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13 fun things to do in Washington, DC with kids

Washington, D.C., is a great place for the whole family to discover together—and here are just a few good reasons why…

The US capital is not just a hub of history and politics; it’s also brimming with kid-friendly activities that will captivate children of all ages. From some of America’s best museums to expansive parks, Washington, DC offers a wealth of fun and educational experiences—many of which are free!

Budget-friendly attractions include the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum and research hub, spanning 17 free museums and galleries (plus the National Zoo). And that’s just the beginning of what this family-friendly US city has to offer!

In this guide, we’ll unveil the most exciting things to do with kids in Washington DC, along with the best tours, restaurants and accommodation options. No matter how long your stay in DC may be, there’s always something new to discover.

Best family-friendly attractions in Washington, DC

Planning a family trip to Washington, DC and wondering how to keep the little ones entertained? Look no further! Here are the top 10 must-see activities that will make your children fall in love with America’s capital:

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Lincoln Memorial

1. The National Mall

Millions of people visit DC’s National Mall every year, making it America’s most visited national park. Unlike most national parks, the 3km stretch houses multiple man-made monuments, memorials and museums.

The wide, pedestrian-friendly boulevards let visitors absorb the history and scenery of ‘America’s front yard’. As an instantly recognisable part of the US landscape, you’ve probably seen at least part of it featured in a whole host of movies and TV shows.

Highlights include the towering Washington Monument obelisk (and its 152m high Observation Deck), the Smithsonian museums, the US Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial. Roaming Park Rangers are ready to impress your kids with true tales of America, making the Mall a DC drawcard for the whole family. 

Lunar module 2 on display at Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington
Lunar module 2 on display at Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

2. The National Air and Space Museum

Fascinated by planes, rockets, and the ‘final frontier’ of space? The National Air and Space Museum is a must-visit! Kids will be dazzled by the largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft in the world, featuring the original Wright brothers’ flyer and the Apollo 11 command module.

Interactive displays and flight simulators provide plenty of hands-on learning (and fun). Don’t forget to visit the IMAX theater and planetarium for awe-inspiring shows. For even more mind-blowing exhibits, don’t miss the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center just outside DC. Across two enormous hangars you can see a Concorde, a Blackbird SR-71 spy plane, and the Space Shuttle Discovery. Now that’s educational!

3. The Museum of Natural History

Curious kids will be amazed at the National Museum of Natural History, home to a breathtaking rotating collection of 148 million items. Family favourites include the life-sized dinosaur skeletons, a life-size whale and the 3D IMAX theatre.

If you are brave enough check out the daily tarantula feeding or take it gently wandering through the captivating Butterfly Pavillion, with the chance to witness each stage of their life cycles. Plus, you absolutely can’t miss the fascinating Ocean Hall with its giant squid and coral reef dioramas.

With so many interactive and educational exhibits, The Museum of Natural History is a delightful (and colourful) way to learn about the planet’s ecosystems. Plan your time with a little research on the site including free family progams and activities.

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The White House

4. The White House Visitor Centre

Get an up-close look at where America’s presidents live and work with a visit to the iconic White House. One of the world’s most famous addresses—1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC— it’s been home to every US President except the first, George Washington, who selected the site for The White House in 1791 but never lived there (it took eight years to build).

A trip to the White House Visitor Center is a fantastic way to learn more about its history, the Presidents and their families, world leaders and events, architecture, and more.

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Georgetown Waterfront

5. Historic Georgetown

Step back in time when you explore historic Georgetown, one of DC’s oldest (and most charming) neighbourhoods. With its cobblestone streets, 18th-century architecture, and riverfront views, Georgetown is a delightful place for a walk or even to spend an afternoon.

Head to Georgetown Waterfront Park for some fresh air and stunning views of the Potomac River. The park’s open spaces and interactive fountains make it a perfect spot for kids to play and unwind.

Stroll along the boardwalk, watch the boats, see the views of the Kennedy Center, Watergate, Key Bridge, and across the water to Virginia. In November, the fountain transforms into the massive Washington Harbour Ice Rink, open daily through to March.

For a more educational twist, visit the Tudor Place Historic House & Garden, a stunning mansion that offers insight into early American history with kid-friendly tours and hands-on activities.

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Spy Museum

6. The International Spy Museum

There are more spies in Washington DC than anywhere else in the world—and you can get a piece of the action at the International Spy Museum. Spy enthusiasts will be thrilled by  the immersive experience, packed with interactive exhibits about the world of espionage.

Kids can test their spy skills by participating in simulated covert missions, cracking codes, and navigating their way through laser fields. The museum’s extensive collection includes real-life spy gadgets, from miniature cameras to disguised weapons, and reveals the fascinating stories of famous spies throughout history.

The International Spy Museum is not only a fun adventure but also an educational experience, teaching kids about the role ‘intelligence’ has played in shaping world history. Our favourite spy films aren’t forgotten, though, with an incredible James Bond exhibition running in 2024.

