The 19 Best Things To Do in Washington, D.C. With Kids [2021]

National Mall Washington DC

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One of the most visited cities in the U.S. and one of the most important political capitals in the world is Washington, D.C. As the capital of the U.S., Washington, D.C. is home to countless political, historical, and educational sites — which makes it a great destination for tourists.

Although there is plenty to do and see when it comes to the federal government, the locals want you to know that there is so much more. Also known as “Washington” or just “D.C.” to the locals, the vibrant city is home to some great waterfront views, countless parks, great dining, and world-class museums.

Located on the East Coast of the U.S., bordering both Maryland and Virginia, Washington, D.C. is easy to get to by car, train, or plane. Visitors flying in have 2 choices of airports — Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) or Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD). While DCA is closer, both offer pretty reasonable options for passengers.

Whether you are visiting to see the famous cherry blossoms blooming in the spring, taking your kids on an educational family field trip, or just want to get to know this infamous city, a trip to Washington, D.C. has a little bit of everything for all ages.

While there are countless things to do in and around the D.C. area, this list is a great start for you and your kids to get to know the nation’s capital.

The Best Activities in Washington, D.C. With Kids

1. See the Famous Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC
Image Credit: Victoria Stauffenberg via the National Park Service

If you are visiting D.C. in the springtime, you might be lucky enough to catch the famous cherry blossoms in full bloom.

A gift from Japan in 1912, there are an estimated 3,800 cherry blossom trees around the Tidal Basin in Washington. These gorgeous, mostly Yoshino, cherry trees come to life in the spring with their pale pink and white blossoms.

These trees are a big deal around town and are cared for by the National Park Service. Each year there is a Cherry Blossom Festival, so grab the kids and check the peak bloom forecast so you can get some incredible photos during your trip.

2. Visit the Library of Congress

Library of Congress
Image Credit: Library of Congress

Located on Capitol Hill, the Library of Congress is spread across 3 buildings and is recognized as the largest library in the world.

The Library of Congress houses over 164 million items touching almost every subject imaginable in more than 450 languages. The Library of Congress is the oldest federal cultural institution and holds the title of being the official library of the U.S.

Visitors of the library will not only find books, but also exhibitions, events, lectures, and even outdoor concerts. A stop here with the kids will certainly be impressive compared to their local library.

3. Explore the United States Botanic Garden

United States Botanic Garden
Image Credit: American Public Gardens Association

Established by Congress in 1820, the United States Botanic Garden is the oldest continually operating botanic garden in the country and attracts over 1 million visitors each year.

The garden is educational for both kids and adults as it teaches about the importance of the diversity of the plants, as well as their cultural, economic, therapeutic, and ecological significance.

Conveniently located near Garfield Circle on the U.S. Capitol grounds, and open every day of the year (even federal holidays), the United States Botanic Garden is a fun and impressive visit, even if you don’t have a green thumb.

4. Tour the U.S. Capitol Building

US Capitol Building
Image Credit: Louis Velazquez via Unsplash

Originally completed in 1800 after President George Washington approved the design, and now the meeting place for the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Capitol is a symbol of American democracy. Situated at the eastern end of the National Mall, the Capitol has over 600 rooms and is the focal point of the government’s Legislative Branch.

Not only is the U.S. Capitol Building known for its political significance, but also for its American art collection, as well as its neoclassical architecture. Visitors come from all over the world to see the building, its contents, and what it represents.

While smaller kids may not appreciate the politics and architecture, it is still a pretty interesting building to visit for older kids and adults.

5. Walk by Monuments on the National Mall

National Mall Washington D.C.
Image Credit: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History and Culture Architectural Photography

Often called “America’s Front Yard,” the National Mall is over 1,000 acres of green space in the middle of Washington, D.C. and is home to some of the most famous monuments and buildings in the country.

On the west end of the mall stands the Lincoln Memorial and on the east is the Capitol grounds, with the Washington Monument in between overlooking a massive reflecting pool. Each year over 24 million visitors come to explore the National Mall and its monuments including:

  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
  • Korean War Veterans Memorial
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial
  • Vietnam Veterans Memorial
  • Washington Monument
  • World War II Memorial

A trip to Washington, D.C. is not complete without a visit to the National Mall. Kids and adults will enjoy the beautiful space and the history behind the monuments and memorials.

6. Visit the White House

White House Washington DC
Image Credit: Kristina Volgenau via Unsplash

The most important building in the country and perhaps the most famous residence in the world is the White House.

Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., the White House is the official residence of the President of the United States and where a lot of political and national security decisions are made.

Although White House tours are currently paused, you can still bring the family by the noble address to take a photo from the outside.

Hot Tip: If you need to book a hotel in D.C., be sure to read about the best Washington, D.C. hotels to book with points for max value.

The Best Museums in Washington, D.C. With Kids

7. International Spy Museum

International Spy Museum Washington DC
Image Credit: International Spy Museum

Spy kids! At least that is what your little ones will feel like after visiting the International Spy Museum in DC. Located in L’Enfant Plaza, this 140,000 square foot museum holds the largest collection of espionage artifacts on display in the world.

