September 26, 2016

Staycation Fun: 10 Great Things to Do with Kids in Washington, DC

giant panda

Giant Panda at the National Zoo

It’s hard to believe that summer is nearly here. My kids have just a few weeks left of school and summer vacation is definitely on our minds. We’re headed to Ireland in July, but we’re also excited to spend more time seeing the sights in Washington, DC, which is just 30 minutes from our home.

We’re lucky to live so close to our Nation’s Capital, not only because the city has so much to offer in terms of history and politics, but there are so many family-friendly activities in the city, many of which are free. Check out 10 of my favorite things to do here in DC, which are perfect for any vacation or staycation.

1. Take a Ride into Space. If your kids like planes, satellites and planets, then the National Air and Space Museum is the place to go. It’s also one of the most popular museums in the city, so expect crowds and try to get there early or late (hours are 10-5:30 daily, extended hours in the summer). Take a tour, watch an IMAX movie or climb aboard a flight simulator. If you have time, head out to the museum’s annex, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, in Chantilly, VA to see space shuttle Discovery.

2. Visit Lincoln’s Summer Home. Head north from the White House to President Lincoln’s Cottage to see where Lincoln was living when he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation. Take a basic guided tour, or sign up for specialty tours, like the Emancipation Tour and the Running for Re-election Tour, for an even deeper look at the man who ended slavery in the United States.

3. Hike on Theodore Roosevelt Island. Pack a picnic lunch and plan to spend two hours at Theodore Roosevelt Island walking along several gentle nature trails and a boardwalk before hiking down the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. Stop to take in the 17-foot-tall memorial to our 26th President that stands amongst the trees. The park is a lovely respite beneath the city’s tall buildings.

4. Take the Oath of Office. Presidential hopefuls can visit George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, just a half-hour drive outside the city to place their hand on a replica of the bible America’s first president used to take his oath of office (once you lift your hand, the crowd cheers). National Treasure: Book of Secrets fans, look out for the one-hour behind-the-scenes walking tour.

5. Ogle Over the Hope Diamond. Your kids will love the huge elephant in the rotunda as you enter the National Museum of Natural History, as well as all the amazing exhibits on everything from mammals and dinosaurs to the Ice Age and the earth and the moon. 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.

6. Say Hello to the Giant Pandas. One of the only zoos in the country that is completely free, your kids will love meeting the animals and even going on scavenger hunts using printable sheets from the National Zoo website. Download the National Zoo app for a GPS-enabled interactive map of the zoo, self-guided tours, live animal cams and schedules of animal demonstrations.

7. Solve Crimes (Sort of). At the Crime Museum, your kids will solve riddles, decode ciphers and learn about state-of-the-art techniques used by law enforcement to match criminals to crimes through evidence found at the scene. Among the most popular attractions are a high-speed chase simulator, an FBI shooting range and the America’s Most Wanted television studio.

8. See How Our Laws are Made. Head to the U.S. Capitol for a look at how our laws are made. Take the public tour, which lasts just over an hour, including a 13-minute video. If you can, contact your Congressman or Senator ahead of time to reserve tickets and skip the line. When Congress is in session, stop by your representative’s office to say hello and ask for free gallery passes to watch proceedings.

9. Take a Trolley Tour. Take a 90-minute hop-on, hop-off trolley tour around Washington, DC with Old Town Trolley Tours. The driver’s are very knowledgeable, and it’s a nice way to take a break and learn about the history and landmarks of the city. It’s easy to purchase your tickets through Viator, which features hand-picked tours and attractions for just about every city you’d want to visit.

10. Be a Kid Again. Only open a few months, the National Children’s Museum is a fantastic place to take small children. Located just outside Washington, DC on the banks of the Potomac River, the museum has a lot to offer little ones, including cultural exhibits that will transport them to far away destinations and an Our Town area, which allows kids to dress up like firefighters or become chefs at a pizzeria.

Have you been to Washington, DC with your kids? What are some of your favorite things to do with kids? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Photo Credit: Mr. J. Martin


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  25. Laura @ Beltway Bargain Mom says:

    Hi Erin,
    Love these Staycation tips here in our Nation’s Capital! I’m also here in the DC metro and am a native Washingtonian. Sadly I haven’t even crossed off all 10 of your suggestions off my DC Bucket List yet! New summer goal established! 🙂

    1. Erin Gifford says:

      Hi Laura! Don’t worry, I haven’t done some of these either, like visiting the Crime Museum or Lincoln’s Cottage. Hope to do at least one this summer!

      Erin 🙂

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