Seeing the Capital City through a Child’s Eyes
It’s hard to imagine a more family-friendly city than Washington, D.C. A favorite for school trips and an essential family vacation destination, the city offers hundreds of attractions for kids, most of them free.
Rock Creek Park slices D.C. in half from its northern border on the Washington-Maryland line to the Potomac River in Georgetown. Visit the Discovery Room at the Rock Creek Park Nature Center (5200 Glover Rd. NW, Washington, D.C.), take a hike in the woods in the middle of the city or watch a show at the planetarium.
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal stretches 184 miles from Georgetown to Cumberland, MD. The hard-packed towpath is perfect for biking. Rent bikes at Big Wheel Bikes (1034 33rd St. NW, Washington, D.C.), pack a picnic lunch and peddle your way past historic locks. If you and your kids are experienced cyclists, take the towpath to Great Falls, a spectacular section of the Potomac River popular with whitewater kayakers.
There’s more to the mall than all the free museums lining the broad avenues that frame it. After you’ve ogled the dinosaurs at the National Museum of Natural History (10th St. & Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, D.C.) and watched the IMAX movie at the National Air and Space Museum (Independence Ave. at 6th St. SW, Washington, D.C.), head over to the Tidal Basin.
If you’re there during the warm months, rent one of the paddle boats for a cruise with a view of the Jefferson Memorial (West Potomac Park, Washington, D.C.) If your kids are older, take the long walk south of the memorial to the miniature golf course (972 Ohio Dr. SW, Washington, D.C.) on Hains Point.
Ride the Metro
Riding Washington, D.C.’s subway, Metro, is a treat for most kids. Make riding the Metro from station to station an educational experience for your children by putting them in charge. Show them how to buy a fare card and how to navigate through the turnstile to the platform. Once you’re on the train, point out the station map and have your kids plot out the course to your destination. Trains emerge from the underground sometimes to whoosh across the Potomac River on the way to Arlington or speed alongside cars on Route 66.
Your kids will feel like locals while they stand to the right on escalators, a must-do for subway riders, and watch for the track-side blinking lights that signal a train approaching the station.
Tips for Visiting Washington like a Pro
Washington’s high tourist season begins with the Cherry Blossom Festival and ends after kids go back to school in the fall. Unfortunately, this coincides with the city’s hottest, most humid weather. Dress in light synthetic fabrics that will wick moisture away from your skin, and keep the kids hydrated by carrying water bottles and stopping at drinking fountains. Expect afternoon thunderstorms that usually pass quickly.
In the off-season, hotels are cheaper, but the city doesn’t shut down. Some attractions may have shorter hours but others, like the National Gallery of Art ice skating rink (4th and Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, D.C.), open for the winter. Admission fees for private museums such as the International Spy Museum (800 F St. NW, Washington, D.C.) remain the same during the winter.
- National Park Service: Rock Creek Park-Rock Creek Park Nature Center
- National Park Service: Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park
- National Park Service: Great Falls
- GolfDC: Miniature Golf
- National Cherry Blossom Festival
- National Gallery of Art: The Ice Rink
- International Spy Museum
- Big Wheel Bikes
Meg Jernigan has been writing for more than 30 years. She specializes in travel, cooking and interior decorating. Her offline credits include copy editing full-length books and creating marketing copy for nonprofit organizations. Jernigan attended George Washington University, majoring in speech and drama.