Best Things to Do with Kids in Washington

Learning's Made Fun by D.C. Museums, Parks and Activities

With a treasure trove of historical artifacts and sites located practically everywhere you turn, many adults love Washington, D.C. and can spend hours at a single museum gobbling up the history. But, let's face it. Kids just want to have fun. 10Best has found the top places where kids will stare in wonder, find joy in neat surroundings and – dare we say – learn something too. 

We start our list at the National Zoological Park because you get to see an amazing array of mammals, reptiles and amphibians yet the visit is all free of charge. Have your children participate in hands on activities at the National Building Museum including building arches and working on different tool kits to solve projects. One museum that is a must for every kid is the National Air and Space Museum which hosts the 1903 Wright Flyer and Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis plane. 

If your child needs to be able to run freely and burn a little energy, the green on the National Mall is the place to go. On a sunny, warm day, a number of folks will picnic or play soccer or football games there.

Whatever your child's interests, you are sure to find an attraction in the nation's capital to please them.









National Mall
Discovery Theater
Photo courtesy of Discovery Theater

Dedicated to providing educational performances to the masses since 1964, Discovery Theater presents shows designed to educate and inform young patrons in the subjects of heritage, science and culture. Kids sit on the floor while adults take a seat on chairs on the sides of the theater. Kids and parents can sit together if they wish on risers. Performances, which are based on subjects presented in Smithsonian museums, last between 40 to 50 minutes and seating varies depending on whether large groups are in attendance. No shows are held in August and a portion of September so plan accordingly if you would like to visit. METRO: Smithsonian

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: A fun venue where children can learn about heritage, science and culture.

Gina's expert tip: Be sure to note the location of your performance as the theater performs all over The Mall.

Read more about Discovery Theater →

Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center Christmas on the Potomac
Photo courtesy of Gaylord National Resort

The hotel and convention center annually presents this festive event featuring a bevy of activities. ICE! offers participants the opportunity to careen down slides over two stories tall made entirely of the solid liquid. Each year has a different theme which they incorporate into over a million pounds of - you guessed it – ice. You can also watch as artisans hand carve life-sized ice sculptures. Patrons can also partake in the Christmassy Dreamworks experience to meet their favorite animated movie studio characters. For a more traditional experience, check out the brightest star fountain show featuring choreographed water and light dances to modern and classic Christmas songs. It's no wonder that participants are made up of both hotel guests and locals. METRO: Branch Avenue

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: While it is only offered in November and December, this event attracts tourists and locals.

Gina's expert tip: Wear snow pants if you plan to careen down the ice slides and pay attention to the rules. No going down head first or on your belly.

Read more about Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center Christmas on the Potomac →

The National Mall
Photo courtesy of iStock / vPaulTech LLC

Kids love to run around and most of the indoor attractions in the area frown on that so turn them loose on the lawn portion of the National Mall. On warm days, you will find a number of people setting up picnics or playing pick up games of soccer and football. Be sure to take a silly photo with the Washington Monument where it looks like you are a giant. Some people pretend like they are touching the top of it while others are leaning against it. You can't leave without taking a whirl on the Carousel. Try to grab the lone sea dragon seat – it is the most popular. METRO: Metro Center or Federal Triangle

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: A great place for kids to burn some energy by running and playing in a beautiful setting.

Gina's expert tip: Get a Junior Ranger activity booklet from a National Parks ranger. Once your child completes it, they can earn a junior ranger badge.

Read more about The National Mall →

United States Botanic Garden
Photo courtesy of U.S. Botanic Garden

For those of us lacking a green thumb or ones who can grown anything, the U.S. Botanic Garden is the spot to see an amazing array of living plants from many different areas. Dating back to the 19th century, the museum is divided into three separate sections: the Conservatory showcasing displays and exhibits including jungle, Hawaii and endangered plants, the National Garden highlighting a regional and butterfly garden and Bartholdi Park housing the historic, cast iron fountain. Kids can check out the seasonally open Children's Garden to get a better view of plants and play with garden tools. METRO: Federal Center

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: This venue offers patrons the chance to see plants from around the world in a beautiful urban setting.

Gina's expert tip: Head to the Visitor Information Desk upon your arrival to see if any tours will be given of the Conservatory.

Read more about United States Botanic Garden →

The best and most popular exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History is the Fossil Hall. Unfortunately, it is closed for renovations until 2019. (Yikes!) This museum is still a must-visit though thanks to a variety of different artifacts. The gems and minerals exhibit is a favorite and includes the 45.52 carat Hope Diamond and the Dom Pedro Aquamarine, the world's largest aquamarine gem. One of the oldest pieces is a mummified cat in the Ancient Egypt display. When you tire of displays, take a walk to the second floor butterfly pavilion to see a huge variety of live butterflies on display. METRO: Smithsonian

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: We miss the dinosaurs but this is still a great venue to see an amazing collection of gems and minerals.

