by Santorini Dave • Updated: November 30, 2018
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The Top 27 Things To Do with Kids in Washington, DC
If there were a contest for best family destinations in the US, Washington, DC would surely be a winner. No other city offers so many places that interest young people – and none has so many sites that are absolutely free. Washington is also an easy city to navigate with kids, thanks to the efficient Metro subway system. And for just $1, the Circulator bus covers two of the capital city’s most visited areas, the National Mall with its museums and the Capitol building, and the Tidal Basin with its famous Memorials. Buy a SmarTrip card, available at any Metrorail station, and you will never have to worry about exact change; the card is good on all the city’s trains and buses.
- Washington, DC Family Hotels – The best DC hotels for families
Washington Government Buildings with Kids
Plan Ahead for Congressional Visits and White House Tours!
- For the chance to visit a Congressional Gallery when in session, or to tour the White House, contact your Senator or House Rep well in advance of your trip. (International visitors should contact their nation’s DC embassy.) White House sign-ups begin three months ahead. When planning your days, remember to allow sufficient time for security checks at these buildings.
This impressive 540-room building with its familiar grand dome is not only a magnificent symbol of freedom that is over 200 years old – it also houses the working offices of our Senators and Representatives and is the place where they meet to make the laws that govern our country.
A visit to the Capitol begins in the underground Visitor Center, which offers printed guides, activities, and information sheets for tiny visitors and for those in grade six and up. The 45-to-60-minute free building tour is fun for everyone – it begins with a film, then takes visitors to the Rotunda under the great dome, the National Statuary Hall, and the original House and Senate chambers. Tickets are available at the information desk on a first-come, first served basis; tours leave every few minutes. To avoid waits on busy days, sign up in advance online or contact your Representative or Senator to reserve the time you prefer. Stories in the Old Senate Chamber take place on Mondays at 10:30am, and family activity sessions are held every Thursday and Saturday at 10am and 2pm. A special session every weekday at noon explains What’s Happening in the Chambers.
• Monday-Saturday 8:30am-4:30pm
The home of every American president after George Washington. Highlights of the public, self-guided White House tours are the beautiful formal reception rooms, each furnished in a different historical period (including the Green Room in Federal Style, the Red Room in the Empire style of 1810-1830, and the Blue Room in the period of James Monroe). Visitors also see the chandelier-bedecked East Room that’s used for official receptions, the formal dining room that seats up to 140 people, the Library, and the China Room.
• Tours 7:30am-11:30am Tuesday-Thursday, 7:30am-1:30pm Friday-Saturday
• Public tour requests must be submitted through a member of Congress or International embassy.
• Tour requests can be submitted up to three months in advance and no less than 21 days in advance.
• Government-issued ID is required for everyone 18 and older.
If you haven’t scheduled a tour, the next best thing is a visit to the White House Visitors Center, where the National Park Service has set up exhibits, films, and photos about the White House’s architecture and furnishings, as well as personal glimpses into the daily lives of the families who have called the White House home – kids will enjoy activities like Who Ordered What, the chance to guess which president chose which foods, from jelly beans and fried chicken to squirrel soup.
• 7:30am-4pm daily
No passes are needed to visit the stately columned home of the Supreme Court, though there is often a waiting line. A visit, recommended only for older children, includes a 24-minute film on the history of the building featuring justices past and present. Docents give talks in the courtroom when the court is not in session. Actual sessions are open to the public, with seating on a first-come basis; two lines form outside, one hoping to hear the entire argument, the other a 3-minute line just to view the session briefly. Lines can be long when an interesting case is on the docket. Beginning the first Monday in October, the Supreme Court generally hears two one-hour arguments a day, at 10am and 11am. A calendar is posted on the website.
• Monday-Friday 7:30am-4:30pm
The biggest library in the world and among the most beautiful – even if you just walk in and gaze, you will be glad you came. Enter and admire the Great Hall, filled with statuary, flanked with marble staircases, and topped with 750-foot ceiling with stained glass skylights. Then head for the third floor for an overview of the spectacular columned and domed 160-foot high Main Reading Room, whose stained glass windows hold the seals of 45 states of the period. A favorite attraction is the Thomas Jefferson Library, opened in 1897 and named for the president whose own 6,487 books were the foundation of the collection – there’s even a replica of Jefferson’s personal library on the premises. The library’s collections cover just about everything: presidential papers, manuscripts, books, music, videos, web pages, even comic books. (Over 100,000 of them!) It takes three buildings to hold it all.
