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The Cool Kids' Guide to Washington: 20 Family-Friendly Things To Do

Kirthana
Updated Nov 24, 2016

I know what you’re thinking, Washington DC is probably one of the most boring states in all of the United States, especially for kids. I understand why one would think that, considering the place is politics central, but you might be surprised by the time you finish reading this article. There are actually a ton of fun activities to do in Washington DC, and here’s 20 things to get you inspired:

Top 3 activities to book in Washington

1. Take a once-in-a-lifetime tour of the White House

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Source: Pixabay

As intriguing as it sounds, it’s not impossible to do a tour of the White House, but it does take some planning and a lot of patience. You have to contact the office of your Member of Congress in advance, to request tickets. Obviously, this is only relevant for US nationals. Foreigners who wish to tour the White House should contact any congressperson for assistance. Requests can’t be made more than six months in advance, but can also be made no less than 21 days before your trip. Be warned: it can take five months to book one of these self-guided tours. But all of this is worth it to get access to the country’s most important residence, and it will be very awe inspiring for children!

For more information, click here

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2. Snap a creative photo at the Washington Monument

The Washington Monument honours America’s first president, George Washington. This stunning pinnacle, made entirely out of marble, is the tallest structure in the nation’s capital and towers 555 feet (169 metres) above the National Mall. For an even more exhilarating experience, ride the elevator to the top to see a spectacular view of the city. You can get wild with your kids and play with perspective to take some really cool shots of the Washington Monument too, or as the locals call it, WaMo.

Learn more about the Washington Monument here!

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3. Walk along the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

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The Lincoln Memorial is a testament to how the leadership of this extraordinary president saved the union. Here is where this 16th President of the United States sits immortalised​ in marble as an enduring symbol of unity, strength, and wisdom. The feeling of being there and just in his presence is just something different from everything else entirely. It’s grand, the details make him look life-like, and the staggering size makes him look larger than life. It’ll make you overwhelmed with admiration for this man. Right beyond the memorial is the long reflecting pond, which really is a great place for a thoughtful and serene stroll.

Check out their cool interactive website here

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4. Eat breakfast with the cheetahs at the National Zoo

The Smithsonian National Zoological Park is a very well kept zoo, boasting over 1,800 animals from 300 different species, gathered from different parts of the world. They have Amazonian fish and even an Asian Trail, which contains the Zoo’s pièce de résistance, the giant pandas! Of course, they also have a wide range of animals native to America. It’s a great and wholesome place for kids to learn about animals from all around the world, and the best part is, admission is free!

For more information, click here

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5. Hike at Great Falls Park

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Source: Flickr

This gorgeous nature reserve is only 15 miles (24 kilometres) from the nation’s capital, and its stunning views and tranquil beauty make it a must-see while in Washington. The Great Falls Park offers 15 hiking trails for you to choose from, depending on the kind of experience and activity you’re seeking. However, do take note that there are two national parks in the area of Great Falls, Great Falls Park on the Virginia Side, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park on the Maryland side. If you are unsure of which hiking trail to follow, the park rangers and officials are more than happy to plan the perfect route for you.

For more information on the park, click here

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6. *Bond* with your children at the International Spy Museum

The International Spy Museum is the only public museum in the United States solely dedicated to espionage and the only one in the world to provide a global perspective on an all-but-invisible profession that has shaped history and continues to have a significant impact on world events.

The museum also boasts the world’s largest never-before-seen collection of international espionage artifacts, all on display for everyone to feast their eyes and imagination on. All these artifacts shed light on the famous espionages and works of spies, and even explain about some of the most highly kept secrets missions in world history.

Naturally, this would be a treat for kids of all ages, as they live out their spy fantasies in this very cool museum. It’s one-of-a-kind and definitely​ worth a visit while in Washington DC.

For more information, click here

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7. Have a hands-on experience at Wolf Trap National Park

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Source: wolftrap.org

Tucked into the woods of the Wolf Trap National Park for Performing Arts is the Children’s Theatre-In-The-Woods. The performances are specially crafted for kids ages 4 and up. The types of performances range from music and dance to puppetry and storytelling. They are all very interactive, so they are sure to get your kids up on their feet, and it’s good fun for the whole family.

