Posted Sep 26, 2018
Washington, D.C. is both rich in history and full of kid-friendly attractions that make it a top family travel destination. With an impressive lineup of free museums – many with exhibits and programs geared specifically to kids; towering monuments that are sure to wow even the most hard-to-please youngsters; and plenty of interesting parks and landmarks to explore, a trip to our nation’s capital is a must for families with kids of all ages.
Check out our roundup of the top things to see and do in Washington, D.C. with kids.
Museums, Museums (and More Museums)!
The District is home to the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex – all FREE to the public. If you’ve ever paid a small mint to do something as a family only to have to cut your visit short due to a kid meltdown, you can appreciate how fantastic this is. Explore as many museums as you like with absolutely no commitment!
Best Smithsonian Museums for Kids on The National Mall
Eleven of the 18 D.C.-area Smithsonian museums are within walking distance of one another on The National Mall, allowing you to quickly duck in and out to see only the exhibits that are most interesting to your family. Each one offers a unique experience, appealing to a wide range of interests and ages and providing the variety needed to keep kid boredom at bay.
Insider Tip: Look out for Pepper the Robot, the Smithsonian's new 4-foot-tall, interactive humanoid robot that can answer frequently asked questions, tell stories, dance, play games, and even pose for selfies! Check this page to see where you can expect to find Pepper throughout the Smithsonian!
1 National Museum of Natural History
Best known for its’ iconic 14-foot-tall African elephant that greets visitors in the soaring rotunda on the first floor, the Natural History Museum is a perennial kid and family favorite. Kid favorites here include: The Last American Dinosaurs: Discovering a Lost World exhibit (through Oct. 2019); The Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals; life-size model of a 45-foot North Atlantic right whale and set of 7-foot-tall jaws of the extinct great white shark in The Sant Ocean Hall; Butterfly Pavilion live butterfly experience (tickets required); and The Hope Diamond.
Photo: Natural History Museum Rotunda by Kim Humphrey
2 National Museum of American History
Great for kids and their grown-up companions alike, the American History Museum showcases the gems of our nation’s history – from the Star-Spangled Banner to Dorothy’s red ruby slippers from the “Wizard of Oz.” The Museum also features lots of hands-on experiences for kids of all ages. Kid favorites include: Draper Spark!Lab, a hands-on exhibit that introduces kids to the fun and creativity of the invention process, Wegmans Wonderplace exploration area for kids ages 0-6, The First Ladies exhibit, The Dolls’ House miniature doll house, and The Star-Spangled Banner – even the youngest kids will get a kick out of seeing this HUGE, 200-year-old flag!
Photo of Dorothy's Red Ruby Slippers by Sergio Caltagirone via Wikimedia Commons
3 National Air and Space Museum
Aircraft, spacecraft, missiles, rockets and astronauts – need we say more? The Air and Space Museum is a huge hit with kids, housing the largest collection of air and spacecraft in the world. Warning: This museum can get very crowded during peak tourist season in the spring and summer. We recommend visiting very early in the day or in the late afternoon when many families have called it quits for the day. Top kid picks include: How Things Fly, a hands-on exhibit where kids can explore the nature of gravity and air, aircraft and rocket propulsion, and space travel; Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall which features Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of Saint Louis, rockets, spacecraft and even a lunar module; and Lockheed Martin IMAX theater (fee applies).
Photo by HrAtsuo [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
4 National Museum of the American Indian
Located right next to the Air and Space Museum, the American Indian Museum is an often-overlooked gem that is fantastic for families. Not only does it house one of the world’s largest collections of Native artifacts which are visually cool for kids to gawk at, it also has an amazing children’s area – one of the best we’ve experienced in a museum. Top kid picks include: imagiNATIONS Activity Center, complete with a full-size tipi and hands-on iglu building activity; Lelawi Theater, a circular theater featuring an immersive, multi-media presentation about Native communities; and Mitsitam Café, a much raved-about food court-style eating area with stations that feature Native ingredients, as well as kid favorites like hot dogs and hamburgers.
