This post contains details about the most popular things to do with your family in DC, including free things to do, nighttime activities and popular attractions, updated for 2019.
The following section will cover the best ideas for things to do with your kids in DC, covering whether an activity is free or available at night.
For more ideas on top popular attractions, check out our comparison post on tourist discount passes, which could help you save money on admission and which also offer family-friendly itineraries.
You’ll also find several family-friendly activities on our list of the top things to do in DC.
All of our pay-what-you-wish walking tours are designed with families in mind (except our Adults Only tours, of course!) and thus welcome kids of all ages.
However, our most popular tours for children include:
But you also have a number of options for other types of tours around Washington DC. Hop on Hop Off Bus tours can be a nice complementary option to our walking tours and an easy way to get around town for tired feet.
Bike Tours are also a popular family option as a way to visit the memorials – though keep in mind if you rent your own bikes and do the self-guided option that you cannot bike inside the memorials.
DC has a number of museums and most are great for, if not geared to, younger visitors. We detail some of the most popular museums for families in our Museums and Attractions post below, but a few highlights.
Not all of the museums in DC are free like the Smithsonian, but many are included on tourist discount passes that offer free or discounted admission.
DC has an incredible sports scene – from major league to college to suit all interests. All of the below teams play in Metro-accessible stadiums!
Each Washington DC Tourist Discount Pass includes a variety of fun family-friendly activities and attractions. Here are just a few examples of locations you can visit either for free or at a discount with one of these tourist passes.
If you are planning on visiting more than one of these attractions, see our section below that details all the family-oriented attractions included in the Washington DC pass.
5. Explore the Neighborhoods like a Local
It’s always fun to see what life in a new city is like, especially if you aren’t from a big city. One of the unique experiences of city living is taking public transportation.
Ride the Metro to get between sites or use a city bus. Two children under the age of 4 ride free with a ticket holding adult and strollers are allowed.
Most lines in downtown are underground but if you’re heading out to Alexandria, you’ll get to ride above ground. We have a whole guide on visiting Old Town Alexandria with kids below.
Georgetown is one of the most popular neighborhoods to visit but unless you’re looking for historic homes and antique shopping, it may not be of interest to younger kids.
So instead head to Eastern Market – an actual food market and on the weekends you’ll find a craft and farmers market. There is also a great game store (Labyrinth) and local book store (East City Books) right near the Metro Station.
Rent paddle boats on the Tidal Basin to get a unique perspective of the Jefferson, Dr. King, and FDR Memorials. There is a fee to rent the boats and they only operate in good weather. The Tidal Basin Boathouse supplies life vests for individuals over 18 months of age or 25 lbs.
You can find the operating status and current rates here.
For little kids, a carousel ride on the National Mall provides a fun break between visiting the museums. There is also a food and drink stand nearby for a quick snack.
Smithsonian museums have no costs, and with the exception of the African American History Museum, do not require tickets.
Many of the main Smithsonian Museums on the National Mall have separate rooms for younger visitors, a favorite is the miniature Julia Child’s Kitchen in the Wegmen’s Wonderplace at the American History Museum.
You’ll also find an entire floor of the American Indian Museum geared towards kids, with a passport to explore the many Native cultures.
Kids Sections at the Smithsonian
With over 800 acres of farm and fields, kids can explore all different parts of Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home and life in the colonial times. Make sure you take the path down to the waterfront and visit the Colonial Farm and 16 sided barn. Since this is a working farm, there are animals to visit with, too!
The interactive education center has games, trivia, and movies and Mount Vernon has one of the best gift shops!
No visit to DC is complete without experiencing what makes this city unique – the federal government. Many federal buildings are open to the public but some of the most popular are must-do with families.
If you’re looking to tour the White House, you will need to plan this in advance. Find out more about how to visit the White House here.
Not only can you take a tour of the Capitol Building on our Capitol Hill Walking Tour (or on your own if you know how to get tickets), you can also get access to the galleries and watch a session of Congress in person.
