25 Best Things to Do in Washington, DC this Summer

capital wheelSchool is nearly out for the year and now is the time to start putting plans in place to have the best summer. If your plans will bring you to Washington, DC then you’ll love this list of 25 things that you must do this summer in our Nation’s Capital.

From taking in a Washington Nationals baseball game to going for a spin on the Capital Wheel, there’s a lot to do in the city and surrounding suburbs. For first-timers, print out this Kids Activity Guide from Destination DC with plenty of games and fun facts to prepare for your upcoming visit.

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1. Go to a Festival. There are loads of festivals in and around the city during the summer from Celebrate Fairfax! in early-June to the World Children’s Festival held on the Ellipse over July 4th weekend. Many festivals offer children’s activities, performances and live music.

2. Visit the Giant Pandas at the National Zoo. Follow the animal footprints around the zoo before going on a scavenger hunt using printable sheets from the National Zoo website. Download the National Zoo app for a GPS-enabled map of the zoo.

3. Go to the Top of the Washington Monument. Take the elevator up 500 feet to the observation deck of the Washington Monument where you’ll enjoy panoramic views of Washington, DC. Tickets are free, but you may want to reserve them online.

Related: 10 Best Hotel Deals in Washington, DC 

4. See the First Pitch at a Baseball Game. Stay in the city for a Washington Nationals baseball game or head out into the suburbs to see minor league teams play, including the Frederick Keys in Maryland and the Potomac Nationals in Virginia.

5. Take an Open-Air Trolley Tour. Take a 90-minute hop-on, hop-off trolley tour around Washington, DC with Old Town Trolley Tours. The drivers are very knowledgeable and it’s a nice way to take a break and learn about the history and landmarks of the city.

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6. Throw Around a Frisbee on the National Mall. If you’re planning a day to visit kid-friendly museums, like the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History, bring along a Frisbee. There’s plenty of free play space and it’s a great way to burn off energy.

7. Watch Airplanes Fly Overhead at Gravelly Point. When I lived closer to the city, one of my favorite things to do was to go to rollerblading at Gravelly Point. Adjacent to Reagan National Airport, your kids will love watching planes fly overhead. The planes feel like they’re close enough to touch.

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8. Ride in a Paddle Boat. Head to the Tidal Basin and rent a paddle boat from Tidal Basin Paddle Boats. Paddle boats are a great way to explore the area, including the Jefferson Memorial. During peak times, the paddle boats can be in high demand, but you can easily reserve a boat ahead of time.

9. Become a Junior Ranger at Rock Creek Park. Walk, bike or get in some horseback riding right in the middle of DC at Rock Creek Park. Enjoy a ranger-led program before completing an activity booklet and taking the pledge to become a Junior Ranger.

10. Go on a Scavenger Hunt. Use your smartphone as a guide on a scavenger hunt with Stray Boots. Or, pick up a book, like Mission Washington, DC, which leads you and your kids on a mission around the city where you’ll explore attractions and learn the history behind famous landmarks.

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11. Ride on the National Carousel. No trip to the National Mall is complete without a spin on the National Carousel, which has had its place in DC for more than 60 years. Or, get out of town and head to Glen Echo Park. Take a ride on the carousel and stay for a puppet show and a picnic lunch.

12. Paddle in a Canoe or Kayak. Get out on the Potomac River in a kayak, canoe or even a paddleboard. Look to Boating in DC for everything from guided kayak trips at sunset to stand-up paddleboard yoga. Try out a 90-minute paddle to see the monuments around town from a new vantage point.

Related: Shenandoah Hikes: Best Hiking Trails in Virginia for Kids

13. Take a Spin on the Capital Wheel. Head to National Harbor for a spin on the 180-foot Capital Wheel for a bird’s eye view of our Nation’s Capital. All 42 of the gondolas are climate-controlled. There’s even a VIP gondola, National Harbor One, with a glass floor and leather bucket seats.

14. 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.

15. Take a Bike Tour of DC. Bring your own bikes to scoot around town or check out Bike and Roll for daytime and nighttime guided tours of the city. Children’s bikes are available from Bike and Roll. Plus, they have trailers and trailer tandems so little ones can ride no matter how small they are.

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16. 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 a specialty tour for an even deeper look into the life of Lincoln.

17. Explore the Monuments at Sunset. There’s just something special about seeing the monuments in Washington, DC as the sun goes down. Go on your own or seek out one of several bike and boating tours that take off at sunset to allow guests to enjoy the unique views.

Related article: 20 Free Things to Do with Kids in Baltimore

18. Watch a Free Outdoor Movie. During the summer, a variety of venues around town and in the suburbs offer free outdoor movies. One of the most popular is Screen on the Green. Every Monday night a new movie is shown at dusk (around 8:30-9 pm) on the National Mall.

19. Get Your Passport Stamped at National Parks. Pick up a blue Passport to Your National Parks passport book and collect cancellation stamps at parks, memorials and monuments all over town. Be sure to also pick up the companion guides to help you find each stamping location.

20. See the Flying Circus. Get out of town to Bealeton, Virginia to see The Flying Circus Airshow on Saturdays during the summer. Kids will love watching the biplane pilots perform air stunts. You can also sign up for an open cockpit airplane ride before and after the show.

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21. Splash Around at a Waterpark. There are plenty of waterparks around town with water slides and dumping buckets. One of my favorites is Volcano Island in the Virginia suburbs. You’ll also find a huge waterpark with loads of water slides and a wave pool at Six Flags America.

22. Go to a Polo Match or Equestrian Event. Virginia is well-known for horses, so head into the suburbs for a polo match or a steeplechase race. Many times, kids can pet the horses and talk to the riders before and after the events. One to check out is Twilight Polo in The Plains.

Related: 6 Family-Friendly Hiking Trails In & Near Washington, DC

23. Play Reporter for a Day. You’ll find bureaus for all the major news organizations, from CNN to NPR, in Washington, DC, but only at the Newseum can little ones play reporter for a day. Touch-screen kiosks allow visitors to prepare news stories. Or, sit behind the news desk to read the news on-camera.

24. Explore Our Nation’s Star-Spangled History. Pay a visit to one the famous sites along the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. Sights run from Northern Virginia all the way up to Baltimore. Among those closest to DC are Francis Scott Key Park and Dumbarton House.

25. Indulge in a Sweet Treat. When you’re ready to take a break from sightseeing, stop for an ice cream at Thomas Sweet in Georgetown. You and your kids will love ice cream flavors, like Bubble Gum, Cookie Monster and Cake Batter. Enjoy a cone or combine two or three flavors into a sundae.

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Photo Credit: James B. Pritchett