Self-guided tour brochures are available, and free one hour tours are offered regularly. Excellent activity sheets for children can be downloaded in advance to enhance the tour. During peak seasons, special family tours may be available for kids age 6 to 14. Ask at the ground floor visitors’ desk about current tours and exhibits, which feature changing themes on the vast collections that can range from movie posters to writing implements, children’s literature to baseball memorabilia. Storytime for toddlers takes place Fridays at 10:30am in the Young Readers’ Center on the ground floor.
Note that a tunnel connects the library with the Visitors Center of the Capitol building.
• Monday-Saturday, 8:30am-4:30pm
Who wouldn’t have fun watching millions of dollar bills come flying off the presses? The Bureau offers a free 40-minute visit that includes an introductory film and a walk along a gallery to watch the printing process. Visitors learn about the special paper used for currency, and the different presses necessary to achieve the proper coloring. Huge sheets of bills are scanned for defects and then cut into individual bills, stacked, and bundled. No free samples, but you can buy a souvenir bag of shredded money in the gift shop. Tickets are required from March through November, available at a booth on Raoul Wallenburg Place SW (formerly 15th Street) starting at 8am. The booth is open until all the tickets are distributed for the day. Once you get a ticket, line up at the nearby Visitor Entrance a few minutes before your admission time.
• Tours Monday-Friday 9am-6pm April to November; 9am-2pm December to March.
National Mall Museums with Kids
One of the best parts of a trip to Washington DC is time spent on the National Mall, a wealth of world-class museums and gardens lining the two-mile corridor between the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol – all of them free.
The Smithsonian Institution in DC consists of 11 museums and galleries on the National Mall, six other museums around the city, and the National Zoo – all free. Named for British scientist James Smithson, who never visited the U.S. yet in 1829 left his fortune to found what has become the world’s largest museum collection.
For a printed museum guide, introductory video, and a chance talk to volunteers who can help plan your visit, start at the Visitor Center in the “Castle”, the stately original 1855 building. An informal café and rest rooms make this a handy oasis during the day, as well. Be sure to ask about schedules of the Discovery Center located next to the castle, where children’s theater, music, and art workshops are often offered. The five Smithsonian mall museums most popular with families are detailed below. Other special-interest museums in the Smithsonian Collection are the Freer and Sackler Galleries (Asian art), the Hirshhorn Museum (modern art and sculpture), and the National Museum of African Art. The Smithsonian Metro stop is convenient to all.
• Museum Hours: 10am-5:30pm daily, closed December 25
• Visitor Center Hours: 8:30am-5:30pm daily, closed December 25
• Visitor Center Location
The most popular museum on the mall is packed with exciting exhibits that trace the development of flight from the first Wright Brothers plane to SpaceShipOne, the first private piloted vehicle to reach space. Lots of exhibits are interactive (some even encourage climbing aboard), while sky shows at the Albert Einstein Planetarium and a 5-story high IMAX movie theater add to the attractions. Special family activities are offered regularly, including the chance to look through the museum’s giant telescopes; for young visitors, children’s storytimes and the film, One World One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure, shown free in the Einstein Planetarium on selected days. Check the website for schedules. Grab-and-go sandwiches and salads in the café can be enjoyed on benches along the mall when weather cooperates. Note: The museum is currently under renovation, so some galleries may not be available.
• 10am-5:30pm daily, closed December 25
No dull, dry history here – exhibits include the giant flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner, an original Kermit the Frog muppet and Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, First Ladies inaugural gowns from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, the Batmobile, vintage cars, ships and trains — much more than can ever be packed into a single visit. Galleries are arranged by themes such as America on the Move, Stories on Money, and Places of Invention. Draper Spark!Lab, an art and science activity center, invites ages 6 to 12 to create and invent; Wegman’s Wonderspace is designed for ages 1 to 6 – both can be found on the first floor west and are open from 10am to 4pm daily except Tuesdays. The Stars and Stripes Café serves lunch from 11am to 3pm, the Jazz Café offers snacks 10am to 5pm. Self-guided museum audio tours can be downloaded in advance.
