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The best things to do in Washington DC with kids

Home to the White House and some of the country’s most important monuments and museums, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to things to do in Washington DC with kids.

View over the tidal basin to cherry trees and Washington Monument in spring - the best things to do in Washington DC with kids
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With plenty to entertain on a city break, or if you’re planning an east coast road trip, forget the idea of bored kids wandering around endless exhibits too – with lots of interactive fun, and plenty of green space to break up the family attractions, there really is something for all ages.

Add in the zoo, history galore, a chance to glimpse inside the heart of US government and see an X-wing, the big challenge is fitting everything in Washington DC for families into one trip…

Lincoln Memorial

Set within the National Mall, the country’s most visited national park, the Lincoln Memorial is open all day, every day and it’s one of the unmissable things to do in Washington DC for families.

Kids can take part in the Lincoln Memorial Scavenger Hunt, which is a great way to entertain them as you explore but means they get photos and interesting information about all the things they’re looking for as they search out the sights.

For a more in-depth experience, head inside and down into the memorial where you’ll be able to learn more about the monument’s history.

Save some time to gaze out at the Reflecting Pool, the largest reflecting pool in Washington DC, which reflects the Lincoln Memorial or Washington Monument, depending where you stand (as well as the trees and sky).

And while you’re there, you can also visit several other sites in and around the National Mall.

  • Washington Monument
  • The Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall
  • World War II Memorial
  • The Tidal Basin
Washington DC at the Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument viewed from Lincoln Memorial - visiting the monuments is one of the unmissable things to do in Washington DC with kids

Take a tour of Washington DC

There’s so much to take in when you visit Washington DC with kids that it can feel overwhelming, so joining a tour is a great option.

With a whole series of different types to choose from, you can also experience the city from lots of different vantage points, included guided commentary or the chance to see particular sights, including the National Mall and surrounding monuments.

If you want to go at your own pace, this self-guided walking tour of Washington DC’s monuments is a great easy introduction to some of the city’s highlights.

Check out the boat tours of Washington DC – you could go for a 45-minute cruise on the Potomac, skipping some of the city’s notorious traffic, or combine it with a walking tour of the city.

You’ll also find one of the classic hop-on hop-off bus tours of Washington DC, which are great to save tired legs from walking, or for something a bit different, try an Old Town Trolley city tour or night-time trolley tour.

For a more active option, this bike tour of Washington DC is family-friendly and lets you see more than a walking tour, or you can even hire your own e-bikes. You might spot Segway tours as you explore too, but these are generally limited to age 16+ so not an option for families.

Create your own tour with the Washington DC City Trails book from Lonely Planet Kids with quirky facts as well as some of the highlights for families to spot in the city

The heart of American democracy, the Capitol is home to the Senate as well as the House of Representatives – and one of the most visited attractions in the country.

There are 45-minute guided walking tours which need to be reserved in advance, and which will take you to all the main attractions including a short introduction film, the Capitol Rotunda and the Capitol Dome murals, among other stops.

The white domed Capitol building - one of the top sights to see with kids in Washington DC

The interactive museum at the Visitors’ Center is great for families too, with exhibits and films to keep kids engaged, as well as teaching a bit more about the US system of government and its history.

Save time for security, make sure to bring any ID required and do check the list of prohibited items before arriving too. US citizens can also reserve tours through the offices of one of your senators or your representative.

If you want to visit the White House, tours can be arranged for US citizens through their Member of Congress. No tours are currently being arranged for foreign citizens, contact your embassy for the latest information

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Home to one of the largest natural history collections in the world, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History is easily one of the best free things to do in Washington DC with kids – and perfect for learning more about the world and our place in it.

There’s so much packed into the museum’s incredible exhibits and collections, that it’s great for all ages, whether you’ve got younger kids who want to marvel at the animals on display or older ones fascinated by genetics.

Don’t miss the Discovery Room, where the whole family can get involved with interactive exhibits and scientific challenges ranging from archaeology and paleontology to seismology.

Grizzly Bear exhibit at Smithsonian Natural History Museum - one of the best things to do in Washington DC with kids

International Spy Museum

Delve into the world of spies and espionage at the International Spy Museum, whether you fancy yourself as a master codebreaker or the next James Bond.

There are 17 different interactive displays to test your skills, both digital and physical, including a chance to see if you can remember your cover identity, plus exhibits on the history of spying in the US.

Pick up the Family Highlights Tour if you’re visiting with kids under 10 with a series of challenges and undercover missions – best for families with children aged seven and up, it’s one of the most unusual things to do with kids in Washington DC.

You can buy tickets with free cancellation – these need to be exchanged for timed ticket entry, so it’s worth arriving early, especially at peak times.

National Museum of American History

With over 1.7 million objects in the collection, the National Museum of American History is one of the best ways for families to learn about the history of the United States, all the way from colonial times to the present day.

And it’s far from an old-fashioned boring history lesson: you’ll find everything from exhibits on cars to those on First Ladies, not to mention more displays on architecture, art, science, nature, and culture (Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz are even part of the collection!).

Add in a choice of self-guided tours to help you find some of the museum’s highlights, plus areas to suit different ages, and you can easily spend a couple of hours exploring – as well as being free, it’s a great idea on a rainy day in Washington DC with kids too.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture next door is also a great place to visit with kids, including films and exhibits tracing centuries of African American history

Rockets among the exhibits at the Air and Space Museum - one of the most fascinating family attractions in Washington DC

National Air and Space Museum

With its huge collection of space and aviation artifacts, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC has long been a family favourite – and it’s set to unveil a series of new galleries and public spaces later in 2022 (temporarily closed until then).

