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Are you looking for a detailed list of the best things to do in Washington DC with kids that the whole family will love?
Washington DC is known for its world-class museums, historic monuments and American landmarks, as well as ways to engage people of all ages in its fascinating history.
With plenty of opportunities for education and exploration, fun-themed museums, and several outdoor parks, families marvel at the variety of family-friendly things to do there.
In this post, I’ll cover all of the best things to do in Washington DC with kids including must-see landmarks, designated kids’ areas, and other opportunities for family fun.
This is a HUGE guide you absolutely don’t want to miss!
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Tips for Visiting Washington DC With Kids
A family trip to Washington DC is a US bucket list destination for many American families.
If you’re thinking of visiting, it’s important to understand the general layout and to know what there is to do there before your arrival.
Though the capital of the USA is a popular tourist destination, knowing the best things to do in Washington DC for kids will make your family trip less stressful as well as ensure that the trip appeals to all ages in your family.
An article loved and read by many, we think it’s essential that you read our complete Washington DC kid-friendly itinerary (along with the upcoming 33 best things to do there found here!).
This article includes a step-by-step 1 – 7 day family-friendly Washington DC vacation itinerary, as well as important tips and directions on how to get around that are essential to know and understand before you go.
It’s important to:
- Have a thought-out plan for each and every day of your trip.
- Prepare for a lot of walking (and bring a stroller for your littles).
- Visit on the weekdays to best avoid crowds.
- Seek out designated kids’ areas (more on that in this article!).
- Consider the limited food options on the National Mall.
- Know the ‘ways to save’ when visiting.
In addition, there are certain considerations and closures to be aware of when visiting Washington DC during the winter months.
For this reason, be sure to check out our guide on the best things to do in Washington DC in the winter.
For now, here’s our huge list of the absolute best things to do in Washington DC with kids that will appeal to families with children of all ages.
33 Things to Do in Washington DC With Kids
Dig into 33 fun things to do in Washington DC with kids to fill your trip with lasting memories – and learn a whole lot along the way.
1. Tour the White House
No trip to Washington, DC with kids would be complete without a tour of the White House – the home and workplace of the current President of the United States.
Unless you’re on an actual tour of the White House, tourists can only view the President’s home from a distance and through a very large fence (which isn’t very gratifying for children).
Keep in mind that families who want to take a public tour of the White House need to first submit a letter of request to their Member of Congress at least 21 days, but no more than 90 days in advance of their visit.
Public tour requests are then scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis.
You may reach your Member of Congress and Congressional Tour Coordinator through the U.S. House of Representatives Switchboard at 202-225-3121, the U.S. Senate Switchboard at 202-224-3121, or online at www.congress.gov/members.
Though there are indeed a few hoops to jump through, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour one of the most important buildings in American architecture is well worth it!
Things to know about White Hours tours:
- People of all ages (including small children) are welcome on White House tours.
- All tours are self-guided and last approximately 45 minutes.
- White Hours tours are free of charge.
- Public tours are typically available from 8:00 AM to 12:30 PM Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, excluding Federal holidays.
- All U.S. citizens ages 18 and older, and foreign nationals of all ages (including children), must present a valid, government-issued photo ID upon arrival for their tour.
After your tour, be sure to visit President’s Park for an incredible photo opportunity with the White House as your backdrop.
Additional planning tip: Take public transport to visit the White House, as street parking is scarce.
Find full information on White House tours here.
2. Visit the National Museum of American History
Though it may not sound that exciting to visit a museum with kids, you’ll be pleasantly surprised upon visiting the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Best loved by school-aged kids and teenagers, highlight here include Dorthy’s ruby-red slippers, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, the original Kermit the Frog puppet, the original Old Glory American Flag, and the First Ladies exhibition displays the inauguration dresses of the Presidents’ wives.
With free admission into this and all of the Smithsonian Museums found in Washington DC, this museum is a must-do when visiting Washington DC with kids.
3. Spend a day at the National Zoo
A welcome addition to almost any family vacation is a trip to the zoo!
