The Best Washington D.C. Kids Activities
We’ve been living in D.C. for about a year and a half. There are so many things to do in this area, boredom is never an option! While we feel like we have done quite a bit, there are still many things on our list that we would still love to do.
Here is a comprehensive list of the best Washington D.C. kids activities. These are places we’ve visited in this area along with tips and important information. I will add more to the list as we finish up our last few months here. Use these ideas to help you plan what to do in DC with kids!
In this article you will find:
Activities Nearby DC:
Washington D.C. Kids Activities
This is only a seasonal event but it is one of the best events of the year in Washington D.C. Sometime in March or April the cherry blossom trees bloom. The 2019 prediction for peak bloom is April 3-6. The most striking place to see them is at the Tidal Basin which is lined with over 3500 cherry blossom trees. The trees were a gift from the mayor of Tokyo in 1912. The trees are a beautiful sight when they are in bloom and should not be missed! It is a great place to go for pictures, but expect crowds.
Families should be aware that parts of the path are not super stroller friendly and you will have to navigate around crowds, puddles, mud, and photographers with tripods. We had one rule while visiting the Tidal Basin: don’t fall in the water! Even with all the challenges, it is worth making the effort to see these gorgeous blooms!
In addition to seeing the trees in bloom, there is a month-long cherry blossom festival with various events. You can read more about the festival in this post from Skylar Aria’s Adventures.
books about the cherry blossoms:
This neighborhood is a D.C. favorite. You can be entertained simply by walking through the charming streets admiring brightly painted brick homes. There are some notable things to see in Georgetown like the stairs from The Exorcist, Montrose Park, Dumbarton Oaks, and the famous Georgetown Cupcake.
You’ll also find cute shops and restaurants galore! We’ve eaten at il Canale, GoodStuff Eatery, Thomas Sweet Ice Cream, and Kafe Leopold with kids. We ate at 1789 without kids and it was amazing! It’s a great date night or special occasion place.
The Georgetown waterfront is a fun place to spend a nice day. There’s a decently long walking/biking path along the river, a couple splash areas for warmer weather, and an abundance of restaurants nearby.
Kayaking the Potomac River
Renting kayaks from Boating in DC at Key Bridge near the Georgetown waterfront is one of the best things to do in DC with kids! Rental includes lifejackets, including child-sized ones. Our family had so much fun paddling around Teddy Roosevelt Island and back to the boathouse.
We looked for turtles and ducks. We also saw Georgetown University, the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the Kennedy Center from the water. We spent about an hour and a half on the water and it was a great way to enjoy nature and beautiful weather.
If you are looking to add some outdoors to your D.C. visit, this is a perfect thing to do!
Price: Single Kayak $16/hour, Double Kayaks $22/hour
National Air and Space Museum
The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is right on the National Mall. If your kids are interested in airplanes, space, and flying this is the museum for them! Some of the things you can see at the National Air and Space Museum are the Spirit of St. Louis (Charles Lindberg’s plane), a rocket, a lunar module, and the Wright Flyer (the first airplane).
There are a planetarium, flight simulators, and an IMAX theater as well. Entry to the museum is free but the planetarium, simulators, and IMAX require purchased tickets. Free tours can be reserved online and should be reserved in advance when possible.
They also offer a free children’s story time, check the website for schedule and details. The only food option here is a large McDonald’s, kids will probably love it but keep that in mind when visiting.
If you have the ability, visiting the Air and Space Museum Annex at the Udvar Hazy Center is well worth it. My children actually prefer the Udvar Hazy location over the museum on the National Mall. More on that museum in the Virginia section!
Price: free, some special exhibits require paid ticket
The National Archives is where you can view the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. On occasion, they will display other special documents like the Emancipation Proclamation. There is also a small museum detailing the history of some important documents through history.
We brought our young children here with their older cousins. Our children were too young to appreciate what they were seeing but our niece and nephews enjoyed seeing real pieces of history.
National Building Museum
The National Building Museum may not be first on your list, but there is really a lot here to please kids and grownups. It is one of the best museums in D.C. for kids!