• 10am-5:30pm daily, closed December 25
The world’ largest diamond, a live coral reef, and an insect zoo with regularly scheduled tarantula feedings are among the lures of this top science museum. Models of a 25-foot giant squid and gigantic blue whale are more reasons why children really like this museum – and it’s guaranteed they will want to post a photo standing inside the jaws of a fearsome shark. The hall of gems, rocks, and minerals is a favorite, featuring the 45.52-carat Hope Diamond, a dazzling 23-carat ruby, and some of the rarest pearls in the world. Q?rius-Jr, a discovery room for children age 10 and under, gives kids the chance for hands-on scientific learning with items from the museum’s collections. Special family activity programs are held the second Saturday of each month on topics from sea monsters to archaeology. Note that until renovation of the museum cafeteria is completed, food choices here will be limited.
• 10am-5:30pm daily, closed December 25
Washington’s hottest destination since it opened in 2016, this exhilarating blend of history and entertainment is an almost overwhelming experience that can easily take an entire day. The museum and its crowds may be too much for young children, but will surely interest those age 10 and older. A visit begins with three underground levels that tell the dramatic story of American slavery and show how much of our country’s growth was fueled by African American labor. Upstairs, the fourth floor Cultural Expressions Galleries highlight African American artists’ impact on stage, music, film, TV and visual art – from Marian Anderson to Michael Jackson. Each section is a mini-museum in itself, with performance videos and dazzling costumes contributing to the story. Among the third floor Community Galleries, don’t miss Sports: Leveling the Playing Field, with exciting film clips from Jesse Owens to the Williams sisters. Children’s activities are on the second floor, but all ages will find it hard to resist following the hip-hop dance steps of the virtual dance teacher there, alongside screens showing silhouettes of the dancers as they move. Touch screens and maps to maneuver add to the fun. Sweet Home Café offers southern favorites from fried chicken to Cajun cuisine.
• Admission is free, but timed tickets are required. These are released online on the first Wednesday of each month for dates up to 3 months in advance. Six tickets are allowed per order.
• Same-day passes are offered online when available, from 6:30 a.m. until they run out.
• A limited number of walk-up tickets are given out on weekdays only, starting at 1 p.m.
• 10am-5:30pm daily, closed December 25
The building itself is a showplace, a curving sandstone sculpture surrounded by waterfalls and lush landscaping. The colorful galleries inside tell the story of Native American history and culture, with beadwork, basketry, masks, headpieces, dolls, totems, jewelry, and other crafts on display. A good beginning is the fourth-floor Lelawi Theater for the 13-minute film Who We Are, which introduces native life – the fringed-seat Indian Chief motorcycle on this level is also a popular exhibit. The don’t-miss exhibit for families is ImagiNations, a big third-floor activity center for children 12 and under, with craft activities, a fuzzy llama statue to climb on, and giant soft building blocks to construct life-size adobe-like houses. Kids receive a passport to be stamped at each activity and kept as a souvenir. Ask for The Great Inka Road, a children’s 15-page activity guide to the whole museum. Indian food can be sampled in the Mitsistam Native Foods Café.
• 10am-5:30pm daily, closed December 25
Started by Congress in 1927 with the impressive collection of financier Andrew Mellon, the National Gallery has grown to fill two buildings; vast holdings spanning the globe and the centuries that include some of America’s greatest art treasures. In the stately West Building, housing art from the 13th to the 19th centuries, family-friendly guides to Dutch, French, Italian and American art are available at the information desk. The East Building, designed by I.M. Pei, is a dramatic home to contemporary art where kids especially enjoy the pop art galleries, the delightful top floor gallery of Alexander Calder mobiles, and the roof garden with its giant blue rooster sculpture. Don’t miss the moving underground walkway that connects the two buildings through a tunnel of twinkling lights. The museum’s outdoor sculpture garden provides a nice change of pace; from mid-November to mid-March, the reflecting pool becomes an ice skating rink. Free audio guides help keep children engaged, and many guided tours and family programs are offered; check the daily schedule. While the National Gallery is not part of the Smithsonian collection, it is also free to all.
• Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 11am-6pm
Just down the hill from the Capitol building is a place where children can stretch their legs and everyone can enjoy a diverse oasis of green. Sparked by George Washington’s notion that a national garden would demonstrate the importance of botany, the United States Botanic Garden was established by Congress in 1820 and has since grown into an impressive showplace, a museum of plants from the desert to the tropics. The glass and stone Conservatory offers a canopy walk above a tropical rainforest and a collection of 5000 orchid varieties. In season, the hands-on Children’s Garden allows young visitors to explore, dig, water, and learn about plants. The National Garden is a three-acre space of lawns and terraces and plantings that include a First Ladies Water Garden, a Kitchen Garden, and a butterfly garden. Just across Independence Avenue, don’t miss the historic Fountain of Light and Water in Bartholdi Park. Ask for the Plant Explorer’s Field Journal to learn as you stroll, as well as the Junior Botanist kid’s backpack for explorers aged nine and up. Children also receive informative plant passports to be stamped along the way. All of it is free.
• Daily 10am-5pm, to 7pm Memorial Day to Labor Day
DC Monuments with Kids
The National Mall extends beyond the Museums to hold some of America’s most beloved monuments and memorials, beginning with the Washington Monument. Many of them are located around the Tidal Basin, a manmade reservoir that enhances their beauty. The walk around the Tidal Basin, where Washington’s famed cherry blossoms are planted, is particularly beautiful in late March-early April when the trees are in bloom. If your family likes biking, look into the Bike and Roll Tours, daily three-hour bicycle tours with stops at all of the major attractions. The $1 Circulator bus makes loops around the monuments, making the trip easier for little legs and saving energy for all – kids under 5 ride free. The Memorials honor past presidents and civic leaders, as well as the nation’s major wars, including the Korean War, the Vietnamese War and World War II. All are open 24 hours, staffed with NPS rangers from 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. to answer questions and lead programs, including Junior Ranger tours; check monument websites for schedules.
You can’t miss this towering slim shaft, modeled after an Egyptian obelisk and standing over 555 feet tall – the highest freestanding stone sculpture in the world. The tribute to our first president was begun in 1848 but wasn’t completed until 1877, delayed by lack of funds and the Civil War. (You can see the difference in the color of the stones.) Tours to the top offer spectacular city views, but the interior has been temporarily closed for needed repairs. Check the website for reopening dates.
The most visited of the memorials, the 19-foot seated figure of Abraham Lincoln dedicated in 1922, never fails to inspire. It is flanked by inscriptions of his Second Inaugural Address and the Gettysburg Address. The 39 columns on all four sides of the chamber represent the states that existed at Lincoln’s death. For the energetic, there are 58 steps from the chamber to the plaza level, and 87 steps from the chamber to the reflecting pool.
The circular dome of this memorial to our third president (and author of the Declaration of Independence) is patterned after the Pantheon in Rome, a design Jefferson admired and used at his own home, Monticello. Many visitors consider this the most beautiful of the monuments, in its priveliged location right beside the Tidal Basin. Inside is a bronze statue of Jefferson and excerpts from his writings.
This one is a favorite for young visitors who like exploring – a series of trails and waterfalls that connect four outdoor galleries, one for each of FDR’s presidential terms. Bronze sculptures depict his eventful years in office that span the Depression and World War II. One of the statues honors his wife, Eleanor; another shows the president with his much-loved pet, a Scottish terrier named Fala. The wheelchair Roosevelt used after his bout with polio is not shown in the sculptures but is displayed in the visitor center.
This powerful 30-foot granite statue, the capital city’s newest major memorial, was dedicated in 2011 to pay tribute to the African American Civil Rights leader. The unusual design, the result of a competition, is based on a line from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” The memorial depicts Dr. King as the “stone of hope” and the two massive separated pieces of granite behind him as the “mountain of despair.” Excerpts from his writing are engraved on the surrounding walls.
More Great Things to Do in DC with Kids
Washington’s riches extend beyond the Mall’s most-visited museums and memorials. The family-oriented listings here don’t include important art collections like the Renwick Gallery of American crafts, the Corcoran Gallery of American art, and the Phillips Collection, a private gallery with treasures from Renoir to Rothko. Judge for yourself whether these would be of interest to your family.
