10 New Ways to Experience Washington DC with Kids

washington dc family photo in front of capitol

My research for our latest DC adventure began a month ago. Exploring Washington DC with kids is simply better with a plan. I’m all for winging it when traveling, but the amount of time spent on your feet while touring DC can easily turn a good trip into a bad one. However, with a little pre-trip work, you can organize what you want to see by general location and manage the distance you need to walk. Remember that most sites also require you to be on your feet to explore them, so work in some down time at a park, on a bus, or in a theatre.

Now, we’ve been to DC countless times and I have already written many posts on DC including Washington DC: Favorite Family Activities, but for this trip I wanted new ways to experience DC. I needed creative ways to see the city and new places to explore to rejuvenate my family’s interest in all that DC has to offer.

Additionally, the range in our children’s ages makes it a bit tricky; I need activities that appeal to all ages. While my 12-year-old would love a tour of Congress, my 3-year-old is certain to disturb Congress. For new ideas, I reached out to our knowledgeable Twitter community, as well as some personal friends. Here are the recommendations I received:

The Spy Museum

Hands-down the most recommended site, but we’ve experienced The Spy Museum a few times already. To make it different, this year we’re doing the Spy City Tour. A 1.2 mile loop with GPS units and we have to do our own sleuthing.

National Building Museum

Recommended by DC Like a Local. He says it’s his hands-down favorite. I’m wooed by the funny and sarcastic reviews of the kid-friendly activities discussed in this resource.

National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery continually offers family workshops. We’re looking forward to learning about the sculptor David Smith and then creating some of our own artwork during a hands-on session.

Eastern Market

Recommended by Eric Richardson of DCinsider, the Eastern Market is reported to be a cool, more eclectic spot. And a big bonus, it’s on my husband’s list too.


Newseum provides an interactive look at the media. This is also recommended by DCInsider and DC Like a Local. So much so that Tim (DCInsider) wrote a post, “If you gotta pick one…” listing the expensive sites (Spy Museum, Madame Tussaud’s and the Newseum); he recommends the Newseum above the others.

Spy City Tour

DC by Foot

Exploring President Lincoln’s legacy is easy in DC. First there’s the monument — but we’ve been there a few times — and now that my kids are a little older, we’re ready to delve deeper. This trip we booked a private tour with DC by Foot that follows the footsteps of President Lincoln on his last night.  The tour includes many sites like Peterson Boarding House, The Ford Theater, and the US Treasury Building, finally culminating at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

The Freer and Sackler Galleries

These galleries are the lesser-known Mall attraction, but they house amazing Asian art. The setting is more intimate, making it a perfect stop for families who are overwhelmed by the huge museums.

New Lion Cubs at the Zoo

There are 7 new baby cubs. Currently, if the zookeeper decides that they are fit to go outside, they open the enclosure at 12:30 and only stay out for one hour. So, if you want a chance to see these babies, 12:30 is the magical time.

Group Tours

About.com has a great list of DC tours. My current favorite is Bike the Sites. However, we’re booked with DC by Foot for this trip. I’ll keep you posted.

Get Creative

If you’re looking for a souvenir, consider making your own at DC Glass Works close by in Maryland or Paint This in Alexandria.

Thanks to our twitter friends for providing new ideas: @Poshbrood, @DCinsider, @DCLikealocal, @KidFriendlyDC, @Away.com

Note: For your own planning, here are some additional sources of information. There is a new website resource for families visiting the Smithsonian; they even offer sample itineraries by age with pre-trip reading suggestions. About.com offers 15 Best Activities for kids. Alistair from Kid Friendly DC offers my favorite iphone application for DC.

Not to be missed is Washington DC in full bloom during the National Cherry Blossom Season running March 26th through April 6th. The city springs to life as the beautiful pink blossoms unfold, banishing the harsh winter and welcoming in the spring.

The color is not limited to the trees, quite the opposite, as the skies light up with the kites during the annual Blossom Kite Festival on the National Mall. They have kite battles, trick shows, and feature beautiful handmade kites from around the world. On March 26th, The National Building Museum hosts Family Day. The schedule is loaded with fun family activities for kids of all ages.

Relevant Links:

Ciao Bambino recommended places to stay in Washington DC

Washington DC with kids, top planning resources

Washington DC attractions, favorite family activities

Photos courtesy of Nancy Solomon

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