Photo: Building an Iglu at the American Indian Museum by Kim Humphrey
5 National Gallery of Art and Sculpture Garden
I know what you’re thinking, “My kids hate art museums!” Hear us out. The National Gallery of Art has done a great job incorporating a variety of free family education programs that make art accessible and fun for kids of all ages. Their museum educator-led Art Investigators (ages 4-7) and Family Workshops (ages 8-11 with adult participation) programs allow kids to learn about art in fun, age-appropriate ways and also include a hands-on activity or studio art session. If this still isn't enough to lure you in, there is also a super cool outdoor Sculpture Garden adjacent to the West Building with a yummy French-style café and a fountain that turns into an ice rink in the winter.
Photo: Sculpture Garden Ice Rink by Kim Humphrey
6 United States Botanic Garden
While not part of the Smithsonian, the U.S. Botanic Garden is another great spot on the National Mall to take kids. Perhaps best known for its annual Season’s Greenings themed holiday exhibit with model train installation, the Garden provides a nice change of pace from the typical museum experience any time of year. This living plant museum - complete with a jungle, desert and primeval paradise – provides many visually interesting things for kids to look at. Kids ages 9 and up can also check out a Junior Botanist Adventure Kit backpack to guide their exploration.
Best Smithsonian Museums for Kids That are not on The National Mall
While exploring just the museums on The Mall could keep you busy for days, there are a few “off Mall” kid favorites that are worth a visit for families who have more time or are looking to explore another area of the city.
7 National Zoo
Located in D.C.’s Woodley Park neighborhood backing to sprawling Rock Creek Park, the National Zoo is considered one of the world’s best zoos and is home to approximately 2000 animals. Part of the Smithsonian Institution, admission to the Zoo is FREE! Kid favorites include the Giant Pandas, Elephants, Great Cats, Great Ape House; Reptile Discovery Center and Kids’ Farm petting zoo; Conservation Carousel (fee applies); and Tide Pool water play area (seasonal). The Zoo also hosts a full schedule of daily events. Insider Tip: The Zoo sits on a hillside, making for a steep hike. Come prepared with comfortable shoes, strollers for little ones, and water bottles and snacks. Strollers are also available for rent on a first-come, first-served basis.
Photo: Giant Panda by pelican from Tokyo, Japan (National Zoological Park, Washington DC, USA) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
8 National Postal Museum
Located next to Union Station off the beaten path of the usual D.C. tourist attractions, the Postal Museum truly fits the “hidden gem” cliché. The Museum brings a potentially ho-hum subject matter to life for kids and grown-ups alike with a ton of hands-on and interactive exhibits. Kids can sort, collect and even design their own stamps; race against the clock to sort packages; and explore real mail-moving vehicles – from stagecoach to rail car to semi-truck. There are also free postcards available to write someone a note and a full-service post office on the bottom level where you can get your postage cancelled with the special National Postal Museum stamp!
Photo: Moving the Mail Exhibit at National Postal Museum by Kim Humphrey
9 National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center
Located near Dulles Airport in Chantilly, VA about 30 miles outside D.C., the Udvar-Hazy Center is a companion facility to the Museum on the National Mall. If you have a serious aircraft or space enthusiast in your family, this one is worth a visit. Highlights here include a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, an Air France Concorde, and the Space Shuttle Discovery. The facility also includes an IMAX Theater, an observation tower where you can watch planes take off and land at Dulles Airport, and a McDonald's for a quick, kid-approved bite to eat.
Photo: Space Shuttle Discovery at Udvar-Hazy by Ivette Cruz
10 The Renwick Gallery
Just steps from the White House, the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery features a rotating menu of large-scale, multidimensional American contemporary art exhibits that typically take over the entire museum. Not only does this make for some pretty amazing photo ops, it’s also a huge hit with kids who are mesmerized by the eye-catching art that literally surrounds them. Check the Renwick’s website to view their current exhibition schedule.
WONDER at Renwick Gallery by Eb0178a [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Best Washington, D.C. Museums for Kids That are Totally Worth the Price of Admission
While free family entertainment is aplenty in Washington, D.C., there are some pretty awesome museums for kids that aren’t free, but totally worth the price of admission. CertifiKID often features discount admission offers for these museums that can save you up to 50% off, so be sure to check the website before you purchase your tickets!
11 National Building Museum
If you have a builder, budding architect or construction worker wannabe in your family, a visit to the National Building Museum is a must! The Museum’s Building Zone allows the Museum’s youngest visitors to pretend they are real construction workers complete with hard hat, tool box, construction vest and building materials they “purchase” in the Hardware Store. In the PLAY WORK BUILD exhibit, kids can build with supersized foam blocks and construct using the original digital interactive building screen. Every year, families eagerly await the unveiling of the Museum’s Summer Block Party installation, an innovative, interactive exhibit that takes over their Great Hall during the summer months.
