Things to do in National Harbor

This post highlights the best things to do in National Harbor, Maryland and has been updated for 2019. It includes a top 10 list, evening, free, and family-friendly activities, as well as annual seasonal events. When applicable, we’ve marked items that are free and/or kid-friendly.

If you’re visiting from DC, be sure to check out our post on how to get to National Harbor.

TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN NATIONAL HARBOR

Capital Wheel (kid-friendly)

With beautiful views of National Harbor, the Potomac River, and parts of our nation’s capital like the Capitol Building and Washington Monument, this “London Eye” type ferris wheel is a great activity that people of all ages are sure to enjoy!

Be sure to check out our Capital Wheel post for all of the information you need.

Tanger Outlets (kid-friendly)

Shop until your heart’s content at the Tanger Outlets National Harbor! With dozens of name-brand discount factory stores like Adidas, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Nike, and Kate Spade, everyone can find something to take home. Make sure to also check out the events page to see what’s on!

MGM National Harbor

Opened in 2016, this top-notch resort and casino is just a twelve minute walk from National Harbor. Spend a day trying your luck at the slot machines or gaming tables and enjoy a number of restaurants, cocktail lounges, and a variety of live entertainment in the evening. A full day of excitement under one roof!

Enjoy a water activity! (kid-friendly)

Spend a day on the Potomac River! Boating in DC offers a number of rental opportunities for those who want to get out on the water. Rent kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, or swan shaped and night light pedal boats or take a paddle-boarding lesson.

Take a River Sightseeing Tour (kid-friendly)

An excellent way to see some of the best sights in Washington, DC via the Potomac River with departures leaving National Harbor. Enjoy a Washington Monument Sightseeing tour or dinner cruise along the Potomac. For those wanting to visit the home of our first president, George Washington, there is a boat cruise that leaves from National Harbor and the Gaylord to Mount Vernon. Check the website for more information on each tour.

Check out the Art Scene (kid-friendly)

Strolling around National Harbor will lead you to numerous outside urban art displays. Look out for murals, a number of sculptures, and a 1,600 foot terrazzo displaying the history and geography of Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC. At the “American Way” see a variety of statues portraying some of our founding fathers, former presidents, and historically significant individuals. All of the outdoor art pieces are free to visit.

See The Awakening (kid-friendly)

One of the most popular art pieces at National Harbor is The Awakening. This larger than life 72-foot structure is of a giant who has been embedded into the ground and is trying to free himself. The multi-piece sculpture is fun for kids to climb on and great for photo opportunities. It is free to visit.

Go Shopping! (kid-friendly)

Walking around National Harbor will lead you to a variety of speciality shops and souvenir stores. Specifically on Waterfront Street and American Way, look for women’s clothing, stationary, chocolatiers, homemade jams and beef jerky, a gourmet market, kitchen, home decor, and gift shops. For a complete directory of shops at National Harbor, click here.

Grab a Bite to Eat! (kid-friendly)

National Harbor offers dozens of unique and delicious dining experiences regardless if you want counter service or a sit-down meal. Choose from a variety of ethnic cuisines as well as seafood, ale houses and breweries, steakhouses, and cupcakeries. For a full directory of National Harbor dining, click here.

Enjoy the Nightlife!

After a long day of sightseeing, it will be fun to relax and let loose a bit while in National Harbor. Visitors love Bobby McKey’s Dueling Piano Bar where you can sing-along all night long! Other nightlife options in National Harbor include Pose Ultra Lounge & Nightclub (for Gaylord guests only), The Irish Whisper for Irish whiskey and fare, and The Tasting Room Wine Bar & Shop among others.


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THINGS TO DO IN THE EVENING IN NATIONAL HARBOR

After watching the sunset on the Potomac, prepare for a variety of fun activities that can be done at night time! Some of the items we’ve listed above like riding the Capital Wheel or enjoying one of the great dining experiences National Harbor has to offer can be done in the evening. Here are a few more ideas for evening activities.

Visit an Art Gallery

For art enthusiasts, an evening trip to art gallery will be well worth it. Art Avenue is an international high end art gallery features some of the works by Salvador Dali, Dale Chihuly, Pablo PIcasso, and more. Check their events page for ongoing exhibits and artist receptions. Art Whino features a unique collection that showcases a lot of pop-art and unusual pieces and prints that could be fun to take home. This gallery is located on Waterfront Street.

Shows and Nightlife at MGM National

The MGM National offers ongoing concerts and entertainment within its state of the art theatre that seats 3,000. Check the events calendar to see upcoming performances! For those who enjoy plush cocktail lounges be sure to check out Felt and Blossom. The latter is filled with blooming cherry blossom trees and open until 4am!

Get Creative at Muse Paintbar (kid-friendly)

Try something different and let your creativity flow at Muse Paintbar! Offering instructed painting sessions seven days a week, Muse combines painting with a restaurant and wine bar. All ages are welcome and no prior experience is needed. Check out the website for a full calendar and more information.


