Washington D.C. is filled with things to do for kids of all ages. Remember, the museums are free, so if your little travelers get tired at one museum, you can easily hop over to the next without feeling guilty about the price. Here is our favorite 3-day itinerary for D.C. vacations with kids.
This popular Smithsonian Air and Space Museum has real airplanes and spacecrafts hung from every available support beam in the ceiling. There are exhibits ranging from World War II planes to modern day spacecraft. You can watch IMAX movies throughout the day, get hands-on with exhibits throughout the museum, and participate in free science demonstrations for kids on a first-come-first-serve basis. Don’t forget to purchase a few bags of space ice cream to enjoy later in the day!
Library of Congress Scavenger Hunt and Story Hour
Be sure to visit the Young Readers Center for activity sheets and scavenger hunts to help your kids engage and have fun on their visit. If you are visiting on a Friday, stay for Story Hour in the Jefferson Building.
Get a Library Card at the Library of Congress
Did you know you can get a library card for the Library of Congress? The free “Reader Identification Card” gives you access to the Library’s research areas and can make you the ultimate book worm back home.
If it’s a chilly day during your visit, spend an hour walking through the Botanical Gardens. This state-of-the-art indoor garden is next to the U.S. Capitol and displays about 4,000 seasonal, tropical, and subtropical plants. The garden also puts on special events and educational programs throughout the year.
Family Photoshoot at the National Arboretum
Book a Flytographer to take your family’s next holiday card photos at the 446-acre National Arboretum – the perfect backdrop for some artsy shots. You can choose to strike a pose in front of the iconic National Capitol Columns or swing arm in arm in the grove of state trees. Before or after the shoot check out the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum where you can learn about these miniature masterpieces.
Sunset Cruise on the Potomac
Finish your first day aboard a cruise on the Potomac River. Pick up a riverboat cruise/tour at the Georgetown Waterfront and spend the next 50 minutes seeing the major Washington D.C. landmarks that hug the Potomac shore. This is great entertainment for the whole clan, and kids under the age of 3 can ride for free. Or, for a really special evening, opt for the 3-course dinner cruise.
Start your second day walking among dinosaurs and spend the rest on the water in two popular D.C. vacations hotspots!
Morning Walk on the Mall + Natural History Museum
Take your coffee and hot chocolate to go, and take a family walk along the Mall admiring the Washington Monument, Reflection Pool, and the Lincoln Memorial. Then head indoors to one of the coolest museums on the Mall. The massive National History Museum has an endless supply of trivia, exhibits, and hands-on fun! Experience the worlds’ largest diamond, a gigantic blue whale model, a live coral reef, and an insect zoo with regularly scheduled tarantula feedings are just a few of the lures you’ll discover here.
Discover the Wharf
The District Wharf is certainly the coolest new waterfront in the country. This development features so much for the kids to enjoy. Your kids will have a blast playing the oversized games, splash in the fountain, play bocce, kayak, paddleboard, ice skate, play mini-golf, and listen to concerts on the floating stage.
PAUSE FOR AN ICE CREAM BREAK!
Water Taxi to Old Town Alexandria for Dinner
From the Wharf, you can hop on a water taxi and head to the cobblestone streets of Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. Spend the late afternoon, and into your evening discovering D.C.’s original old town. Walk a mile on King Street or choose to ride the free King Street trolley. Be sure to visit the Torpedo Factory Art Center, a former World War II torpedo factory, now home to the largest collection of publicly accessible working artist studios in the US. Next, take a walk by the Spite House, the skinniest historic house in America, at just seven feet wide! In 1830, John Hollensbury built it out of spite to keep loiterers out of his adjacent alley. Enjoy an earlier dinner at one of Alexandria’s many great restaurants. Dine at Old Town hot spots: Virtue Feed & Grain, an American tavern located in an 1800’s feed house, or Columbia Firehouse, home to the Columbia Steam Engine Fire Company of the late 1800s.
Note: If you have a bit more time to spend in Alexandria, stop by The Christmas Attic shop and buy a very inexpensive scavenger hunt and self-guided tour that all takes place along the brick-lined streets of Alexandria. This historic journey will lead you through a maze of clues as you learn about George Washington and the City of Alexandria.
First, choose one of these D.C. vacations favorites (it was too hard to pick from all the incredible museum options!)
This museum has a paid admission, but is so worth the cost! The buildings seven levels include 15 galleries and 15 theaters exhibiting major events past and present in politics, sports, and the arts. You could easily spend a day here going from theater to theater, reliving the world’s events on film. The interactive NBC Newsroom is great for families, with the chance to be a newscaster in front of a real camera!
This unique museum is dedicated to the art of building, with terrific activity galleries that encourage children to build things themselves. The “Please Touch” full-scale sections of construction elements from adobe walls to solar panels offer a rare chance to actually see how buildings are put together. During one Saturday per month, families can work together to spackle walls, chop wood, and more!
For older children (recommended ages 10 and up), a visit to the International Spy Museum offers an intriguing introduction to the world of espionage. Learn what it takes to be a spy, how spying has been used in both war and peace times, and how techniques and technologies are changing to deal with the new challenges of cyberspace. Exhibits also include more than 200 spy gadgets, weapons, bugs, cameras, and other tools of the trade.
PAUSE FOR AN ICE CREAM BREAK!
Family Bike Ride on the Mount Vernon Trail
Rent bikes and hit the Mount Vernon Trail that runs parallel to the George Washington Memorial Parkway and follows the west bank of the Potomac River. This flat ride offers beautiful views of the riverfront and Washington’s famous landmarks.
Root for the Home Team or Share a Half-Smoke!
If you are in town during baseball season, get tickets to Navy Yard for a National’s game. If the Nats are out of town, head to Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street for a ‘half-smoke’ dinner- an iconic half-beef, half-pork sausage, arguably the official food of D.C. vacations.
D.C. vacations offer so much for the whole family to enjoy. If you are debating your next family vacation, definitely give Washington D.C. a try!