When Congress is in session, visits to the galleries may not be the best option for younger kids. You’re required to sit quietly and you can’t bring anything with you (cubbies are provided outside) for distraction. These can be short sessions if you just want to go in for a brief visit.
While you’re already on Capitol Hill, you should also visit the Supreme Court – you can take in the museum or even watch a court case.
And just across the street is the Library of Congress, which is a lot more interesting than you are probably thinking a library would be.
The Capitol, Supreme Court and Library of Congress are all included on our guided Capitol Hill Walking Tour.
A visit to Arlington National Cemetery is at the top of many to-do lists in Washington DC and it can be respectfully done and even keep them interested with kids.
There are many ways to visit Arlington Cemetery, whether you join us on a guided tour, or take our audio tour. We also have a list of some things to keep in mind when visiting Arlington Cemetery with kids below.
In this section, we will provide several different ideas for free things to do in DC. These are in addition to the several items listed above that cost nothing.
Of course, one of the best ways to save money in DC is to get a discount pass. If you want to learn more about everything included with these services, make sure to check our section covering family-friendly things you can do with a tourist pass.
For more attractions and locations that are completely free, read our post about free things to do in DC.
Kids (and adults!) love learning about how money is printed in the United States at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. A particular highlight is the gift shop, which sells bags of shredded hundred dollar bills, posing a fun (albeit impossible) challenge.
Free tickets are required for this tour, and you can find out more here. The tour is only about an hour so is highly recommended for families with short attention spans!
The National Zoo is always a good option for families. There are lots to see between the great cats, Asian elephants, and American bison.
However, most guests’ favorite is the giant panda exhibit which includes one of the zoo’s most popular residents: Bei Bei! (Act fast, Bei Bei moves to China on November 19, 2019!)
This historic port city in Virginia is just across the river and has many opportunities for kid-friendly things to do.
During the King Street Metro Closure, we offer our Old Town Alexandria Guided Walking Tour as a private option. We hope you’ll still explore Old Town Alexandria on your own!
You can use the Atlantis Audio tours app for a GPS Enabled self guided walking tour of Alexandria that covers the historic sites and museums. The Old Town Alexandria tour is currently text only with no audio.
Sometimes you just want to run around. DC is a museum-heavy place to visit so some fresh air and open spaces might just be what you’re looking for – and DC has a number of National Parks to visit for free.
Families who are really looking to explore the outdoors will enjoy the U.S. Arboretum. It’s basically a huge park!
Highlights include the beautiful Bonsai collection, various aquatic plants, the National Grove of State Trees, and the huge collection of Cherry Blossom trees.
Located in the Potomac River you can find great views of Georgetown from on end and glimpses of Kennedy Center and Lincoln Memorial from the other. There are miles of trails through a woodland forest and swampy area on wooden boardwalk.
You can only access it from Virginia but there is a parking lot off the George Washington Parkway and you can walk there from the Rosslyn Metro station in about 10 minutes.
Running through the western half of Washington DC, you’ll find historic mills, Civil War forts, and concert venues and over 30 miles of hiking trails in Rock Creek Park. The southernmost portion is in Georgetown but you’ll need a car to access a lot of other sites in Rock Creek Park.
Also in Georgetown, and just near the start of our Georgetown tours, the C&O Canal is 185-mile hiking trail along the old canal. As of 2018, it is still being renovated in the Georgetown section to bring it back to its former beauty. When it reopens there will be mule-drawn canal boats to take you along the canal but until that happens its still a fun stroll. If you’re up for getting out of the city, you can hike, bike or even take horses along the canal!
In this section, we will provide several different ideas for things to do at night with kids in DC. If you’re not tuckered out by night, there are lots of ways to still explore the city after sunset. Many of the free events listed above are great fun for kids.
For a comprehensive list of things to do at night, visit our main post.
Two of our evening ghost tours welcome kids of all ages. We have a stroll through the eerie side of Georgetown on our Ghosts of Georgetown tour or find out who haunts the halls of Congress on our Capitol Hill Ghost tour.