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FREE THINGS TO DO IN NATIONAL HARBOR

Free attractions can be found if you’re looking in the right places at National Harbor. If you’re an art lover, make sure to see all of the outdoor displays along American Way and consider popping into an art gallery to see what’s on display. Here are a few more free things to enjoy at National Harbor.

Enjoy the Sunset over the Potomac (kid-friendly)

As National Harbor sits conveniently right at the edge of the Potomac River and faces west, you are in for a treat from Mother Nature any night of the week as long as the weather is clear. Find a spot along the water whether it’s near the Capital Wheel or along Waterfront Street and let your eyes be dazzled as the sun dips below the horizon.

The Awakening and Art Scene (kid-friendly)

As we’ve mentioned above, National Harbor is overloaded with urban art and unique sculptures to check out. Fun for all ages as you’re out and about, make sure to check out The Awakening, as well as all of the other art pieces throughout the area.

See the Nightly Fountain Show at Gaylord National (kid-friendly)

Make your way to the lower atrium of the Gaylord National to enjoy a nightly fountain show! The hotel’s fountain features lights and water that shoots 60 feet into the air. This show occurs nightly at 6, 7, 8, and 9pm.


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FAMILY-FRIENDLY THINGS TO DO IN NATIONAL HARBOR

National Harbor is a great destination for families! Between things like water activities and sightseeing boat tours to The Awakening, there is loads to keep the kids entertained. Here are a few more ideas for family-friendly fun.

Ride the Carousel

Families will enjoy a ride on this 36-foot whimsical carousel featuring a variety of different characters to ride with the Potomac River as the backdrop. After your ride, enjoy the playground, toddler play area, and picnic tables that are adjacent to the carousel. Tickets are $7 and adults ride for free when accompanying a child. Click here for tickets and more information.

Take a Tour on a Pirate Ship

An hour and a half boat cruise along the Potomac with extra excitement built in, the Family Adventure Cruise with urban Pirates is sure to please! The cruise takes off six times a day and features pirate activities including games, songs, water cannons, and more. Tickets are $22 for everyone over 3 years and $12 for children 2 and under.

Enjoy Some Kid-Friendly Shopping

Head over to National Plaza along the waterfront for a family favorite, the Peeps & Company retail store. Featuring an enormous variety of Peeps and their friends, kids are sure to be in sugar heaven! For something not edible but just as adorable, kids of all ages love creating and making their very own stuffed animals at Build-a-Bear Workshop! There is a store conveniently located on Waterfront Street and open seven days a week.


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SEASONAL THINGS TO DO IN NATIONAL HARBOR

National Harbor hosts a handful of seasonal events so no matter what time of year you’re visiting, there is bound to be some added activities. Here we’ve listed some annual events to make your stay even more fun!

SPRING

Annual National Harbor Wine & Food Festival

Each spring (usually in April), National Harbor hosts a lively Wine & Food Festival. This multi-day event brings together renowned chefs, artisanal craftsmen, and thousands of foodies! Guest will enjoy a number of food samplings, wine tastings, food demonstrations, vendors, and more.


SUMMER

Movies on the Potomac

Throughout late spring and summer, check the calendar to see what’s playing under the stars at National Harbor. Showing films on a large screen near the Capital Wheel in National Plaza, the harbor encourages guests to bring lawn chairs and blankets and grab a bite of food before the movie. Each screening is free and open to all ages.

Seasonal Farmers Market

Check out the seasonal and local offerings each Sunday (from June until the end of December) at the Farmers Market. Shop fresh produce, meat, baked goods, and specialty items like handmade soap and cocktail mixers. The market is free to attend.

Salute the Sunset Concerts

Each Saturday night from May through September, people of all ages can enjoy a free musical concert put on by one of the branches of the Armed Forces. The concert series features a variety of musical genres and occurs on the Plaza stage from 7pm-8pm.


FALL

National Harbor always has some kind of exciting event brewing! Keep an eye on the events calendar for information released about any Fall and Halloween activities and events!


WINTER

ICE at the Gaylord

The Gaylord National celebrates the holiday season with its signature holiday attraction, ICE! This walk-through attraction features a number of annually themed ice sculptures as well as a full ice-carved nativity, two-story ice slides, and more! ICE is located within the hotel’s holiday village.

For more information and tickets, click here.


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About the author

Canden is a historian and tour guide in Washington DC with 3 published books about the city. She has written for HuffPost Travel and has been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. She's also been interviewed by the Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. Canden is the host of our podcast, Tour Guide Tell All

With a M.A. in History from University College London and a B.A. in History from Elon University, she is an authority on D.C. history, and has led tours in the city for over 10 years. She currently resides in DC, but has also lived in London and South Korea, and has travelled to 25 countries. Her two children (both under the age of 3) have their passports and own frequent flier accounts.