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October 21, 2014

20 Free Things to Do with Kids in Washington, DC

washington monumentOne of the things I love most about Washington, DC is that there’s so much to do that’s free. You could easily spend a week in our Nation’s Capital without spending a penny on attractions. Take a look at 20 of my favorite free things to do with kids in Washington, DC.

1. Enjoy a Free Performance at the Kennedy Center. Every night at 6 pm, head to the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center for a musical performance. No tickets are required. Look for choirs, dance troupes, youth orchestras and more. Here’s the current schedule.

2. Make Your Own Stamps at the National Postal Museum. Kids will love the National Postal Museum. It’s free and they can design their own stamps, start a stamp collection, use a handheld scanner to scan barcodes on mail and go on a scavenger hunt.

3. Go to the Top of the Washington Monument. After nearly three years, visitors can once again go inside and up to the top of the Washington Monument. Get free, same-day tickets starting at 8:30 am each day or reserve tickets online (there is a $1.50 per ticket fee to order online).

4. Learn About the Secret Lives of Plants. At the U.S. Botanic Garden, kids can become an official USBG Junior Botanist by completing several on-site adventures and an in-home activity. They’ll also receive a certificate signed by the USBG botanist and an official field journal.

5. Take a Free Walking Tour. DC by Foot offers free walking tours that let you and your family explore various parts of Washington, DC, including Capitol Hill, the National Mall and Georgetown. While tours are free, you should tip your guide what you feel is appropriate.

6. Hike on Theodore Roosevelt Island. Pack a lunch and spend time at Theodore Roosevelt Island walking along nature trails and a boardwalk before hiking the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. Take in the 17-foot-tall memorial to our 26th President that stands amongst the trees.

7. Visit Your Congressman. Look up your Congressman and Senator, then pay them a visit to check out their office and meet their staff (and maybe even meet them if Congress is in session). Ask for free gallery passes to watch House and Senate proceedings from their respective galleries.

8. Tour the U.S. Capitol. Take a public tour of the U.S. Capitol. The public tour lasts just over an hour, including a 13-minute video, and offers a fantastic look at how our laws are made. Get to know your state statues in Statuary Hall and be sure to check out the Crypt and Hall of Columns.

9. Enjoy Children’s Performances at the National Theatre. Every Saturday morning at 9:30 and 11 am, the National Theatre hosts free children’s performances. Look for clowns, puppets and musical storytellers. Tickets are distributed 30 minutes before each performance.

10. Learn About Space and Flight at the National Air and Space Museum. Check out the many planes, satellites and rockets on display at the National Air and Space Museum. Also, look for free science demonstrations, as well as free story times on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

11. Enjoy Free Art Programs at the Corcoran. Saturdays between Memorial Day and Labor Day, head to the Corcoran Art Gallery for Free Summer Saturdays. Look for free exhibitions, performances, workshops and gallery tours all summer long.

12. Watch a Free Outdoor Movie. During the summer, a variety of venues around town offer free outdoor movies. The Capitol Riverfront, for example, is showing free comic-related movies every Thursday night from May 30 to August 8 (e.g., Captain America, The Dark Knight, etc.).

13. Ogle Over the Hope Diamond. Your kids will love the huge elephant on display as you enter the National Museum of Natural History. You, of course, will love the world-famous Hope Diamond in the gems and minerals exhibit. Stop by on Tuesdays to visit the Butterfly Pavilion for free, too.

14. Explore the City’s Monuments and Memorials. There are a variety of monuments and memorials within walking distance of each other, including the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

15. Visit the Nation’s Largest Library. Make a stop at the Library of Congress, which houses more than 34 million books. Take a free walking tour of the Thomas Jefferson Building, stop in the Young Readers Center and print out activity sheets online to complete in the library.

16. See Ruby Slippers and Ball Gowns. Spend an afternoon at the National Museum of American History. Check out popular exhibits, like The First Ladies, which has various gowns on display, as well as American Stories to see Dorothy’s ruby slippers and a piece of Plymouth Rock.

17. Enjoy a Free Planetarium Show. Head to Rock Creek Park for a variety of free planetarium shows, including Young Planetarium on Wednesdays (good for children ages four to ten) and Seasonal Night Sky on Saturday afternoons. Free evening stargazing programs are offered between April and November.

18. Visit the Giant Pandas at the National Zoo. A perennial favorite, plan to spend time at the National Zoo with the giant pandas, elephants and giraffes. Download the National Zoo app for a GPS-enabled map of the zoo, self-guided tours and schedules of animal demonstrations.

19. Sign the Declaration of Independence. Get a peek at the Charters of Freedom, the collective name for the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights at the National Archives. Before you go, head online to add your signature to the Declaration of Independence. 

20. Learn About American Indian Tribes. Head to the National Museum of the American Indian to learn about different tribes. Be sure to take in the 13-minute “Who We Are” movie in the Lelawi Theater on the 4th floor. Stop by the information desk for a free family activity guide.

Photo Credit: Larry Couture


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  24. We enjoyed a trip to DC about 3 years ago. My children have been asking to go back every year! I’m pinning these ideas and hoping for another trip next year.

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