12 Best Things to Do in Washington, DC, With Toddlers

View from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC

Matt Frankel / Getty Images

Exploring Washington, D.C., with a toddler can be challenging, but fortunately, the city’s most popular attractions for young children offer a lot to hold an adult’s attention, too. The National Mall has plenty of pedestrian-friendly areas where you can have a picnic and enjoy the scenery, while elsewhere around town, there are carousels to ride, zoo animals to visit, places to run and play, and a double-decker bus tour that is sure to appeal to little ones. Many D.C. museums also have hands-on exhibits for families, providing a fun and interactive environment for kids of all ages. Pace yourself and build some nap time into your itinerary.

01 of 12

Get Hands-On at the National Children's Museum

Kids enjoying the National Children's Museum

National Children's Museum

1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004, USA
Phone +1 202-844-2486

In Downtown D.C., the National Children’s Museum is great for kids of all ages, while the toddler-specific Little Dreamers exhibit focuses on aviation and cloud-themed hands-on activities designed just for those ages 0–3. They’ll learn about light and shadows, use their imaginations, and work on their motor skills, all while exploring different sights and sounds meant to invigorate their senses. Another area for children up to 3 years old, Little Movers, is also worth checking out.

02 of 12

See the City from the Water

Swan boat in the Tidal Basin in Washington DC

Marlene Bocast / EyeEm / Getty Images

1501 Maine Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024, USA

For a fun way to let your little one experience the city from the water, rent a swan boat or paddle boat from the Tidal Basin Boathouse, available each year from spring until fall. Rates are charged hourly and vary depending on whether you want to rent out a two-person or four-person regular paddle boat or two-person swan boat. Another option is to rent kayaks or canoes from the Thompson Boat Center, located along the water near Georgetown, which is also open seasonally and charges by the hour.

03 of 12

Enjoy Family-Friendly Fun in Yards Park

Kids enjoying the fountains in Yards Park DC

The Yards Park

355 Water St SE, Washington, DC 20003, USA

In the summertime, head to Yards Park in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood for family-friendly events like movies and concerts on the lawn, as well as the chance to swim and play in the fountains and canal basin. Little ones wearing swim diapers can splash and play in the 11-inch-deep water, while adults are welcome to cool off in the hot summer sun.

04 of 12

Spend Time in Nature at Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park Boulder Bridge

Rachel Cooper

Washington, DC, USA
Phone +1 202-895-6000

With 1,754 acres to spread out in, Rock Creek Park in northwestern Washington, D.C. is a fantastic place to spend the day outdoors, with more than 32 miles of hiking trails, dozens of picnic areas, plenty of grass to run around in, and cool spots like waterfalls and an old mill to check out. Near the center of the park, the Nature Center offers exhibits, guided walks, lectures, live animal demonstrations, and a hands-on section called the Discovery Room that’s geared toward ages 2–5, while the in-house planetarium offers programs for all ages to explore the stars and planets.

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05 of 12

Visit the National Mall's Monuments and Memorials

Lincoln Memorial

TripSavvy / Victoria Chamberlain

2 Lincoln Memorial Cir NW, Washington, DC 20002, USA
Phone +1 202-426-6841

While visiting iconic landmarks along the National Mall requires a lot of walking, there’s plenty of room for kids to move around as you marvel over the historic sites. The monuments and memorials here are so beautiful even the youngest visitors can appreciate these national treasures. Start with the Lincoln Memorial (or the Jefferson Memorial, closer to the Tidal Basin), where there are plenty of stairs to climb and a huge statue to admire.

Older children will be impressed with the history some of the monuments depict. The National World War II Memorial, for instance, has representation from all U.S. states and territories and honors the 16 million service members who served during WWII as well as the more than 400,000 who perished. For those whose grandparents lived during this era, the monument offers an opportunity to reflect and connect their stories with this time in history. Nearby, the tall and iconic Washington Monument makes an impressive backdrop for a family travel photo.

06 of 12

Have Fun at the "Play Work Build" Exhibit

Play Work Build exhibit at the National Building Museum

Kevin Allen / National Building Museum

401 F St NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
Phone +1 202-272-2448

The immersive, hands-on Play, Work, Build installation at the National Building Museum is designed for young children and fun for all ages, featuring molded foam blocks of all shapes and sizes and an original virtual block play experience. The exhibition combines a presentation of the Museum’s world-class Architectural Toy Collection, a hands-on block play area, and an original digital interactive display that allows visitors to fill an entire wall with virtual blocks—and then knock them down.