Photo: PLAY WORK BUILD courtesy of National Building Museum
12 International Spy Museum
If learning about spy craft, espionage, code breaking, covert surveillance, and secret identities sounds exciting, then put the Spy Museum on your must-visit list. Featuring the largest collection of international espionage artifacts on public display, the Spy Museum is best for older elementary-aged kids and up. They also have many special exhibits geared specifically to kids and families, including their monthly KidSpy Programs and interactive experiences Operation Spy™ live action spy adventure and Spy in the City™. The Spy Museum is set to open a brand new facility in the L’Enfant Plaza area of D.C. in 2019 that will double the floor space of its’ existing building. We can’t wait!
Photo: International Spy Museum by Stacy Sampson
Located between the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building, the panoramic view up and down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Newseum’s 6th floor Terrace is almost worth the price of admission alone! Kid favorites include conducting a news report in the NBC Interactive Newsroom – complete with teleprompter! – and learning about the pets of U.S. presidents. Not to miss for grown-ups: Seeing sections of the original Berlin Wall!
14 National Geographic Museum
Animal enthusiasts and explorers at heart will love a spin through the National Geographic Museum, which features a wide range of rotating exhibits that immerse visitors in the world of real Nat Geo explorers, photographers and scientists. Recent kid favorites include the highly interactive Sharks and Earth Explorers exhibits. Keep an eye on Nat Geo’s exhibit calendar for current and upcoming family favorites.
D.C. Monuments, Memorials and Historical Attractions
First-time visitors are often surprised by how expansive The National Mall is, spanning nearly 2 miles between the U.S. Capitol Building on one end and the Lincoln Memorial on the other. Throw in some side trips over to the White House and around the Tidal Basin, and you’re guaranteed to have a kid rebellion on your hands if you try to squeeze too much into one day.
Strollers are a must for little ones, and bikes or scooters are a great idea for families with older kids. However, keep in mind that you will have to find a place to stow them if you plan to visit museums or Government buildings. If your kids are old enough to ride adult bikes, Capital Bikeshare is a great option, allowing you to pick up and drop off bikes at various stations located along The Mall and all throughout the city.
Photo: Riding Scooters AroundThe National Mall by Kim Humphrey
15 The Capitol Building
Your kids may or may not be impressed by the 45-minute U.S. Capitol Tour (advance reservations required). However, getting a peek inside the Senate and House galleries, and even watching Congress live in session, is a super-cool, kid-approved experience.
16 The White House
If gawking at the abode occupied by the leader of the free world from a distance behind a barricade is not enough for the kids, make sure to plan well in advance to request a tour. Public tour requests must be submitted through one’s Member of Congress and are scheduled on a first come, first served basis.
Photo: The While House by Ivette Cruz
17 Monuments and Memorials
National Mall and Memorial Parks offers a Junior Ranger Program that allows kids to earn a junior ranger badge by visiting various Monuments and Memorials on The Mall and completing activities in the National Mall Junior Ranger Activity Book. Not to miss: The Washington Monument - You can even go up in it (currently closed for refurbishment; expected to reopen in spring 2019); World War II Memorial; Vietnam Veterans Memorial; Korean War Veterans Memorial; Lincoln Memorial; Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial; FDR Memorial; Jefferson Memorial.
Photo: The Washington Monument by Kim Humphrey
18 Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP)
Watch millions of U.S. dollars being printed right in front of your eyes! Located next to the Holocaust Memorial Museum toward the Tidal Basin, BEP tours require tickets during certain times of year. The ticket booth, located at Raoul Wallenburg Place SW (formerly 15th Street), opens at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday and closes when all tickets have been distributed for the day.
19 National Archives Museum
Located across Constitution Avenue from the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, the National Archives is home to the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. How cool to see history come to life right before your kids' eyes! Advanced reservations are highly recommended during peak tourist season and tickets can be reserved here.
Photo: National Archives by Fletcher [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
20 Arlington National Cemetery
Even kids who are too young to grasp the historical significance and solemnity of Arlington National are awed by the sheer expansiveness of the uniform headstones that stretch as far as the eye can see. Older kids will get a kick out of hunting down the graves of notable figures – from U.S. Presidents and Supreme Court Justices to famous explorers and music and literary figures.
