Planning a Family Vacation to D.C.

The nation’s capital city is an ideal destination for family vacations. Fun, educational attractions are plentiful, most of them absolutely free. Washington D.C. is home to 19 Smithsonian museums, city-blocs full of free memorials, and 74 National Historic Landmarks. There are more than 150 foreign embassies; many of them open to the public, allowing families to travel around the world in a single city, without a passport. Here are some of the best things for families to do in D.C.

Memorials and Monuments

A trip to DC is not complete without a visit to the memorials on the National Mall. It takes about five hours to visit all of the major memorials. If you are traveling with small children, consider visiting the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, and skipping the rest until they are old enough to appreciate it. Older children will have more interest and patience, especially if you take a break at the Tidal Basin for a paddle-boat ride. The newest major development, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, sits on the banks of the Tidal Basin. The likeness of King is carved from a 28 foot tall piece of granite, surrounded by smaller boulders, and covered with quotes reflecting the themes of peace, justice, and hope.


The 19 Smithsonian Museums are open from 10 to 5:30, and all of them offer free admission. The favorites for families are the Museum of Natural History and the Air and Space Museum. These museums offer several special programs such as IMAX films and planetarium shows. Be sure to reserve these tickets online before your trip; the shows are often sold out days in advance.

At the National Air and Space Museum, kids won’t want to miss the Milestones of Flight and the Space Race exhibits. The Milestones of Flight exhibit contains the original Spirit of St. Louis and the first satellite in space, Sputnik. The hands-on How Things Fly exhibit is an interactive flight gallery, geared toward kids.

At the National History Museum, families can visit an authentic Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil, hundreds of lively butterflies, the rare Hope diamond, and hundreds of animal dioramas in more than 23 exhibit halls. Kids will love the interactive Discovery Room and the Forensic Anthropology Lab.

The International Spy Museum is a perfect museum for kids 10 and up. Operation Spy is an interactive, video-game style experience that allows kids to play James Bond for an hour of code-cracking, car-chasing, and other intelligence-gathering operations. Although not free, this museum is well worth the cost.

The National Zoo

You will need several hours to head uptown to the National Zoo. The main attraction here is the pair of giant pandas, Tian Tian and Mie Xiang, and their new cub, Bao Bao. In addition the stars of the show, the zoo is home to red pandas, clouded leopards, elephants, and other exotic creatures. The National Zoo is free of charge and open from 10am to 8pm.

Washington D.C. has enough family-friendly activities to keep you busy for weeks and weeks. From history and politics, to nature and spy-games, this city has it all.

Last Updated: June 29, 2017