If you visit during the summer there will be a special exhibition in the atrium that is guaranteed to be a blast! When we visited there was the Funhouse exhibit complete with a giant swimming pool ball pit, and pillow building area. The special exhibit will be an additional charge to the museum ticket.
The museum itself has two different play areas for kids. The Building Zone on the first floor is for kids 2-6 and included with your admission. You will want to check in with them at the beginning of your visit because entry is timed, and they may book up.
The Play Work Build exhibit is on the second floor and for children of all ages. It includes smaller blocks to work with on a table and larger blue foam blocks for unstructured building and playing.
Price: $10 adult, $7 youth (3-17)
National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery of Art is a Smithsonian museum on the National Mall housing all kinds of fine art, paintings, sculptures, and furniture pieces. I admit we didn’t last too long here with our children. Part of that was due to their ages, part of that was due to the time of day and how tired the kids already were.
I wouldn’t say I would not bring young children here, but you should know your kids. It is definitely a more quiet and adult museum. I advise to either visit when kids are sleeping in strollers, or in the morning when they are fresh and before they get tired, hungry, whiny.
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
Right next door to the National Gallery of Art is this outdoor sculpture garden. This garden is very child-friendly. In the center is a large fountain, except in the winter when it becomes an ice-skating rink. Our kids enjoy sitting on the edge of the fountain, wandering around chasing ducks and squirrels, and it’s a good place to get some energy out.
Also at this location is a cafe that is one of the best food options on the National Mall. The cafe can be a bit crowded but there is indoor and outdoor seating, and you could also bring your food to one of the benches around the fountain.
National Mall and Memorial Parks
The National Mall is definitely one of the best things to do in D.C. with kids . It is has the most iconic spots in D.C. and lots of room to walk, run, and move! Don’t miss the carousel located near the Smithsonian Castle, it’s sure to cheer up tired kids if they are starting to get worn out.
This mall includes the land in between the Capitol building and the Washington Monument as well as the Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and Tidal Basin.
This is a very large area to cover. Prepare for a lot of walking and even splitting these areas up over a couple of days. There aren’t too many food options available, but often there are food trucks set up nearby. There are also a couple of snack stands where you can buy something quick. Expect crowds no matter when you visit as these are the most popular spots to see in D.C.!
National Museum of American History
The National Museum of American History houses all kinds of history from presidential items to pop culture items like Dorothy’s ruby red slippers. There are several hands-on displays for kids in different exhibits in addition to two playrooms. It is one of the great Washington D.C. museums for kids.
Wegmans Wonder Room is designed for young children up to age 6 and the Draper Spark Lab is designed for children 6-12. There is a cafeteria downstairs that serves typical American type dishes (hamburgers, chicken tenders, salads, BBQ sandwiches, etc.)
One of the highlights for me is the First Ladies exhibition. You can see many inaugural gowns of the most recent first ladies. There’s also china from their collections and many interesting facts about the first ladies.
National Museum of Natural History
This museum is hands down our kids’ favorite. This is mostly due to the “bug museum” upstairs. The museum has a small insect zoo where you can see different species like tarantulas, stick bugs, bees, and more. There is usually a cart attended by volunteers with live insects that patrons can hold. My daughter loves to hold the bugs! It is one of the greatest kid places in D.C.!
There is also a live butterfly exhibit. This requires a paid timed ticket. Prices are $7.50 (13 and older), $6.50 (2-12 years old). Here’s a little tip though, the Butterfly exhibit is free on Tuesdays! We only ever go inside on a Tuesday.
If you visit at a high time for tourists (summer or spring break) make sure you go up to the butterfly exhibit when you first arrive to the museum so they don’t run out of tickets. A few times it has happened where our entry time isn’t for another 2-3 hours.
The museum also has a hall of animals with all kinds of stuffed animals, and ocean exhibit with a few aquariums, a gems and minerals exhibit with the Hope Diamond as well as other priceless jewelry, and a great children’s playroom.
The cafeteria here has been under renovation. At my last visit, there were just coolers with premade sandwiches and salads. They were not cheap and not very enticing so I would recommend eating elsewhere. Check outside for food trucks.