The enchanting giant pandas alone are enough reason to make time for this great 163-acre zoo, but they are far from the whole show. Founded in 1891, the zoo is home to 2700 animals representing 390 species from across the globe. They live in a park-like setting designed by the great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, with freedom to roam outdoors and within a host of creative exhibits. And it’s all free.
Prepare to spend the day and arrive as early as you can – the lines grow long along the Asia Trail to see the famous panda residents, papa Tian Tian, mama Mei Xiang and their male cub, Bei-Bei. Another new big attraction is the Elecbrush-tailedDemonstration Lab in Amazonia, with LED lights, a wave-form screen, and speakers all powered by charges from the resident electric eel. Other popular residents are the lions and tigers, elephants, and orangutans who can be seen making their way on an overhead highway in the Great Ape House. The Small Mammals exhibit introduces intriguing animals like tamarins, brush-tailed bettons, black footed ferrets, hedgehogs, lemurs, and meerkats. The Kids Farm offers close-up looks at alpacas, goats, miniature donkeys, and cows – keeper talks at 11am and 1pm each day tell about the personalities of the friendly animals. Keeper talks and feedings also are scheduled in many other locations each day; check the schedule. Get ready in advance by downloading the Zoo Crew Training Manual, a free family guide. On warm summer days, young visitors enjoy the chance to get their feet wet in the shallow flowing water of the Tide Pool on the American Trail. Note: the zoo’s hillside location means that walking can get steep. Wear appropriate shoes.
• The zoo can be reached via two Metro stops, Woodley Park-Zoo (an uphill walk) or Cleveland Park (flat walk). The L1 and L2 buses stop at the gate.
• Mid-March to September grounds 8am-7pm, buildings 9am-6pm. Rest of year grounds 8am- 5pm, buildings 9am-pm.
Why pay admission in a town filled with free museums? Because the Newseum is unique in the world, presenting a virtual history of newsworthy events in the modern world as told in the media. The building’s seven levels include 15 galleries and 15 theaters exhibiting major events past and present in politics, sports, and the arts. One gallery is a showcase for Pulitzer Prize-winning news photos, another includes a section of the original Berlin Wall. You could happily spend a day here going from theater to theater, reliving the world’s great events on film. Besides the screenings, hundreds of historic front pages capture your attention, along with an array of the day’s actual front pages from 80 newspapers representing every state in the country and from around the world. The Great Hall of News features breaking news on a giant screen in the museum’s 90-foot high atrium. The interactive NBC Newsroom is great for families, with news-oriented games, the challenge of trying to prepare a news story on deadline, and the chance to be a newscaster in front of a real camera, reading a breaking news story from a teleprompter. If you visit, don’t miss the top floor terrace; it offers the city’s best photo op of the U.S. Capitol.
• Daily 9am-5pm
One of the major collections of American art shares the same address as the appealing National Portrait Gallery. Both are housed in the former U.S. Patent Office, an 1836 building with grand vaulted galleries, curving stairways, and decorative iron balconies. The folk art collection is a favorite family destination in the art museum but it is the Portrait Gallery that really engages children, with a range of subjects from George Washington to Beyonce. Rap star LL Cool J, tech guru Bill Gates, basketball great Shaquille O’Neal, baseball star Pedro Martinez, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – anyone who has had an impact on American culture can be found here. The presidential portraits are a big draw along with many first ladies, especially the most recent additions, Barack and Michelle Obama. Portrait Discovery Kits, available in the Education Center Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m., offer children’s activities, games, and puzzles that tell more about the people who have made their own kind of history. The Explore Gallery, designed for children aged 1 ½ to 8 years, offers a host of daily activities daily, as well as stories about the subjects of the paintings on 11:45am Tuesday to Sunday. Check the current schedule for other programs for Young Portrait Explorers. Note that these museums are free and stay open later than the mall properties, making them easier to fit into a schedule.
• Daily 11am-7pm
Its location (near Union Station, away from the mall) makes this big, free, fascinating, and family-friendly museum easy to overlook – but it’s worth a visit. The history of the US Postal Service parallels the development of the nation’s transportation system and exhibits its progression with actual artifacts from covered wagons to express trains, vintage planes to jets. The William H. Gross gallery boasts some 20,000 stamps, some never before on display, and there are pullout frames with important letters and postcards to peruse. Mailboxes from around the world form another popular display. Free handouts feature 10 fun things to do with kids, including creating a unique stamp featuring your own photo, walking a postal route in Colonial America, sorting packages like a postal worker, and boarding a stagecoach or a delivery truck. A scavenger hunt handout offers more challenges for young visitors. Those inspired to start a stamp collection will find out how and be offered a few free starter samples as well.
