10 Things To Do In Washington, DC With Kids

Planning on showing off our nation’s beautiful capitol to the family? Great idea. Washington, DC makes for a fun-filled and educational trip for kids of all ages. Here are our ten top spots…

1. Private U.S. Capitol Tour. There is no reason to wait in line for a public tour of the Capitol when there are hundreds of young interns and staff assistants eager to leave the mailroom and phones and show you around. A few months before your trip to DC, contact one of your U.S. Senators (their staffs are larger than House Members’) and arrange a VIP experience.

2. Smithsonian National Air and Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Museum. The downtown Air and Space gets all the attention and Ben Stiller movies. But this larger museum near Dulles Airport has hundreds more planes for History-Channel-obsessed husbands and acres more space for cuckoo-crazy children to run off their demons.

3. White House Tour. Yes, you CAN go right inside Barack and Michelle’s pad (well, the public rooms), and when you call that Senator’s office for the Capitol tour have them hook you up with tickets to La Casa Blanca. Note: You are more likely to strike gold if you give three-six months notice.

4. The brand new National Children’s Museum. Due to open its doors in December 2012 in the new National Harbor, you can be one of the too-cool-for-school first visitors to this long-anticipated discovery and play place for kids.

5. National Harbor Marina and Events. While you’re at the NCM with the kids, be sure to check out the attractions for families at this new development like climbing all over the big five-piece sculpture The Awakening and swinging from the Calleva Ropes Course (seasonal).

6. Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. Located right next to Ronald Reagan National Airport, this historic village is packed with things to do for kids (with a whole lot less tourists than nearby DC.) Our family had a great time taking the town Scavenger Hunt for kids, which hit most of the kid-friendly attractions without anyone getting bored, and climbing all over the huge anchors in the waterfront park.

7. Mount Vernon. Alexandria is right near Mr. I-Cannot-Tell-A-Lie’s home Mount Vernon, which is super cool if you have never been. Two important additions if you went as an eighth grader: a special tour of the slave quarters make this a more realistic and important history lesson, and a new visitor’s center with a kids’ playroom for littles who couldn’t care less about 18th century traditions.

8. Washington Monuments Cruise. The easiest and most pleasurable way to show your kids those big marble testaments to democracy (and beat the often-muggy D.C. weather) is to view them from a breezy boat on the Potomac. If you have a toddler or preschooler, spring for the DC Duck tour in one of the amphibious vehicles, complete with annoying quacker noise makers.

9. Canoes on the Potomac. Outdoorsy, athletic parents and big kids with lots of energy will like renting kayaks or canoes to explore the Potomac River and paddle past Abe and Tom and the other famous sites. (My own marriage was put to the test trying to coordinate paddling a heavy canoe, so I highly recommend the more lightweight one- and two-person kayaks.)

10. Georgetown and The Tombs. Whether you are a family of a teen with Hoya hoop dreams or just a fan of luxury neighborhoods with lots of good dining and shopping, Georgetown is a great spot for subtle history (think cobblestone streets with a Coach store). Families can grab a bite at The Tombs where kids can get their burger on and Mom and Dad can have a few and embarrassingly belt out the theme song to St. Elmo’s Fire (it’s the bar where it was filmed.)

Have your own ideas of things to do in with kids in DC? Leave them in the comments!

About the writer


Jessica McFadden is a mother of three children who loves providing her fellow Washington, DC-area parents with ideas for fabulous family activities, knowledge about local resources, useful information and entertainment at A Parent in Silver Spring. 


Lisa 10 months ago

Five of your ten things are not in Washington, DC, and could represent a bit of driving. A couple of cool things for “kids” (though that’s a broad category) and parents:
The National Cathedral (at a high point in the District) is usually open even without a religious service, and if you happen to catch any of the special music programs, it’ll be memorable. It’s the kind of Gothic cathedral people head to Paris for. The stained glass windows are spectacular and the tombs and sculpture within the church are interesting. (A dead president is buried here!)
Many of our cemeteries have famous people or their relatives. Upton Sinclair, George McGovern, and TIm Russert are buried in my neighborhood in Petworth.
The FDR Memorial is attractive and educational night and day.

misty 1 year ago

We have lived in NOVA since my son was born and we are very spoiled with all the free/cheap things to do! Hiking at Great Falls Park (there are free offshoot trails, difficult run is a favorite of ours), farmers markets with all sorts of produce and locally made items, festivals of all types, etc. If you are traveling here, look at the Washington Post’s Going Out Guide. It will list any special events and can be sorted for kid friendly. It is my go-to for planning a fun Sat or when I have a friend visiting and I want to find a new bar/restaurant/play etc…

Sammiam 3 years ago

If you’ve got a car, head out to Great Falls Park (on either the VA or MD side of the river… yes, there are two). Tons of room to run, paths to hike together and rangers love talking to kids. Bring a picnic – both sides have open spaces and tables to sit at. The VA side is great for the younger kids as there are lots of small rocks and non-strenuous hikes for shorter legs. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous and have a few hours to spare, head to the MD side and hike the Billy Goat Trail. It’s a few miles long, takes you down the canal and then lets you do some rock scrambling by the river. I’d carry smaller ones, but over 5 or 6 and you should be ok. Guaranteed nap time at the end.

As someone who grew up outside of DC and is now raising a little one elsewhere – take advantage of the museums downtown, especially Natural History and American History. Both are very family friendly and have lots of cool stuff to look at for many ages. Did I mention that all Smithsonian museums are FREE? The spy museum is also ridiculously cool, though one of the few that charges an admissions fee.

Corey Feldman 3 years ago

I don’t think I have been to the tombs since high school.

Colleen Brown 3 years ago

As a child who grew up in the Virginia “burbs” of DC, there is a lot I remember (and want to show my children) and a lot I don’t! The zoo is fantastic (or used to be), I have traveled the country and my children have seen zoo’s all over the US, and I have yet to find one that beats DC. The Washington Monument is a lot of hype, I remember all the flags having more appeal than the monument itself. I have great memories of running beside the reflecting pool, and HUGE Abe Lincoln! The Museum of Natural History, dinosaurs were great. The Smithsonian has all the great relics, and something for everyone. I remember the Botanical Gardens well, it was like stepping into a tropical rainforest. The Cherry Blossom’s are gorgeous, and the all the Christmas Tree’s were fun too. I also remember getting some of the best food from the food trucks lining the streets! Great Falls, has some great rock climbing, waterfalls, canoeing and kayaking, and walking trails. My grandmother also lived in Silver Springs, and I remember Rock Creek Park well, a little slice of the country in a booming metropolis!!


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