Washington DC is one of the most family friendly cities in the US. Our nation’s capital offers family friendly attractions such as world-class museums, monuments, historic sites, outdoor recreation and live entertainment. Best of all, most of these sites are free and open to the public.
Here are my Top 20 Things to See and Do in DC with Kids:
1.The Renwick Gallery is home to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection of contemporary craft and decorative art, one of the finest and most extensive collections of its kind.
2. National Postal Museum: suitable for all ages including infants. Explore the history of postal mail beginning in the colonial times to today. The museum is loaded with interactive exhibits including a spot to make postcards and have them addressed, stamped, and mailed for free. The museum is home to two airplanes that hang from the ceiling, two stagecoaches including one that the kids can sit in, a big rig and an old train car, both of which you can sit in. Old-fashioned postal mail is actually a really fun place to begin your child’s tour of DC!
2. Tour Union Station for Tourism Trinkets & For Lunch: Union Station is a historic train station that’s part shopping mall, part tourist destination and is also home to the newly added Greyhound Bus Station. This Beaux Arts-style train station is a bustling transportation hub, with the Red Line Metro, Amtrak, and Virginia and Maryland commuter trains making stops daily. It features three concourses: The top two house more than 100 shops and eateries, and the lower one features a food court and movie theater. In the marble foyer at the front of the station—an enormous and gorgeous space with 96-foot vaulted ceilings offering plenty of space to stretch your legs and let your little runs run around and expend some energy as well. Pick up a brochure at the visitors’ desk and take some time to explore the building. Afterward, ride the elevator downstairs to the food court and grab lunch at one or two of the many food vendors available or visit Chipotle or Shop House inside Union Station on the first level.
3.Tour the Capitol Walk through the Hall of Columns, the Rotunda, and the old Supreme Court chambers, then head upstairs to the House and Senate chambers. From the visitors’ gallery, you can watch a bill become a law in person—see bills being debated, votes being counted, and speeches being given. Note: Congress is on recess for the month of August. Tickets are free but available only on a first-come, first-served basis at the Capitol Guide Service kiosk on the sidewalk on the Capitol’s southwest side (near the intersection of First Street and Independence Avenue, Southwest). Ticket distribution starts at 9 AM.
4. US Botanic Garden (245 First St., SW), one of the Smithsonian’s treasures is only a short walk from Union Station and the Capitol. It’s a year-round greenhouse and conservatory that will inspire you and your little travelers to imagine that you’re inside a jungle or on a trip to the amazon. There are over 26,000 plants organized in collections throughout ten climate-controlled rooms. In warm weather, stroll through the two outside gardens: Bartholdi Park (just south of the conservatory, across Independence Avenue), which is anchored by a large fountain, and the National Garden (just west of the conservatory), which includes rose and butterfly gardens, the First Ladies’ Water Garden, and an outdoor amphitheater.
5. Bureau of Engraving & Printing See real money being printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, DC! This is a fun tour for all ages. You will see how U. S. paper currency is printed, stacked, cut and examined for defects. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing also prints White House invitations, Treasury securities, identification cards, naturalization certificates, and other special security documents. Tours are offered every 15 minutes and last about 45 minutes. Tickets aren’t required during the off peak season (September through February), just line up at the entrance on 14th Street when you want a tour. Tickets, which are free, are required during peak season (March through August) and can be picked up at the ticket booth on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 8 AM on the day you wish you visit. I recommend sending one person in the morning to get tickets for the entire family while the kids are entertained another way. Tickets go fast, so plan to get there early.
6. The National Zoo (3001 Connecticut Ave., NW), is home to more than 2,000 animals. The giant pandas are the National Zoo’s most compelling feature. And the elephants, apes, reptile center, cheetah station, the Asia Trail—with sloth bears, clouded leopards, fishing cats, red pandas, and more—are all highly recommended. One of the best zoos in the United States and it’s FREE!
7. National Museum of Natural History is one of my favorite “musts” for kids of all ages. It houses thousands of specimens in exhibits, including birds, gems, fossils, mammals, ocean life, and more. In the rotunda on the first floor is a life-size African male elephant, and upstairs is the famous Hope Diamond—both of which shouldn’t be missed. The butterfly exhibit features a live butterfly pavilion that you can stroll through and see and touch the butterflies up close and personal. Admission to the museum is free, but the butterfly pavilion has an admission fee for children 2 and older. It is totally worth it! The Q?Rius Exhibit. Q?rius is a new way to connect science with everyday experience. It’s a first-of-its-kind interactive and experimental environment — part lab, part collections vault, part DIY garage, part hangout, and all fun.
