Washington DC

Ultimate guide to things to do in Washington DC with kids

The compact U.S. capital punches well above its weight for attractions for families.

The National Air and Space Museum is home to enormous planes, flight simulators and hands-on activities, the Library of Congress is packed with everything from the Wright Brothers’ flight logs to magic books from Harry Houdini’s personal collection. The National Museum of American History has Spark!Lab, a hands on interactive exhibit for kids, while the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is abuzz with everything from insects and dinosaurs to giant diamonds and a Live Coral Reef. And if that’s not already enough museum action for your family, 007 wannabes should head to the International Spy Museum.

Family trip to Washington DC
Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC United States. Picture: Shutterstock

There are plenty of opportunities to soak up the sun in the great outdoors too with surrounding National Parks and nature centres offering an insight into the natural habitat of the area. And the Tidal Basin, located in the heart of Washington DC, is the spot for picnics, paddle boating and a visit to the Jefferson Memorial. If you’re seeking bigger thrills, Six Flags theme park boasts 100 rides, shows and the area’s largest water park. 

Of course, no trip to Washington DC would be complete without a visit to The White House, and to the National Archives to see the original Declaration of Independence along with interactive exhibits that allow you to touch and explore America’s history. But it’s not only pandemonium of the political variety that can be found in the US capital – head to the National Zoo to meet Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and Bao Bao, the zoo’s famous pandas.

Top things to do in Washington DC

There’s no shortage of  national treasures to explore in Washington DC.

  1. See monuments and buildings such as the White House, the U.S. Capitol and the Library of Congress
  2. Get art and about at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden 
  3. Get your 007 on at the International Spy Museum
  4. Take a hike at the Rock Creek Nature Centre and Planetarium
  5. Head to the National Zoo to meet Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and Bei Bei, the famous resident pandas
  6. Find dinosaurs galore at The Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History.
  7. Reach for the stars at the National Air and Space Museum 
  8. Visit the Newseum for its be a TV Reporter experience
  9. Visit George Washington’s Mount Vernon with its hands-on history room

Things to do in Washington DC with...

Washington meuseums
The National Air And Space Museum. Picture: Syvia

Best time to visit Washington DC as a family

Washington DC, the capital of the United States, has four distinct seasons. The busiest times of the year are generally autumn, from September to Thanksgiving in November, when the cherry blossoms begin to appear. Then again from mid-January to June when Congress is ‘in’ and the hotels fill with guests visiting for business and conferences, which can make it both crowded and expensive.

Summer, especially the months of July and August are typically hot and humid and not the best for exploring the outdoors. However, there are plenty of indoor attractions like museums filled with cool air and the crowds are smaller. 

Winter can be unpredictable. The days can be anything from mild to very cold with snow falls and even the occasional ice storm. Autumn is our favourite season as the city trades its green leaves for the brilliant colours of the fall foliage.

Madam Tassauds Washington is home to some incredible sculptures of America's past presidents and so much more. Credit: Holly Dickson-Smith

Family-friendly places to eat in Washington DC

Dining with the family does not have to be stressful in Washington DC. While there are a few restaurants that are strictly child-free zones, the majority will welcome a hungry horde.  

From full service to fast and casual takeaways or even sugar fix at a doughnut shop, Washington DC has you covered. You will find it easiest to eat either at, or close to all the major attractions where many of the family-friendly restaurants include a kids’ menu and offer entertainment for the kids. 

Try Jaleo, in Penn Quarter, for tapas served on a glass-covered foosball table.  Comet Ping Pong is awesome for pizzas, amazing deserts and… ping pong. And at Mitsitam Café, located near the Smithsonian, you’ll find a menu inspired by foods from Native American regions. Then there are the popular chains like Hard Rock Café, and Shake Shack for burgers and truly irresistible shakes.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington D.C. Picture: Shutterstock

Things to do for free in Washington DC

  • The list of monuments and memorials to visit for free in DC is plentiful and includes the Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and United States Capitol, along with the White House.
  • For a little art and culture, visit the National Art Gallery or the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden – a fun place with changing exhibitions.
  • With over 4,000 plants and themed displays from desert to rainforest, the United States Botanic Garden is a wonderful place to explore and enjoy a picnic. Rock Creek Nature Center and Planetarium has hikes (particularly beautiful in fall), an interesting nature centre and the planetarium for ages 5 and over. There are free tickets available to planetarium show at the Nature Center up to a half hour before each show. 
  • If you are planning to visit paid attractions consider purchasing a Go Washington DC Explorer Pass to save up to 40 percent on admission fees.
What’s on?

Annual events for families in Washington DC

January – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Celebrated on the third Monday in January, enjoy a fabulous performance by the Freedom Choir at the Kennedy Center.

Late March to Mid-April – National Cherry Blossom Festival

This three-week-long festival sees events including a parade of marvelous floats and performers throughout the city.

April – White House Easter Egg Roll

Held on Easter Monday, children of all ages hunt for Easter Eggs on the lawns of the White House.

May – Flower Mart

This blooming family spring event is held at the Washington National Cathedral.

Late June- Early-July The Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Thus festival celebrates cultural traditions from around the world.

July – Independence Day

Join the morning parade on National Mall and a concert before ending the day with the huge fireworks display at the Washington Monument.

September- H Street Festival

This high energy party offers live entertainment, neighbourhood artists and ethnic eateries.

December – National Christmas Tree Lighting

Join in at President’s Park on the grounds of the White House when they flick the switch to light up the National Christmas Tree.

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