Spend a Night at the Museum
Did you know that you and your kids can actually spend the night in some of DC’s iconic sites? There are at least a few locations that have some version of this activity available for families. Here are some of the more popular opportunities:
Each of these museums has something fun and interesting for kids to see and experience. We can’t promise that anything will come to life during your outing, but we’re willing to bet that this will be fun for the whole family.
Washington DC doesn’t see a lot of movie premieres but we do have a lot of movies filmed here. What’s more fun than watching Wonder Woman just blocks from where it was filmed?
Because DC is often a select market you’ll find a lot of movies open earlier here than elsewhere so you can get a chance to see a movie before it opens nationwide.
Each Summer, the National Building Museum has a special installation built in the Great Hall with select dates open late. In addition to being able to visit this architectural gem and its unique annual exhibits, the Summer Block Parties often feature live music outside on the lawn and catered food from a local restaurant.
An evening military show just across the river at Fort Myers in Virginia. This free and open to the public event showcases Drum & Bugle Corps, Drill Teams, and live music.
Every Friday in the Summer at 8andI (8th Street and “Eye: Street SE) you’ll see the oldest Marine installation in the US and performance of precision and discipline. Free reservations are recommended for guaranteed attendance.
Watch a Free Outdoor Movie
With a little planning, there are a number of options available for an evening out with the family
In summer months, you’ll find free outdoor movies in many neighborhoods, including the National Mall, Library of Congress, and Georgetown Waterfront. Visit http://www.dcoutdoorfilms.com/ for a map and movie listing.
Museums Open Late
Most of DC’s biggest museums and attractions are geared towards families so it won’t be hard to find a number of things to do with kids in DC. Many of the sections above cover some of our favorite museums for kids. Read on for more information about museums, best sightseeing tours for kids and family friendly restaurants, and things to do with teenagers.
Click on the link to be directed to more information about each museum.
All the Smithsonian Museums there are no tickets are required. During the busy summer months, some of the more popular museums also stay open late. Check out the extended hours page to see what dates are open until 730pm (instead of the normal 530pm)
Every museum requires a security check to enter and at peak travel times (March to August), the lines can be long.
TIP: Try to go into the entrance that is NOT on the mall, either Constitution Ave or Independence Ave. The lines on these sides can be shorter. If you can avoid carrying a bag, also look for the “No Bag” line, which moves faster.
The entire museum is very kid friendly. The information desk offers families a guide for “America on the Move” which includes games and other interactive exhibits for families to engage. There are also simulator rides that are available for a fee.
There is also a section designed specifically for younger visitors 0-6 years old! Wegmans Wonderplace encourages kids and their accompanying adult, to climb, touch, and play. There is even a mini kitchen that looks a lot like Julia Childs kitchen you’ll see nearby!
The National Air and Space Museum is often the favorite museum amongst children. There are many Discovery Stations that inspire hands-on learning and an IMAX theater. “How Things Fly” encourages kids to get involved with learning how the science works!
Also, don’t leave before checking out the gift shop which sells space food like freeze-dried ice cream.
If you have a car and older kids, you must check out Udvar-Hazy, the Air and Space Annex by Dulles Airport. It’s a little less hands on an about 30 minutes outside of the city but its basically a giant hanger full of cool aircraft!
The Fossil Hall has opened with a full T. Rex, in fact, it is the most complete T. Rex ever discovered. You won’t see just dinosaurs but also saber tooth tigers.
Sea Life Hall features a wide variety of underwater sea creatures, the Hall of Gems is home to the infamous Hope Diamond, and Insect Zoo includes tarantulas that are publicly fed every day. There is a Butterfly House that allows you to get up close, gently. (There is a ticket fee to visit this, but on Tuesdays, free tickets are available first come first served).
The best part is an interactive lab where kids feel like scientists! Q?rius is advertised for teens, but ages 6+ will love it!
This museum is not often on the top of the list, but it really should be. Especially if you have kids! The imagiNATIONS activity center has hands-on crafts, storytime, play centers and even a teepee!
