While raising a family in an urban area is never exactly cheap, Washington, D.C., parents are lucky—our nation’s capital is full of free fun thanks to the awesome Smithsonian museums and the city’s many historic landmarks.
And that’s great, because finding free things to do with kids helps them develop the 5 C’s at the heart of the Begin Approach to helping kids thrive in school and life.
Whether you’re stoking Curiosity visiting museums, taking a trip to the library or a playground to build Core Skills, or seeing art that will help your kids explore their Creativity, you can make a big difference when you introduce them to the world.
The Short Cut
- Free things to do with kids help them build the 5 C’s while having fun without breaking the bank
- Visiting new places and checking out cool events inspires kids to move and explore, helping them create new neural connections
- Washington, D.C., has a ton of free things to do, from checking out U.S. history to the National Air and Space Museum to visiting the U.S. Capitol!
To get you started, we’ve put together a list of 50 things you can do with your kids for free in the D.C. area. So, what are you waiting for? Go out and explore—there’s lots of free fun to be had!
1. Climb aboard a stagecoach, like the one used to deliver the U.S. mail before the extensive railroad system was established, at the National Postal Museum. Kids can also sort packages, design their own stamps, write a postcard, and board the historic Railway Service Car.
2. View paintings and sculptures of every American president at the National Portrait Gallery. Make sure to also stop by Explore!, a hands-on exhibit especially for kids.
3. Hear amazing stories at Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia public libraries. Nearly every day of the week, you can stop into your local library to enjoy stories, songs, and games presented by the librarians.
4. Some of our favorite local bookstores and museums host free story times, too. Check ’em out!
5. See the famous Capitol Columns, walk through the Bonsai Museum, and explore the Youth Garden at the National Arboretum.
6. View dozens of airplanes and rockets, as well as the Lunar Module, a vehicle that traversed across the surface of the moon, at the National Air and Space Museum. Young visitors can also touch the Moon rock Apollo 17 brought back to Earth in 1972. Just make sure to grab a free timed-entry pass before you visit!
7. Show your kids the sculptures created by Alexander Calder at the National Gallery of Art. Keep an eye on their online calendar for special family events and make sure to visit the outdoor sculpture garden in nicer weather.
8. Get up close with live snacks, turtles, and an active beehive at the Rock Creek Nature Center. The Discovery Room and Planetarium are hits with kids, too. While you’re there, you can even become a Junior Ranger and learn about the park!
9. Attend a free performance at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage—no tickets required. Take a seat in one of the most beautiful theaters in the world to see a variety of performers. Shows feature everything from bands and poetry readings to children’s choirs and dance companies.
10. See everything from the original Star-Spangled Banner to the Batmobile at the National Museum of American History. Kids will also enjoy Wegmans Wonderplace (kids up to 6) and the Draper Spark!Lab (ages 6 to 12).
11. Spend the day at the Smithsonian National Zoo—family favorites include the lions, the elephants, and the Amazonia exhibit, where guests can walk through a jungle-like environment. Make sure to reserve a free pass before you go!
12. Play at Clemyjontri Park, a huge playground made for kids of all abilities to play, climb, swing, slide, and explore together. The 10-acre rainbow-themed Park in McLean, Virginia, contains a carousel and picnic pavilion with lots of learning games, maps, a globe, and a clock with moving hands.
13. Take a family tour of the Library of Congress’ Jefferson Building. You can even print out activity sheets beforehand so kids can look for hidden animals! Stop by the Young Readers Center where you can enjoy a book with your kids or participate in activities. Just be sure to reserve a free pass beforehand.
14. Walking the halls of the Three Houses of Government is truly a quintessential Washington, D.C., experience. You can even see where the President lives on a tour of the White House (contact your congressional representative up to three months in advance to book it).
16. Didn’t request White House tour tickets in time? You can still learn a great deal at the White House Visitor Center. View more than 90 artifacts from the White House collection and watch a film about the famous residence.
17. While we’re on the topic of presidents, tour the presidential memorials on the National Mall—the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. Your kids may enjoy grabbing a picture with the statue of Fala—FDR’s faithful pup.
18. Continue the history lesson with a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and World War II Memorial—all on the National Mall.
19. Learn about all types of flowers and plants at the U.S. Botanic Garden. From spring to fall, kids can play in the children’s garden—crawl through a kiwifruit tunnel, learn about composting in a digging area, and admire metal dandelion sculptures.
20. Dance to the beat of the drums at Meridian Hill Park. Every Sunday, drummers gather in the park to play drums together. Everyone is free to dance, sing, and clap along. You can even make your own drums out of cans so you can join in! You might also want to bring along a picnic and visit the unique statues of historical figures like Dante and Joan of Arc.
