We recently got back from an amazing whirlwind trip to Washington DC, somewhere that has always been on our family travel bucket list, where we spent a couple of days exploring the city and seeing as much as we could in a short space of time (spoiler alert: we didn’t see everything). The best thing that we found out about the city is that is a very walkable place, so we decided that a self-guided walking tour of Washington DC with kids would be the best way to see everything we wanted to – and we were right! We spent one whole day out and about seeing as much as we can, and our kids did a great job walking everywhere with very few complaints. I decided to share our walking tour of the city where we hit the major Washington DC attractions, including all of the best things to do in Washington DC (and some amazing places to eat as well!) If you’re visiting Washington DC with kids, this is for you!
Visiting Washington DC with kids
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Please note: if for any reason, a walking tour doesn’t suit your family, all of these attractions can be found on the Washington DC Big Bus Hop On Hop Off route. This is a great alternative if walking all day isn’t an option, or just if your feet get tired as the day goes on.
Breakfast at Founding Farmers
This was the most recommended place to eat with kids when I asked friends where to eat in DC, and it did not disappoint! We started our day in DC at Founding Farmers and not only was the food delicious, but the portions were big and hearty enough that we didn’t need to eat again until dinner. Favorites included the Breakfast Chicken and Waffles, the Maple Cinnamon Syrup Farmhouse Waffles, and the Bananas Foster Buttermilk Pancakes, and I would also suggest trying the Thick Cut Bacon upgrade with Texas BBQ sauce (yes, we ate all that between the four of us…not much of a surprise we didn’t need lunch I suppose!) They also made a fantastic Bloody Mary! The atmosphere was rustic with a modern twist, and the kids were made to feel very welcome.
From Founding Farmers, it was about a 15 minute walk to our first destination.
We started our walking tour of Washington DC with kids at the Lincoln Memorial. I knew 5 year old Harrison would get a kick out of the huge Lincoln statue, which he did, and he loved reading the inscriptions on the walls. You could easily spend more time than we did exploring the memorial, but it was starting to rain so we had to move on, although not before stopping by the gift shop to pick up a book for Harrison. We’ve just started reading The Magic Treehouse series and they had a copy of Civil War on Sunday so we had to buy it – they also had Goodnight Washington DC which is the book we’ve been reading to our 2 year old Grayson to get him excited about the trip. A short walk from the Lincoln Memorial are the Vietnam Veterans and the Korean War Veterans Memorials if those interest you too. We walked (in the rain) back past the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, which seemed to be a favorite spot for local ducks, up to our next destination (take a look at my recommendations for travel rain gear for the whole family here – we needed it all on this trip!)
World War II Memorial
The World War II Memorial is a beautiful tribute to those who served in the Second World War. Inevitably, between the Lincoln Memorial and the quotes about the Civil War, and this memorial, Harrison started to ask questions about war and what it meant. He’s covered some basic history at school but he’s only 5, and a little young to learn all of the gory details. We talked a little bit about it, and covered it again when we read his new book, but I could have kicked myself for not thinking about this ahead of time so I had some answers ready. So learn from my mistakes, and be ready to answer some conflict related questions when you visit this area if you have curious kids.
The Washington Monument is one of Washington DC’s most iconic monuments, and I was really excited to see it. Unfortunately, it was closed when we visited, but Harrison was still blown away by the size and scope of the monument, which was even impressive in the drizzle. I definitely want to try to get back once the monument has reopened so we can explore it properly though!
The White House
From the Washington Monument it was a short walk to The White House. You can see the property itself from Constitution Avenue, which is as close as we wanted to get, or you can walk down 15th Street to get a little closer. If you’re interested in getting inside The White House itself, then with a little pre-planning you can book a tour. You’ll need to contact your local Member of Congress to request a tour date, no more than 90 days in advance and no less than 21 days before your trip. It is suggested that you book as soon as possible, and tours are only offered certain times and dates. You can find out more by visiting here if you think this is something you’d like to do.
Smithsonian National Natural History Museum
After The White House, we decided to walk down Constitution Avenue where you can find the Smithsonian Museums. The best thing about these museums, in my opinion, is that they are completely free, although you can of course make a donation when you visit to support them. There are numerous museums to choose from, and we debated visiting more than one (I’ve heard great things about the African American Museum and the American History Museum) we ultimately decided that for a 5 year old and a 2 year old, there were really only two that would hold their interest for very long. We made our first stop at the Natural History Museum.
This museum is absolutely perfect for kids, with hands on exhibits and so much to see and do. We thought maybe we’d spend an hour at the museum, but we had to drag the kids away after three hours and even then we hadn’t seen it all. Not surprisingly for my Jurassic Park obsessed 5 year old, the dinosaurs were his absolutely favorite exhibit, but he also loved the mammals and the ocean hall with its huge whale model. Grayson adored the Live Butterfly Pavilion (which does come at an additional charge) and absolutely loved the large elephant model in the rotunda. My personal favorite exhibits were the brand new Narwhal exhibit, and the temporary display of the Nature’s Best Windland Smith Rice Awards for Nature Photography – as an amateur (at best) photographer, these images were absolutely captivating and I could have looked at them all day. The museum in general was fascinating and I cannot recommend it enough to anyone visiting the city.
