America’s capital city is a treasure trove of unique places to see and do. Every visitor to Washington, DC knows the city is full of monuments and historical sites. From the National Monument to the Capitol Building, the Vietnam Memorial to the White House, there are so many things to do in DC with kids.
But there are so many educational things for kids to do in DC than just the standard tourist attractions. Having lived in DC for two years, my husband and I had a chance to explore some of the more interesting sides of the city.
This post was updated on March 31, 2020.
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Ideas for things to do in DC with kids
Even though I love living in my current city of Seattle, I often miss the hustle and bustle of Washington, DC. There is something exciting about being in the center of government, where decisions about the fate of our country are made, and where so much history has occurred.
For travelers, you can take your pick of the many guides out there, from Frommer’s EasyGuide to Washington, DC to National Geographic’s Walking Washington, DC. Both guide books have useful information for travelers who want to get to know the city.
But of course, the best way to get to know Washington, DC is to ask a local. Or in my case, a former local! In our two years of living in that part of the United States, we had a chance to experience DC quite a bit. Here are my top picks for fun things to do in DC with kids.
Visit George Washington’s home in Mount Vernon
For a unique and historical way to experience DC, spend the day in Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. Located 17 miles south of DC, Mount Vernon is an expansive estate that has been well-preserved and well-maintained. Visitors can take a tour of its grounds any time of the year, and catch a glimpse of what life was like for America’s first president.
Tickets to Mount Vernon are $20 for adults, and $12 for kids. There is a $1 to $2 discount for tickets purchased online. Mount Vernon is open to visitors all year.
Experience outdoor things to do in DC with kids at Theodore Roosevelt Island
If you’re looking for outdoor things to do in DC with kids, consider taking them to a park. The city of Washington, DC has many parks and green spaces for relaxing and exploring. Roosevelt Island, located along the Potomac River below Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge on Highway 66, is the perfect place for an urban retreat.
The island is accessible by foot from the Mount Vernon Trail, just off of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The 88.5 acre island, which is considered a national park, has a number of trails for visitors to walk, jog, or run through, and is home to a number of wild birds. Canoeing and kayaking are popular activities on the island during the summer time. Even though it was still within the city limits, the place felt surprisingly peaceful and disconnected from the rest of the city. We loved the tranquility that came from being on the island.
Take a walk along Embassy Row
For a travel lover like me, Embassy Row, located mainly along Massachusetts Avenue in the northwest portion of the city, was always fun to walk or drive through. I feel like you can’t really experience DC without getting a glimpse of the international dignitary life!
Along Embassy Row, you’ll find many embassies, consulates, and private residences of diplomats from around the world. In the spring, the embassies host Passport DC, where they open up its doors to the public for one month and host cultural events that let you learn about the country without leaving the city.
Visit the National Archives at the National Mall
I’m not a big history buff, but I do appreciate historical documents. One of the surprisingly interesting Smithsonian museums to visit is the National Archives, located on Pennsylvania Avenue, across from the northeastern corner of the National Mall. Here is where some of America’s most important historical documents are stored, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution.
The National Archives is open to the public every day from 10am to 5:30pm. Last entry to the museum is at 5pm. The National Archives is also open to the public for research.
Take a day trip to Old Town Alexandria
One of the fun things for kids to do in DC is technically not in DC. Alexandria, VA is a great city to visit, purely for its wealth of historical landmarks. Old Town Alexandria, in particular, is worth visiting.
Here, you can find one of DC’s oldest bars, Gadsby Tavern. You can also take a ghost tour of Old Town, and learn about the myths and legends surrounding the city’s historical buildings.
Eat at Ben’s Chili Bowl, one of the popular things to do in DC with kids
A longtime institution in DC is Ben’s Chili Bowl, which has been serving up soulful chili since 1958. Located on U Street, Ben’s Chili Bowl has served everyone from foreign dignitaries, to the President, to the everyday person off the street. Ben’s Chili Bowl has always been a favorite among things to do in DC with kids.
Ben’s Chili Bowl is a great starting off point for exploring the rest of U Street and its surroundings. This neighborhood was once a hot spot for jazz legends like Nat King Cole, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington. The area surrounding Ben’s Chili Bowl and U Street was also once the cultural center of DC’s African American community. And it is still a great place to catch a music show.
Learn about America’s history at the Museum of African American History and Culture
One of Washington, DC’s most recent additions to museums is the National Museum of African American History and Culture. For any family looking for things to do in DC with kids, this museum is a must! The African American museum covers all aspects of African American history, from slavery to present day.
Although some of the topics at the museum may be quite heavy for kids, the interactive exhibits make it easily digestible for even young kids. Besides, learning about a country’s history, even the darker sides of its past, is a great way to encourage sustainable and responsible tourism in your kids!
Spend the day at the National Zoo
One of the things I love about Washington, DC is all the free things to do in DC with kids. Thanks to the Smithsonian Institution, many of the city’s museums and attractions are free, including the National Zoo!
Kids will enjoy seeing all the animals at the National Zoo. There are elephants, cheetahs, and even a giant panda! The National Zoo is open everyday, all year round. The hours are from 8 am to 5 pm. And in the summer time, the hours are extended until 7 pm.
Buy fresh fish at the Fish Market at the DC Wharf
When we lived in Washington, DC, one of our favorite things to do in DC with kids was to head to the fish market on Maine Avenue. We would buy several pounds of fresh shrimp, and eat them at the market! The fishmongers would steam and season the shrimp with Old Bay right there on the spot. And we would find a quiet place next to the water to enjoy our fresh-steamed shrimp.
The market is actually located on a dock, with the stalls situated on floating barges surrounding the dock. Besides fresh shrimp, you can also buy a large selection of other seafood including fish, oysters, clams, crabs, and even octopus. The fish market is open all year long.
Sharing my love of things to do in DC with kids
Although I only lived in DC for about two years, the city will always hold a special place in my heart. That was where my daughter was born and where my career took off. DC was also where my husband and I first started our life together.
With so many fun things to do in DC with kids, families can easily spend years in the city and only begin to scratch the surface of all that DC has to offer. I look forward to the day when I can return to the city and explore it some more. In the meantime, I can share what I know and love about DC with all of you.
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