Dear PoPville – Advice for a Fun Visit with Elderly Parents

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Dear PoPville,

My boyfriend’s parents are coming for a visit in February for just the day. They have been down here several times before, as my boyfriend went to college in the city and has lived here ever since. I would really like to have something new and fun to do with them while they are in town for the day because during past visits it seems as though we do a whole lot of sitting around and just wasting time until we go for dinner and they leave. Does anyone have any suggestions for activities to do with older parents? Also, his mother recently had knee surgery and while having an amazing recovery is still not up for a lot of walking around.

42 Comment

    • I’m 32 and I find Segways unwieldy to ride – I wouldn’t recommend it for the mom with knee problems. The bus tour and movie suggestions sound like good options to me, but personally your “usual” option of sitting around chatting sounds pretty good too!

  • The Brewmaster’s Castle if they have any interest in Victorian architecture. There are some stairs, which may be a problem for mom’s knee.

  • What about a nice lunch and then an afternoon play?

    • Go to the Kennedy Center, have lunch in the cafeteria or restaurant, then go see Shear Madness.

      It’s cheezy, but it’s a Washington tradition and you can get half-price tickets at TicketPlace. Plus, the KC doesn’t require a lot of walking around.

  • Double Decker Bus tours. My out of town semi-elderly aunt and uncle love them.

    Kinda cheesy but trust me – lots of fun.

    • +1! Tickets are good for 24 hours and the buses come pretty regularly.

    • ditto – they’re so fun and ridiculous, i always look forward to going on them when i have out of town guests but i’m a nerd and like learning all the trivia the drivers have to share. bonus: if you’re a DC resident you can do the hometown trolley ride for free! bus companies might offer that, too, but i only know about the trolley rides.

  • You can take them to the museums and if they have difficulty walking, there are wheelchairs they can use for free. Those bus tours are fun too.

  • Many of the best activities here require a little walking, but since it’s hard to guess what level of activity is too much (museums?), how about anything where they basically get to sit?
    * Movie at AFI theater, Silver Spring (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy sounds perfect for these Cold Warriors!);
    * Woolly Mammoth Theater show (Spoiler Alert, Everybody Dies was good);
    * Milennium Stage at Kennedy Center (6pm free shows);
    * driving a long way to eat somewhere cool, e.g., Eden Center out in VA.

  • Hillwood Estate, if they are into that sort of thing. The estate itself is not big, and you can walk around at your own pace inside.

    • My mom loved the Hillwood and it wasn’t too hard on her knee (she needs a knee replacement). Also, what about Mt. Vernon? I think you could wander around a little without it being too much on the parents and it’s a pretty drive to get there.

      • Ditto on Mt. Vernon. We took my visiting parents this summer (father with heart trouble, mom with recent knee surgery) and they loved it. There are shuttles from the dock to the main house to make the longest walk easier and the cruise down the river was fun and well done, although probably really chilly this time of year!

  • My in laws are the same way. Neither one of them can walk much at all. One time we took them to the Basilica, which my Catholic mother in law loved. You have to walk around, but it is pretty low key and there are a lot of places to sit. Also, you can park in front. During cherry blossom season we drove them around by the tidal basin. Also, a nice meal goes a long way with them. I don’t think they go out much at home so any kind of outing is exciting for them.

  • It would be hilarious to take them coffin-shopping, all the while inquiring about their health and finances.

    Maybe this would only be considered hilarious in my family. Man, my parents would think it was brilliant, though.

    • Or on that note, invite them to come along with you for an afternoon of looking at real estate. Then proceed to take them on a tour of local assisted living facilities.

  • That Franciscan monastery (1400 Quincy Street NE) that you have featured before. When I took my parents on a Sat. afternoon, music was being played in the sanctuary w/o a service going on; interesting gift shop with pretty hilarious containers of holy water, lots of nooks and crannies and lovely grounds not spread out so there wasn’t much walking. Easy parking close by, too.

  • My parents LOVED the Newseum. I tried checking their website to see if they offer rascals or wheelchairs but their site is being stupid & not loading. Its a good museum for older people because it lets them reminiense about countless news events & where they were during that time, etc.

    • My parents loved it, too, and they do offer wheelchairs. We got my mom a manual one when we where there, so I’m not sure if they offer power ones, but I’m guessing the manual one will work out fine.

      I’ve been to almost every museum in DC with my mom and they’ve all offered wheelchairs.

      • I work at the Newseum. We have manual wheelchairs, as well as power scooters (complimentary; on a first-come, first-served basis). [We also have walking aids/walkers and strollers, too, just in case anyone was wondering.]

  • My parents are elderly and the same way. They come and stay with me for Thanksgiving and they don’t want to see much other than the 4 walls of my condo for 4 entire days. I used to find it maddening.

