15 Things to do in Washington DC with Kids
Our family of 4 visited Washington DC during the National Cherry Blossom Festival in April. We lucked out and our timing landed us right during the cherry blossom’s peak bloom. Here’s my photo diary of the trees during our visit. They were magnificent! Will and I have visited the District several times before, but this was our first time with the kids. Finding kid-friendly things to do in Washington DC was much easier than I thought it would be. Below is a list of 15 fun things to do in DC with kids that you don’t want to miss!
1. Explore the National Mall via Bike
Check out Fat Tire Tour & Bike Rentals. It’s just a few blocks from the National Mall on 23rd street. They offer bike tours for families. If your kids aren’t old enough for their own bikes, you can also rent a bike with a toddler/baby seat on the back. A bike rental for a full day is around $40. This is one of the best ways to explore the Mall!
2. Ride the “Big Bus”
On a nice day, grab a seat on the top of the double decker ‘Big Bus’ tour and take a ride through the city. The tour offers great views of the White House, the Capitol, the national memorials, Arlington Cemetery and more! You can hop on and off at over 40 spots throughout the city. Hence, making it perfect for little ones with short attention spans!
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3. Ride the Carousel in the National Mall
Who doesn’t love a carousel? It was originally built in the 1940s for the “segregated” Gwynn Oak amusement park in Baltimore. After many protests over a decade, park management agreed to desegregation on August 28, 1963, the same day Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The next day, writer, Amy Nathan, of the Washington Post noted “amid all the news stories about the March on Washington, there were also stories on Sharon Langley’s merry-go-round ride. Three kids—one black and two white—riding together provided an example of the harmony King spoke about at the march, when he hoped that one day black children and white children would regard each other as “sisters and brothers.” The carousel is now conveniently located near the center of the National Mall.
4. Air & Space Museum
The Smithsonian offers 11 museums and galleries on the National Mall. Admission is free for all Smithsonian museums! My son is 2 and my daughter is 1. My husband and I were skeptical about the kids enjoying any of the museums at these ages. But man was I wrong. Hands down, Jimmie’s favorite was the Air & Space Museum. He’s obsessed with airplanes. He ran all over this place with so much joy and wander in his eyes and may have screamed the word “airplane” a gazillion times.
5. Natural History Museum
Another kid-friendly museum is the Natural History Museum. Lions, and tigers, and dinosaurs! Oh my! This was my 3rd time visiting this museum and it never disappoints. The kids will love all the animal exhibits. And don’t miss the section that houses the Hope Diamond! I find the history and the story of the curse of the Hope Diamond so interesting.
6. Visit the Eastern Market
This public market is Washington DC’s original and premier food and arts market. It’s located in the heart of the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood. Shop the fresh locally sourced food and drink. Watch the street performers. Grab a souvenir from one of the many arts and craft vendors. Here’s a link with more info. Note: the market is closed on Mondays.
7. Ferris Wheel at the National Harbor
The Capitol Wheel, a ferris wheel with magnificent waterfront views, is located just outside DC, at National Harbor, Maryland. Tickets go for sale around $15. The National Harbor is a great area to explore with kids. There are plenty of family friendly restaurants, shopping, and there’s a Carousel here too. Here’s a link to all the upcoming family-friendly events taking place at the harbor. On Sundays, they have FREE family movies on the Potomac River.
8. National Zoo – our favorite thing to do in Washington DC with kids!
In addition to the 11 museums on the National Mall, the Smithsonian also includes 6 other museums plus the National Zoo all located around the greater National Capital Area. The National Zoo is a 10 minute metro ride from the Metro Center Station and then about a 10 minute walk to the front entrance. Or there’s always UBER. The zoo is very hilly! Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring strollers for the little ones. We spent about 2 hours here, but you could easily spend a half day here with all the exhibits. Admission is free, and you can purchase food or drink inside the zoo.
9. Old Town Alexandria
Explore the historic neighborhood of Old Town Alexandria. Stroll the cobblestone pathways on King Street Mile. Shop the locally owned boutiques, or take a sight-seeing cruise from Old Town’s marina. Alexandria is also a great place for you foodies – restaurants galore!
10. Explore George Washington’s Mount Vernon
After walking the streets of Old Town Alexandria, hop over to the most visited Historic Home in America. George Washington’s former estate has lush gardens, a distillery and gristmill, and museum galleries. The 500 acre estate is situated on the banks of the Potomac River, just 13 miles south of Washington D.C.
11. Clock tower at the Old Post Office
Besides the Washington Monument, the Clock tower is one of the few options in the District to get sky-high, 360 degree views of Washington DC. Located in the Trump International Hotel, the tower is free to the public. Try going in the middle of the week for less of a line. It takes 2 elevators to get to the top. There is some souvenir shops and a food court on the lower level, making it a convenient stop in Washington DC with kids.
12. Great Falls Park
Great Falls Park, located about 20 minutes outside DC, has several well maintained, beautiful hiking trails that lead to waterfalls and river rapids. There are 3 overlooks that provide access to views of Great Falls. While Overlook 1 offers the closest view of the falls, Overlooks 2 and 3 are the only ones that are stroller friendly. Entrance fee is $5 per vehicle.
13. Day trip to Downtown Annapolis, Maryland
Annapolis is about 50 minutes outside of Washington D.C. It’s an easily walkable city and it’s bay-side location makes for a picturesque background. Stroll the ‘City Dock’ that has cute boutique shops, waterfront restaurants and bars. The kids will love feeding the ducks. Maybe even visit the U.S. Naval Academy that is right around the corner.
14. Visit the Wine Country in Virginia
After several days exploring the big city with a toddler and baby, nothing beats great wine, gorgeous views, and a relaxing day-trip to the country. The best part? You can bring the kids! Our friends, who live in D.C., drove us out to the Doukenie Winery located in Loudoun County, Virginia (about a 50 min drive). The winery sits on a 500 acre farm at the base of Short Hill Mountain. There was a fantastic wine selection, a pond with ducks and geese, live music, and lots of other kids for Jimmie and Emily to play with. It was the perfect day! Check out this post on 9 wineries near DC the whole family can enjoy!
15. Take a tour of the White House or the Capitol
I go back and forth about doing guided tours with small children. Some tours with our little ones have been amazing. Other times, my toddler throws and tantrum and I start looking for the nearest escape route. Therefore, it will depend on you and your kid’s attention spans. For me, if I plan an organized tour, I schedule them early in the morning, after they had breakfast. Consequently, rested with full tummys provides an easy and enjoyable experience for all. Capitol tours typically take about 90 minutes and are stroller friendly. Tours must be booked at least 21 days in advance online, unless you have a friend who works in the Capitol and can pull some strings a few days in advance. And the White House tour is free of charge.
Bonus: Visit Colonial Williamsburg.
Colonial Williamsburg is about 2.5 hours outside of Washington DC. Therefore, I would NOT recommend making this a “day trip” from Washington DC with kids. But it is worth considering adding a day or two to your Washington DC vacation to spend 2 to 3 days in the Williamsburg area. Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum portraying life in the 18th century. Employees are in character while they work around the grounds, wearing period costumes and sometimes even use colonial grammer and diction when answering tourist’s questions. Tickets run about $38 for adults, Ages 5 and under are free. Click here for more details.
No matter your kid’s ages, Washington DC offers lots of fun things to do for the whole family! Have you been to Washington DC? Share your experience in the comments below!