If you have a stroller, make sure you enter through the Constitution Avenue entrance, not from the entrance on the National Mall. There aren’t any ramps on the mall side.
Price: free, except for the Butterfly Conservatory
National Museum of the American Indian
The National Museum of the American Indian is another of the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall, closer to the Capitol building. Full disclosure, we only had time to do the kids playroom here and have not been back to see the actual exhibits.
The imagiNATIONS Activity Center is great for kids! Kids can pick up a passport at the entrance and get stamps through the exhibit after completing different activities. Our kids were happily playing here for over an hour.
The cafeteria here is also known to be the best of the Smithsonians. It has more gourmet and specialty dishes modeled after traditional dishes of Native Americans. The museum is very close to the Botanic Garden, you could pair the two places together for a full day.
National Portrait Gallery
We came to the Portrait Gallery to visit the newly completed portraits of the Obamas. There is an entire gallery dedicated to presidential portraits and we really enjoyed walking around looking at them. Many of them are in different styles. The Obama portraits are not the only untraditional ones! Our visit here was quick so we did not have time to visit the playroom.
The Kogod Courtyard is well worth a stop. It is a beautiful atrium and has some water features that are entertaining for little ones. It’s a good place to sit down for a snack and a coffee and take a break.
The National Zoo is the place for animal lovers! It’s free and has extensive animal exhibits to enjoy. The Pandas are some of the most popular residents. They were given as a gift from China in 1972. You can also see seals, cheetahs, elephants, gorillas, wolves, and reptiles.
Be aware that the zoo is very hilly! I have heard from a friend who is a NICU nurse at a local hospital, that you wouldn’t believe how many people go into labor at the zoo. So pregnant moms, don’t push your stroller up the hills at the zoo! Unless you’re 40+ weeks and will try anything to get labor going ;)
Price: free, parking is $25 and very limited
Did you know you can visit a castle right in the heart of Washington D.C.? The Smithsonian Castle is often overlooked by tourists because there’s just so much to see here. Inside you can see a little bit of the history of how the Smithsonian museums started and some artifacts from the Smithsonian collection.
Behind the castle is the Enid A. Haupt garden and it is a lovely little oasis to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s also a great place for photos, especially in the spring when the magnolias are blooming. Come here to wander the gardens and let kids burn off some energy.
Union Market isn’t near most of the tourist things in D.C. but it’s a fun place to visit for some good food! Union Market is a food hall full of different vendors and shops. You can find all kinds of delicious eats from seafood to Ethiopian. We like to come here when the weather is nice to enjoy sitting outside.
Union Market reminds us of living in Austin, it has a similar vibe. Salt & Sundry has a location here and I think it is the cutest shop for finding a gift. I wish I could buy everything in the store! Outside the market and around the corner is also where you’ll find the famous heart wall perfect for your next Instagram post.
Price: depends on how hungry you are!
United States Botanic Garden
The Botanic Garden is an unexpected favorite for us! I highly recommend adding it to your D.C. itinerary with kids! Most of it is indoors, but there are some small outdoor gardens only open when the weather is good from about April-September.
The best time to visit the garden is in December when the Christmas display is set up. Try to visit on a weekday if at all possible. The lines and crowds get crazy on the weekends.
If you can’t visit at Christmas, it is still a worth-while stop! The garden is divided into different plant habitats and it is a good place to get a little nature inside the city. Our kids like wandering around looking at the different flowers, fountains, and plants.
United States Capitol Building
We have only taken the kids to visit the outside of the Capitol building, but you can take a tour of the inside. Others have done the tour with children, however we chose to do the tour without ours.
This is a “know your kids” event. If you think they can be quiet for over an hour without too many meltdowns, go for it! Older kids will appreciate seeing a place that they’ve likely learned about in school. It’s great to tour a place that is historical as well as such an important part of current events.
United States National Arboretum
The National Arboretum sits outside the city center a little bit. It is a huge space with many different plants and trees. We like walking and letting the kids ride their bikes here.
Don’t miss the old Capitol columns in the center of the arboretum, they are the columns from the original Capitol building.
There is also an impressive display of bonsai trees. Make sure and read the plaques to see how old they are, your jaw will drop! This is a great place to see cherry blossom trees away from the crowds and in May the azalea bloom is stunning!
