When most people think of Washington, D.C. — the nation’s capital — the first images that usually come to mind are grand monuments and memorials, government workers milling around the cavernous walls of their respective agencies, and Capitol Hill interns and politicians in various shades of gray and black suits with white shirts and red or blue ties around their necks.
But underneath all that lies a vibrant city rich in history, with a diverse international culture and strong African American heritage. The city has a lot to offer to families traveling on a budget, thanks to admission-free museums, historical monuments, and an extremely wide array of events.
The city is great to visit during any season with plenty to do all year long. If you’re heading on a family trip to the nation’s capital, don’t miss these seasonal bucket-list things to do with kids in DC that’ll keep them — and you — anxious to plan a second trip.
More DMV family travel ideas:
The best things to do in DC with kids in spring
Spring may be the best season to visit DC, when the blooming cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin have the city buzzing. These pink cherry blossom trees, a symbol of spring, are celebrated with a month-long festival. Several kid-friendly events happen during this time, including the Blossom Kite Festival, where kids can launch kites from the grounds of the Washington Monument. And watching the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade makes its way along Constitution Avenue is one of the best things to do in DC with kids if you’re lucky enough to time your visit right.
Another springtime family-favorite activity in DC is the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. A time-honored tradition taking place on the South Lawn of the White House, the event has live entertainment, storytelling, arts and crafts, costumed Easter characters, and, of course, the famous Easter Egg Roll and Hunt. Tickets are free and distributed via a lottery system.
The best things to do in DC with kids in summer
Summer in DC can be gross and miserable, with sometimes-three-digit temperatures and humidity that almost rivals Florida’s. To escape the high temperatures and mugginess, head to one of the city’s many museums. Fortunately, you can take your pick of museums based on your kids’ interests.
If your kids are obsessed with dinosaurs, take them to the National Museum of Natural History. If you have an aspiring pilot or astronaut, head to the National Air and Space Museum. And if you have a secret agent in training in the family, go to the International Spy Museum. A visit to the 21 museums within the Smithsonian Institution is one of the best things to do in DC with kids on a budget, since they’re all free. But museums like the Spy Museum are private and do have an entry fee.
If you’re intent on staying outdoors, a fun way to cool down from the heat heading to the Potomac River for boating, kayaking. and paddleboard rentals. Kids will also love the splash parks at Yards Park and Georgetown Waterfront. You can rent non-motorized boats at places like Ballpark Boathouse and the Key Bridge Boathouse.
Summertime is also a great time to indulge in a crab feast, where heaps of Maryland blue crabs seasoned with Old Bay are served on paper-covered tables. Kids will delight in whacking wooden mallets to crack open the crabs. And be sure to put Old Bay on them: it’s as common as salt and pepper in DC and Maryland.
Fall activities in DC with kids
Fall is possibly the most pleasant time to be outdoors with kids in DC, when temperatures are milder and seasonal allergens have mostly subsided.
The National Mall offers plenty of space for running around and playing games while taking in some of America’s most famous monuments, like the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument. But Washington isn’t just about museums and memorials. There are plenty of parks throughout DC, including Rock Creek Park, with 88 miles of hiking and biking trails. The park’s colorful foliage is on peak display in the fall, making it definitely worth a visit.
For something less active, there are myriad playgrounds around town, like the Beauvoir Playground on the grounds of the Beauvoir School. This playground features creative play structures and a zip line that the kiddos absolutely love.
But one of the very best things to do in DC with kids that adults will also love is the fall-favorite event “Boo at the Zoo.” This free Halloween event is a fun way to explore the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and features trick-or-treat stations around the Zoo, animal viewings, decorated trails, and more.
Visiting DC with kids in the winter
DC is festive and downright magical during the holidays, with much of the city decked out in twinkling lights and Christmas decorations. Exciting things to do with kids happen during this time of year, including the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and Christmas on the Potomac at the Gaylord National Resort, which has ice sculpture walk-throughs, snow tubing, gingerbread house decorating, and much more.
There are also ice skating rinks a plenty throughout the city, including one at the National Sculpture Garden, and a fantastic outdoor train display in a greenhouse at the National Botanic Garden.
Where to eat with kids in DC
Washington, DC, is a city that boasts an incredible array of restaurants, from Michelin-starred culinary powerhouses to more casual eats, many kid-friendly.
For cheap eats, look no further than Bartaco. This casual restaurant serves up great tacos (plus margaritas and other Mexican classics for the adults), and kids can choose from dishes served in retro metal lunch boxes.
For comfort food, head to Silver Diner, a regional chain of restaurants modeled after the classic American diner. The food is delicious and fresh and the restaurant is perfectly catered to families with kids menus, crayons, and juke boxes at every table.
Another family-friendly restaurant is Founding Farmers, serving American cuisine food and drinks all day using only ingredients sourced directly from farmers. It’s a popular brunch spot, so make reservations, especially weekends.
For kids who cannot sit still at meal times, try Pinstripes. This fun restaurant serves pizza and Italian fare, served up alongside a bowling alley and bocce ball courts.
Kid-friendly hotels in Washington, DC
Just like its restaurants, DC offers a multitude of lodging options. Luxurious five-star hotels, posh boutique hotels, and casual hotel chains all compete for tourists in the city’s many neighborhoods.
For a kid-friendly hotel within walking distance of the National Mall, consider the Holiday Inn Washington Capitol – National Mall. This hotel has a seasonal outdoor rooftop pool and free breakfast and is within striking distance of the National Mall and Smithsonian museums. It’s a good pick for budget-friendly travelers as kids 11 and under eat free at the onsite restaurant.
Another family-friendly DC hotel is the Residence Inn Capitol Hill, with family suites with full kitchens. A complimentary breakfast buffet and indoor heated pool make it a popular value-priced hotel for families. And if you need even bigger rooms, the Embassy Suites Convention Center has two-room suites in downtown DC ideal for large families. It also has complimentary made-to-order breakfasts and an indoor pool.
For families collecting Hyatt points, head to the Hyatt House at the Wharf, which has probably the best location in terms of easy access to DC’s famous attractions on the National Mall. Rooms have waterfront views and there’s a seasonal rooftop pool.