Design a stamp, mail letters and more. This often skipped museum is great for kids with lots of hands-on activities and fewer crowds. For the Kid Friendly Itinerary at this museum, visit here.
One of the best ways to explore a new city is to taste test your way. And in a city like Washington DC where many things close at 5pm, sometimes trying a new restaurant is one of the few things to do at night.
If you’re still in the mood for sightseeing, why not take a dinner cruise? You’ll get a guided tour of the river front and a meal to boot. Look into the different dinner cruise options on our post here.
Food tours are another way to experience DC in a different way. Check out our self guided Georgetown Desserts tour for a sweet stroll or join us on our Eastern Market Desserts and Pastries tour. Or check out these other options for Food Tours – some of the neighborhood food tours, like Old Town Alexandria, U Street, and Little Ethiopia provide a tasty way to explore parts of the DC area that you may not otherwise visit.
This list includes some of the best restaurants for kids and their families in Washington DC. If you’re looking for locations where your children can enjoy free or discounted meals, check this article about DC Restaurants where kids eat free.
Food Courts in DC
Another unqiue place to grab a bite is at one of the many food trucks in DC. You won’t just find hot dogstands – we have everything from gourmet lobster rolls to Chik-fil-a!
You’ll usually find a number of trucks at Farragut Square by the White House or outside the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station on Maryland Ave SW. Use the Food Truck Map to find which ones are near you.
This section will provide information about the different types of sightseeing tours you can take with your family in Washington DC. While some of these services are free, you can usually get tickets either for free or at a discount with DC tourist passes.
We offer several different pay-what-you-like walking tours in Washington DC which are family-friendly. These outings are perfect for visitors both young and old. We offer dozens of tours, but here are some kid-friendly ones.
If you’re interested in learning about the darker side of DC, we also have a few different ghost tours that you can take. We do offer Adults Only versions, but these two are family friendly.
Bus tours are great when traveling with kids because the little ones will have a chance to rest up a bit during a day of sightseeing.
Since hop-on-hop-off bus tours usually stop at the most popular attractions, you can use the bus to get from one attraction to the next with some entertainment in between.
Our post The Best Hop-On-Hop-Off DC Bus Tours can help you decide which is best for you and your child.
If you are traveling with kids, they will probably enjoy a ride on the Potomac River to see a different side of the city. The various routes all usually include Georgetown, the National Mall, Old Town Alexandria, National Harbor and you can even take a boat cruise down to Mount Vernon.
If you were planning on getting tourist passes for the family, many of the discount passes include a Potomac River cruise.
To find out about additional family-friendly options, see our post Which DC Boat Tour or Cruise is Best?.
Most of the options we detail on this page are geared towards older kids, but teens can be hard to please. We work with a lot of school groups in DC and have narrowed down a list of what always ends up as a favorite activity.
There is something to do in DC for every interest and with the wide variety of museums and exhibits you’ll find something that will suit interest or be relevant to a topic being studied in school. It might be easier for us to tell you what we don’t recommend for teenagers –
Each of our detailed monthly top things to do posts have a whole section on the best thing to do with kids at that time of year. Click on a month below.
Arlington National Cemetery is one of the most visited sites on a trip to Washington, DC. However, with its meaningful and somber story, it can be overwhelming for younger visitors. Don’t let that stop you from sharing the stories and history of this incredible place to visit and learn.
Visiting Arlington National Cemetery with kids can be a rewarding and educational experience if you know where to go within the 624 acres of grounds.
Before You Go:
Read our Arlington National Cemetery Visitor Guide for all you need to know on how to get there and how to get around.
Arlington is an active cemetery with an average of 27-32 funerals each day on weekdays and up to 10 on Saturdays. In addition, there are some places of the cemetery where silence is required. Reviews these areas in advance so the family knows where it is expected:
Food is not allowed in the cemetery so be sure you eat before you visit. Most people take at least 2 hours to visit the cemetery, and our Arlington National Cemetery Walking Tour is 2.5 hours.