Washington Nationals Game
Our kids first MLB game was to watch the Nationals! On a whim, we went to the stadium right before the game started and scooped up some cheap tickets at the last minute. We walked into the area behind the outfield and it is very kid-friendly! There were open seats and tables behind the ticketed seats, plenty of food options, and even a playground!
Once the kids saw the playground, of course, that’s where we spent most of our time. But we didn’t mind because we could still watch the game and hang out. It’s good to know its there if the kids are getting too antsy in your ticketed seats.
Price: varies based on the ticket, check the website
Yards Park is in the trendy Capital Riverfront Neighborhood. It’s along the Potomac River and boasts fun restaurants and DC’s only winery. We love coming here in the summer to let the kids play in the wading pool and to enjoy eating al fresco. It is also a short walk to Nationals Stadium if you want to catch a game!
More Wahington D.C. Kids’ Books:
Virginia Kids Activities
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery is a very memorable place to visit. You will be floored by the expanse of the grounds and the number of headstones. This is best for older kids who have more of an understanding of the military and history but can still be enjoyed with young children.
You will also want to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the changing of the guard ceremony which happens every hour on the hour. Our children were asleep during the Changing of the Guard, which worked well for us because it is expected that the audience remains silent. Read more about the Old Guard here, they are the Army unit assigned with the honor of guarding the tomb.
Other notable things to see here are the Kennedy family burial sites and the Women In Military Service Memorial. If you happen to visit in December or January, you can also volunteer to place or pick up the wreaths that are laid during the holiday season. It will be an experience you won’t forget.
Read more about the wreath-laying event.
One other thing to note about a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. Yes, it is a tourist site, but it is also a working cemetery. Funerals are still regularly held here, and people’s family and friends buried on these grounds. Please remember this during your visit and be respectful.
Frying Pan Farm Park
Frying Pan Farm Park is a cute farm with a playground, carousel, farm store, and real farm with animals. We visited after a failed attempt to go to the Halloween party at the Udvar Hazy Center. It is located in Chantilly, Virginia. Our kids loved walking around to see the animals, there was even a cow milking demonstration going on while we were there! You can purchase tickets to ride the carousel or do the wagon ride in the farm store.
Price: free entry, Carousel $2 on weekdays, $3 on weekends
Gravelly Point is a park located just outside of Reagan National Airport. This is another place for airplane lovers to enjoy! Come here for a really up-close view of the airplanes taking off and landing. We think it’s best when the airplanes are landing from the North because they approach right over your head. Be aware that it is quite loud and can scare little ones. Consider bringing ear protection if you have it.
There’s also picnic benches, port-a-potties, and access to the Mount Vernon trail. You can bike or jog on the trail, or drive to Gravelly Point and park in the parking lot.
Great Falls National Park
Great Falls National Park in McLean, Virginia is a beautiful place to enjoy being outside. Come see the rushing falls on the Potomac River. It is easy walking, but there are some rocks to climb on and over around each of the viewing points. Bring snacks and a picnic lunch and let the kids run around!
The falls can also be accessed on the Maryland side of the river, but we have yet to visit from that side.
Price: $10 per vehicle unless you have one of the various park passes
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens is a private garden featuring manicured flower beds, walking paths, pond with turtles and fish, a Korean bell tower and more! We visited in the spring and loved seeing all the flowers and trees in bloom. At Christmas time they host a light display that is a local favorite!
Price: Under 5 years old free, $3 ages 6-17, $6 ages 18-54, $3 ages 55+
Mount Vernon was George Washington’s home and farm located in Alexandria Virginia. It is a great place to add to your D.C. itinerary and has many different things to see and do. The big attraction is touring the main house. The tour is not overly long, our young children were able to make it through without any major meltdowns. There are guides placed throughout the house to give you information on what you are looking at and George Washington’s life.
Some other notable things to see include the slave quarters, gardens, tombs of George and Martha Washington, the colonial farm, visitor center, kids’ room, and a boat ride up and down the Potomac River.