After all, there’s nothing quite like taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of thousands of different animals.
The National Zoological Park, commonly known as the National Zoo, is one of the oldest zoos in the United States, and as part of the Smithsonian Institution, does not charge admission
Kids of all ages will love Washington DC’s Smithsonian National Zoo in that it is home to over 390 species and nearly 2700 animals.
Must-see exhibits include the Great Cats exhibit, Elephants Trails, and the Cheetah Conservation Station.
Connected to the zoo, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute is a global leader in efforts to save wildlife from extinction!
On your day at the zoo, take part in one of their many educational programs surrounding wildlife conservation.
Additional planning tip: We recommend setting aside 2 – 3 hours to tour the entire zoo. Also, the Zoo sits on a hill with an incline, so wear comfortable walking shoes.
4. Explore the International Spy Museum
Another one of the best and most enjoyable museums for kids in Washington DC is the International Spy Museum!
Here, visitors can test their spy skills, decode secret messages, and take place in covert missions, all while taking a deeper dive into the world of intelligence and espionage.
In addition to their interactive experiences, we recommend doing the 90-minute Family Highlights Tour that is geared towards families with kids ages 10 and under.
Keep in mind that though ‘spies’ of all ages are welcome, we find this museum to be best suited for kids ages 7 and up.
And, unlike the Smithsonian Museums, the International Spy Museum does charge admission, though children 6 and under are free.
Take advantage of their plan-ahead discounted pricing which means that the further in advance you purchase tickets, the more money you’ll save.
Additional planning tip: The Museum is located at L’Enfant Plaza and is within easy walking distance to the waterfront District Wharf.
5. Visit the National Mall & Memorial Parks
The most popular thing to do in Washington DC for tourists of all ages is to visit the National Mall.
Located in the center of the city, the National Mall is not a shopping mall, instead, it’s a gigantic landscaped park that encompasses the most iconic Washington DC museums, memorials, and monuments.
With the domed U.S. Capitol Building at the eastern end and the White House to the north, the National Mall spans over 2 miles long meaning you’ll have to pace yourself when visiting with kids.
Some must-see landmarks for visitors of all ages include:
- Lincoln Memorial
- Washington Monument
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- Martin Luther King Jr Memorial
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial
- World War II Memorial
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- Korean War Veterans Memorial
School-age kids and teens will be more interested than you think, as the people and events honored here are straight from their school history lessons.
Though small children may not be as engaged in learning about the memorials and monuments, it’s important to capture them together in your photographs for future memories and storytelling.
Grab a map of the area and plan your path accordingly!
Additional planning tip: There is no admission charge to browse the National Mall and it is open every day, 24 hours per day. Rangers are on duty at the sites to answer questions from 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
5. Visit The Yards Park
Located 1.5 miles from the National Mall, it’s worth venturing to The Yards Park if you’re visiting Washington DC with kids.
This award-winning park offers green space, a gigantic Dancing Fountains water feature, and a huge 11-inch deep canal basin for children to wade and play in.
This is a great place to have a picnic on a hot day!
There is no admission charge.
6. Explore the National Air and Space Museum
Nothing suits a curious soul more than a space museum.
The National Air and Space Museum is perfect for explorative kids and adults with incredible exhibits on the history of space travel, exploring the planets, and the moon landing!
They also have an IMAX theater to see otherworldly views of space in an immersive experience.
And on your visit, make sure to stop by Space Shuttle Discovery for an up-close view of the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar.
Flights of Fancy Story Time
The National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. typically offers a kids’ story time and craft.
Due to limited capacity and ongoing concerns related to the pandemic, Reserved On-Site Story Time will not be available at the Washington, DC Air and Space Museum during the 2022 calendar year.
Check back for when this family-friendly activity is resumed.
7. Visit the Children’s Garden
Experience stunning natural beauty at the United States Botanic Garden.
This living museum is home to indoor and outdoor gardens with plants from across America and all around the world.
When visiting Washington DC with kids, there’s a Children’s Garden here that you should not miss.