Know where you can sit! There are a few benches around the cemetery where you can rest but be sure to note where sitting is not allowed (the walls around Kennedy Memorials, for example). But sitting on the steps before the Changing of the Guard ceremony is perfectly fine – just be sure to stand when it starts. ANC requires a lot of walking so be prepared. There are some routes that require stairs but the Visitor Center has maps to make sure you don’t get lost or take the long way.
Bathrooms are located in a few places:
What to see in Arlington Cemetery with Kids
There are only two Presidents buried in Arlington National Cemetery. William Howard Taft (Section 30, Lot S-14) and John F. Kennedy. President Kennedy’s memorial is also the resting place of his wife, Jackie and their two children who predeceased their father. Nearby are the graves of his brothers Robert F. Kennedy, Edward (Ted) Kennedy, and Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. President Kennedy is remembered in the eternal flame that is continuously lit at his memorial.
While the cemetery is run by the Department of Army, the Arlington House is actually part of the National Park Service. As part of their Junior Ranger badge program, your kids can earn the Arlington House Badge and a certificate signed by the Park Ranger.
Arlington House was the home of George Washington Parks Custis and later his daughter, Mary, and her husband, Robert E. Lee. In 2015, the house is under renovation and is ever evolving in the exhibits shown within the house and the rooms open for the tour. When the Lee family moved further south after joining the Confederacy, the US Army took control of the house and the lands. This would lead to the first burial of a United States Soldier, William Christman in May of 1864.
One of the highlights of a visit to the cemetery is the Changing of the Guard ceremony. If you’re visiting October 01-March 31 the changing only happens on the hour. The rest of the year, it occurs every half hour. For more information on visiting the Changing of the Guard ceremony, read our guide here.
Tips on visiting with kids: This is one of the most popular things to do in the cemetery which leads to it being very crowded, especially in the Spring when school groups visit. Getting there early enough to beat the crowd for each changing often means standing at the tomb for 20 minutes before it begins – and that is 20 minutes of sitting still and being silent! If you’re not sure your family is up for that and want to avoid the crowds, a few things to keep in mind:
The stories of many great men and women can be shared on a visit to Arlington National Cemetery!
Clem is buried by Arlington House along the unpaved walkway that leads to the stairs down to the Tomb of Unknown Soldier. Section 2, Grave 993
Doubleday is buried behind Arlington House. Section 1, Grave 61
Poles is buried in Section 42, Grave 2324
Bemelmans is buried in Section 43, Grave 2618
Randoph’s Cannon is at Section 1, Lot 132. His grave is part of our Self Guided Walking Tour of Arlington National Cemetery.
Outside the Cemetery: Nearby Locations to Visit with Kids
Though not technically within the cemetery, the Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial is a recognizable sculpture within easy walking distance from the cemetery. Read our post on visiting Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial.
One of our favorite but sadly often missed attractions is the Caisson Platoon and Stables. Here your family gets a guided tour of the stables and can meet (and sometimes feed!) the horses who escort the coffins to the gravesites. Read our post on visiting the Caisson Platoon.
Old Town Alexandria is a history nerd’s paradise, but it’s also a great place to escape with the family… and maybe instill the love of history at an early age. Our Old Town Alexandria Guided Walking Tour is great for families and the guide can make sure you see all the coolest things!
They offers up a great self-guided scavenger hunt that will turn the exploration of Old Town into a fun game! You can pick up a map at the Christmas Attic (125 S. Union St.) and soak in a little holiday cheer while you’re there.
Another great way for the kids to relate to historical figures is to see how they grew up, and period costumes make it all the more fun. The was home to 37 members of the Lee family, a name made famous by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and his father Harry Light-Horse Lee. The only way to visit the house is to be part of one of the tours they offer. The tours are scheduled at the top of the hour and it’s a neat display of how families lived during the Victorian era. And after the tour you can saunter on past the boyhood home of Robert E. Lee just across the street.