For more information, click here

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8. Let your imagination come alive at the National Museum of Natural History

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This museum is the most-visited natural history museum in the world, and for good reason. Firstly, it is open 364 days a year, and admission is free. That itself is enough reason to visit this internationally-acclaimed natural museum. On top of that, it also is home to precious, mind-blowing artefacts from all over the world. In one exhibition, you can walk into the tundras of Africa, examining the fossils of the wild beasts that once roamed our earth, and in another exhibition, you can glimpse into the world of dinosaurs, or explore the beauty of rare gemstones. There is something for every child there, and the experience is so immersive that it will be a wholesome experience for the children.

For more information on the National Museum of Natural History, click here

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9. View the world of mail differently at the National Postal Museum

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Source: Flickr

You drop a piece of mail into the postbox. And then what? It magically reaches the person you want it to. At the National Postal Museum, you will learn the process behind this magic, and be introduced to a whole new side of the postage world. To make things easier, the National Postal Museum is divided into galleries that explore America’s postal history, taking it back all the way to colonial times, and right up to the present. Visitors learn how mail has been, and is, transported and the wondrous diversity of postage stamps. And, needless to say, children will be delighted looking at all the colourful and unique stamps on display, and they can even buy stamps from the museum store as a souvenir!

For more information on this museum, click here

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10. Have a day of fun and frolicks at the Malcom X Park

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Source: Flickr

This is one of the nicest but, sadly, least-appreciated parks in all of Washington DC, perhaps due to its somewhat less than desirable history. But it’s truly beautiful, and it’s a great place to bring kids. The park is filled with sculptures and memorials, so it’s great for packing a picnic and hanging out in front of the cascading waterfall. On Sundays, some musicians gather here to play a regular drum circle. You can even join in the fun!

Check out the park’s website here

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11. Discover and play at the National Children’s Museum

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Source: Facebook

The National Children’s Museum is carefully designed, and specially designed, to cater primarily for children age 8 and younger. The museum’s main aim is to spark the imagination and to truly celebrate the power of children, and it does so by displaying some of the most innovative and creative exhibitions.

The museum is separated based on the six core areas it focuses on, namely The Arts, Civic Engagement, The Environment, Global Citizenship, Health and Well-being, and of course, Play. Through these different hands-on exhibitions, there are plenty of opportunities to teach your child simple lessons, like how to share and how to be part of a community, while still keeping it all fun.

For more information, click here

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12. Explore flight at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

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What’s cooler than aeroplanes?! NOTHING! The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum maintains the world’s largest and most-significant collection of aviation and space artefacts, encompassing all aspects of human flight, as well as related works of art and archival materials. It operates two landmark facilities that, together, welcome more than eight million visitors a year, making it the most-visited museum in the country. The children will be amazed by the sheer number of cool aeroplanes, dating back from the first time someone tried to travel by fight, to the state-of-the-art aircraft we have now. And yes, it has free admission!

For more information, click here

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13. Feel the adrenaline rush at the Six Flags America theme park

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Source: Flickr

Six Flags America is the biggest theme park in the region, and it guarantees some good America fun. The theme park offers a different kind of entertainment, one that pumps adrenaline and will make you scream as you whoosh down a roller-coaster, which is a nice contrast from the other types of entertainment found in Washington D.C. They have a ton of roller coasters, and even are expanding towards virtual reality rides! It’s great fun especially for kids, so be sure to stop by!

For more information on ticketing and rides, click here

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14. Learn while having fun Smithsonian's Discovery Theater

Discovery theatre

The Smithsonian Discovery Theater is a great way to experience culture and heritage and it teaches these important things to children in a fun and memorable way. It is a place that celebrates the rich diversity of America, and the world. They continually bring in relevant and culturally accurate entertaining programs for children to enjoy and have a very hands-on learning experience as well. It’s super engaging, and parents will be asked to join in the fun too!

For more information, click here.

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15. Let your children take a #selfie with their idols

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Source: Flickr

Well, not the real people, but honestly, this is the next best thing - a gallery filled with important A-list people, celebrities, and everyone else you’d want to meet. If you don’t already know what Madame Tussauds is, it’s a museum chain for life-size wax replicas of famous celebrities and historic icons in themed galleries. In the Washington branch, you can ‘meet’ all 44 US presidents, among other A-list celebrities and pop-culture icons. It’s super fun, the whole place is themed, and it really is an experience by itself. Take all the selfies with your kid and their idols, and be sure to post them on Instagram!