This is also a great place to grab a quick lunch if, unlike us, you didn’t eat half the menu at Founding Farmers for breakfast. The cafeteria at the Natural History Museum is currently undergoing a refurbishment and as of September 2018, offers a small selection of salads and sandwiches, however the food before the refurbishment was very good and I’m confident it will be again once the work has been completed. Right now it would just be a good place to get a snack and rest your feet a little.
National Archives Building
After leaving the Natural History Museum, we headed over to the National Archives Building. My husband really wanted to see the U.S Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and as a huge fan of Hamilton the Musical, I really wanted to see the Declaration of Independence. This is another place that is absolutely free, and since we knew the kids wouldn’t be that interested here, it was great that we didn’t have to pay to get in. Getting to see the documents themselves were great, but what I actually found more interesting were the exhibits such as the Record of Rights, containing pieces such as the 1297 Magna Carta. My kids were a little too young to appreciate where we were or what they were seeing so we didn’t stay too long, but I’d love to go back when they’re older to see more.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Next up was the other Smithsonian museum I knew the kids would love, and that was the Air and Space Museum. Most kids I know are fascinated with space and aviation, and this museum is perfect for kids. The aircraft on display are amazing (I particularly loved the Boeing 747 Forward Fuselage) and it was great to see so many of them up close. The ‘How Things Fly’ exhibit is perfect for kids, with lots of hands on experiments. This is another museum where you spend many more hours than we did, and another place we’d love to get back to one day.
United States Botanic Garden
When the kids start to get a little tired of all of the museums, the United States Botanic Garden is the perfect place to escape. Admission is free and since the gardens are enclosed, it’s a great activity for a cold or rainy day. The gardens themselves are absolutely beautiful, with a huge variety of plants and so much to see, but the Children’s Garden are absolutely fantastic for the younger crowd. This is a hands on garden (in other words, kids will probably get very wet and very messy!) where kids can use gardening tools to dig in the dirt, water the plants with a watering can, play in fountains, burn off some energy on a brand new climbing structure, and just generally get those wiggles out. If you have kids ages 9 and up, they can check out a Junior Botanist Adventure Kit where you can complete adventure sheets by touring various areas of the gardens and gathering information. This was the perfect place for the kids to let off some steam after a long day of history, and considering there had been complaints about tired feet, all that seemed to be forgotten as they ran around and played.
United States Capitol Building
The United States Capitol Building is an impressive and imposing building that was our next stop. The rain had let up by this point, and we were afforded beautiful views of the building itself and grounds. We approached the building from the west, and after letting the kids run around on the grass a little, we walked around to the Visitors Center located underground the east side of the building. We didn’t tour inside the Capitol Building on this trip, but there is plenty to do inside the building, including tours of the Halls of the Senate and the Freedom Fighters in the Capitol Collection. There are both indoor and outdoor tours, and not all of them need passes, so be sure to look online in advance to see what tours might interest you and your family, and then stop by the Visitors Center to see what your options are. Once our kids are a little older, this is another place we’d love to spend more time.
Across the street from the United States Capitol Building are the Library of Congress and the United States Supreme Court. There weren’t places we needed to see up close, but we did get a couple of pictures taken out the front.
By this point, the kids were exhausted and we were ready to wrap the day up. We’d seen a lot, we’d done a lot, and it had been a great day. We certainly didn’t see or do everything, but that just means we’ll have to come back one day, which is fine by me! It was time for dinner, and at this point we decided it would be a good idea to take the Metro instead of walking any further. Our kids absolutely love the NY subway and I knew they’d love the Metro too (and I found the Metro in DC to be more stroller friendly most of the time). Between walking to the Metro station, taking the train, and then walking the other end, it took about 20 minutes to get to our destination.
Union Market for dinner
This is where we ended up for dinner after our long day of walking at a friends recommendation, and it didn’t disappoint. Union Market consists of a number of eateries and retail outlets (some permanent and some pop ups) with a huge variety of foods from all over the world to cater to pretty much any taste – even my fussy 5 year old! We tried a few of the options, and everything was delicious. The kids split a fancy grilled cheese from Ooey Gooey Crispy (that even grilled cheese snob Harrison deemed to be excellent) and my husband raved about the Brown Butter Bourbon Bread Puddin’ from Puddin’. My favorite was the Little Baby’s Ice Cream vegan chocolate peanut butter milkshake from Trickling Springs Creamery (that of course Grayson had to sample!) This place seemed like a great local hangout with live music playing outside and plenty of people coming and going, and we sat and hung out for a couple of hours just sampling different foods and resting our feet.
Overall, we had the most fantastic time seeing the attractions in Washington DC with kids, and I’m excited to go back one day to see what else the city has to offer. Our self-guided walking tour allowed us to see as much of the city as we could in a short period of time, and there were plenty of stops to allow the kids to rest their feet and find things to see and do.