C. with Teens: A Perfect Family Day

Washington with Teens: A Family Vacation


Inform your teenagers that you're taking them on an educational family vacation, with a plan to visit lots of historical sites in Washington, D.C., and their response will probably be to beg for mercy and a pass to stay at home. Well, tell them not to get too comfortable because they're going to D.C., and they're actually going to love it. Education does not have to equal boring. In fact, Washington, D.C. will keep teens entertained as it is chock-full of interesting activities.


To start off your D.C. adventure, why not take your teenagers on a Segway tour of the nation's capital. If you have never heard of a Segway, it is a personal transporter that you stand on and maneuver, basically by shifting your body weight. There are several Segway tour operators in the Washington, D.C. area, and any one is a real blast. One caveat – because of D.C. law, your teenagers must be at least 16 years old to ride a Segway.

The Segway tours will start with a lesson on how to properly use the transporter, and then a guide will take you all around Washington, D.C. Most tours cover the National Mall area, the White House, the Capitol, and then wheel past the Smithsonian museums. There are other tour options available, as well, that cover other portions of D.C. City Segway Tours offer a variety of tours starting at $60 per person, including one that even follows the Lincoln assassination!

If you are visiting Washington with teens under 16, try a bike tour instead. You can either have a guided tour – and if this is your first time in D.C., that is probably the best way to go – or you can rent the bikes and head out on your own. Biking from monument to monument will be more entertaining to teenagers. This will also allow your party to see more of D.C. in a shorter period of time than simply trekking the national mall on foot. DC Tours offers a variety of guided bike tours; go to www.dctours.us for prices and information.

If your D.C. trip is during the summer, try and visit the monuments early in the morning, as summer days in the nation's capital are notorious for being hot and shirt-soaking humid. Also, be aware that most of the rental and tour bike operators require riders to make reservations well in advance of the planned outing.


Many of the bike and Segway tour operators are located near the Ronald Reagan Building at 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., so the building's food court here is a good place to stop for lunch. There are a variety of restaurants offering everything from Chinese and Indian to hot dogs and smoothies. If it is an unbearably cold winter day or an unbearably hot summer day, the climate-controlled food court provides a nice respite from the extreme weather.

After lunch, head over to Ford's Theatre, which is located at 511 Tenth Street, N.W., about a half mile away. Ford's Theatre is the infamous location of Abraham Lincoln's assassination and a fascinating stop on any tourist's itinerary. Admission is free, but you do need tickets, so reserve them ahead of time. There is a small service charge for this method. If you prefer to pick up free same-day tickets, you may get them at the Ford's Theatre box office, which opens at 8:30AM ET. Tickets are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, with tours beginning at 9AM and the last tour leaving at 4:30PM.

There are two programs you can choose for your tour: a National Park Service ranger presentation, which will describe Ford's Theatre and the events surrounding Abraham Lincoln's assassination; or a one-act play about the assassination put on by the Ford Theatre Society. Both tours will show guests the balcony area where Lincoln was sitting when he was killed and from where John Wilkes Booth leaped to the stage below when he escaped. The one-act play option is recommended for audiences eight years of age and over and currently costs $5. Check the website for availability, as it is not always presented. Both tours run approximately 30 minutes.

After the tour, take your teens to the theatre's museum, which has many fascinating displays and artifacts from the Civil War time period, including the derringer Booth used to shoot Lincoln. Visitors can then make their way across the street to the Petersen House. This is where President Lincoln was taken after he was shot, and where he eventually died. In late 2010, however, the Petersen House will be undergoing a renovation, during which time it will be closed. The tour and museum visit should last approximately an hour and a half. For more information, call (202) 347-4833.

If you and your teens aren't exhausted seeing Washington, you can include one more activity before the sun sets; walk about two blocks over to F and 8th streets, N.W., to the International Spy Museum. Many teenagers (and adults) are intrigued by espionage and spies, and if yours are, they will love this 68,000-square-foot museum, which covers the history of spying and has over 200 spy-related gadgets on display. Even better, the Spy Museum offers several different programs where your teenagers – using GPS, clues, secret messages and cracking codes – can pretend to be spies on a mission (one program even serves as a mini- tour of D.C.).

Admission is $18 for adults and children aged 12-64, $17 for seniors, and $15 for children aged 5-11. Additional fees apply to the museum's various other programs and exhibits. Opening hours vary, so check online to plan your visit.


After your visit to the Spy Museum, which is located near the newly revitalized Chinatown area, head up the street towards the Verizon Center. There are many restaurants in this area to choose from for dinner.

If you have teenagers who are sports fans, you might want to try to fit a local sporting event into your evening plans. The Verizon Center is home to the Washington Capitals hockey team and the Wizards basketball team. The Capitals did sell out every home game in 2009, but there are usually plenty of Wizards tickets available. If you have a baseball fanatic with you, a Washington Nationals game would be just a Metro ride away.

No sports nuts in the family? Then why not complete your evening in with a ghost tour of D.C.? It's no surprise that a city as old as D.C., and one with as much history as it has, would be haunted. There are several ghost tours that leave from Lafayette Park, which is right across the street from the White House. These walking tours are held at night, of course. What would be spooky about a day tour? There are several tour operators, but Washington, D.C. Ghost Tours has been around since 2003, and Washington Walks has offered many different walking tours since 1999, including a haunted walk: The Most Haunted Houses. Your teenagers will finish their day in Washington with a shiver, and will have to admit that all the history they absorbed all day was actually fun!

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