• Daily 10am-5:30pm
Though it is a long-time favorite of local families, many visitors miss this unique museum dedicated to the art of building, with terrific activity galleries that encourage children to build things themselves. The 1887 building itself is wowing, worth just walking in for a look – nineteen inaugural balls have been held under its 15-story rotunda with columns 75-feet high, some of the tallest in the world. There is a fee for upstairs galleries but they are worthwhile, with a host of changing exhibits that deal with innovations in building construction. The permanent gallery, House and Home, explores American homes of yesterday and today, how they are built and how we live inside them. “Please-touch” full-scale cross-sections of construction elements from adobe walls to solar panels are a rare chance to actually see how buildings are put together. Displays show popular household items over the years from butter churns to microwaves and there are 14 models of famous American buildings, including Mount Vernon, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, and Boston’s John Hancock skyscraper. For youngsters, the Play Work Build gallery on the second floor is filled with all sizes and shapes of soft blocks to build anything the imagination can conjure, large or small. The Building Zone on the first floor is for ages 2 to 6, designed to introduce young ones to the building arts. Storytimes for 5-and-unders take place on Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m. and monthly family Saturdays have changing themes such as learning how to spackle walls or chop wood. An excellent gift shop is filled with imaginative building toys to take home.
• Monday to Saturday 10am–5pm, Sunday 11am–5pm
For older children (the museum recommends age 10 and up), this is an intriguing introduction to the world of espionage: what it takes to be a spy, how spying has been used in both war and peacetimes, and how techniques and technologies are changing to deal with the new challenges of cyberspace. Visitors are invited to get involved, to take a cover identity and see how they stack up at interactive stations testing skills of observation, surveillance, and disguise. Exhibits also introduce famous spies and villains of the past, real and fictional, and display more than 200 spy gadgets, weapons, bugs, cameras, and other intriguing tools of the trade. The admission charge is a little steep, but a lot of families find it worthwhile and teens declare it “cool.” The museum has plans to move to a larger location – check for the current address.
• Daily 10am-6pm
24. Mount Vernon
George Washington’s beautiful estate on the Potomac River is a great day’s excursion from the city. Besides the gracious mansion where our first president lived for 45 years, the grounds include lovely gardens, a blacksmith shop, whiskey distillery, grist mill, and slave quarters. Horses and mules are at work on the active 18th-century farm, and visitors learn about the advanced farming techniques Washington pioneered here, growing some 60 crops. An interactive education center, museum, and theaters offer a very personal picture of the Washingtons and their life. A formal restaurant and informal food court are on the grounds. Mount Vernon is an hour’s trip: take the metro to Huntington Station, where a connecting bus goes to the estate. Or you can make a memorable day of it via a scenic two-hour boat cruise on the Potomac. The Spirit of Mount Vernon departs from Pier 4 at 6th and Water Streets SW daily at 8:30 am, arriving at 10:30am, and returns to the city at 1:30pm for a 3:30 arrival.
• Daily 8am-5pm April to August, 9am-5pm March, September, October; 9am-4pm November to February
Kids and young adventurers will go wild for this scavenger hunt and self-guided tour that takes place on the beautiful brick-lined streets of Old Town Alexandria. Your historic journey will lead you through a maze of clues as you learn about George Washington and the City of Alexandria. The hunt is very inexpensive, simply buy a map at The Christmas Attic shop at 125 S. Union Street and get started. Perfect for families, groups can even break up into teams and see who wins. Finish off the day with a wonderful lunch at one of the many restaurants that line King Street.