In this garden, it’s encouraged to explore, touch the plants, and dig in the dirt!
Additional planning tip: Some of the gardens are only open during special hours, so always double-check before your visit to get the full experience.
8. Ride to the top of the Washington Monument
With a little bit of pre-planning, visitors of all ages can get a bird’s eye view of the nation’s capital from the top of the Washington Monument.
If you and the kids are interested in going to the top (and aren’t afraid of heights), timed tickets to ride the elevator to its 500-foot observation deck may be obtained in person or online.
I definitely recommend purchasing them ahead of time online as walk-up tickets run out quickly and many visitors form a line to wait long before the ticket window opens.
All visitors (including children ages 2+) must have a ticket to enter the Washington Monument.
9. Visit the Butterfly Pavillion
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is a world-class museum and is part of the largest education, research, and museum complex in the world!
Here, your family will experience amazing exhibits throughout time surrounding wildlife, ancient civilizations, and the greater natural world.
Explore fascinating exhibits like the Hall of Human Origins, the Hall of Fossils, and the Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals.
Kids will be awestruck by 2000-year-old mummies, the interactive Insect Zoo, and of course, the Butterfly Pavilion –
Additional planning tip: Though admission to the museum is free, purchased entry tickets are required for the Butterfly Pavilion (with the exclusion of Free Tuesdays!).
Tickets are only available on-site at the Butterfly Pavilion Ticket Desk.
10. Visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum
A tour of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is an important stop on your trip to DC if visiting with older children and teenagers.
Though the subject matter is grave, the museum takes special measures to notify visitors of upcoming graphic content.
Some of these measures include Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story which introduces students in grades four and above to the history of the Holocaust, as well as video monitors that are blocked off to children for adult viewing only.
Other exhibits available for viewing include:
- The Holocaust
- Americans and the Holocaust
- Burma’s Path to Genocide
- American Witnesses
- One Thousand and Seventy-Eight Blue Skies
These exhibits all strike important conversations about historic and present antisemitism that visitors of all ages can learn from.
11. Get outdoorsy at a local park
While there are plenty of museums to explore, time outdoors is a good way to refresh, relax, or let out some extra energy.
Between museums, head out to one of DC’s beautiful parks for a little bout of nature and some incredible park-led activities.
Rock Creek Park
There are endless activities available in Rock Creek Park, particularly for kids!
If you want to keep activities outdoors and active, you can enjoy a hike on one of their many trails, paddle down the Potomac River, or go horseback riding!
This park offers planetarium programs where guests can learn about the night sky, as well as the Rock Creek Park Nature Center to learn more about the park’s wildlife.
There are also tennis courts, an 18-hole golf course, and tons of picnic areas for lunch between activities.
Georgetown Waterfront Park
The Georgetown Waterfront Park stretches along the Potomac River for a well-loved outdoor gathering place.
Visitors can experience a walk through the historic labyrinth, a stroll past the rain gardens, or a simple lounge on the grass for a chance to unwind.
The centerpiece of the park is a large fountain found at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue, NW, and K Street.
People of all ages enjoy splashing and playing in the water on hot summer days.
For a full list of Washington DC parks, check the National Park Service website here.
12. Get hands-on at the imagiNATIONS Activity Center
Another fun thing to do in Washington DC with kids, be sure to check out the imagiNATIONS Activity Center located on the 3rd floor of the National Museum of the American Indian.
In this family-friendly, interactive space, you’ll find Native scientific discoveries and inventions that help explain the importance of Native innovators (in a kid-friendly way).
Kids and adults alike can sit inside a full-sized Comanche tepee or learn how to build an igloo, as well as solve puzzles, perform experiments, and play state-of-the-art computer simulations.
13. Listen to the military bands’ Summer Concert Series
If you have kids who play a musical instrument, or who are interested in music and history in general, be sure to check out the Military Band Summer Series.
Every summer, various United States military bands hold free concerts on weekday evenings.
The concerts are held outdoors on the West Front steps of the Capitol Building.
