Best Things to Do in Washington, DC With Kids: Top Family-Friendly Attractions

Washington, DC, captures the imagination with its monumental landmarks, sprawling museums, and family-friendly attractions. The capital city offers a bounty of activities that can educate and entertain kids of all ages. Whether it’s marveling at the historic Washington Monument or engaging in the interactive exhibits at the Smithsonian Museums, we find there is never a shortage of experiences that cater to the curiosity and energy of our young explorers.

Families explore Smithsonian museums, ride carousel on National Mall, and visit pandas at the National Zoo

We understand the importance of creating lasting memories when traveling with family. Beyond the regular tourist pathways, our city boasts unique activities like taking a Segway tour or visiting the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, where the allure of wildlife captivates children’s attention. The National Air and Space Museum provides a journey through the cosmos, while the National Gallery of Art offers a splash of creativity, making Washington, DC a dynamic playground for inquisitive minds.

Delving into our nation’s history, we see educational opportunities at every corner. For a powerful lesson, we can visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which, while sobering, can be an important experience for older children. With the wealth of age-appropriate activities, our capital ensures that a family trip will enrich the minds and hearts of our kids, leaving them with an appreciation for the past and excitement for the future.

Iconic Landmarks and Monuments

The Washington Monument stands tall against a clear blue sky, while children play and explore the interactive exhibits at the National Air and Space Museum

Washington, DC is adorned with numerous iconic landmarks and monuments that offer a glimpse into the nation’s history and honor important figures and events. These sites are not only educational but also inspirational, providing families and especially children with an expansive outdoor museum experience at the National Mall.

Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool

The Washington Monument stands as a proud obelisk reaching approximately 555 feet into the sky, honoring our first president, George Washington. At its base, the Reflecting Pool mirrors this impressive structure, offering a serene spot for reflection on the sweep of American history.

Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial stands at the west end of the National Mall, a reverent tribute to President Abraham Lincoln. It’s at this location where many have gathered to ponder the impact of his dedication to unity and equality.

Jefferson Memorial

The stately Jefferson Memorial overlooks the Tidal Basin, celebrating the author of the Declaration of Independence. Here, children can learn about Thomas Jefferson’s pivotal role in America’s founding and his legacy of liberty and democracy.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a poignant tribute to the service members who served and sacrificed during the Vietnam War. The wall lists the names of over 58,000 fallen heroes, presenting a powerful lesson on the costs of conflict.

Korean War Veterans Memorial

Commemorating those who served in the Korean War, the Korean War Veterans Memorial features 19 stainless steel statues that represent soldiers on patrol, reminding us of the perseverance and unity among service members during the “Forgotten War.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial spans a series of outdoor rooms, each marking one of his four terms in office. This site underscores President Roosevelt’s leadership during the Great Depression and World War II, highlighting the resilience of the American spirit.

World War II Memorial

Finally, the World War II Memorial honors the 16 million who served in the American armed forces during World War II. Symbolic architecture and inscriptions throughout the memorial educate visitors on the profound global impact of the war and the United States’ role in victory.

Educational Experiences at Museums

Children engaging with interactive exhibits, exploring dinosaur fossils, and participating in hands-on science experiments at a museum in Washington, DC

Washington, DC is teeming with museum experiences that are as educational as they are enthralling for young minds. We invite children and their guardians to explore rich historical narratives, cutting-edge science, and cultural heritage through interactive displays and iconic artifacts.

National Air and Space Museum

At the National Air and Space Museum, we can marvel at the history of flight with our children. From towering aircraft to the marvels of space exploration, exhibits such as the actual Apollo Lunar Module and the Wright brothers’ airplane inform and inspire.

  • Key Exhibits: Apollo Lunar Module, The Wright Flyer
  • Educational Programs: Planetarium shows, educational workshops

National Museum of Natural History

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History houses natural wonders including the 45.52-carat Hope Diamond. Our young explorers can discover prehistoric creatures and engage in hands-on activities that bring earth science to life.

  • Must-See: Hope Diamond, Dinosaur Hall
  • Interactive Areas: Butterfly Pavilion, Q?rius education center

National Museum of American History

Here we have a chance to dive into the American narrative at the National Museum of American History. Exhibits featuring the original Star-Spangled Banner and the gowns of the First Ladies offer tangible insights into the fabric of the United States.