Take a cruise on the Potomac with Capitol River Cruises. This is a fun, festive and inexpensive way to cruise the Potomac River. Pick up this riverboat cruise/tour at the Georgetown Waterfront and spend the next 50 minutes seeing the major Washington D.C. landmarks that hug the Potomac River. Rates are reasonable and kids under the age of 3 ride for free. Save some money and order your tickets in advance on the web. During the cruise, interesting facts about local landmarks and history are shared with passengers. Beer, wine, soda, and snacks are available. This is great entertainment for the entire clan – Bring a camera and aim for a sunny day. There are also river cruises with the larger and glass-enclosed Odyssey (pictured above). For something really special (and a little fancy) do a 3-course dinner cruise on the glass-enclosed Odyssey (pictured above), but book in advance as it’s very popular.
• Location: Capitol River Cuises, Odyssey
27. Stroll The National Harbor
The National Harbor is a recent addition to the Washington D.C. Metro area. This expansive complex boasts 6 hotels, 23 restaurants, 32 shops, and an amazing marina. It’s located on the Potomac River just over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The National Harbor has wonderful views of Washington D.C. and Old Town Alexandria, and an 180-foot Observation Wheel – a particularly lovely experience at sunset. The spacious marina and pier have a number of local cruises available to visitors, including a water taxi to the Washington National games. If all this wasn’t enough, the National Harbor also plays host to outdoor movies, a Wine & Food Festival, a summer concert series, a Beer, Bourbon & Barbeque Festival, an annual road race, and a producer-only farmers’ market. Check the website for all the details. With reasonable room rates and loads of activities, you might opt for a room at one of the National Harbor hotels (The Westin and Marriott are both near the water), with ferry rides into the Washington D.C.
The Best Events in DC for Kids
JANUARY in Washington, DC
- Chinese New Years Parade
Dragon dances, fire crackers and a colorful parade welcome in the Chinese New Year. This annual event is held in DC’s Chinatown and normally falls in either January or February. This is a fun celebration for the entire family. The event is free and held from 2-5pm. The parade is held at H Street between 6th and 8th Street.
MARCH in Washington, DC
- St. Patrick’s Day Parade – Washington D.C.
DC breaks out the green and plays host to an entertaining day of floats, marching band, Irish Dance troop, and bagpipers. The 3-hour event is typically held the Sunday before St. Patty’s Day. The parade route begins at Constitution Avenue and runs from 7th and 17th Streets.
- National Cherry Blossom Festival
Just as weary locals are more than ready to put away their shovels and gloves along comes the Cherry Blossom Festival. For the Metro DC area this event ushers in a spring right of passage. The celebration is held for two weeks and culminates with a parade. It is truly breathtaking to see 3,000 trees come to life at the Jefferson Memorial & Tidal Basin.
APRIL in Washington, DC
- White House Easter Egg Roll
Children of all ages can enjoy the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. The event includes egg coloring, art activities, face painting, music, magicians, and other activities. Tickets are required ticket to attend. The National Park Service holds an online lottery about a month prior to the event. Stay tuned to the website for updates. Great fun for all, bands such as the Black Eyed Peas have been in attendance.
MAY in Washington, DC
- Bethesda Fine Arts Festival
The event plays host to over 140 artists and craftsmen. Junior will enjoy the sites and sounds of the fun crowd and live music. Don’t forget to sample the culinary delights of local restaurants that have booths set upyou’re your dining pleasure. The fun lasts an entire weekend and normally falls on the second weekend in May.
- Cinco De Mayo
Thousand of people converge on the National Mall for the annual Cinco De Mayo Festival. Enjoy a full day of music, dance, food and even a children’s pavilion. The event teaches children how to make piñatas, weave strands of colored yarn into decorative braids, and decorate beautiful fans. A very fun day for the whole family.
- Flower Mart / National Cathedral
This annual event is held for the benefit of the gardens, grounds and woodlands of Washington National Cathedral. This two-day flower fest is held outdoors on the beautiful Cathedral grounds. You will find music & entertainment along with more than 50 boutique booths, filled with gift items for the home and garden. Ride the antique carousel, which is only open for this event. Flower Mart features plant sales, floral and horticultural displays, boutique booths, tasty foods, fun activities for children. Tower Climbs will be offered Friday afternoon and Saturday during the event.
- Gold Cup
This is a great event that has been celebrated for over 80 years. Gold Cup is widely known as the crown jewel of steeple chase. There is an eclectic mix of people. You will find everything from the hats and pearls crowd to normal folks that are just there to take in the sites and sounds of Gold Cup. Regardless of you financial status, this is a fun day at the races for all. Lots of food, fun and plenty of spirits are the backdrop of this local favorite. The event is typically held the first Saturday in May.