Gina's expert tip: Monday is the least busiest day for the museum so if you prefer fewer crowds, plan your trip accordingly.

Read more about National Museum of Natural History →

Capital Wheel
Photo courtesy of Capital Wheel

Mix a fun ride with a bird's-eye view of the Washington Monument and you will get The Capitol Wheel at National Harbor. Offering breathtaking views of the Metro area and Potomac River, the ride lasts around 12 to 15 minute and each gondola has heating or air conditioning so you will be comfortable no matter what time of year you are visiting. Up to eight people may fit in one gondola while only four are allowed in the VIP carriage. Bringing food and drinks onboard is a big no-no so eat before or after your ride. Open year-round, the hours of operation change depending on the time of year.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Ferris wheels usually only provide views of county fairs but this one shows off the district.

Gina's expert tip: Bring your credit cards to ride because they do not accept cash.

Read more about Capital Wheel →

Think no one is watching? Think again. The International Spy Museum pays tribute to the all-but invisible profession that has helped to shape history and impact world events. Opened in 2002, the museum is the only one of its kind in the world and features the largest collection of international espionage artifacts on display. Fans of the James Bond movies will get to see movie props such as the Aston Martin DBS from "Goldfinger" and Jaws' teeth from "Moonraker." Young kids will also have fun by testing their spy skills on several computer games and climb through duct work while on a secret mission. While spies are told to deny everything, you will want to tell others you have been here. METRO: Gallery Place/Chinatown

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: If you kids like to pretend to be secret agents or have seen the Bourne and Bond movies, this is the place for your family.

Gina's expert tip: Strollers are not allowed in the general exhibition area. They do provide baby carriers for infants to borrow for free.

Read more about International Spy Museum →

This spot on the list is actually dedicated to two companion museums. The National Air and Space Museum is easily the most popular building along the National Mall and features the 1903 Wright Flyer, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and a lunar rock that visitors may touch. Many take in shows at the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater or sight see in the Albert Einstein Planetarium. Take a short drive to Chantilly, Va. to check out the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center which features two huge hangers and houses the space shuttle Discovery. Many go to the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower to get a 360-degree view of Washington Dulles International Airport. METRO: Smithsonian and Wiehle-Reston East

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Kids love to watch airplanes in the sky. These two museums showcase some of aviation's most treasured creations.

Gina's expert tip: Parking is free at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center after 4 p.m. Before then, it costs $15 for a spot.

Read more about Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum - Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center →

National Building Museum
Photo courtesy of National Building Museum

This museum, dedicated to telling the stories of architecture, engineering and design, may not at first glance seem geared toward children but it's actually one of the best attractions you will find for kids of varying ages in the nation's capital. For smaller children, be sure to check out the Building Zone where kids can drive play bulldozers and trucks, build a brick wall or explore a custom built green house. Older children may enjoy checking out different tool kits and working on projects such as building a house, playing I spy and creating architectural design patterns. METRO: Judiciary Square

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: A great location to check out to flex your Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) knowledge.

Gina's expert tip: Be sure to check out Amazing Arches. Children may use soft block to construct a 7-foot-tall, soft block arch and learn how the architectural invention works.

Read more about National Building Museum →

National Zoological Park
Photo courtesy of iStock / steinphoto

Lions, monkeys and elephants. Oh my! Located in Northwest Washington, D.C., The National Zoological Park features a variety of mammals, reptiles and amphibians. The stars of the show are the pandas especially Bao Bao who was born in 2013. Fans will line the fences at their exhibit with large telephoto lenses to capture every panda movement. The best part is visitors get to see all of these unique animals from around the world for free. Make sure you wear good walking shoes because the 163-acre park has hills. Also, don't stand under the ropes when the orangutans are on the move. You will thank me later. METRO: Woodley Park/Zoo/Adams Morgan or Cleveland Park

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Where else in the U.S. can you see mammals, reptiles and amphibians from around the world for free?

Gina's expert tip: Come before the 10 a.m. opening to see animals that have outdoor exhibits before the crowd show up.

Read more about National Zoological Park →


Meet Gina Gallucci White

Gina Gallucci White is an award winning freelance writer with articles appearing in such regional publications as Frederick Magazine, The Daily Record, Montgomery Magazine and The Gazette. She...  More About Gina