For more information, click here

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16. Go on a night bike tour of the Washington DC Sites

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If you don’t want to, or don’t have time to, explore all of Washington DC’s highlights, then this is the perfect alternative for you. The night bike tour is an efficient but memorable and leisurely way of getting around the city and experiencing the beauty of Washington DC at night. This popular tour offers travellers the chance to explore on two wheels after dark when monuments are less crowded. It’s also perfect for families. Follow your guide to the Washington Monument; cruise past the Lincoln, FDR, Jefferson and WWII Memorials and check out some of the city’s other popular landmarks, like the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial, on this memorable evening tour.

The tour provides everything you’d need, such as reflective safety jackets, lights, and helmets, to ensure safe passage after the sunsets. They also provide bottled water and snacks, so no one will go hungry. The tour guides follow a narrative as you move from monument to monument, and they make it really interesting and engaging, even for young children!

For more information, click

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17. Or take an open top Big Bus tour

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These open-top double decker buses allow all commuters to experience all the famous Washington DC tourist attractions, including the White House and Capitol Hill buildings, as well as the Jefferson Memorial, with a great view of everything there is to see in Washington DC Throughout the tour, be entertained by the informative and entertaining commentary on the history of Washington DC, as well as the importance of significant landmarks, such as the Lincoln Memorial and Ford’s Theatre.

The buses work on a hop-on, hop-off basis, which gives commuters the freedom to appreciate and explore DC at their own pace, and they can really take their time to appreciate this fine city.

For more information on how you can hop on, click here

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18. Hone your child's creativity at Imagination Stage

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Imagination Stage is the huge multi-disciplinary theatre arts organisation that caters just for young people. The stage allows children to let their imagination control them and move them forward. Children can either guest star, or just sit back and enjoy the shows put together by the professional child actors. Apart from shows, there are also a ton of activities exclusively for children, from painting, to writing to even film-making! At the Imagination Stage, it’s all about making children be connected to the arts, and most importantly, having fun.

For more information on how you can have your children take the stage, click here

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19. Get nostalgic at the Rock Creek Nature Center and Planetarium

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Source: nps.gov

Believe it or not, Washington DC is known as the Natural Capital. But after experiencing all their nature centres and reserves, you’ll see why the city deserves that title. This particular one, the Rock Creek Nature Center and Planetarium, is one that will stir up nostalgia among adults, and ignite the senses of the young. It’s a great place to go if you have limited time but would still like to visit one of DC’s nature reserves, because it’s so near to the city! As you’ve guessed by now, this nature centre has a planetarium, and the park rangers host shows about the solar system in this open-air planetarium on 3D projection screens. It’s truly a sight to behold, and it will certainly wow everyone.

For more information on this must-see nature reserve, click here

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20. Smell the roses at the Botanic Gardens

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The United States Botanic Garden is a living plant museum that is steeped in history and bursting with deep tradition. The gardens inform visitors about the importance of plants to the well-being of humans in this all-encompassing ecosystem. The permanent exhibits boast a wide diversity of plants, from techni-coloured roses and orchids, to rare and endangered plants.

The Botanic Gardens also has a bunch of indoor gardens and galleries, with diverse backgrounds of the jungle, desert, and even a primeval paradise. The resplendent diversity of form, colour, fruit, and fragrance will ignite all senses of the children, and it is a good reminder for everyone that plants make our lives enjoyable - and possible. It’s a perfect place for some light education, a lot of fun, or even a half-day picnic among the serene surroundings.

For more information on the Botanic Gardens, click here.

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Explore Washington DC

Washington DC does boast a wide array of (free!) museums, some of which are fantastic for children. However, there are still a ton other things to do in this beautiful capital of the United States, especially so for kids. Be sure to keep this list with you, and check out these cool attractions and activities with your children.

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This article was originally published on Jun 07, 2016
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Kirthana is currently studying at the National University of Singapore, pursuing a degree in Political Science. In her free time, she enjoys writing for leisure and loves to travel whenever the...Read more

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