  • Popular Displays: Star-Spangled Banner, First Ladies’ gowns
  • Learning Opportunities: Docent-led tours, interactive historical demonstrations

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Our visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a solemn and educational experience. This museum provides deep insights into human history with a focus on the events and repercussions of the Holocaust.

  • Exhibit Highlights: Personal stories, historical artifacts
  • Youth Education: Age-appropriate guided tours and resources

National Museum of African American History and Culture

At the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, we immerse ourselves in the rich tapestry of African American life, art, and history. It’s a journey through time with powerful narratives and music that shaped a nation.

  • Core Exhibitions: Culture Galleries, History Galleries
  • Cultural Artifacts: Musical instruments, sports memorabilia

National Postal Museum

Stamps and letters might seem mundane, but the National Postal Museum turns them into fascinating storytellers of history. As we explore the extensive stamp collection, we get insights into the evolution of communication and its role in society.

  • Collection Highlights: Postal uniforms, rare stamps
  • Family Activities: Interactive mail-sorting exhibit, hands-on workshops

Wildlife and Nature Exploration

Lush greenery, colorful birds, and playful squirrels in a serene park setting with a flowing river and majestic trees

In Washington, DC, we’re fortunate to have a variety of places where children can connect with nature and wildlife. From the iconic National Zoo to the serene settings of the United States Botanic Garden and the expansive landscapes of Rock Creek Park, there’s a diverse range of experiences awaiting young explorers.

National Zoo

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the United States and is a must-visit for any family. Home to over 2,700 animals across 390 species, the zoo’s highlights include giant pandas, charismatic lions, and playful otters. Admission is free, which makes it an accessible option for everyone to enjoy some of the most exotic animals in the world. More than just an attraction, the zoo is actively engaged in conservation efforts, giving children a valuable lesson in environmental stewardship.

  • Must-See Animals: Giant Pandas, African Lions, Asian Elephants
  • Activities for Kids: Daily animal feedings, educational programs, carousel rides
  • Visiting Hours: Open every day except December 25

United States Botanic Garden

At the United States Botanic Garden, kids can delve into a world of rare and beautiful plants. Founded in 1820, it’s one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America. The garden provides an immersive experience with its lush conservatory, showcasing different habitats, and the Bartholdi Park, where you can enjoy a variety of thematic gardens.

  • Fascinating Displays: Rare orchids, desert plants, medicinal herbs
  • Kids’ Programs: Junior Botanist program, seasonal exhibits, storytime sessions
  • Location & Admission: National Mall, free to the public

Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park is a sanctuary for both local wildlife and families looking to escape the bustle of the city. As one of the largest urban parks in the U.S., it offers 1,754 acres of natural woodlands. Trails and picnic areas abound, and children might encounter animals like deer, foxes, or even turtles while exploring. The park also has a Nature Center, horseback riding, and seasonal programs like star-gazing seminars.

  • Trails & Activities: Hiking, biking, equestrian paths, Peirce Mill historical site
  • Wildlife Spotting: Deer, foxes, birds, turtles
  • Nature Center: Hands-on exhibits, planetarium, live animal displays

Arts and Theater

Children laughing and playing in front of a colorful theater marquee with a vibrant art display in the background

In Washington, DC, we’re proud to offer a range of arts and theater options that provide enriching experiences for kids. From prestigious national centers to interactive, child-focused venues, the city’s cultural institutions serve as wonderful gateways to the performing and visual arts.

Kennedy Center

At the Kennedy Center, we find a beacon of the performing arts that caters to audiences of all ages. They offer a variety of family-friendly programming that often includes theatrical performances, musicals, and shows crafted specifically for children. The center’s commitment to the arts is seen through their educational initiatives, ensuring that the creativity sparks at a young age.

  • Family Programming: Musical theater, dance performances, and concerts.
  • Educational Initiatives: Workshops, free events, and festivals.

Discovery Theater

The Discovery Theater is a gem within the Smithsonian museums, tailored specifically for younger audiences. Our kids are treated to a blend of live performances that teach history, culture, and science in an engaging and interactive way. This theater makes learning fun and accessible, and consistently encourages the natural curiosity of children.

  • Interactive Performances: Folktales, cultural heritage, and science.
  • Age Range: Programs designed for toddlers to pre-teens.

National Gallery of Art

At the National Gallery of Art, we encourage children to engage with visual arts through a multitude of family-friendly activities and workshops. Art-making sessions and story times are designed to complement the impressive collection. While not a traditional theater experience, the gallery invites children to unleash their creativity and gain a new perspective on art.

