There are so many things to do in Washington DC with kids that you’ll have trouble deciding what to do first! Here’s a list of must sees.
A visit to Washington DC is on the bucket list for many Americans. Our family of 7 took a trip to the nation’s capital, and we learned a lot about things to do in Washington DC with kids.
So learn from our experiences!
If you’re a little nervous about visiting the big city, don’t be. We felt safe during our trip there.
In fact, we encountered many acts of kindness. One man gave us his umbrella in a downpour. And a jovial woman got such a big kick out of our daughter that she gave us a discount on our drinks!
There are ways to make this trip more affordable than you think. And the memories are guaranteed to last a lifetime!
(Psst…if you’re driving, be sure to save these road trip questions for your drive.)
Things to Do In Washington DC with Kids
Before we jump into the attractions, there are a few things you MUST know before your trip to DC.
One thing I can’t emphasize enough is transportation. There are a few ways to get around the city, but many of them will cost you more than you might realize.
Be sure to include this line item in your vacation budget, or you’ll scramble to come up with the money to cover these costs.
This one is free, assuming you don’t injure yourself or have to buy better footwear to last the trip. 😉 And I do recommend good, comfortable walking shoes! On one day, we walked over 24,000 steps…and that was after taking the Metro!
If you want to see the sights of the city, walking is unavoidable. Keep this in mind when you consider everyone who will be coming along on your trip. Taking a stroller is doable, but keep in mind that there are stairs and some places won’t allow you to take the stroller inside.
Popular advice is to take the Metro while you stay in DC. It can be a cheaper option. But if you have a larger family, these costs add up quickly.
Getting a card costs $2 per card (you’ll need one for each person 5 or older). Most trips will cost you between $2 and $5 one way. You’ll also pay $4.70 to park your car in their lot for the day.
Beyond the subway, the Metro system also has buses called the Circulator. These buses run routes along some of the more popular sightseeing areas in the city. You’ll pay $1 per person per trip.
(Well worth it if you’re exhausted and can no longer carry the youngest members of your group!)
We did like the fact that the Circulator allows you to ride free if you’ve swiped your card within the past two hours. This was perfect for visiting the Jefferson Monument, which is quite a hike from the other attractions.
Oh, and even if you don’t have a Metro card, you can ride the Circulator by dropping $1 in the till.
After reading over and over again that parking was terrible and expensive, we decided to avoid it before we even left home.
But on a rainy day, we found the Metro lot already full and needed an alternative.
We tried the app SpotHero, and were able to find parking spots for $22. This is pretty pricey, but it wasn’t the $35 we were expecting. And by the time our entire family road the Metro there and back, we were spending this much anyway.
If you use SpotHero, one thing you need to be aware of is that every parking lot has different rules. In the first garage we used, you simply pulled a ticket and checked in before leaving.
We assumed this is how it always worked. It isn’t!
At the next garage, we found out too late that we weren’t supposed to pull a ticket. We should have scanned the app at the gate. That added hassle and time to our trip. And could have been avoided if we’d read through everything before we entered the garage.
Another thing to be aware of is that not every spot is big enough to accommodate larger vehicles like mini vans and SUVs. Always read the fine print!
We were happy with the app overall, and would use it again for sure.
Places to Stay
Finding an affordable place to stay can be challenging. Here are some options:
- Crystal City, VA is near Arlington but not far from the attractions of DC.
- Falls Church, VA is a 40 minute Metro ride from the capital.
Given our family size (7 people), we chose to use Airbnb. We actually found a house right in DC to rent. The house was in a safe neighborhood, and it gave us the privacy our country family prefers.
This particular house actually accommodates 9, so we brought along my parents to help share the cost.
Another Airbnb benefit was the full kitchen that allowed us to cook all of our dinners and save big money!
Must See Attractions
How many days will you stay in DC? It’s impossible to see everything in just a week, and even harder if you go for fewer days than that!
Be sure to prioritize the things that are most important to you.
White House and Capital Tours
If you want to tour the White House or the Capital (or both!), be sure to write your Congressman well in advance. We wrote them a month or two before, but still weren’t able to get into the White House due to demand.
Tours of the Capital are available on a walk in basis, but it’s first come first served. You’re better off requesting a time.
Be aware that if you want to see the chambers of the House and Senate, you’ll need to request that tour separately from your Congressman. It’s something we wish we’d known about!
We did tour the Capital, and it was one of our favorite stops! There’s far more to see here than you’d think. Allow plenty of time for your guided tour, but also plan to visit the museum and enjoy the architecture.
Be aware that ALL food and drink (even water) are prohibited from these buildings. So are weapons and anything at all that could slightly resemble a weapon.
The less you bring, the better.
These tours are free.