This 130-year-old tradition is an unforgettable family experience!
14. Tour the National Postal Museum
Dedicated to preserving the history of the American postal system, the National Postal Museum is a unique choice popular with DC visitors.
They also offer specific activities to keep young visitors engaged such as a museum scavenger hunt, a chance to make a virtual stamp collection, and a chance to sort packages like a postal worker.
15. Head to Wegman’s Wonderplace
Wegman’s Wonderplace is located at 1 West in the National Museum of American History and is specifically designed for children ages 0-6 years old.
This indoor playspace is a replica of Julia Child’s kitchen where the children can “cook” the vegetables they “bought” from the vegetable market.
The exhibit also features a ship with climbing features, a book nook, as well as antique baby bottles, dishes, and other toys.
You’ll appreciate the many family-friendly details including stroller parking, a breastfeeding area, and a large bathroom with a baby changing station, toddler toilet, and step stools for the sinks.
16. Take a U.S. Capitol Building Tour
Older children will enjoy touring the United States Capitol building and being inside its enormous, beautifully painted Rotunda.
The 90-minute guided tours of the capitol building require timed tickets, which are free.
Tickets can and should be reserved online in advance to avoid lines and secure a spot.
You can begin your Capitol experience at the Visitor Center by visiting Exhibition Hall, checking out the gift shops, or getting a bite to eat at the Capitol Cafe.
Additional planning tip: Tours are held Monday through Friday only and require going through security ahead of time.
17. Visit the Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is one of Washington DC’s most iconic, fascinating, and beautiful attractions.
The best part for families with children is the adorable Young Readers Center located on the ground floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building there.
Kids can choose to read a book (though you cannot check them out) or attend programs and storytimes especially designed for young readers.
The center’s media room also provides an opportunity for visitors to view webcasts of young adult and children’s authors who have appeared at the National Book Festival.
18. Go to Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery is one of the oldest and most famous cemeteries in the United States.
Considered to be hallowed ground, Arlington serves as the final resting place of over 400,000 veterans and their spouses and children.
It is also the burial site of many famous Americans including Presidents John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and astronaut John Glenn.
School-aged children and teens will appreciate a visit to Arlington National Cemetery as though it is a solemn place, it is a wonderful place to learn about American history.
Along with viewing the endless rows of perfectly aligned, identical white headstones, be sure to view the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, changing of the guard, and the Eternal Flame located at the tomb of former president John F. Kennedy.
Additional planning tip: Arlington is open to the public 365 days a year with free admission for those who wish to tour the site and pay their respects.
Narrated, hop-on-hop-off tram tour tickets are available for purchase, and I highly recommend this option when visiting Arlington with kids.
19. Spend time at the Reflecting Pool
The 6-acre Capitol Reflecting Pool is a can’t miss (literally!) attraction in Washington DC.
Though visitors are discouraged from walking or wading in the large water feature, sometimes people dip their feet into it (although you’ll find that the water is quite dirty).
Kids simply love seeing the reflections of the U.S. Capitol and the sky, as well as watching the ducks and seagulls that often swim in the pool.
20. Visit Mount Vernon
If you’re visiting Washington DC with kids, be sure to venture out to visit Mount Vernon which is located 13 miles south of DC.
Mount Vernon is the former plantation and burial place of George Washington, the American Revolutionary War general and first President of the United States.
Now a National Historic Landmark, visitors can tour George and Martha’s mansion, its expansive gardens, Washington’s tomb, the slave memorial, and a still-working farm.
In addition, kids, in particular, will enjoy taking the path down to the waterfront, as well as going inside the 16-sided barn.
I also highly recommend visiting the Revolutionary War Theatre found at the onsite Education Center.
Here, you and your family can watch historical moments of the Revolutionary War come to life through a 4D theatre experience including animations, falling snow, theatrical lighting, fog, and live-action sequences.
21. Attend the National Cherry Blossom Festival
If you are visiting D.C. in the springtime, you might be lucky enough to catch Washington DC’s famous cherry blossoms in full bloom.