    But my parents find it relaxing and enjoyable. They aren’t coming to DC to see the Hope Diamond or see George Clooney and Madonna in wax. They are coming to see me and they want to talk and generally just be together since we’re only together a few days a year now.

    If they want to do something else other than sit and talk, they’ll let you know. It may not be your idea of a great Saturday afternoon, but there will be a day where your boyfriend will want them there for an afternoon visit and they won’t be around to do it.

    • yes, words of wisdom and while true, you don’t know the OP’s situation. maybe this is something everyone wants. instead of trying to change OP’s philosophy on life how about just answering the question s/he asked in the first place…

    • I agree. My inlaws came for 3 weeks and I kept on giving them ideas of activities, urging them to go out, giving tips on cabs/trains/buses. They just wanted to sit in our house, do crosswords and read books. The “activity” of my husband and I returning home for work was enough activity for them.

    • My girlfriend’s cousins are like that. I find it baffling that they would fly here all the way from India just to sit in our house and go shopping at the Pentagon City Mall, but that’s truly what they prefer to do and it’s better if I don’t fight it. Fortunately, my family is always up for grueling excursions, so I save those for when they’re visiting.

  • The Smithsonian has a great events calendar online at

    Tons of special events and films beyond the usual museum browsing.

  • Thank you very much for everyone’s input. I particuarly enjoyed the coffin shopping suggestion, hysterical (my boyfriend thought so as well) though not sure his parents would find it as funny, or maybe they would.

    Unfortunetly because they have been coming down here for about 8 years now they have done a lot of the regular touristy things, like the double decker bus tours and most (if not all) of the museums, not sure if they have done Mt. Vernon though.

    As for the last post about them just wanting to sit in our apartment and hang out. They are not wildly active at home and so when they come to visit we do try to get out with them as much as possible. My boyfriend echos these setiments. We go up to visit them pretty reguarly in Philly so its not like the visits are few and far enough in between that we just want to sit around and visit. It would drive both my boyfriend and I crazy to sit around in our apartment all day until dinner. So definitely appreciate the words of wisom but in this situation they are not applicable.

    Again, we both appreciate everyone’s input and some of these ideas are worth checking out. Though may have to pass on the Segway idea…we both decided that it wouldn’t be worth the money becuase both he and I would spend most of the time on the ground laughing as his parents tried to figure those things out…hmm on second though…

    • What about doing something that isn’t necessarily native to DC but fun/new anyway like a class of some sort? Cooking, painting, etc. (I know dancing is out). Just trying to get the discussion outside the lens of “things exclusive to DC”…

    • We are in the same place with visiting in-laws. The bus, sightseeing, nice dinners, none of it is for them. So we have adjusted our “normal” family outings for them. What do we do? Pick one thing to do during their visit that is out–ie the Cathedral, MLK memorial, etc. If you have a car, or access to a car, or get a cab this helps the not-walking part. Then afterwards we pick a place THEY would enjoy eating (not us) so Cathedral and Cactus Cantina, musuem with exhibit they are interested in + Carmines, etc. Another thing that has been really cool for us to do is to go shopping and have my mother in law “teach” us how to make a dish or my father-in law “help” with some project around the house including a trip to ACE then supervising the work (small project–ie dimmer on lights). Shopping and cooking or doing the project take up a lot of time, you show them that you value their knowledge, you get to do something together and get something done.

  • For just a one-day visit I’d choose one specific exhibit or smaller museum for a couple of hours – like the “What’s cooking Uncle Sam” at the archives. Or the textile museum if they are into such things. The botanical gardens are also wonderful in Feb. Or the Renwick.

  • Or maybe playing cards or a board game? It’s another way to pass some time indoors, yes, but can be fun.

  • What about tea at the Willard or a Potomac River cruise?

  • hamsterhuey

    I’d take them to visit the Library of Congress (unless the visit is a Sunday)- often missed on the tourist circuit- it’s a DC gem and has a best-kept-secret quality to it. You can check the free concert series if they’ll be around at night, but it’s nice on a weekday just for a visit. Plenty of benches around all over in the grand hall and exhibit. My mom went ga-ga over the opulence. Jefferson’s library and the early America map displays are neat, and the exhibit sizes aren’t overwhelming.

    • Totally agree that the Library of Congress is one of the best hidden-gem tours in DC. That and the State Department diplomatic reception rooms tours are really fantastic.

      • the diplomatic reception tour looks wonderful! thanks for sharing. it looks pretty straight forward but let me know if you have any tips for signing up/things i should know. thanks! (i love PoP posts like this! i always end up learning more and more about DC in the comments.)

    • PDleftMtP

      These are really good suggestions. The Kreeger is also often overlooked, and it’s small and gets you into a residential neighborhood tourists don’t usually see. They at least used to have chamber music concerts there, which is a twofer.

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