07 of 12

See the Animals at Smithsonian's National Zoo

Andean bear at Smithsonian National Zoo

Smithsonian National Zoo

3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, USA
Phone +1 202-633-4888

Smithsonian’s National Zoo is one of the best destinations for young children in Washington, D.C. The 163-acre zoological park is home to more than 400 different species of animals and offers many hands-on opportunities so you can get up close to your favorites. Admission is free and there are many programs held throughout the year. To avoid crowds, visit during the week when older children are in school.

08 of 12

Ride a Big Double-Decker Bus Around Town

Big Bus Tours

Big Bus Tours

955 L'Enfant Plaza SW #915, Washington, DC 20024, USA

Big Bus Tours offers great views of the White House, U.S. Capitol Building, national monuments and memorials, the National Cathedral, and Arlington National Cemetery, among other popular D.C. sites and attractions, from its double-decker buses. It’s one of the best sightseeing tours to enjoy with young kids, especially those with short attention spans, since they can take in the sights from the open-air top deck as you ride around town—just remember to wear sunscreen, as the top deck can get quite sunny.

Travelers can also hop on and off at more than 40 spots around the city, while a guide (and some recorded audio clips), give you all the details about every site you're passing. If something interests you, simply hop off and take your time exploring until you’re ready to re-board.

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09 of 12

Have a Picnic and Play at the Playground

Kalorama Park

Kalorama Park

1865 Kalorama Rd NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA
Phone +1 202-673-7606

The Washington, D.C., area has lots of green spaces where you can enjoy the fresh air, have a picnic, and hit the playground. In the northwestern part of the District, Turtle Park offers plenty of slides, swings, tunnels, a sandbox with turtles, and climbing structures. There’s also a fenced area with shade, benches, and picnic tables where you can have your meal.

Closer to Downtown, three-acre Kalorama Park's recreation center hosts a summer day camp and special events for children, including seasonal parties to celebrate Valentine's Day, Halloween, and the holidays. It's also fun to peruse the community garden with the kids during the summer and see what's growing.

10 of 12

Get to Know Indigenous Culture and Food

National Museum of the American Indian

National Museum of the American Indian

4th St SW, Washington, DC 20560, USA
Phone +1 202-633-1000

At the National Museum of the American Indian, kids will enjoy the ImagiNations Activity Center, where they can play with drums, go inside a traditional Native American home, experience different modes of Indigenous transportation and sport, weave a giant basket, and learn about basketweaving's history. After going through the museum, stop by the Mitsitam Native Foods Café to sample foods from different Indigenous cultures around the world.

11 of 12

Attend Toddler-Friendly Programs at a Public Library

Story Time Washington, DC

Library of Congress

3260 R St NW, Washington, DC 20007, USA
Phone +1 202-727-0232

Public libraries all over the District of Columbia offer special programs to introduce young children to books, rhymes, music, and other literacy related activities. While story time is available virtually through the DC Public Library's Facebook page every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 10:30 a.m. (via Facebook Live), many libraries around the District also offer in-person events, so check the website to see which work best for your schedule and child's interests.

Don't miss StoryWalk (where you can follow along with a picture book that's featured on the library's windows) Tuesdays at the Georgetown Neighborhood Library, Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library, or Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library, or the Take and Go Tuesday event, where you can pick up a reading packet for your pre-schooler from the Anacostia Neighborhood Library. Other events are based on the seasons and holidays like Valentine's Day, where kids are invited to decorate cards for local senior citizens.

12 of 12

Play at the U.S. Botanic Garden

US Botanic Garden

 Visions of America

100 Maryland Ave SW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
Phone +1 202-225-8333

The whole family will enjoy a trip to the U.S. Botanic Garden, which offers a special scavenger hunt where older kids can head off to identify plants and get their passports stamped. Little ones will enjoy the Children’s Garden, where they can play in the playhouse, pump water, go digging, and help water the plants. The National Garden also includes a First Ladies' water garden, an extensive rose garden, a butterfly garden, and a display of a variety of regional trees, shrubs, and perennials, so there's plenty to see no matter what age. Kids will love the model train exhibit on display each year during the holiday season.

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12 Best Things to Do in Washington, DC, With Toddlers