Learn about this secret trade via first-person accounts from top intelligence officers and experts, inspect the special exhibitions, and try your hand at interactive stations.

Just a short walk from the National Mall, this is a museum your family won’t be allowed to talk about after they leave… just kidding!

8. National Children’s Museum

National Childrens Museum Washington DC
Image Credit: National Children’s Museum

Inspiring children to care about and change the world is what the National Children’s Museum is all about. This downtown D.C. museum is dedicated to young minds from babies to 12-year-olds and has created interactive exhibits that explore art, engineering, math, science, and technology to inspire them.

From STEAM experiments to playful exhibits including the Dream Machine, Innovation Sandbox, Data Science Alley, and Tinkerers Studio, your family will love spending a day at the National Children’s Museum.

Although there are indoor and outdoor spaces, some may be closed due to COVID-19, so be sure to check the website before visiting.

9. National Museum of American History

National Museum of American History Spark Lab Washington DC
Image Credit: National Museum of American History

Located on Constitution Avenue NW running along the National Mall, the National Museum of American History is a part of the Smithsonian Institution and highlights the complex history of the U.S.

This 750,000 square foot museum contains items and exhibits with everything from sheet music from famous artists to the hat worn by President Abraham Lincoln on the night he was assassinated. Visitors can take in the beauty of the original Star-Spangled Banner Flag, the famous gowns worn by the First Ladies, and so much more.

With exhibits designed for kids, and free admission, a visit to the National Museum of American History is a must-do.

10. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Boeing Aviation Hanger Washington DC
Image Credit: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Another must-visit, especially for aviation fans, is the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

This free museum on the National Mall preserves and highlights the incredible history of aviation and space travel. From the 1903 Wright Flyer to the Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis (the first plane to break the sound barrier), kids young and old will be amazed at these amazing machines.

For the kids who are fans of space exploration, be sure to check out the Apollo 11 spacecraft, Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit, and even a piece of lunar rock that you can touch!

This is one of the most visited museums in the world for good reason — don’t miss it!

Hot Tip: If you want to get a better look at the museum before your visit, check out the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum virtual tour!

11. Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture Washington DC
Image Credit: Alan Karchmer via the Smithsonian Institution

Another free and iconic museum on the National Mall is the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).

This state-of-the-art building is 4 levels of exhibits highlighting African American history, life, and culture. Being the only national museum of its kind, families are sure to have a unique and educational experience.

With over 3,500 artifacts on display with everything covering slavery, arts, music, athletics, the Civil Rights Movement, and more, it may be difficult to see everything in 1 day. Fortunately, the free admission means you can visit as often as you like.

12. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Image Credit: James Di Loreto via Smithsonian

Open 364 days a year (closed on Christmas) with free admission, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is one of the world’s most visited museums, welcoming over 7 million visitors each year.

Originally opened in 1910 on the National Mall, this massive museum is the size of 18 football fields and has over 140 million natural science specimens and cultural artifacts. With a mission to invoke discovery and education of the natural world, visitors can find some incredible exhibitions, including the Hope Diamond, the David H. Koch Hall of Fossils, and the Sant Ocean Hall.

Kids big and small will find plenty to be in awe of, whether it’s the full-size North Atlantic right whale replica, the massive fossilized jaws of megalodon, or the tiny residents of the insect zoo. This iconic museum will be a family favorite for sure.

13. Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Smithsonians National Zoo giant panda exhibit
Image Credit: Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Animal lovers won’t want to miss Smithsonian’s National Zoo, one of the most famous zoos in the world.  The National Zoo is located in the Woodley Park neighborhood and is free for all visitors.

Home to over 1,500 animals, including lions, tigers, giraffes, and even giant pandas, your kids will love this part of the itinerary. Whether your little ones want to see their favorite creatures up close, or you want to learn about some new species, this is the place to do it.

Just note, visiting the pandas is limited to a small number of people per day, so reserve your free pass in advance!

Hot Tip: Want to see more? Read our ultimate guide to Washington, D.C. – monuments, memorials, attractions, and more.

The Best Sports in Washington, D.C. With Kids

14. Nationals Park (Washington Nationals, MLB)

Racing Presidents Nationals
Image Credit: Washington Nationals

Baseball is a national pastime, so what better place to watch a game than in the nation’s capital? Nationals Park is home to Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals and is a great atmosphere for the family.

Located in the Navy Yard neighborhood along the riverfront, this modern stadium was the first in the U.S. to be LEED-certified green. With a consistently competitive team and family-friendly promotions like baserunning (after Sunday afternoon home games) and autograph opportunities, heading to the ballpark will be a winning choice.

Just be sure to be in your seats during the fourth inning to see the Racings Presidents when oversized “George” Washington, “Tom” Jefferson, “Abe” Lincoln, and “Teddy” Roosevelt see who is the fastest! Head to section 131 during the fifth inning to greet them and take personal photos.

