Washington DC, the capital of the United States of America, is awash in family-friendly and free things to do. Some are all about history, but many others are pure fun for kids and their adults. Among the best free things to do in Washington DC: Visit the city’s famous monuments, the 16 museums of the Smithsonian system and the National Zoo, home to those adorable giant pandas.
12 Best Free Things to Do in Washington DC with Kids
Start your Washington DC family vacation with a stroll along the National Mall, bordered on one end by the U.S. Capitol building and the Washington Monument on the other.
Running along each side are a collection of wonderful free museums, including the awesome National Air and Space Museum and the newest addition to the Smithsonian Museums family, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. You can see the Supreme Court building, the Library of Congress, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Portrait Gallery and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. And, of course, if you come in the spring, you’ll be able to see the city’s lovely cherry blossom trees in full bloom!
Here are our recommendations for the best places to take kids during a Washington DC family vacation.
1. Say Hi to Tai Shan
2. Take in a Concert.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts offers free concerts or performances every night at 6 p.m. on the Millennium Stage.
3. Walk Around.
DC by Foot offers free and name-your-own-price walking tours every day of the week. If you can’t find a scheduled tour at a time that works, download the free GPS-enabled audio tours or self-guided tours and tour on your own without a guide to answer your questions. There are sightseeing tours of Washington DC as well as Georgetown and Arlington National Cemetery. There’s even a National Mall tour in a shorter kid-friendly scavenger hunt version. The nightime Memorials & Moonlight tour covers the best memorials to see at night, including the World War II Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and the Abraham Lincoln Memorial.
4. Make Some Money.
Or at least watch while the government prints money during a tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The building is being renovated through 2019. Tours will continue to run every 30 minutes, but space is extremely limited and the tour entrance has relocated to 15th Street. The free 40-minute experience includes an introductory film and gallery tour of the production process. The visitor center includes exhibits and currency products for sale.
5. See the Stars in Rock Creek Park.
Located within the Nature Center, the Rock Creek Park Planetarium is the only Planetarium Operated by the National Park Service. It uses high-tech Spitz software to project the image of the night sky onto a large domed ceiling. Free tickets are available at the Nature Center front desk beginning a half hour before the show starts. A special show for younger kids is available each Wednesday at 4 p.m.
6. Create Your Own Art.
Freer & Sackler Gallery’s Imaginasia family programming is part of the Smithsonian Institution museum celebrating Asian art. There are programs for kids and families and even some programs developed specifically for teens.
7. Take Pictures with First Dog Fala.
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial honors the 32nd president of the United States. It is composed of four “outdoor rooms” representing each of President Roosevelt’s four terms as commander in chief. But the highlight, and most Instagrammable spot, is the bronze sculpture of FDR’s trusty canine, Fala, the most photographed First Dog ever.
8. Walk in the Halls of History.
Tours of The White House are free, but tickets must be requested through a member of Congress. So this requires significant advance planning.
9. Play Pilot in a Mock Cockpit.
“America by Air” is one of the permanent exhibits at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Plan to spend several hours touring this huge museum.
10. Walk Among Living Butterflies.
While the National Museum of Natural History is always free, the butterfly exhibit is only free on Tuesdays and timed-entry tickets are required. Get them at the Butterfly Pavilion box office beginning at 10 a.m. each Tuesday.
11. Learn about History at the National Museum of American History.
See the original “Star-Spangled Banner,” the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem. Take older kids to the National Archives to see the originals of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the U.S. Bill of Rights.
12. Go Fly a Kite.
Head to park land around the Washington Monument for a great family photo.