Things to Do in Washington DC
Washington DC Activities
The capital city of the USA, Washington DC has something for everyone. You can immerse yourself in history, see classic landmarks like the White House, and visit some of the best museums in the world. You’ll experience places that are constantly in the news and world famous and the whole family will enjoy this beautiful city on the Potomac River.
Many of the prominent museums in Washington DC are on and around the National Mall, a two mile road leading to the White House and the Capitol Building. Other districts include Georgetown which is the waterfront area with restaurants and historic buildings, and the Dupont Circle is renowned for embassies and architecture. The historic centre around Old town Alexandria is interesting too on the Potomac River.
Things to Do
If you are looking for a city break for families then Washington DC has something for everyone. Just take a look at some of these highlights to enjoy here.
Go For a Walk
Downtown Washington DC is excellent for walking and you can get to see a lot of the national monuments and landmarks on foot. Download or pick up one of the self-guided walking maps from the Visitor Bureau and you’ll find routes from the National Mall that take in several places including the Potomac River and Georgetown.
Visit a Museum
Families will enjoy seeing some of the best museums in the world in Washington DC, not least because many of them are free. By starting at the Smithsonian Institute you can select which museums you want to visit. The National Air and Space Museum is full of interactive exhibits on aerobatic flights, historical aircraft and achievements in space. At the National Museum of American History visitors can see a wide range of exhibits from the Ruby Slippers from Wizard of Oz to a piece of Plymouth Rock. You’ll find out all about the history and heritage of the USA in this vast museum. For constantly changing exhibitions and interactive displays, families will love spending a few hours at the National Natural History Museum.
See the White House
You’ve seen it on TV and a visit to Washington DC is not complete without some time at the White House. This is the residence of the President of the United States of America and a must see attraction whilst in the city. You can tour the White House including some of the State Rooms and the China Room. The US Capitol Building and the US Supreme Court can also be toured. *Public tour requests must be submitted through one's Member of Congress well in advance. As you are in the area you can also walk along the National Mall which is home to some of the most famous monuments in the country. You’ll find Martin Luther King, FD Roosevelt and the Lincoln Memorials along this route. The Washington Monument is another memorial on the Mall.
Go to the Zoo
The Smithsonian National Zoological Park is really popular with visitors to the city and especially families. Make sure you see the famous pandas as well as many of the other animals here from reptiles to monkeys and lions. There are educational demonstrations here too and you can follow the Asia Trail and many more activities in this popular Washington attraction.
Learn about History
The George Washington Estate at nearby Mount Vernon is an excellent learning opportunity for families and a beautiful location. The mansion, blacksmith’s workshop and outbuildings are here along with many artefacts from George Washington’s life. There are animals in and around the estate too which will delight the kids.
The Go Ape Treetop Adventures is located just outside Washington in Rockville. You can experience what it is like as a monkey in the jungle by climbing across rope swings and zip lines in some woodland. For an exciting day out this hits the spot with the kids.
See some Performing Arts
Washington DC has some of the finest theatres in the world. Many of the performances are ideal for families so do check out the programs and book your seats. You could see the Washington Ballet or a performance at the Warner theatre. The Kennedy Center is another well-known concert and show venue in town. There are also many cinemas in and around Washington including IMAX and this is a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. The Discovery Theater on the National Mall is underground and has performances aimed at children.
Wander through Georgetown
Georgetown is the main waterfront in Washington DC and is buzzing with shops, restaurants and history. You’ll find lots of restored historic homes here and a wide variety of restaurants that are ideal for families with most cuisines covered.
Visit Madam Tussauds and other Museums
The famous waxwork museum in Washington DC has many movie and rock stars and famous people on display. You can get up close to your favorite singer, talk to a model that you thought was real, and have a fun day out. The kids will love it. For a more grisly experience try the National Museum of Crime and Punishment which may appeal to older kids who can learn safecracking and how to take fingerprints. The Newseum is another favorite with children who can practice their news reading and journalistic skills. Or future spies can visit the National Spy Museum and learn about all kinds of gadgets.
Enjoy Glen Echo Park
There’s always something going on in Glen Echo Park from concerts to open air theatre and music. You can walk through the park and see demonstrations, displays and all kinds of activity. Another great place for a walk is the National Arboretum which is especially beautiful in fall. Friendship Turtle Park is a family favourite and has some wonderful play areas for small children to enjoy.
Go on a Ducks Tour
Families will love the converted World War two amphibious vehicle tours which start off in Union Square. You’ll travel past the main sights of Washington DC before splashing in the Potomac River and seeing the city from the water. Expect to get wet and enjoy a very different perspective of Washington.
Where to stay
Washington has some great places to stay and finding somewhere close to the National Mall means you don’t have far to go when small children get tired. You can also use the hotel as a base so kids get a rest. Some of the good places to go include AKA White House which is 3 blocks from Capitol Hill or Hotel George. You could also try the Capitol Hill Hotel or Phoenix Park Hotel. In Georgetown try the Best Western Georgetown or the Georgetown Inn.
Dining with the Kids
Washington has a wide range of places to eat and the kids will find something to enjoy. Why not eat at one of the Obama’s favourites which are Ben’s Chilli Bowl and the Blue Duck Tavern. You’ll find lots of places to eat out around the National Mall and will be spoiled for choice. There’s the buffet at 1400 North or BLT Steak. With hundreds of places to choose from there will always be something on the menu and don’t forget the museums at the Smithsonian have restaurants too.
Family friendly restaurants are all over town and many have child portions. Some of the best include Old Ebbitt Grill which is close to the White House and Founding Farmers, known to be as popular with kids as it is with the politicians. Clyde’s in Georgetown is another kid friendly place to go.
If you are planning on touring The White House, the Capitol Building, or the Supreme Senate you need to request a visit from your Member of Congress before you can book the tour. For non USA residents this needs to be done in advance by sending a request through your Embassy.
Don’t try to see everything at once as the museums in particular have so much to experience. You’ll just have to return another day. Taking a city tour is helpful to get an overview of Washington DC.
If you plan to visit during one of the main festivals such as the Fourth of July or the National Cherry Blossom Festival then make sure you book your travel and accommodation in advance.
If You Go
Getting to Washington DC is easy with flights landing at Dulles International Airport. There are taxi and bus transfers downtown. If you arrive by train, Penn Station is in the centre of Washington. Getting around is easy with the Metrorail and a lot of the main attractions are within walking distance of the National Mall.