  • Art Workshops: Hands-on activities linked to the gallery’s exhibitions.
  • Family Guides: Tools to help kids navigate and learn from the artworks.

Interactive and Family-Friendly Attractions

Children laughing and playing at a colorful playground, while families explore interactive exhibits at a museum. A carousel spins in the background, adding to the lively atmosphere

When we plan a day out with the family in Washington, DC, we look for activities that will engage and excite both kids and adults alike. We’ve selected top attractions that offer interactive experiences to keep the little ones entertained while providing educational content in a fun and dynamic environment.

International Spy Museum

At the International Spy Museum, visitors are plunged into the world of espionage. Kids can engage in an array of spy-related activities and are often thrilled to take on the role of secret agents. The museum’s interactive exhibits allow them to crack codes, participate in virtual missions, and uncover the art of disguise, providing a captivating experience for future spies.

National Building Museum

The National Building Museum stands out for its family-friendly approach to architecture and design. The museum features Wegmans Wonderplace, specifically aimed at children 6 and under. This area is designed to spark curiosity about the built world through play, with hands-on activities like building with oversized foam blocks, exploring a miniature city, and engaging in interactive engineering challenges.

Beauvoir Outdoors Playground

Beauvoir Outdoors Playground is a hidden gem for families visiting the nation’s capital. Set on a scenic perch near the National Cathedral, this playground offers a variety of structures and spaces specifically tailored to entertainment and learning. Little ones can climb, slide, and explore in a safe, picturesque environment that stimulates physical activity and imagination.

Leisure and Recreation by the Water

Families picnic, play, and boat along the Potomac River with iconic landmarks in the background

We find that Washington, DC’s riverside locations offer a refreshing blend of leisure and recreational activities that are perfect for families and children. With the Potomac River and the Anacostia River flowing through the city, there are ample opportunities for waterfront fun.

Georgetown Waterfront Park

Located along the banks of the Potomac River, Georgetown Waterfront Park is a prime spot for families to enjoy the outdoors. Here, we can indulge in activities ranging from casual strolls to watching recreational boaters glide by. The park also boasts ample green space for picnicking, and during warmer days, children can play in the interactive fountain.

  • Fishing Options: Available but requires adult supervision
  • Dining Nearby: Variety of options in adjacent Georgetown

The Yards Park

The Yards Park offers a unique riverside experience with its modern design along the Anacostia River. We can find sprawling lawns for games and lounging, as well as an interactive water feature that children love to play in. The park is also known for its boardwalk which presents us with a marvelous view of the river, and it is a great place to catch seasonal events.

  • Activities: Open green spaces, interactive fountains
  • Events: Seasonal events and concerts

Anacostia River

Along the Anacostia River, we have the opportunity for various recreational activities that are suitable for families. The river is an emerging destination for water fun in the city, featuring boating and paddling for the adventurous ones. We can also find peaceful spots for riverfront fishing with the kids, ensuring a serene yet exciting fishing experience.

  • Boating: Kayak and paddleboard rentals available
  • Trails: Scenic trails for biking and walking

Historic Neighborhoods and Cultural Insights

Colorful row houses line the streets, each with unique architecture. Children play in the parks, surrounded by historic landmarks and museums

Exploring Washington, DC with kids offers more than just a history lesson; it provides a vibrant glimpse into the architectural beauty and rich stories of its historic neighborhoods. Georgetown and Capitol Hill, in particular, are replete with cultural insights that can captivate the imaginations of young minds.

Georgetown

Stepping into Georgetown is like walking through a live history book. Here, we’re surrounded by cobblestone streets and elegantly designed homes that echo the neighborhood’s 18th-century roots. Architecture enthusiasts, both young and old, will appreciate the preserved colonial and Federal-style buildings, many of which have housed notable figures throughout American history.

  • Historical Importance: Georgetown predates the establishment of the federal district and the City of Washington.
  • Family Activities: Engage with history firsthand by visiting Dumbarton Oaks or take a leisurely stroll by the C&O Canal.

Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill is not just the epicenter of the nation’s legislative action but also a neighborhood that brims with cultural significance. We find ourselves in awe of the stately designs, from the magnificent Capitol building to the row houses that exemplify diverse architectural periods.

  • Community Feel: Despite its political significance, Capitol Hill maintains a strong sense of community, perfect for families to immerse in authentic local life.
  • Design and Architecture: The Supreme Court and Library of Congress, near the Capitol, offer an educational experience alongside their impressive neoclassical designs.