- Memorial Day Weekend – Rolling Thunder
Since 1988 war veterans and supporters have rumbled through our Nation’s Capitol over Memorial Day Weekend. The annual pilgrimage draws over 500,000 riders to the Metro DC area. Rolling Thunder blazes a trail through Washington D.C. on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend with a ride from the Pentagon to the memorials.
JULY in Washington, DC
- 4th of July On the Mall
The mack daddy of all annual DC events is the celebrated 4th of July festivities on the National Mall replete with celebrity bands, fireworks and a big old parade. This is one that you have to get to at least once in your life. Yes, the crowds can be a bit much but if you go early and use Metro you will be in good shape. Noteworthy, the parade kicks off at 7th & Constitution. The event culminates with fireworks that are set off around 9pm. Most agree this is a LONG day and best meant for older kids. Infants and toddlers tend to poop out in the sun, heat and extended hours.
SEPTEMBER in Washington, DC
- Black Family Reunion
The Black Family Reunion Celebration is a cultural event that attracts more than 500,000 people each year. The 3-day festival focuses on health, education and economic empowerment in the African American community. The celebration includes a VIP Gala, themed pavilions and an enchanting evening R&B concert on the National Mall. The event is held in early September.
- Labor Day Concert
Take a moment to soak in the official last moments of the summer at The National Symphony Orchestra FREE Labor Day Weekend concert. Held on the West Lawn of the U. S. Capitol, the annual concert is led by the NSO Associate Conductor. This fun event is family friendly. The Kennedy Center lists concert information under its “Performance Calendar” tab. The concert is typically held the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend at 8pm.
- National Book Festival
The festival is free and open to the public and features more than 70 award-winning authors, illustrators and poets appearing in “Fiction & Fantasy,” “Mysteries & Thrillers,” “History & Biography,” “Children,” “Teens & Children,” “Poetry,” and “Home & Family” pavilions. Activities for children, which are fun and promote reading, can be found in the popular “Let’s Read America” pavilion. Check out the Library of Congress WW I pavilion. The Pavilion of the States brings representatives from throughout the country to the festival with information on local reading and literacy programs. This is a great day and message for children. This event is held in late September.
OCTOBER in Washington, DC
- Marine Corps Marathon
The Marine Corp Marathon is the 4th largest US Marathon and 7th largest in the world. One of the most memorable moments for those that finish the MCM is what happens after you pass the finish line. Runners receive their official finisher’s medal from the men and women of the Marine Corps.
- Shenandoah Valley Hot Air Balloon, Wine & Music Festival
The Shenandoah Valley Hot Air Balloon & Wine Festival is a fabulous 3-day annual event. The quaint town of Longbranch plays host to this charming festival, held every October. Stunning fall foliage and the intoxicating Blue Ridge Mountains are the backdrop for the festival. The majestic sky is filled with hot air balloons throughout the event. The festival also features a huge array of children’s activities, entertainment, artisans & crafter, antique fire trucks and more. The venue is 60 miles from Washington D.C. Once simply a Hot Air Balloon Festival, it has expanded to the Shenandoah Valley Hot Air Balloon, Wine and Music Festival.
- Halloween – Boo at the Zoo
Trick or treat with the lions and elephants? The “Boo at the Zoo” Halloween event has been attracting little ghosts and goblins for years. Harry Potter, Dora the Explorer and even Spiderman can be seen at this fun, festive and safe Halloween gathering at the National Zoo in Washington DC for kids ages 2 to 12. Costumed volunteers hand out candy, snack food and special treats at 40+ treat stations. Animal encounters, zookeeper chats, Halloween decorations and zoo animals will be on hand for the fun.
DECEMBER in Washington, DC
- National Christmas Tree Lighting
Annually the White House rolls out the red carpet to thousands of lucky guests that get the opportunity to see the President of The United States light the National Christmas Tree. The event is marked with song, storytelling, live bands and The First Family. An online lottery is held prior to the event. Tune into the White House website in mid-November to find out all the details. If are a lucky ticket holder, bundle your little ones up. You will be in the elements for a few hours.