Winter Activities for Families in Washington, D.C.

Sunset on a snowy Washington Monument
John Baggaley / Getty Images

Even when the weather is cold and damp, there are plenty of interesting activities in the Capital Region to keep the whole family entertained. Those who are in the market for winter fun in the Washington, D.C., area will be treated to ice skating, skiing, museum hopping, indoor mini-golf, and more.

Temperatures in January and February tend to linger in the 30s and 40s, and while the region does get an occasional snowfall, the ground is relatively dry for most of the winter. This season is often the best time to visit some of the city's top attractions as they tend to be less crowded as a result of the persistent chill.

01 of 08

Explore the Museums

Explore the Museums
Dane Penland / National Air and Space Museum

The Washington, D.C., area is known for its museums. Many of them are conveniently concentrated on the National Mall, so you can easily visit several in a single day.

The Smithsonian Museums cover a wide range of topics—natural history, American history, air and space, and more—and include a variety of hands-on activities that are especially appealing to kids. However, don't leave out some of the smaller museums—like the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, and the KID Museum—during your grand museum tour. Rest assured you'll be thankful there are so many to visit when your fingers are in dire need of a heat source.

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02 of 08

Go Ice Skating

Ice-skating at National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
Jason Colston / Getty Images

There are countless places to ice skate (and roller skate!) both indoors and outdoors in the Capital Region. Some of the top-rated rinks include the Sculpture Garden Ice Rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, The Washington Harbour Ice Rink (which is also the largest in the area), and the Canal Park Ice Rink in the Canal Riverfront neighborhood. Skating and hockey lessons are available around the city to keep both kids and adults active throughout the winter season.

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03 of 08

Take a Sightseeing Tour

Tour bus on Pennsylvania Ave.
Stephen J. Boitano / Getty Images

Unless there's a crisp dusting of snow on the ground, winter isn't necessarily the prettiest season for sightseeing in Washington, D.C. (leave that to the spring, when the cherry blossoms bloom). Still, though, taking in the scenes from a heated bus or trolley could be the best option for staying warm this time of year.

The Big Bus offers hop-on, hop-off tours in both one-way and round-trip travel options. Its comprehensive network of bus routes is guaranteed to give you better views of at least 40 spots across the city—including all the famous monuments—than you could probably get on your own. You're likely to learn more this way, too.

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04 of 08

Play Indoors


On those cold, wet winter days, the kids (and kids-at-heart) in your family will have a blast seeking shelter at indoor playgrounds such as Adventure Park USA in Monrovia, Maryland, which has laser tag, virtual reality games, a ropes course, and an indoor rock wall. There's also The St. James (a fitness center with tons of kid-friendly activities) in Springfield, Virginia; the Playseum (which has an entire child-sized town inside) in Bethesda, Maryland; and Badlands (a full-on indoor park complete with indoor mountain) in Rockville, Maryland.

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05 of 08

Visit a Children's Theater

Children's Theater
Scott Suchman

There are so many great theaters in the Capital Region that choosing just one is near impossible. If you have kids in tow, though, the choice is easy. Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Maryland, is catered specifically to a young audience. Even the performers, themselves, are kids.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts goes out of its way to provide ample entertainment for families, as does Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia, the Adventure Theatre and The Puppet Co., both in Glen Echo, Maryland, and the Encore Stage and Studio in Arlington, Virginia.

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06 of 08

Attend a Special Seasonal Event

Saint Patrick's Day Parade
flickr Editorial/Getty Images / Getty Images

Even in the winter, the Capital Region's event calendar is packed with fun activities. There's something for foodies, for music lovers, for young kids, and, well, every demographic imaginable. It begins with Christmas-themed activities in December (the lighting of the National Tree, ZooLights, the Downtown Holiday Market, and Georgetown GLOW, to name a few). Then, there's New Year's Eve, Restaurant Week, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which warrants a peace walk and wreath-laying service every year. February is prime Wizards basketball season, so definitely don't skip a trip to the Capital One Arena in Chinatown to see them. And to top it all off, there's the National Cherry Blossom Festival in March.

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07 of 08

See a Movie

Uptown Theater, Washington, D.C.
Rudy Riet/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

A trip to the cinema is sometimes the only solution to those cold winter nights and Washington, D.C., has the cream of the crop. The historic, single-screen Uptown Theater in Cleveland Park, for instance, is one of the oldest movie theaters in the region. AFI Silver is equally retro, but if you're looking for something slightly more modern (read: high-tech), then head instead to Regal Gallery Place for a super-immersive 4DX screening.

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08 of 08

Go Skiing, Snowboarding, or Snow Tubing

Whitetail Ski Resort
Courtesy of Whitetail Resort

Just because it's a city doesn't mean Washington, D.C., doesn't have outdoor activities. Winter sports are in full swing, thanks to ski areas like Whitetail Ski Resort in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, which offers skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing within a few hours' drive from Washington, D.C.

Bryce Mountain Resort in Basye, Virginia (two hours from D.C.) is another popular destination for skiing, snowboarding, racing events, and private lessons for the whole family. Its proximity to Shenandoah National Park, which offers a whole host of recreational activities and historical sites, makes it an ideal home base for further exploration of the countryside.

On a snowy day, you can also find some great places to go sledding in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Northern Virginia. Try Fort Reno Park, Battery Kemble Park, and Book Hill Park, which all have steep hills. Avoid the Capitol, though, as sledding on its grounds is prohibited.

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