3. Gadsby’s Tavern
Gadsby’s Tavern offers up some great programs for younger children. For example, on select days they offer up tours led by their Junior Docents. What better way for your kids to relate than through the perspective of a 4th-6th grader! (and by the way if you’re a local and the history force is strong with your child, they can be a junior docent at Gadsby’s Tavern. Here’s how: https://www.alexandriava.gov/GadsbysTavern
Whether eating at Gadsby’s or just touring the building it’s fun to think about our founding fathers roaming the same space!
4. Take a Pirate Cruise
You want to see Alexandria and Washington, D.C. from the Potomac. Your kids want to be pirates. Grab a seat on the Pirate Cruise offered by the Potomac Boat Company for a 40-minute ride and satisfy all camps. You’ll hear some stories and history and jokes, all in the unmistakable dialect of piratese. Of course, the pirate life isn’t for everyone.
If you still want to get out on the water you’ll find a host of options at the waterfront. You can also split your day between Old Town and George Washington’s house Mount Vernon with a cruise from the Alexandria waterfront. The route passes underneath the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and stops at National Harbor before disembarking at Mount Vernon. Later in the day you get back on the boat and head back to Old Town Alexandria just in time for dinner.
5. Stop by the Torpedo Factory Art Center
The space is full of working artists, which gives you a chance to watch as art is created. The torpedo on display in the main space is always a kid magnet…don’t worry, it’s inert. On a more practical level the building is air-conditioned for those sweltering summer months and there are public restrooms.
While you’re along the river, walk the waterfront and take in the street performers. Especially on the weekends you’ll find someone doing amazing things as crowds huddle around. This is also a great chance to give your feet a rest, grab a seat on one of the benches and watch all the action along the Potomac.
This free museum provides an incredibly educational experience for all ages and has special sections for younger visitors who might be overwhelmed with the main exhibit.
Is the Holocaust Memorial Museum appropriate for children?
The Holocaust Memorial Museum is a moving and educational experience, but it can be tough to navigate with kids due to the subject matter. It is up to you how much and at what age you want your children to learn about the Holocaust, but we hope the information we provide below will help you make an informed decision about visiting the Holocaust Museum with kids.
The museum has a special exhibit specifically designed for young visitors. Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story was a special exhibit so well regarded that it has stayed.
The exhibit follows the story of Daniel, a young boy in Nazi Germany from 1933-1945. It is an interactive model that kids walk through and experience, as if you were walking through his bedroom. Interspersed throughout the exhibit are videos narrated by the young Daniel.
Though Daniel is not a real person, his story is based on many war time writings and diaries of real children. An education addition to a visit is to read the book, Daniel’s Story by Carol Matas, sold at the Book Store, that the exhibit is based on.
The museum recommends but does not limit the exhibit to children 8 years old and up.
In the lower level of the museum, you’ll find one wall is completely covered with kids drawings on more than 3,000 tiles. The wall shows images and thoughts of American schoolchildren in response to learning about the Holocaust and the approximately 1.5 million children killed.
The museum has many volunteers who experienced the Holocaust first hand. On some days, you may see someone at the Survivor’s Table in the main ground floor plaza. They are usually there for a few hours to talk to guests about what they went through.
Also, check the bookstore calendar for author talks and signings. Survivors and family members often come to talk about the books they have written to keep the memories.
This exhibit can be overwhelming adults. The museum has taken caution to keep certain images and videos from those who do not wish to view them. These photos and videos are behind concrete walls, so you must lean over the wall to view them. If you do not wish to see them or have your children see them, it is easy to avoid these images.
It is a very educational experience and if your children are already studying the Holocaust in school, it would be an incredible addition to their studies. Most families have found that talking to their children about what they are going to see before hand and avoiding any images that might be too much have allowed the entire family to learn from the museum.
When you enter the exhibit, each person received a passport-like identification card that tells the story of someone who lived during the Holocaust. The exhibit is in chronological order as is the booklet, so visitors can make a personal connection to what one person went through during the time the exhibit is focusing on.
The museum recommends but does not limit the exhibit to children 11 years old and up.