Washington, D.C., is booming with history, culture and endless sightseeing opportunities. The city, which spans nearly 70 square miles and has a population of more than 632,000, offers lots of opportunities for having fun with kids. The public transportation system is extremely accessible, with up-to-date, reliable metro and bus service.
"DC is an outstanding destination for families because there are so many world-class museums, monuments and sights to see within a relatively small area -- and so much of it is absolutely free," says Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, family travel expert at MiniTime, a trip-planning resource for families. "Obligatory photo ops include outside the White House and on the National Mall."
"D.C.'s best family-friendly activities take place 365 days a year," says Kate Gibbs, a spokesperson for Destination DC, the official convention and tourism bureau for the city.
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500
Visitors can walk up to the gates surrounding the well-groomed White House lawn. Walk around the entire building, because both the front and back of the President's home serve as an ideal backdrop for a photo shoot (unfortunately inside tours are no longer available due to budget cuts). People are surprised to find the White House is so simple to view and approach. While there aren't activities for children, just being in front of the famous residence is exhilarating. It's particularly pretty at night, all lit up.
Smithsonian's National Zoo
3001 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20008
The National Zoo is home to more than 1,500 different animals from all over the world. A noteworthy occupant: the cherished giant pandas (most of the population lives in China). Visit the zoo's website prior to your trip to print activity sheets for the kids, like scavenger hunts and bingo. Walking around the large zoo is a great way to tire out active kids
2640 Reed St. NE
Washington, DC 20018
There are numerous tours in DC, but the Duck Tour is top notch -- entertaining and peaceful at the same time. The tour, in an authentic WWII amphibious vehicle, starts on land, meandering its way down Pennsylvania Avenue before making a splash in the Potomac River. A knowledgeable guide narrates the 90-minute journey that is lots of fun and educational for kids.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
600 Independence Ave. SW
Washington, DC 20560
Rockets, planes and space -- what kid (or adult) won't love this museum? Choose from the multiple space films that play in the IMAX theater each day or touch a piece of actual moon rock. Museum docents provide guided tours that can be great for inquisitive kids. If your children have a great time, you can also check out the companion museum, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, which is a 45-minute drive outside of D.C. in Chantilly, Va.
Glen Echo Park
7300 MacArthur Blvd.
Glen Echo, MD 20812
About 25 minutes outside of D.C., this former amusement park is one of the most unique spots in the area. It's like a national park for the arts! Take a ride on the carousel (built in 1921 and open from May to September), attend a puppet show, sign up for kid-friendly art classes, go for a nature walk and more.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
10th St. and Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20560
The exhibitions in this museum encompass many subjects -- it's a trip you don't want to miss. A large African elephant dominates the entrance, welcoming patrons. Exhibitions children will enjoy exploring include: dinosaurs, butterflies and plants, gems and minerals, bones and the insect zoo.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
2700 F. St. NW
Washington, DC 20566
This cultural center offers a line-up of shows geared towards young audiences, including free performances every day at 6 p.m. -- no ticket required. Don't forget to take the elevator to the roof terrace and catch the view of the Potomac.
International Spy Museum
800 F St. NW
Washington, DC 20004
Ideal for kids who dream of being a detective or spy, the International Spy Museum explains the history of espionage by using interactive exhibits and allowing visitors to participate in assigned missions. What child doesn't want to crack a case or decipher a secret code? James Bond fans will love this visit!
555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20001
The Newseum is filled with continually updated information highlighting journalism and the news. There's an interactive newsroom where your child can be an anchor in a recorded newscast. Also noteworthy for kids: the First Dogs section that features prestigious pups of presidents.
Smithsonian Butterfly Habitat Garden
9th Street, between Constitution Avenue and the National Mall
Washington, DC 20013
Founded in 1995, the Butterfly Habitat Garden is a beautiful collaboration with the National Museum of Natural History (it's located on the top floor of the museum). As you walk through the habitats, butterflies flutter around and may even land on you!
These ten spots just graze the surface of what D.C. has to offer kids and parents, so take your time enjoying them.
"DC is packed with great museums, but you don't have to see an entire museum in the same day," Kelleher suggests. "Spend an hour, tops, with young kids -- and up to two hours with older kids."
Most of the tourist spots in D.C. are free, including all of the Smithsonian Museums that dot the National Mall, and many are open daily (with exceptions for Christmas and New Year's Day).
Kelly Johnston is a freelance writer in D.C. Her work can be found here.