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The 20 best things to do in DC with kids

From free museum days to zoo visits and a trip to the botanic garden, these are the best things to do in DC with kids

Photograph: Courtesy The Yards Park

Spending the day with your family and are looking for the best things to do in DC with kids? Craving something a bit more extravagant than the best Washington, DC attractions and days spent at all the Washington DC parks to visit? We’ve got you covered. From free museum days to trips to the zoo and the botanic garden, check out our guide and plan the perfect family day. After all, navigating the capital with the little ones in tow happens to be one of the best things to do in Washington, DC—period.

Best things to do in DC with kids


National Air and Space Museum

Featuring 23 galleries, this sprawling location maintains the world's largest and most significant collection of aviation and space artifacts. Check out the display in the Southwest DC building, including the 1903 Wright brothers flyer, and stop into the planetarium and IMAX theaters for educational (and entertaining) visuals. Older kids will particularly enjoy the interactive simulators, where they’ll get strapped in and experience flying on an agile aircraft—complete with upside-down rolls. Also try the museum’s new motion-based virtual reality ride: After you sit and don the special goggles, it will seem to transport you to outer space—expect 360 views, motion rolls and flying debris—as part of a new adventure called “Spacewalk: Danger in Orbit.”

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Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute

If you’ve heard that the National Zoo is a must-visit, you’ve heard right. The facility takes up 163 acres and cares for more than 1,500 animals of 300 different species. Kids will love seeing them and learning about the zoo’s dedication to conservation and research while wandering around the grounds. Pro tip: This summer, don’t miss little Redd, the first male Bornean orangutan born within the zoo in 25 years.

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Woodley Park

United States Botanic Garden

This museum is open every day of the year, so you have no reason not to squeeze in a visit. Boasting two courtyard gardens and ten garden rooms under glass, it’s a stunning place on both rainy and sunny days. The seasonal Children’s Garden is a popular destination for kids to play outside with gardening tools and explore blooming plants. While waiting for it to reopen post revovations this summer, opt to sign your kids up for botanical art classes and more. Plant scavenger hunt booklets for kids are available daily at the Conservatory’s front desk, and kids can check out a junior botanist backpack to explore the space using tools like a magnifying glass. Not to be missed: The stunning tropics area, with towering trees and plants housed under a 93-foot dome, and the garden court, featuring the plants that are used in products that we consume every day.

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National Mall

Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium

The sprawling 1,674-acre Rock Creek Park is the emerald gem of the city and offers a variety of activities to keep both familes and kids busy, including simple picnics during warmer months or exciting hikes, weather permitting. Try starting your visit at the Nature Center, which offers ranger-led educational programs, then let the kids check out live turtles, fish and the bird observation deck before you hike the nearby half-mile Woodland Trail.

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National Museum of American History

Who would appreciate a giant sample of whale earwax more than kids? That’s exactly what they’ll find at this “Objects of Wonder” exhibition. The hundreds of artifacts on display include a variety of insects, hair from a woolly mammoth and small deep-sea corals. In general, the museum focuses on inspiring curiosity about the natural world, and there is much for kids (and adults) to take in, including millions of plants pressed onto sheets of paper in the herbarium. Plus, children between age 6 and 12 can visit the Draper Spark!Lab, where they can invent and then create new things.

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Georgetown Waterfront Park

Let your kids wave at the ducks swimming up to shore or splash in the popular fountain during warmer months on this 10-acre city park space. Boasting views of the Potomac River and the Key Bridge, it’s a relaxing place to take in the city’s lush greenness. If your family wants to get a little more interactive with the water, rent canoes or kayaks from the Thompson Boat Center. If the kids are into biking, opt to take them on a trip down the area’s dedicated trail (bikes are also available for rent).

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International Spy Museum

This is the only public museum that focuses exclusively on espionage—and it will teach your kids about the fascinating spies who have contributed to world events. Attendees will get to glimpse at special equipment, including cameras and vehicles, and sign up for programs (ideal for kids under 10) that will have them embark on secret missions, climb through duct work, diffuse an atomic bomb, hang from a construction site and test their own spy skills. Try visiting on weekdays to avoid crowds and, if weekends are your only option, come early. That shouldn’t be hard if your kids are serious about espionage: The best spies are always on time.

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Penn Quarter

Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Did you know that this innovative museum actually offers kid-friendly activities? We thought so. The STORYTIME+ program is intended for children who are infants or younger than 6 (nursing mothers are welcome!). Launched last fall, this program spotlights a different artist, book and hands-on activity every Wednesday at 10am. One recent program looked at abstract expressionist’s Joan Mitchell’s Field for Skyes and let kids decorate their own canvas (a white sheet) with pieces of colorful fabric. It’s a lovely way to spend the morning with your youngest ones—and take in a little culture yourself.  

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Nationals Park

This baseball park designed for fans of all ages offers special programming for kids, including giveaways and a play area featuring a jungle gym, in case the little ones need a break from the stands. Opt for the Harris Teeter Family Fun Pack—available Fridays, Saturday and Sundays throughout the 2017 season—which includes a game ticket, hot dog and beverage (and lets you save on the regular price of a meal and ticket). Bonus for wannabe baseball stars: kids ages 4 to 12 can run the bases—yes, on the field—after Sunday home games throughout the season, weather permitting. So bring on your Natitude, and have a nice time.

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Peirce Mill and Barn

Rock Creek Park is huge, so it’s worth setting aside an entire afternoon to visit the historic stone mill located on the grounds. Built in 1829, the mill ground corn, wheat and rye using moving water as its power source. Today, if you visit when “Run of the Mill” programs are held on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month between April and October (from 11am to 2pm), you’ll get to witness the mill in action and visit a historic orchard, make crafts such as cornhusk dolls and baskets, and play with traditional toys and games.

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