I kicked off DC Week with my list of favorite online planning resources. I’ve used all of them to plan our recent trips. For me, valuable articles and guides have an opinion one way or another—I use this feedback to narrow down a short list of things to see and do.
Favorite Family Activities in Washington DC
Here’s our list of favorite family-friendly activities in and around DC. Remember, keep it fun and take what you think you can do in a day and cut that that in half.
Off The Mall
International Spy Museum: An interactive museum that engages the group from the start. To enter, you create an alias and then climb through secret tunnels and see real tools of the spy trade. You can even play James Bond for the afternoon with the new Spy in the City tour that sends families on a 1.2 mile loop with a GPS in hand looking for clues to complete a mission. Make reservations ahead of time. (Ages 5+)
National Air and Space Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: With over 80 aircraft, this addition to the Smithsonian is awe-inspiring. First, you’ll be amazed by the size of the building itself; when you see the collection of huge aircraft, rockets and spaceships, you’ll understand why it’s worth a trip out here (located by Dulles Airport).
Clock Tower at the Old Post Office Building: Looking for a great view without the line of the Washington Monument? Head to the top of the Clock Tower. The view is excellent, it’s easy to access, and is stroller-friendly.
The Wax Museum: The wax museum in Washington DC brings history to life. For me, this is the key to keeping kids engaged. Featuring historical figures and pop icons, this is a quick and entertaining stop.
Mount Vernon: Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved visiting Mount Vernon. The graceful setting makes exploring the grounds a peaceful experience. The museum offers interesting perspective about the history of farming and George Washington’s life. There is a movie available, but some scenes are violent. We prefer walking around at our leisure (we skipped the guided house tour on our last visit). Pick up the Adventure Map for kids at the information desk. You can bike here or take a water taxi from Alexandria.
On The Mall
National Museum of Natural History: A Solomon family favorite! There’s something for everyone here including a Mammal Hall, Butterfly Garden, insects, and tons of gemstones, to name a few. Look for the family guides at each exhibit and the information desk. Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop packed with interesting kid stuff.
National Museums of American History: My kids enjoy the Spark Lab, Invention at Play, America on the Move (covering transportation), and the First Ladies’ Gowns. This museum is great, but with limited time, I’d choose the Natural History Museum.
National Air and Space Museum: Always terrific, this museum highlights the history of aviation and the exhibits are designed to teach kids the basics behind flight. The IMAX theater is a hit and the chance to see real spacecrafts is exciting.
Bureau of Engraving: Show kids how money is made. Watching millions of dollars pass by certainly captured my children’s attention. It’s great to learn about something we use every day and the exhibit provides a mini-economics lesson. Given that this is a popular site and often sold out, stop by the ticket booth first thing in the morning to book a tour time.
Monuments: For the monuments, take a hop-on-hop-off tour. Particularly if you have younger kids, the sites are very spread out and it is tiring to walk to each one.
Our absolute favorite tour is Bike the Sites. You bike to each monument, get an overview, and then move along. This is the perfect way to get close to the monuments, learn all about them, and ensure everyone has fun. I’m not sure my kids get the deep meaning of the monuments at this age, but they enjoy the open space to run and play. When the weather is nice, rent paddle boats on Tidal Basin.
White House: As a child, I remember our extensive tours of the White House. Today’s tours are not the same. Though interesting, the visits are limited in scope and difficult to book. Between not being able to bring any type of bag (very hard when you’re traveling with a baby), and the booking hassle, I have to say we were disappointed. I couldn’t believe it when my kids ranked the Wax Museum over the White House (I know, but it was dry). If you go, stop by the Visitor Center. It has a terrific gift shop with an overview of the White House.
Next Visits: Like every family, we can only do so much on a single trip. These are the activities we didn’t get to and are saving for next time.
National Gallery of Art – Start this visit on the web at the amazing NGA Art Zone, one of the best online art programs for kids.
Washington Redskins or Capitols game