If your kids are restless in their seats, the PenFed Kids Fun Zone is a play structure for those 10 and under that is located next to the Right Field Gate and is open for fun during home games.

Family at NFL FedExField Washington Football Team
Image Credit: Washington Football Team

Formerly known as the Washington Redskins, the Washington Football Team calls FedExField home.

Located 5 miles east of D.C. in Prince George’s County, Maryland, this massive NFL stadium can hold over 80,000 people. For fans of football who want to show their kids a fun day, there are few things like watching a football game in person on a Sunday.

No matter if you are a fan, rival, or indifferent, the atmosphere is fun for all ages.

The Best Walks in Washington, D.C. With Kids

16. Georgetown Waterfront Park

Georgetown Waterfront Park Washington DC
Image Credit: Georgetown Waterfront Park

Linking over 225 miles of parkland along the banks of the Potomac River, the Georgetown Waterfront Park is one of the most beautiful and popular parks in Washington, D.C.

With unique features like the charming labyrinth, the beautiful fountain centerpiece, and creative rain gardens, it is easy to see why this park is beloved by locals and visitors alike.

Thanks to plenty of biking and jogging paths, this is a great place to let the kids run free and burn off some energy. Whether your little ones want to admire the wildlife or splash in the fountain in the summer heat, this family-friendly park will easily become beloved by you as well.

17. Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium

Rock Creek Park Nature Center Washington DC
Image Credit: National Park Service

With almost 2,000 acres of urban park to explore in the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., the Rock Creek Park Nature Center is an oasis in the city.

Cared for and run by the National Park Service, Rock Creek Park offers some family-friendly hikes, plant and animal exhibits, a bookstore, and games geared towards elementary school audiences. Here you will also find the only planetarium in the National Park Service system.

Whether you want to go on a self-guided (wheelchair-friendly) trail tour, a picnic, horseback riding, or to visit the nature center that features live turtles and snakes, your kids are sure to have fun at this outdoor attraction.

18. Canal Park

Canal Park Water feature Washington DC
Image Credit: Canal Park

Famous amongst landscapers and architects, Canal Park is a beautiful and sustainably designed neighborhood-centric park.

This 3-acre park is located in the heart of the Capitol Riverfront and is known for its dancing fountains, seasonal markets, and its winter ice skating rink. There is plenty of green space for picnics and lawn games, play structures for climbing, and plenty of areas for small shows and events.

Formerly a parking lot for city school busses, not only is this a welcomed sight but the rain garden is functional and sustainable, saving the city an estimated 1.5 million gallons of potable water per year.

No matter the time of year, it’s worth it to bring the kids to play and explore at this smart and fun park.

19. The Yards Park

The Yards Park water feature Washington DC
Image Credit: The Yards Park

The Yards Park is part of a 42-acre development along the Anacostia River waterfront in the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. This award-winning park has something for everyone, from craft breweries and signature shops to live music, family events, and more.

While the adults will love the food and beverage options, the kids will certainly be more interested in the dancing water fountains, Canal Basin & Waterfall, the lawn, the boardwalk, and probably even the dog park!

If you are looking for a quick meal or just somewhere to get some fresh air, The Yards Park is a great option.

Final Thoughts

Lincoln Memorial National Mall Washington DC
The Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Image Credit: Andy Feliciotti via Unsplash

Washington, D.C. is so much more than just government and politics. It’s a city full of life, culture, and unlimited experiences.

With enough world-class museums for an entire country, even if you are in town on a leisurely excursion, you may find yourself being a tour guide on a family field trip because you will quickly realize how much there is to see and do.

Kids of all ages will have fun exploring this historic city and getting to know all of the unique exhibits and sites that are so easily accessible.

As you can probably imagine, there is even more to Washington, D.C. than we could fit into this 1 guide, but if you think we left something out, let us know in the comments or in our private Facebook Group, Level UP Travel!

Safe travels!


Frequently asked questions

What can you do with toddlers in Washington, D.C.?

There is plenty to do in D.C. with small kids! With great parks and museums geared towards kids, you will be surprised how kid-friendly Washington, D.C. is. Read our article for nearly 20 ideas on where to take your kids in D.C.

Is Washington, D.C. family-friendly?

Yes, there is so much to do for families in D.C. From museums and aquariums to parks and stadiums, there something for everyone in Washington.

Can kids visit museums at the National Mall?

Yes, kids are welcome at essentially every museum in Washington, D.C. Many museums even have special tours and exhibits for children.

Are museums on the National Mall free?

Many museums, especially Smithsonian Museums, offer free admission. Be sure to check each website to confirm if reservations are needed.

Chris Hassan

About Chris Hassan

Chris is from Boston and is currently living in Rio de Janeiro with his wife, two kids, and their dog, Shelby. When Chris was in college, he spent a semester abroad studying hotel and business management in Switzerland. That is where he caught the travel bug and met his wife. Quite a successful trip!

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