Washington DC’s Yoshino cherry trees are a big deal around town and are cared for by the National Park Service.
Each year there is a Cherry Blossom Festival from mid-March to mid-April, so grab the kids and check out the parade and kite festival – or simply admire the estimated 3,800 cherry blossom trees with their pale pink and white blossoms.
22. Visit the National Archives Museum
History buffs or not, kids will marvel at seeing the original Declaration of Independence, US Constitution, and Bill of Rights located at the National Archives Museum.
Though there are so many museums, artifacts, and exhibits to see in Washington DC, I would not miss seeing these American rites of passage.
23. Rent a Tidal Basin paddle boat
As one of the most fun things to do in Washington DC, consider spending some time on the water!
When you need a break from the museums, rent a paddle boat on the Tidal Basin to get a unique perspective of the Jefferson, Dr. King, and FDR Memorials.
The Tidal Basin paddle boats are seasonal, and reservations are recommended.
24. See a live show
You can’t beat seeing a live musical or theatre performance in a big city as epic as Washington DC!
Get dressed up and treat your older kids to an unforgettable live Broadway-caliber play!
25. Visit the National Building Museum
Calling all kid builders and creators!
The National Building Museum features exhibits on architecture and engineering and is one of the most fun things to do in Washington DC for small children.
Children ages 2–6 are encouraged to get hands-on at the Building Zone, complete with construction play trucks, a pretend hardware store, and dress-up gear.
Another kid favorite is the Play Work Build exhibit which is home to a massive foam play-block area.
Additional Things to Do in Washington DC With Kids
Here are some more fun things to do in Washington DC:
- Purchase inexpensive souvenirs at Honest Abe’s Souvenir Shop (our favorite!).
- Save time and walking by taking a Hop-on-Hop-off Old Town Trolley or Big Bus tour.
- Visit nearby Glen Echo Park where there’s a carousel, aquarium, theater shows, and tons of seasonal events to enjoy.
- Attend a Family Program at the National Portrait Gallery (one of the most famous museums in the country).
- Head to the National Children’s Museum geared towards kids ages 12 and under!
- Venture to KIDS Museum in nearby Bethesda, Maryland. This is a child-oriented maker space for activities like robotics and woodworking.
- Play at the gorgeous Beauvoir Outdoors Playground made of natural materials with natural finishes.
- Attend an MLB game at Nationals Park. Kids ages 4–12 can run the bases after select Sunday home games throughout the season.
Best Places to Stay in Washington DC With Kids
If you want to stay within the city and potentially avoid having to rent a car, I recommend staying in a hotel that is within walking distance of the National Mall.
Convenient, family-friendly hotels in Washington DC include:
- Residence Inn by Marriott at Washington, DC National Mall – 5-minute walk to the National Mall, indoor pool, kitchens with full-sized refrigerators/freezers and microwaves, complimentary evening reception, and complimentary buffet breakfast.
- Hampton Inn Washington DC/White House – 10-minute walk to the National Mall, complimentary breakfast and an indoor pool, and several dining options nearby.
- Holiday Inn Washington Capitol – 5-minute walk from the National Mall, outdoor rooftop pool, and an onsite convenience store.
- Washington Marriott at Metro Center – 10- minute walk to the National Mall, heated indoor pool, onsite restaurants, and a Starbucks.
If you’re open to staying outside of the city and taking the Metro into the heart of Washington DC, consider staying in its surrounding cities.
Hotels near Washington, DC in these areas sometimes have free parking and are usually more affordable than those downtown.
- Hotels in Alexandria, Virginia (Home of the free King Street Trolley)
- Hotels in Bethesda, Maryland
- Hotels in Crystal City, Arlington, Virginia
Conclusion: Things to Do in Washington DC With Kids
That wraps up the very best museums, landmarks, and exciting extras to explore on your visit to Washington, DC with kids!
With so much to see at this travel destination, you’ll definitely want to plan ahead to fit everything in.
What fun things in Washington DC are you most looking forward to doing? I’d love to hear from you!-Jen
*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*