Photo: Arlington National Cemetery by Kim Humphrey
D.C. Parks & Recreation
Dragging kids from museum to monument to memorial, day after day, practically ensures they’ll hit burn out in no time flat. Keep the vacation excitement and energy going by mixing in some more relaxed fun at these kid-approved D.C. parks and recreational areas.
21 Rock Creek Park
This sprawling 1,754-acre park features more than 32 scenic hiking trails and paths to explore, a Nature Center and planetarium with ranger-led astronomy programs, bike paths, a Horse Center that offers riding lessons and guided trail rides, playgrounds, historical sites and more.
Photo: Rock Creek Park Boulder Bridge by Kathleen Cole [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
22 Gravelly Point
Just across the Potomac River from D.C. in Arlington, VA, you will find Gravelly Point park. Situated just a few hundred feet from the north end of Reagan National’s runway, this is one of the best spots in the U.S. to watch airplanes take off and land and always a huge hit with kids. It’s also an excellent place to relax with a picnic lunch.
Photo: Gravelly Point Park By Ted Eytan (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
23 Georgetown Waterfront Park
This 10-acre riverside gem offers scenic views of The Kennedy Center, Watergate Hotel, and Memorial Bridge to the west and the Key Bridge and Rosslyn, Virginia skyline across the River to the east. This is a perfect spot to take a leisurely, scenic family stroll after dining at one of Georgetown’s many delicious restaurants, or to relax and unwind after a long day of sightseeing while the kids cool off in the riverfront splash fountain.
24 Washington Harbour
If you continue your stroll from Waterfront Park westward, you will run into Washington Harbour, which offers many lovely restaurants where you can enjoy a family bite with a view. In warmer months, the uber popular Boomerang Pirate Ship Family Fun Treasure Hunt Cruise (a CertifiKID favorite!) sets sail from here. In the winter, the Washington Harbour Ice Rink, D.C.’s largest outdoor ice skating venue, takes center stage.
Photo: Boomerang Pirate Ship in Washington Harbour
25 District Wharf
One of D.C.’s newest waterfront entertainment destinations, The Wharf offers many delectable dining options – from sweet treats to cocktails to a wide-variety of casual, ethnic and fine dining restaurants. (Not to miss: District Doughnuts fresh, handcrafted specialties. Yum!) The Wharf smartly integrates many kid-pleasing features and activities, making it a great place for families to spend time together. Kids can play oversized games, splash in the fountain, play bocce, rent kayaks and standup paddleboards, ice skate or play mini golf (depending on the season), and more.
Photo: Giant Scrabble Transit Pier Courtesy of Hoffman-Madison Waterfront
26 The Yards Park
Located in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood less than a mile from Nationals Park, The Yards Park provides green space and water features for all to enjoy along the Anacostia River. The Dancing Fountains and Canal Basin & Waterwall are a huge draw for families to splash around and cool off on hot summer days. The Yards Park also hosts a variety of family-friendly events throughout the year.
27 Canal Park
Also in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood is Canal Park, a 3-acre neighborhood park that hosts seasonal markets and events throughout the year, including dancing fountains in the summer and ice skating in the winter. Canal Park’s “Middle Block” even has benches with A/C power for your laptops and mobile devices, making it a perfect place to relax and recharge – literally! – while the kids play.
28 Theodore Roosevelt Island
Kids love the intrigue and adventure of crossing the over-water footbridge that leads them to this little island that sits in the Potomac River. Little legs can easily navigate the hiking trails around and through different parts of the Island, traversing wooded uplands and swampy bottomlands. And it’s always a fun surprise to come upon the clearing in the trees that holds Memorial Plaza with its larger-than-life statues and fountain.
Photo: Roosevelt Island Memorial Plaza by Daderot [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
29 National Harbor
Located south down the Potomac River from D.C. proper in Oxon Hill, MD, National Harbor has quickly become one of the D.C. area’s premier entertainment destinations for locals and tourists alike. National Harbor is home to the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, which hosts special events for families throughout the year, including the mega popular ICE! attraction during the holiday season; the MGM Hotel & Casino entertainment complex; the Tanger Outlets; and many unique shops, restaurants and family-friendly attractions and events. Kid favorites here include riding the towering Capital Wheel and Carousel, Urban Pirates adventure cruise, the Peeps & Company store, and climbing and playing in The Awakening Sculpture play area.
