The nation’s capital, otherwise known as Washington DC, is the perfect place to go with kids when you want to have some fun while incorporating a little history at the same time. It is no secret that the DC area can be quite pricey, both to live and visit, thanks to the thousands of politicians and all their employees. However, that doesn’t mean that you need to break your budget when you are trying to find fun things to do in DC during your visit.
Here are 10 free things to do in DC with kids:
1. Visit the National Postal Museum
The National Postal Museum is one of the many free things to do in Washington DC and your kids will have a blast as they go on a scavenger hunt and participate in many of the other interactive activities. The best activity within this museum is the kiosk where everyone can make their own postage stamp. Your kids can have their picture taken for their stamp or they can simply choose one of the available images instead. The stamp can then be emailed to your address, so that you can print it when you return home.
2. Visit the Memorials and Monuments
Younger children will not be thrilled with every single monument and memorial that you want to see, so you may need to limit how many you visit each day. Older children will be a little more tolerable and will learn a lot at each one. If you need to choose which monuments and memorials to include on your list of things to do in DC for free, you should consider the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Roosevelt Memorial. They each have plenty of room for moving around and children will have fun watching the water features, or in the case of the Lincoln Memorial, climbing up and down the stairs.
3. Visit the Smithsonian Museums
There are seventeen Smithsonian Museums within the DC area, and while eleven of them are within the National Mall, the other six are scattered around the city. All these museums are at the top of the list of free things to do in Washington DC, because there is never an admission fee for any of them. This means that you will be capable of filling hours, or days, exploring each one of these museums. Favorite museums of past visitors include the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum. The Air and Space Museum is where you will want to go to see the planes that were flown by the Wright Brothers, as well as a space shuttle. Your kids will even be bugging you to ride the interactive flight simulators during your visit. Over at the Natural History Museum, you will discover numerous animals, well-preserved Egyptian mummies, and the infamous Hope Diamond. The best feature at this museum though is Henry, a fourteen-foot African bush elephant, that has been greeting guests within the rotunda since 1959.
4. Visit the National Zoo
All kids love animals and there are plenty of them at this beautiful zoo! In fact, your kids will be thrilled to see more than fifteen hundred of them, as they explore the zoo that first opened back in 1889. You can begin by wandering along the first pathway that you see, or you can create a plan that will allow you to see everything at the zoo in a short amount of time. This zoo may not be huge, but one wrong turn may mean missing out on a favorite animal or two. Plus, there are certain areas that are always crowded, so you may want to plan on going to those areas as soon as you arrive in the morning. The all-time favorite animals at the National Zoo include the gorillas, the orangutans, and the ever-popular Giant pandas.
5. Venture Out on a Free Walking Tour
There are multiple tours that you can take while you are visiting DC, but not all of them are free. If you are trying to find one of the best things to do in DC for free, a walking tour by DC by Foot is going to be your best option. You’ll find that you will do a lot of walking while you are in DC, so do not discount these types of tours. They are an excellent way to get acclimated to the city, while allowing you to see sights like the entire National Mall, parts of Georgetown, and Capitol Hill. These tours will also allow your kids to work some of their energy off, so that they sleep well at night!
6. Marvel at the Books Inside the Library of Congress
If any of your kids are bookworms, or if you are, then a trip to the Library of Congress is one of the most fantastic free things to do in Washington DC. While you can wander around the library on your own, you should check at the Jefferson Building to see if a family tour is being offered during your visit. After all, you won’t want to miss even one of the more than thirty-four million books that are inside. Your kids will love the activity sheets that they can pick up when they arrive, because it will give them something to do in between all the exhibits and the interactive kiosks.
7. Wander Through the Cherry Blossoms
The cherry blossoms in DC only bloom for a few weeks every year, but if you time your visit right, you can easily add this opportunity to your list of things to do in DC for free. While it is not easy to know when the cherry blossoms will bloom, as it depends on the weather, the average date is around April 4th. As you are walking around the areas filled with cherry blossom trees, you can also watch the approximately two hundred international cultural performances and attend a few dozen other special events during the weeks-long Cherry Blossom Festival.
8. Visit the White House
Not everyone will gain entry into this magnificent building and you will need to make arrangements for a tour, months in advance of your trip. However, it is one of the best free things to do in DC with kids, because they will learn a lot about every president who lived there. If you are interested in taking one of these tours, you will need to contact one of your local Congress members for permission to obtain a ticket. This should be done at least three weeks prior to your trip, but preferably, six months in advance. It is the most difficult to obtain tour passes during the spring and summer, as that is when everyone wants to visit DC. Plus, once you have your tickets in hand, you will need to follow strict instructions so that you can all get through security for your thirty-minute tour.
9. View JFK’s Tomb, the Changing of the Guard, and More at Arlington National Cemetery
Not every child will do well while visiting a cemetery, but if you think that your kids can handle it, this is an excellent place to show them an abundance of history. There are a few famous people buried at this cemetery, as well as thousands of those who served their country. One of the more popular tombs is John F. Kennedy’s, who is buried next to his wife, his son who died two days after his birth, and a daughter who was stillborn. When JFK died, Jackie Kennedy insisted on having an Eternal Flame, which she lit on the day of his funeral. She relit this flame when his burial site was moved to accommodate all the visitors who wanted to pay their respects. Another notable attraction at this cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and everyone will find themselves teary eyed as they watch the Changing of the Guard. The guards perform their duties twenty-four hours a day and have done so since 1937, although the Army started guarding the tomb back in 1926. During the winter months, you can see the guards change every hour, while it is every half hour during the summer. As you can see, you could spend hours wandering along the pathways of this cemetery and still not see everything that is important.
10. Take a Hike on the Mount Vernon Trail
If your kids are looking a little bored with all the historical stuff that you have been doing, then you should consider taking a hike on the Mount Vernon Trail. This is one of the phenomenal free things to do in DC with kids, because you will all get some fresh air, be able to run around, and still be learning a few things at the same time. This entire trail goes along the Potomac River, from the Theodore Roosevelt Island, all the way to the gorgeous Mount Vernon, which was the home of George Washington. You can still see some fabulous sights on this trail, while your kids get some time outside the hustle and bustle of the city.
These are the ten best free things to do in DC with kids, but there are plenty of other activities that you can choose from during your visit. In order to make the most of your trip, you should make a list of everything that interests you and your kids, so that you can all enjoy every minute of your time there.
This article is part of our popular series, Place To Go With Kids!