Some old friends will be returning along with some brand new exhibits, including an X-wing (guaranteed to appeal to kids young and not quite so young!), while the Albert Einstein Planetarium will also reopen.

Destination Moon will follow the story of lunar exploration, while Nation of Speed will look at the advances made as humans challenged themselves to go ever faster on land, sea, air and in space.

Visitors will be able to experience the Wright Flyer in a new way, learn about the development of aviation and how it’s changed the world, as well as taking a walk through the planets. Perfect with toddlers who love planes as well as teens.

National Children’s Museum

A fantastic family day out with younger kids, it’s all about getting hands on at the National Children’s Museum – and having so much fun, they’ll never realise they’re learning more about science, technology, engineering, art and math along the way.

The Little Dreamers and Little Movers spaces are designed for the youngest visitors, aged zero to three, while older kids will love playing in the Dream Machine, shooting lightning and making it rain with Weather Worlds, getting creative with some Nickelodeon faves like SpongeBob and taking on the challenge of designing a rollercoaster.

National Geographic Museum

For kids who are fascinated by the world, the exhibits at the National Geographic Museum are great for families.

With everything from world-class photography to interactive learning stations, as well as behind-the-scenes stories about some of the incredible artifacts on display, it’s a great museum in Washington DC with kids.

There are regular temporary exhibitions too, with the fascinating Tutankhamun exhibit on show until 2023.

Spectacled bear at the Smithsonian Zoo - one of the best days out with kids in Washington DC

Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute

Home to an incredible 2,700 animals and 390 different species, the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute has a string of activities to help kids learn about conservation as well.

You’ll find family favourites from lions to pandas, as well as bears, lemurs, birds, fish and reptiles including a string of endangered creatures.

One of the best days out in Washington DC with kids who love animals, don’t miss the Kids’ Farm too, plus Me and the Bee playground and the Squirt Zone for some interactive play.

United States Botanic Gardens

If you want to encourage your children to develop a passion for the environment, it’s hard to think of anywhere better than taking them to the United States Botanic Gardens.

Home to a world-renowned living plant museum, this attraction is a great option in Washington DC for families as it has a special children’s garden, giving kids the opportunity to get their hands dirty as they enjoy a bit of interactive learning.

There are also books available for children with fun activities as they explore, that will keep them occupied as you explore the gardens, with everything from roses and orchids to rainforest and the intriguing corpse flower.

Glass house and pool at the United States Botanic Garden - one of the great days out in Washington DC for families

Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium

Home to the only planetarium in the National Parks Service, the Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium is ideal for a family day outdoors.

Along with hiking trails, a book store, and an incredible visual experience at the planetarium, the Nature Center has two self-guided interpretive trails with displays of plants and animals to discover.

Or kids will enjoy the Discovery Room with games to teach them about nature, books for a bit more in-depth research, and a chance to see live turtles, snakes, and birds, as well as a water-conscious garden during the visit.

Georgetown Waterfront Park

Spanning a whopping 225 miles of parkland, Georgetown Waterfront Park has a few unique features to tempt families to visit.

With a labyrinth and rain gardens in the park, along with a seasonal fountain that’s a lovely place to splash on hot days, you can also relax on the river steps as well as boating on the Potomac River.

There are family-friendly events taking place throughout the year too, while younger kids will love the splash pad too. Well worth taking some form of shade if you plan on hanging around for a while in summer though!

Fountains at sunset on the waterfront in Georgetown - one of the best places to get outdoors in Washington DC with kids

Nationals Park

If you’re into sports, a visit to the Nationals Park makes for a really fun outing in Washington DC for families.

Visit for a tour on a non-game-day and kids can get the chance to see the stadium, including the dugout and bullpen. There are pre-game tours as well, if you’d like to look around before catching a game.

And after Sunday afternoon home games, children between the ages of four and twelve are even allowed to run the bases!

Beauvoir Outdoor Playground

If your kids are tired of museums, the Beauvoir Outdoor Playground is one place that’s worth having on your list – while it’s a little way outside the city, it’s also easy to combine with the zoo.

Great for kids of all ages, this playground encourages children to learn through creative and imaginative play, with swings, climbing structures, bridges, and zip lines to enjoy.

Attached to the Beauvoir school, it’s only open to the public outside school hours – after 5.30pm to dusk during the week, and all day on the weekends and during holidays. It’s also worth knowing there are no public restrooms here.

Barbie Pond on Avenue Q

Another of the more unusual things to do with kids in Washington DC, the Barbie Pond is a peculiar yet fun attraction.

Located on Q Street NW in the Logan Circle Neighbourhood, this every-changing exhibit is made up of a range of male and female Barbie dolls arranged in weird and wacky ways.

For parents and older kids, there’s sometimes a political edge to the display, as well as the artistic side, while seeing a funny collection of dolls is usually a hit for younger ones.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Money, money, money… discover everything you need to know about the dollar at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

One of the most underrated things to do in Washington DC with kids, a tour covers the history of currency in the United States, as well as discovering more about how it’s made. Temporarily closed.

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Images courtesy of Depositphotos


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