21. Explore The Wharf—a 24-acre outdoor space. Kids will love the swings on Recreation Pier, or you can visit 7th Street Park for a fountain they can play in! There are tons of free events throughout the year, too.
22. Visit Great Falls Park—there are entrances on both the Virginia and Maryland side. You’ll see the magnificent Potomac River waterfalls, and you’ll often find kayakers and lots of native birds including eagles and egrets.
23. Sit inside a full-sized tipi and learn about basket weaving at imagiNATIONS Activity Center inside the National Museum of the American Indian.
24. On a sunny day, a romp in the outdoor space at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is an iconic experience for D.C. kids.
25. Head to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Kids will best appreciate the artistic expressions of Africa, from ancient to contemporary times, at the children’s workshops hosted by African artists, writers, and performers.
26. Follow the Yellow Brick Road to a Wizard of Oz-themed playground at Watkins Regional Park.
27. Enjoy Wheaton Regional Park. This park is a kid haven with its awesome Adventure Playground, fun hiking trails, and the gorgeous Brookside Gardens. (If you want to spend a few dollars, kids love riding the colorful miniature trains that make a slow path through the woods!)
29. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is one of the most powerful museums in the country, if not the world. It serves as a living memorial to the Holocaust. The exhibits inside will allow older kids and tweens to more thoroughly grasp the gravity of the tragedy.
30. Watch a free kids’ show on Saturday mornings in the historic Helen Hayes Gallery at the National Theatre. Free tickets are available prior to the performance; walk-up tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
31. Learn all about U.S. paper currency and see millions of dollars being printed at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
32. Carve out time for a visit to the National Museum of Natural History—inside you’ll find more than 126 million specimens of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, and human cultural artifacts. Kids will especially enjoy Q?rius, the Coralyn W. Whitney Science Education Center, once it finishes its renovations.
33. Play by the Potomac at Georgetown Waterfront Park. Enjoy the breezes off the water, follow the green cement labyrinth, and check out the boats and ducks sailing by. When weather permits, try out the iconic arching fountain that resembles a giant lawn sprinkler.
34. Opened in September 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is the only museum to be fully dedicated to African American life, culture, and history. The best stops for families include the 1940’s Buick Super in the Green Book exhibit, Step Afrika (where kids can learn to dance) and the Oprah Winfrey Theater.
35. Spend time in Yards Park in the Capitol Riverfront at any time of the year! Picnic and play in the green space and walk over the pedestrian bridge. During nicer weather, kids will have a blast splashing around in the canal basin.
SPRING & SUMMER
36. Get a perfect shot of D.C.’s famous pink trees during the National Cherry Blossom Festival in March and April. Free events vary from year to year but usually include kite festivals, street fests, fireworks, and the annual parade.
37. Tour the embassies (and learn about different cultures) during Passport DC’s Around the World Embassy Tour in May. Many of the buildings even offer kid-friendly activities!
38. For two weeks every summer, the National Mall transforms into a fantasy world of live music, dance performances, storytelling, cultural discussions, and delicious food with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
40. It wouldn’t be the 4th of July without fireworks and D.C. goes all out! Take in the bright lights from the National Mall at least once—the close-up view and the music from the National Symphony Orchestra is unbeatable.
41. Watch the races at the Washington DC Dragon Boat Festival in the spring!
42. Hear the President’s Own Marine Band play on the steps of the U.S. Capitol during the summer. The U.S. Air Force Band performs concerts, too.
43. On a hot day, head to one of the area’s best splash pads or spray parks. Don’t forget the swim diapers!
44. Listen to kid-friendly stories, meet authors, and get books signed at the annual Library of Congress National Book Fest.
FALL & WINTER
45. Work side-by-side with builders and designers (and learn how to pour cement and wire a light!) at the National Building Museum’s Big Build; the event is typically held in October.
46. The local holiday season kicks off the Saturday before Thanksgiving at the Montgomery County Thanksgiving Parade. Look for elements of big city parades (floats, massive marching bands) and hometown charm.
47. Gear up for the holidays by attending a tree lighting—family favorites include celebrations at the White House, National Harbor, and CityCenter DC.
48. See the zoo in a whole new light (pun intended!) at the annual ZooLights display, which runs from Thanksgiving to the end of the year.
49. Bring your mini train lover to a holiday train show. The display at the U.S. Botanic Garden changes from year to year, but always features lots of D.C. landmarks.
50. When the snow falls, head to one of the best sledding hills in the area. There’s nothing quite like sledding down the hills on the grounds of the Capitol Building.
Keep Learning with Begin
You’ll be amazed how much your kids discover while you’re out and about in D.C., and with Begin’s award-winning early learning products you can keep them exploring at home too. We know what matters in learning, and we make it easy—for your kids and for you. See what we can do for your family today!