Before you leave the Capital, be sure to take the tunnel to…
The Library of Congress
The art and architecture in this building is unsurpassed by anything else we saw. You won’t believe how ornate this building is!
While there, we were lucky enough to catch a special baseball exhibit. You’ll see the Guttenburg Bible and as many books as you could ever care to read.
Admission is free.
Get the kids excited about their visit by watching Night at the Museum! But you’ll quickly realize that they mixed several museums into one movie. 😉
For most families, visiting the Smithsonian is a must. It’s just a matter of choosing which of the museums are the most important to you!
Kids in particular are sure to love the Natural History Museum. The American History Museum is fascinating! And the Air and Space Museum is filled with treasures your kids will enjoy.
The castle is very neat to see from the outside. We didn’t visit the inside, but there isn’t a lot to see there.
When visiting any of these museums, be aware that security is tight. When we visited, you were allowed to bring in water, but no other food or drinks.
There are lockers in some of the museums, but you need to get there early to get one.
If you plan to eat inside the museum, be aware that a PB&J was $5.75 and a turkey sandwich costs $11.60. This was cost prohibitive for our family!
Luckily there were several food trucks parked outside the buildings. Some of the food trucks take only cash, so be prepared! We still paid $3 for a hot dog and $5 for a hamburger. But it was far more affordable than eating inside!
Entry into any Smithsonian Museum is free!
The zoo is in a different part of town from the other museums. Our youngest was so excited to see the Giant Pandas! They did not disappoint. We got a great view of them.
Unfortunately, the rest of the zoo was a bit of a bust for us. Most of the animals were not on display or were hard to see. (We might be spoiled by our amazing Cincinnati Zoo!)
You’ll pay $25 to park at the zoo. Entry is free.
You can’t take a trip to the capital without seeing the magnificent monuments! The National Mall with its many beautiful and awe inspiring memorials can’t be missed.
Consider seeing these monuments at night when they are lit up and foot traffic is less. Do be aware of your surroundings, but we didn’t encounter any problems.
If you go at night, here are a few other things to be aware of:
- There’s free parking available along the streets near the National Mall. You’re far more likely to find an open spot at night.
- Bathrooms are harder to come by since many are closed at night. We did find one near the base of the Washington Monument.
- No concession stands are open, so bring along drinks.
Not a fan of walking in the dark? If you head to the monuments early in the day, you’ll find smaller crowds.
The Jefferson, MLK, and FDR monuments are over a mile from the Lincoln Memorial. After hiking the mall, you may find this too much walking. This is a good time to take a bus!
After watching National Treasure, a visit to the National Archives was a must! There’s far more to see in this building than you’d expect.
Time was a factor for us, so we limited our visit to the Rotunda. There we were able to see the Declaration of Independence (which is very difficult to read!), the Bill of Rights (also very faded), and the Constitution (in surprisingly good shape!).
While you’re in the Rotunda, have the kids look for 9 eagles. Then look over Thomas Jefferson’s head (in the Declaration of Independence portrait) to see a cloud that looks surprisingly like Abraham Lincoln’s profile (if he were lying down)!
Entry is free, but there is absolutely no photography allowed. Gotta preserve what’s left of those important documents!
We weren’t able to stop at Arlington this time, but my parents did. The changing of the guard and laying of the wreath is humbling to witness.
A trip to the home of George Washington isn’t too far from DC. The grounds of his estate are beautiful! You’ll enjoy touring his mansion.
Personally, I was super impressed by his frugality and inventiveness. We could all learn from this great man!
Order your tickets in advance from mtvernon.org to save $2 on admission. This was a bit pricey, but since we didn’t spend much on the other attractions, we felt it was worth it.
It was one of the highlights of the trip for several of the kids!
Sandy Point State Park
After leaving Washington DC, we were ready for a little relaxation. Plan to unwind a bit after all of that walking. Your whole family will thank you!
We made a stop at Sandy Point State Park in Maryland. Week day admission is $4 per person, $5 on the weekends. They allowed any child in a booster or car seat to enter for free.
We spent hours playing in the water of the Chesapeake Bay. It was just what we needed!
They have picnic tables as well as a shower area. This makes the stop super affordable!
Other Things to Consider
It was quite rainy during our entire stay at Washington, DC. I wish we had brought some cheap ponchos! It’s well worth it to bring along enough ponchos for the family.
As you’d expect, there are gift shops and souvenir stands everywhere you turn. Make it clear what you are or are not willing to buy before your first stop with the kids. Why not give them a budget and let them learn a little from the experience?
These things to do with kids in Washington DC will make your trip amazing!
Don’t pass up the chance to experience such rich history with your family.
Need help saving up for that vacation? You’ll love this free printable chart that makes saving for vacation more fun!
Have you visited Washington DC? What attraction was your favorite?