8. National Air and Space Museum is my family’s absolute favorite Smithsonian museum. Within its 22 exhibition galleries are items such as the 1903 Wright Brothers plane, a V2 ballistic missile from the Cold War, a full-size Hubble Space Telescope vehicle, and the space suits worn by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong on their visit to the moon. You may also want to check out the Albert Einstein planetarium or the IMAX theatre for a very special show. The museum is free.
9. The White House Visitors from around the world come to Washington DC to tour the White House, the home and office of the U.S. President. Built between 1792 and 1800, the White House is one of the oldest public buildings in the nation’s capital and serves as a museum of American history.
10. The National Building Museum is also on my top 3 favorite museums for kids. The Build, Work, Play is amazing!
11. The Monument is one of the most popular attractions in DC. It is the tallest structure in the District of Columbia. Take the elevator up to the highest level and have a look at DC from the birds eye view. An elevator takes visitors to the top to see a spectacular view of Washington, DC including unique perspectives of the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and the Capitol Building. Sylvan Theater, an outdoor amphitheater located near the base of the Washington Monument, is a popular venue for a wide range of events including free concerts and live theatrical performances, commemorative ceremonies, rallies and protests.
12. The Tidal Basin is a man-made inlet adjacent to the Potomac River. Visitors are drawn to the area because of its beauty, especially during cherry blossom season in late March and early April. Tidal Basin Paddle Boats are available to rent on the eastern shore. A small concession offers hotdogs, a few sandwich options, drinks and snacks. Walking paths surround the area and visitors are free to picnic along the shore.
13. The Lincoln Memorial an iconic landmark on the National Mall, a tribute to President Abraham Lincoln. The Memorial has been the site of many famous speeches and events since its dedication in 1922, most notably Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.
14. The Jefferson Memorial is one of the most popular attractions in DC and is located on the Tidal Basin, a dome shaped rotunda surrounded by a grove of trees making it especially beautiful during Cherry Blossom season in the spring. From the top steps of the memorial, you can see one of the best views of the White House. During the warmer months of the year, you may rent a paddle boat to really enjoy the scenery.
15. The Franklin Delano Rosevelt Memorial is a presidential memorial in Washington D.C. dedicated to the memory of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and to the era he represents. The FDR Memorial is one of Washington DC’s top attractions and honors Franklin D. Roosevelt for leading the United States through the Great Depression and World War II. This impressive park-like memorial is spread over 7.5 acres and features four outdoor gallery rooms depicting the 12 years of FDR’s presidency.
16. The MLK Memorial One of the most prestigious sites remaining on the National Mall was selected for the memorial for Martin Luther King, Jr., adjacent to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. It is the first major memorial along the National Mall to be dedicated to an African-American, and to a non-president.
16. Guy Mason Playground & Recreation Center located at 3600 Calvert St., NW in the family friendly neighborhood of Glover Park. This playground is brand new as of Spring 2015 and it offers infant swings, musical instruments, slides, a state of the art, modern day steel “tree house”, hammocks, rope structure and more.
17. Georgetown Cupcake is the leading destination in DC for gourmet cupcakes. Parents and kids alike stand anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to get their hands on these freshly baked delicious treats.
18. The National Arboretum is a 446-acre living museum 2 miles from the Capitol: gardens, collections, bonsai museum, herb garden, azaleas, flowering cherry trees, and the original columns from the Capitol. Seasonal weekend tram tours and guided tours by appointment.
19. Washington Harbour & Georgetown Waterfront Take a stroll along the boardwalk and take in the nation’s iconic scenery – watch the boats, see the views of the Kennedy Center, Watergate, Key Bridge, and across the water to Virginia. Enjoy the spray and splash park in the summer time and the ice skating rink in winter.
20. The National Harbor & The Capitol Wheel If you’re not afraid of heights, you’ll feel like you’re sitting on top of the world when you experience National Harbor’s most iconic attraction, The Capital Wheel! As you soar 180 feet above the Potomac River waterfront, you will marvel at the incomparable views. Sights visible include the White House and Capitol, the National Mall, Arlington Cemetery, City of Alexandria, Prince George’s County and the lush parklands throughout the DC-Maryland-Virginia region.