The Ethiopian traditional, famous and delicious Injera flatbread — Photo
The Ethiopian traditional, famous and delicious Injera flatbread

7. Little Ethiopia

Visit ‘Little Ethiopia’ in DC, a vibrant neighbourhood known for Ethiopian restaurants, markets, and shops. Your kids will love traditional Ethiopian dishes like injera,a spongy flatbread, and various flavourful stews and meats served on communal platters. Enjoy the lively atmosphere and host cultural events and festivals throughout the year.

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Library Of Congress

8. Library of Congress

The magnificent Library of Congress spans across three grand buildings on Capitol Hill.  It’s the largest library in the world, boasting a staggering collection of over 170 million items! You’ll discover treasures, including books, recordings, photographs, maps, and manuscripts, the original manuscript of the Declaration of Independence; and Thomas Jefferson’s personal library.

Don’t miss the chance to immerse yourself in the breathtaking beauty of the Main Reading Room. Take the kids to the  Young Readers Center brimming with captivating activities and storytimes. Book your free timed-entry tickets online in advance.

9. Rock Creek Park Nature Centre & Planetarium

An unforgettable adventure awaits at the Rock Creek Park Nature Centre & Planetarium. Dive into the heart of Rock Creek Park, one of the oldest and most majestic urban parks in the USA, and prepare to be amazed by its rich natural and cultural tapestry.

The Nature Centre is a wonderland of learning, featuring captivating exhibits on the local wildlife, fascinating geology, and intricate ecosystems. Right next door, the planetarium is your gateway to the universe, offering breathtaking views of the cosmos with cutting-edge telescope technology. It’s like holding the universe in your hands with special shows to dazzle kids from four years old. Free tickets are available at the Nature Center’s front desk up to 30 minutes before showtime.

Family activities include ranger-led astronomy programs, bird-watching hikes and hands-on nature exploration to touch, feel, and truly experience the wonders of the natural world.

10. The National Zoo

Prepare for an unforgettable adventure at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, DC! With over 2,700 animals, including giant pandas, elephants, and gorillas, this zoo is a paradise for animal lovers of all ages. The scenic paths, lush habitats, and engaging animal demonstrations make every visit a truly magical experience. Let the little ones mingle with goats, cows, and more at the Kids’ Farm. A day at this incredible zoo is guaranteed to be a hit with the whole family!

Best of all, entry is free! Check out the zoo’s events calendar for feeding and talk times.

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Capitol Hill Building

11. Monuments by Moonlight Tour

Embark on a magical 2 1/2-hour moonlit exploration of Washington, brought to life through the captivating stories told by expertly licensed tour guide conductors. 

Feast your eyes on breathtaking panoramic views and make unforgettable stops at some of the nation’s most revered memorials, including the majestic Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the awe-inspiring Lincoln Memorial, the profoundly moving Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the solemn Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the honorable US Marine Corps War Memorial.

Washington DC Night Tours

Kennedy CenterJohn F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. @ doganmesut@hotmail.comDepositphotos 431003572 XL (1)
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

12. The Kennedy Center

Immerse your family in a world of culture at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Step into the Kennedy Center for an unforgettable experience filled with top-notch theatre, music, and dance performances that cater to families and children. Take in the stunning views from the rooftop terrace and be amazed by the talent on display at the Family Theater. Dive into interactive exhibits and behind-the-scenes tours, and don’t forget to catch a free show at the Millennium Stage. The Kennedy Center truly brings the arts to life for everyone!

Botanic Gardens Bartholdi Fountain and Capitol dome @ steveheap Depositphotos 9693641 XL
Botanic Gardens Bartholdi Fountain

13. United States Botanic Garden

At the United States Botanic Garden, discover a paradise of over 10,000 plant species that will leave you in awe. Wander through the lush Conservatory and marvel at the diverse plant life from around the globe. Kids will love exploring the interactive exhibits at the National Garden and getting hands-on in the Children’s Garden. With educational programs and seasonal events, the Botanic Garden is the perfect place to deepen your understanding and appreciation of nature.

For more information on Washington, DC visit washington.org

Best time to visit

February is the cheapest month to visit … March is ideal for witnessing Washington, DC’s cherry blossoms … May offers a glimpse behind the scenes at the city’s embassies and month-long cultural celebrations with Passport DC.

Where to stay

Hotel Zena Part hotel and part art gallery, step inside and discover work that celebrates the contributions and courage of women. At the nexus of downtown DC and the 14th Street Corridor, Hotel Zena is close to DC’s most significant landmarks and museums. Playful lounge spaces, a rooftop pool, a children’s art program and spacious two bedrooms make this boutique hotel a perfect choice for families.

Switch it up and move to the stylish and sustainable  Intercontinental Washington DC, The Wharf.  Located along the mile-long pier of The Wharf, with easy access to the mile-long development and community  featuring restaurants, retail and fun activities on DC’s Potomac River.

How to get there

There are three primary airports in the Washington, DC region. These are Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport located in suburban Virginia 26 miles from DC.. Dulles Airport is the primary international airport for the DC region, with nearly 140 non-stop domestic and international destinations with over 40 airlines.

Amtrak is a great option if you are travelling from a nearby state with the train trip from NYC arriving in just over 3 hours. 

Disclaimer – The writer was an excited guest of Destination DC

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