You will find character actors throughout the property, including Martha Washington herself! Pay her a visit to hear about her life with George, she’s very friendly! There are also demonstrations on the colonial farm from time to time showing different aspects of colonial life.
Make sure to always check the website for different events going on!
Price: $18 adults, $11 ages 6-11, free ages 0-5 (these are online prices, will be more when bought on-site and does not include the boat ride)
Mount Vernon Trail
The Mount Vernon Trail stretches from Mount Vernon to Teddy Roosevelt Island. We have biked and walked along this path. What makes it so great are the views of Washington D.C. across the river. The trail is flat and paved but not very wide. Use caution with little ones and serious bikers utilize this path and if you’re not careful you could end up getting hit.
You can rent bikes at different locations throughout the city through Capital Bike Share.
Teddy Roosevelt Island
Theodore Roosevelt Island is a small island in the Potomac River. It is a wonderful place for walking and enjoying nature. Keep in mind, no bikes are allowed (we learned this one the hard way). In the middle of the island you will also find a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt featuring a statue of him as well as several of his famous quotes. It is nice and shaded, so even in the summer it can be nice little respite from the city.
Potomac Yards Park
This park in Alexandria is a great place to cool off when the weather is hot. It has a small splash park that our kids loved playing in. There is also a very nice playground, but it doesn’t have any shade so it is better visited when it’s not so hot out. Parking can be found on the street and it is very close to the Mount Vernon trail. There are many restaurants nearby.
Udvar Hazy Center Air and Space Museum
The Udvar-Hazy Center is the better of the two Air and Space Museums. It was built inside a huge hangar near Washington Dulles International Airport. There is an observation tower to watch the planes taking off and landing at IAD.
The center is full of airplane displays. They are on the ground and hanging from the ceiling. Everything from military planes (including one who was at Pearl Harbor and Nazi airplanes) to commercial aircraft (like the Concord). The most impressive thing to see is the space shuttle Discovery. Each time we see it, it is just as jaw-dropping.
On the weekends you may find volunteers throughout the museum giving short talks and demonstrations. There are also free story times with aviation-related books and coloring pages.
The only food option here is McDonald’s but you can find many other restaurants in the nearby area before/after you leave the museum.
Price: free, parking is $15 except after 4:00 PM when it is free
Maryland Kids Activities
The National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland is huge and a really fun place to visit. It makes a great day trip on any D.C. itinerary with kids. They have several floors worth of exhibits. Some of our favorites are the moon jellies which you can touch, the 3 legged sea turtle, and the dolphins.
Always check the schedule because there will be animal talks, feedings, and demonstrations throughout the day. There is a cafeteria inside or many other restaurants close by in the Inner Harbor. Please note that you cannot use a stroller inside the aquarium. You will have to check it and they will give you a baby carrier.
The Inner Harbor of Baltimore (where the aquarium is located) has many other entertaining things to do including a children’s museum, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the USS Constellation, and various boat cruises.
Price: $39.95 adults, $24.95 children 3-11, tickets for the 4D films are $5. Since we lived in the area where we could visit more than once, we bought a family membership for $195 and split it with another family. That way we could both enjoy the membership at a lower price.
The National Harbor is a fun (albeit a little touristy) area along the river in Oxon Hill, Maryland. On the property are luxury resorts and casinos, restaurants, shops, and the Capital Wheel. We visited on a day where tickets to the wheel and carousel were free. It was fun for the experience, but if you visit on a normal day expect to spend some money.
Price: free to walk around, $7 for the carousel (also includes access to a playground), $15 adult Capital Wheel ticket, $11.25 child ticket (11 and under)
Watkins Regional Park
Watkins Regional Park in Kettering, Maryland is a must for Wizard of Oz fans! The playground is completely themed after the movie, complete with a yellow brick road, ruby red slipper slides, and the Emerald City!
Even kids who aren’t Wizard of Oz fans will have a great time playing here. In addition to the wonderful playground you can find mini-golf, a carousel, a mini train, and a farm on the same property.
Our kids loved taking the short walk to visit some of the animals on the farm after they were done on the playground. Check website for current operating hours as it changes throughout the season. Bring your own food and drinks, I didn’t see anywhere to purchase food.