Washington DC is one of the best sightseeing cities you can visit. Our nation’s capital is full of historical sites, memorials, museums and beauty. There is so much to do and see in and around the city, but if you are planning a trip with your tadpoles in tow, you’ll want to balance the journey with some fun, including the top things to do in Washington DC with kids. Here’s how to see it all and keep the kids interested too.
Top Things to Do in Washington DC with Kids
Hop along as we discover the top things to do in Washington DC with Kids. You can take in a lot of history and have a ton of fun along the way.
Hop On a Hop-On Hop-Off Tour of Washington DC
A great way to get your bearings after arriving in Washington DC is to take a Big Bus hop-on hop-off tour. The tour offers three routes and over 40 stops. Hop on and off at your convenience at any of the major attractions you want to explore on your own before hopping on the next bus to continue the tour. Admission to Madame Tussauds is included in the tour price. Another tour option (with over 100 points of interest) is the Washington DC Old Town Trolley. You can get one-day and two day tickets.
The USA Guided Tours: Best of DC VIP Bus Tour combines a bus tour with guided walking tours and lunch! You'll skip the line at the U.S. Capitol Building and National Archive Building. Plus, in the warmer months, you'll get to hop on a scenic boat cruise. In the cooler months, you can spend additional time at the other stops.
Visit the White House
No trip to Washington DC is complete without at least getting a look at the White House. You can catch a nice view of the White House from Lafayette Square (while there take time to also explore the park and statues of Marquis de Lafayette, Rochambeau and Andrew Jackson). If you want to take a public tour, the White House, you’ll have to submit a request through a Member of Congress from 21 day up to three months in advance. There are limited spaces available so you should submit a request as early as possible and read up on the rules of what you can bring and forms of ID before visiting. The good news is that the tours are free!
The National Mall
A trip to the National Mall is like a lesson in words starting with "M" for young children. There are many must-see museums, monuments and memorials in the National Mall, making it one of the top things to do in Washington DC with kids.
In terms of museums, there is something of interest for everyone in your party. The museums found in the National Mall are all free, which is easy on the vacation budget. The hard part will be budgeting your time for each one you want to explore. You’ll find the indoor/outdoor U.S. Botanical Gardens there as well as the national Air & Space Museum, various history museums, art museums, and museums of science or culture. Find out how money is made at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Even though the museum is free, you’ll need to plan ahead and have a ticket for the Currency Production Tour (kind of like a theme park FastPass) from early March through August. You can get your tour ticket at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday at Raoul Wallenburg Place. Tickets are distributed very quickly during the Cherry Blossom Festival and near holidays.
The best activities for your youngest tadpoles include a visit to the National Zoo and the carousel. Future designers and architects can create structures with blocks and other building materials at the National Building Museum. Toddlers will love getting their passport booklet stamped as they make their way through the imagiNATIONS Activity Center exhibits at the National Museum of the American Indian. Kids of all ages can get their hands dirty in the soil or get wet at the Botanical Gardens. Bring a change of clothes so you can allow the kids to dig in and immerse themselves in gardening.
Some must-see memorials and monuments include the following:
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial
- Washington Monument
- Lincoln Memorial
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- Korean War Veterans Memorial
- World War II Memorial
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
The DC Monuments by Moonlight tour allows you see the monuments in a new light — illuminated at night!
The National Mall is a National Park that runs from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol steps. There are free Ranger led walks and talks. You can find out upcoming programs through the National Park Service. Kids can become a junior ranger and earn a badge, which can make exploring the National Mall into kind of a game.
Make your Way to More Museums
Other great museums outside the National Mall include Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. Your tadpoles will get a kick out of taking selfies with lifelike wax versions of presidents, first ladies, and other political figures and celebrities. For art lovers, check out The Phillips Collection, which contains works of Van Gogh and Renoir. The United State Holocaust Memorial Museum is located near the National Mall. The country’s only museum of espionage — the International Spy Museum — is located in Washington D.C. Kids will love the immersive experience of becoming a secret agent.
Dive in to a DC Ducks City Tour
Make a splash with a DC Ducks City Tour by land and water in a 1942 “Duck” (amphibious vehicle). The “Conducktors” will entertain you with historical facts and tales about the nation’s capital as you make your way down Pennsylvania Avenue and pass by monuments and museums before plunging into the Potomac River for amazing views. The tadpoles will never forget the time they drove right into the water.
Explore by Bike or Segway
If you are visiting in the milder months, your family can explore historical sites and shopping areas of Washington D.C. by bicycle or even Segway. There are family-friendly bike rentals tours that offer tandem bikes, kid-size bikes, baby seats and trailers. Weekends make better days to ride because the routes are less crowded. You can gauge your family's stamina when choosing a rental from as short as Washington DC 2 Hour Bike Rental up to a Washington DC Day Pass Bike Rental.
If you want a more formal bike tour, the Unlimited Biking: Monuments and Memorials Bike Tour will have you cycling the entire length of the National Mall, making a circle of the Tidal Basin Reservoir, and biking down Pennsylvania Avenue. You'll get to make toadally awesome stops along the way! There also a Nite Bike Tour and a Capital Sites By Segway tour!
Take a Day Trip to Gettysburg Battlefield
Hop into a period of American history when you visit the site of a famous Civil War battlefield and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Gettysburg is about four score and two (82) miles from Washington D.C. If you want to do it stress free, take a Gettysburg Battlefield Tour. That way, you can enjoy the beautiful countryside on the way there. Kids will enjoy seeing the life of a soldier and touring the Visitor’s Center and the Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War.
Visit Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery is located across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. It is one of the most recognized U.S. burial grounds with 400,00 presidents, veterans, heroes and historical figures buried there. You don’t want to miss the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. It takes place every hour on the hour every day. A one-hour, hop-on hop-off Arlington National Cemetery Tour allows you to explore the cemetery both up close on foot and from a bus with commentary.
Visit a Theme Park in Williamsburg
If you are taking a side trip to Colonial Williamsburg — about 2.5 hours away from Washington DC — you might budget a day or two for Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA. Washington DC gets pretty hot in the summer months, so a water park might sound pretty refreshing after all that touring!
Play at the Tidal Basin
You can balance all the sightseeing at museums and memorials with some fun outdoor time at the Tidal Basin during the warmer months. The Tidal basin is a beautiful man-made inlet near the Jefferson Memorial and FDR Memorial. You can rent paddleboats, paddleboards or kayaks. It is especially beautiful — and poplar — during Cherry Blossom season as thousands of cherry trees line the Tidal Basin. You can walk the trail surrounding the waterway for beautiful views of the trees and iconic structures.
In addition to researching the top things to do in Washington DC with kids, be sure to visit our other travel posts for more tips for visiting Washington DC with kids. They will help you determine the best times to visit, how to tackle transportation and where to find a kid-friendly hotel. Don't froget to visit the page highlighting discount tickets and tours for Washington DC. Your family is in for some memorable learning and fun in Washington DC. Just remember to include play time in your activities to keep them hopping!