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Take the Kids to Washington DC for Fun, Education and Value

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PSST....Looking for a vacation bargain?

Head directly to Washington, DC. It's not that the nation's capitol is the best value in the country. (That honor goes to Orlando, according to a new Hotwire poll.)

But it's that Washington, DC has more free attractions (and more spies, by the way, according to the International Spy Museum) than anywhere else I can think of.

And that's good news for anyone traveling with kids this spring. No worries if they get bored at the museum or tired at the zoo. Since you didn't pay to get in, leave and come back another day--or another trip. And kids will tell you--they did for my new Kid's Guide to Washington DC -- that you didn't pay big bucks to get into "attractions" means there is more money for souvenirs.

What were some of the kids we interviewed favorite picks:

--The monuments on the National Mall at night. "It was lit up beautifully." Said Greta, 11, from Idaho

--The National Archives "It's the best place to learn interesting facts," offered Catherine, 13, from Arlington, VA. Let's not forget the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of RIghts.

--The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History "because you get to see lots of animals," explained Holden, 13, from North Carolina. The Hope Diamond too and you can use technology to see what you would have looked like as an early human.

--The U.S. Capitol because "it is the best place to spot celebrities," Brendan, 12, from Maryland suggested. You can request a free souvenir too from your Congressman -- a flag that flew over the Capitol.

--The National Zoo because "the otters are enjoyable to watch! Jacob, 12 from Virginia said. And the pandas are so cute!

So many of the attractions in Washington, DC are free -- the monuments, all of the Smithsonian's 19 museums (including the National Zoo), the United States Holocaust Museum (though you need a free pass to enter the permanent exhibition), the Capitol or the Supreme Court.

Take a walk on the African American Heritage Trail or a hike in enormous (more than 1,754 acres) in Rock Creek Park . Even the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has daily free performances -- at 6 pm on the Millennium Stage.

That's why Washington, DC is a good place to let the kids lead the way. According to a new family vacation survey from the non-profit U.S. Travel Association, kids who were polled say they get to see and do things on family vacations that they will remember for a long time. They also said some of their best memories are of things they did on vacation.

That, of course, is music to parents' ears. This same survey revealed that parents' prime motivation for taking family vacations wants their kids to have happy vacation memories just as they do from their childhood. Did I mention that kids also said vacations provide the opportunity for quality time with their parents?

So what if the kids' pick turns out to be a dud (haven't a lot of yours?) Move on! Better yet, go outside on the National Mall and turn cartwheels or fly a kite!

Aren't those cherry blossoms gorgeous!

Eileen Ogintz writes the syndicated column TakingtheKids and created the website www.takingthekids.com She's the author of The Kid's Guide to New York City, The Kid's Guide to Orlando and the just published The Kid's Guide to Washington, DC all from Globe Pequot Press . You can find them on www.amazon.com or major booksellers.