Memorable Itineraries and Tours

Families explore the National Mall, visiting iconic monuments and museums. Children engage in interactive exhibits and play in the open green spaces

We’ve gathered some of the best tours and itineraries tailored for families with kids, ensuring an engaging and educational experience while exploring Washington, DC. Let’s embark on memorable journeys together, from walking to boat to bike tours.

Walking Tours

Our walking tours provide an immersive experience of Washington, DC’s rich history and iconic landmarks. Our Family-Friendly Walking Itinerary might include:

  • National Mall Exploration: Stretching over 2 miles, we’ll guide kids through the outdoor park to visit monuments and memorials.
  • Historic Neighborhood Walks: We often stroll through neighborhoods like Dupont Circle or Georgetown, where the blend of history and urban life comes to life.

Boat Tours

Boating on the Potomac River offers a unique perspective of the city. Our Selection includes:

  • Monuments by Boat: We’ll sail past key sites, offering stories that capture the imagination of both adults and children.
  • Sightseeing Cruise: Comfortable and relaxed, we choose cruises that are engaging for our younger explorers, highlighting major attractions along the river.

Bike Tours

Cycling together can be invigorating and allow us to cover more ground. Our Bike Tour Options cater to families and include:

  • Scenic Trails: We often ride along safe, scenic routes that are perfect for kids of all ages.
  • Museum Hopping: Some of our bike itineraries include stops at various child-friendly museums, combining education and exercise.

Outdoor Adventures and Park Activities

Children playing in a playground, families picnicking on the grass, people riding bikes on a trail, and a group of kids exploring a nature trail in a park in Washington, DC

We find Washington, DC not only rich in history and culture but also brimming with outdoor adventures perfect for families. Let us guide you through parks and activities where kids can engage, learn, and most importantly, have fun.

National Park Service Sites

Rock Creek Park: As one of the largest parks in Washington, DC, Rock Creek Park offers numerous picnic areas, hiking trails, and even horseback riding opportunities. Maintained by the National Park Service, it’s an excellent location for children to explore nature and an ideal spot for family outings.

Constitution Gardens: Situated on the National Mall, these gardens provide a calm reprieve from the nearby bustling city life. Kids can feed the ducks at the pond and parents can appreciate the view of the Washington Monument.

Glen Echo Park

Adventure Playground: This historic amusement park turned cultural center hosts various children’s programs. With a playground that includes unique sculptural swings, kids can play in an environment that combines creativity with physical activity.

Puppet Shows and Art Classes: The park also offers puppet shows at the Puppet Co. Playhouse and art classes for children of different ages, providing both entertaining and educational experiences.

Yards Park

Interactive Fountains and Water Features: During warmer months, the interactive water features at Yards Park are a highlight for children. The fountains provide a refreshing splash pad for kids to play in, just steps away from the Anacostia River.

Open Spaces and Riverfront Views: With its open green spaces, boardwalks, and scenic riverfront vistas, Yards Park is perfect for family picnics and leisurely strolls. Regular outdoor events also offer entertainment for the whole family.

Special Events and Seasonal Activities

Children playing in a colorful playground with a backdrop of iconic DC landmarks like the Washington Monument and Capitol Building, surrounded by blooming cherry blossom trees and families enjoying outdoor picnics

Washington, DC is bristling with vibrant events all year round, offering a range of family-friendly festivities that celebrate the unique seasons and holidays. We are going to guide you through some of the most iconic and cherished events in the city that are perfect for children and families.

Cherry Blossom Festival

When: Spring (Typically late March to mid-April)
What to Expect: During the Cherry Blossom Festival, the city transforms with the blooming of thousands of cherry trees. It’s a spectacular sight that ushers in the spring season.

  • Family Activities: Enjoy the parade, kite flying, and cultural performances that are part of the festival.
  • Nature’s Display: The Tidal Basin area is especially stunning, draped in delicate pink and white flowers.

Fourth of July Celebrations

When: July 4th
What to Expect: Independence Day in Washington, DC is a magnificent display of patriotism steeped in tradition.

  • Fireworks: No Fourth of July would be complete without fireworks, and the National Mall is the stage for one of the nation’s most impressive displays.
  • Parades and Concerts: Family members of all ages can enjoy the festive parades, live music, and historical reenactments around the city.
Stephanie Creek

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