Visiting Washington D.C. with little ones and need a break from the crowds? Head ten minutes south to Alexandria and discover a ton of free things to do in Alexandria, Virginia, that even the youngest kids will enjoy. Or skip Washington D.C., altogether and spend a couple of days enjoying everything the historical city of Alexandria has to offer.
In the past ten years, I’ve lived in four different places in Alexandria ranging from the west border of the city to right in the middle of Old Town Alexandria. I’ve seen everything the city has to offer from delicious food to bike trails along the water. One of my favorite things is the surplus of free things to do in Alexandria, including many with young kids.
Free Things to Do in Alexandria, Virginia
Splash Pads in Alexandria, Virginia
During the summer months, Alexandria opens up two fun splash pads that are perfect for young kids. The smaller of the two is at Potomac Yard park, just a few miles north of Old Town Alexandria. Set in the middle of two playground areas, younger kids will love the random sprays from a handful of fountains randomly spray. Prefer to spend more time in the water? Skip it and go to my second recommendation.
Our Special Harbor
Way more than a splash pad, our Special Harbor reminds me of the kid’s play areas similar to a waterpark. Huge even when crowded, kids will love its large dumping buckets, spray fountains, giant water guns, and water play features. More than a place to cool off after playing, my son would stay at Special Harbor all day if I let him.
Traveling Mom Tip: Anyone under 12 must wear closed-back water shoes to play, no exceptions. Adults can get away with wearing flip flops in the water.
Playgrounds in Alexandria, Virginia
Like any other city, Alexandria is full of free parks and playgrounds that toddlers will enjoy. Keep reading for unique parks that are family favorites.
Nessie’s Big Backyard
Located next to Our Special Harbor spray park, Nessie’s Big Backyard is one of the most popular playgrounds in the area. These two playgrounds combine slides, climbing elements, and animal facts into a great place for kids to burn through some energy. Although labeled with age recommendations, if you watch your kids closely, both sides are suitable for running toddlers. In addition, enjoy a huge covered pavilion to eat lunch, picnic tables, and a walking trail to explore the surrounding woods.
Traveling Mom Tip: If those playgrounds are too crowded, walk through the parking lot toward the recreation center at the other side of the parking lot. Here you’ll discover another playground with smaller equipment that tends to be less crowded.
I wouldn’t normally include a regular neighborhood park on this list, but Waynewood Park is one of my son’s favorite parks to play at because of its dumping zone. When I ask him what park he prefers, he responds “the ones with the trucks and spinning thing.” Waynewood’s playground area is pretty simple. But it’s the large sandpit full of unwanted and donated old trucks, cars, and playhouses that are the main attraction. Between the trucks and a good old-fashioned merry-go-round, the park is definitely a favorite amongst toddlers.
Potomac Yard includes two different playgrounds, both completely fenced and gated in, and perfect for active toddlers who can get across the park in a blink of an eye. One side is designed for older kids with larger slides, a rock climbing area, and monkey bars. The other caters to the youngest kids with a fun interactive maze, baby swings, and a smaller playground. In between the two is the small splash area mentioned previously.
Traveling Mom Tip: There’s no shade or bathrooms nearby. Make sure to bring plenty of fluids and plan to let your kids play in the water if it’s going to be a hot day.
Get Outside in Alexandria, Virginia
George Washington’s River Farm
Just a few miles south of Old Town Alexandria, right off George Washington Parkway is George Washington’s River Farm Gardens.This waterfront, incredibly well-maintained, kid-friendly spot is also the home of a natural children’s garden full of houses, bridges, and even tunnels with garden elements.
Although it won’t entertain the kids for an entire day, a visit here will be a pleasant change from your typical playground. As an added bonus, it’s mostly shaded and cooler than some of the playgrounds on a hot day. The beautiful grassy area or tables are perfect for a picnic.
If someone didn’t tell you about Huntley Meadows, you’d never know it was there. The entrance is hidden on a busy road in the middle of a bunch of apartment complexes. This little swampy oasis in the middle of the big city is definitely worth a visit. Young kids will get a kick out of walking along the swampy areas looking for frogs, birds, and other wildlife.
Mount Vernon Trail
The Mount Vernon Trail is over 18 miles long, stretching from George Washington’s home in Mount Vernon all the way to Washington D.C. Discover plenty of free hidden gems along the trail including our favorite Founder’s Park where kids can run around, play catch, and watch boats sail along the Potomac. Continue following the trail to the north to reach Daingerfield Island and Gravelly Point. Both offer a great view of the airplanes taking off and landing at Reagan National Airport.
Explore Old Town Alexandria
Old Town Alexandria is always filled with fun and free family-friendly things to do depending on the season. All year long you can go walk along the Mount Vernon Trail watching the boats sail on the Potomac, take a ride on the free King Street trolley, or watch street performers all over the pier. Our favorite family activity is to grab breakfast at the Saturday morning farmer’s market and eat it picnic style along the Potomac River.
Here’s the full schedule of events that includes everything from an annual birthday celebration complete with free cupcakes to one of the best St. Patrick’s Day parades in the nation. There is almost always something going on and most often, the celebrations and festivals have free activities for kids.
If you have more than just a couple of days in the area, spend at least a day or do trying out one of these free things to do in Washington D.C.