Best Washington, D.C. Attractions for Families

The Smithsonian Museums are on most families’ “must-see” lists of Washington, D.C. attractions. But what is there to do in the nation’s capitol beyond the museums and Federal buildings? As most parents know, kids can get burned out after a couple of days of visiting museums. Here are six of our favorite Washington, D.C. attractions, beyond the Air and Space and Natural History Museums (which are also worth visiting). Your kids will thank you!

Spy Museum
This is one of the few museums in D.C. with an admission fee, but our family felt the Spy Museum was worth the price. Tip: Type “spy museum coupon” into Google to see if you can find a deal to save a few bucks.

We spent a morning here, pouring over the spy paraphernalia that seems right out of vintage spy films. There were plenty of interactive exhibits that kept all of us enthralled.  Our girls asked to return the following day!

Spy Museum in Washington D.C.
Our kids were enthralled by the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.!

Also worth noting is that museum is right around the corner from Ford’s Theatre. Tickets for timed tours of the theatre are free, but spaces fill up quickly. Another option is to purchase timed tickets in advance online to make sure you can get in to see the theatre and Petersen House where Lincoln died.

Biking the Sites
If you have kids who ride bikes, this is a great way to see a lot of the attractions in Washington, D.C. We rented bikes for a two-hour block, rode all around the Mall, and saw almost all of the memorials within that time-frame. Many of those areas are pedestrian only, and there were dedicated bike lanes in the areas where we were required to ride in the streets. There are several bike rental outfitters, and we had a good experience using Bike The Sites.

Biking on the National Mall
On a beautiful day, biking on the National Mall is a great way to travel to the museums.

We saw almost all the monuments on the Mall in two hours by riding bikes.

A Bird’s Eye View of the Capitol
If you want to find a good panoramic view of the Capitol, the Old Post Office Pavilion Tower is a good place, especially while the Washington Monument is closed for repairs (until 2014). Using two separate elevators, visitors can ascend effortlessly to the top where you can see the towers’ bells and beautiful views of the National Mall and surrounding buildings. One of the best parts: there is no admission charge!

The National Zoo
Our kids enjoyed taking a break from visiting all the historical monuments and statues to see some living creatures. There are some brand new exhibits at the National Zoo like the elephant area, and because it’s a Smithsonian entity, it’s free! Our kids really enjoy discussing and comparing all the zoos we’ve visited in our travels, so this was a must-see for our family.

Paddle Boats
We did not have an opportunity to do this, but I wished we had! Families can rent four-passenger and two-passenger paddle boats on the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial. It sounds like a great family activity in which you can get some exercise while enjoying incredible views of the memorials of Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Collect National Park Stamps
We just discovered the National Park Passports, which feature all 400 U.S. National Parks. Kids can collect cancellation stamps in their passports whenever they visit a national park. Since each of the monuments on the Mall is considered a National Park, my daughter collected five stamps in one day! (It’s worth noting that the Old Post Office Pavilion mentioned above is also considered a National Park monument and offers a cancellation stamp.) We’re looking forward to adding more stamps to her passport on future trips.

If you’re looking for a place to stay, Capital Hilton is within walking distance of the Spy Museum, National Mall, Old Post Office Pavilion, and three Metro stations (one of which can get you close to the Zoo, or you can stay within walking distance at Washington Hilton).

Know Before You Go

  • Many of the monuments and memorials surrounding the National Mall are open 24 hours a day!
  • Driving through the city isn’t recommended – walking or taking the Washington Metro are great ways to navigate the city.
  • Be prepared for numerous security checks if you are visiting any government buildings!

This post was written by Hilton Suggests Team Member, Erin M. Are you interested in traveling to Washington DC? Let us know if we can help you with any other recommendations. Tweet us for more great local travel tips!

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