Photo: The Awakening Sculpture at National Harbor by Ivette Cruz
30 Fun on the Water
What better way to view some of D.C.’s most iconic sites than from the water? Multiple boat houses line both the Potomac and Anacostia rivers where you can rent kayaks, canoes, rowboats, paddle boards, and more - either on your own or as part of an organized tour. Check Boating in DC for rental locations. Swan and pedal boats are also available to paddle around the picturesque Tidal Basin. Be sure to take advantage of their advanced reservation option if visiting during peak cherry blossom season in the spring.
Photo: Tidal Basin by Kim Humphrey
Performing Arts Events for the Entire Family
Sometimes, it’s nice to sit back and relax and let someone else entertain the kids! Fortunately, D.C. offers many great options for live, kid-pleasing entertainment.
31 The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage
Have you always dreamed of watching a performance at the Kennedy Center, but can’t stomach the thought of paying a small mint to drag the kids along (only to have them moan and groan the whole time!)? Great news! Every single day of the year at 6 p.m., the Kennedy Center hosts FREE performances on their Millennium Stage. Performances range from music to dance to theater to cultural events. The Kennedy Center also offers a series of Performances for Young Audiences for toddlers through teens and their families.
United States Navy Band from Washington, D.C., USA (100812-N-6914S-011) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
32 Saturday Morning at The National
The National Theatre offers a series of free Saturday morning programs, featuring interactive performances, puppets, dance and music designed for kids ages 4 – 10. Performances take place in the Helen Hayes Gallery on the second floor at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. on select Saturdays. Tickets are available to reserve one week prior to the performance date.
33 Arts for Young Audiences at the Atlas
The Atlas Performing Arts Center in northeast D.C. offers Arts for Young Audiences programming designed for children ages 2 - 10. Shows are very unique, often interactive, and are designed to allow children to “experience sound, texture, movement music, and color through a simple story.”
Photo: Atlas Performing Arts Center by Smallbones [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
34 Discovery Theatre
Smithsonian’s Discovery Theatre hosts live, culturally diverse educational performances for children at multiple locations throughout The Mall. Shows are usually on weekdays at 10:15 and 11:15 a.m. However, the Theater is dark in August and most of September. Tickets start at just $6 ($3 for kids under 2) and seating for all programs is general admission.
Family-Friendly Sporting Events in D.C.
One of our favorite ways to experience a city’s local culture is by attending a sporting event. Luckily, no matter the time of year, the D.C. area has plenty to choose from. This is a big kid pleaser!
35 Washington Nationals Baseball
What better way to experience the nation’s capital than by watching America’s pastime – with a view of the U.S. Capitol Building in the distance, no less! Named one of the Bleacher Report’s Top 15 Most Child Friendly Stadiums in MLB, Nationals Park is a great place to take your young baseball fans.
Photo: Nationals Park by Jennifer Walters
38 Washington Capitals Hockey
Capital One Arena is also home to the 2018 Stanley Cup Champions! #ALLCAPS
Photo: Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA (Washington Capitals) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
39 D.C. United Soccer
Catch a match at D.C. United’s brand-new home, Audi Field, located along the Anacostia River in Southwest D.C. Don’t forget to check out the incredible view from the rooftop patio!
40 Washington Valor Arena Football
Head to Capital One Arena during the summer months to experience the excitement of arena football by watching the District’s newest professional sports team in action.
We hope you enjoy Washington, D.C. with kids as much as we do! Don't forget to check CertifiKID before you go for money-saving deals for many of the top kid-friendly Washington, D.C. attractions listed here.
CertifiKID was founded by a mom with a passion for helping parents provide the best experiences for their children on a budget. From outings to adventures, classes to camps, theater to sporting events, amusement parks to getaways, CertifiKID provides the best family-friendly experiences at unbeatable prices. Sign up for family-friendly deals in your area and start saving!
Explore More Categories
'ParentPreneurs': From Messy Minivan to Multimillion Dollar Company
Real Mom Reviews
Zigazoo: The App Every Parent Should Get Their Kids This Summer
Ready For a 5-Star Trip to Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Riviera Maya?
Electric Gamebox: An Immersive, Awe-Inspiring Experience
The Traveling Shows Your Family Won't Want To Miss in 2022