Please note that some of these sites may be closed or have limited hours due to COVID-19.
Follow this DC itinerary for a trip filled with fun for the whole family, including the grandparents.
Day 1: The Washington Monument, National Children's Museum, World War I Memorial
Start your day exploring the many monuments near and on the National Mall. Monuments are open all day, so feel free to get those family pics whenever it suits your group. We’ll start this tour at the site that literally towers over the city, the Washington Monument. The 555-foot-tall marble obelisk honors our first president, George Washington. You can even get tickets to go inside to its observation deck and exhibits. It provides a great bird’s eye view of our city.
Next we head west to the World War II Memorial, just 0.3 miles or seven minutes from the Washington Monument. Here you can honor the servicemen and women that fought in this war, but also give the younger ones clues to find their state pillar or the Kilroy cartoon etched in granite.
In the next half-mile (or a 10-minute nonstop walk), you can take in Constitution Gardens and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the way to the Albert Einstein statue above Constitution Avenue. A favorite with families, this memorial outside the National Academy of Sciences building includes a celestial map and a four-ton figure of Einstein that kids love to climb around. A seat in Einstein’s lap always makes a great photo.
Five minutes from the Albert Einstein memorial lies the majestic Lincoln Memorial. You can climb the steps to the Lincoln Memorial Chamber (where he sits) or take the elevator from the basement level (where a restroom break is also available). Have everyone in the family try to recite the Gettysburg Address, then see who spots the “I Have a Dream” inscription on the steps, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic speech. You are welcome to take a break on those steps to admire the Reflecting Pool and the entire National Mall before you with the U.S. Capitol in the distance (about two miles away).
For lunch, you can choose from a variety of cuisines at one of the food trucks found throughout the National Mall. Enjoy your lunch on one of the Mall’s many park benches or perhaps bring a blanket and make it a picnic. Everyone is free to run around and get out some energy – why not bust a move and dance? Or play a game of frisbee? Your outdoor activity possibilities are endless.
After lunch you can continue your journey of the National Mall’s monuments or explore one of the museums close by. You could explore the Martin Luther King Jr., Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Jefferson memorials along the Tidal Basin. However, please note that this trek is over two miles long and would add another hour with stops to your exploring.
Museums less than a mile from the Washington Monument include the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of American History or the National Children’s Museum.
Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture examines the role African Americans played in American history and the impacts still felt in our society today. Note that this popular museum requires entry passes to be reserved in advance.
Right next door, you can explore the Star-Spangled Banner, Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and more at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Continue a few blocks north (0.4 miles or eight minutes) to enjoy the National Children’s Museum. While it is aimed at kids 12 and under, kids of all ages can find fun here with science, art and technology exhibits. The museums’ multiple floors can be accessed by elevators, escalators, or ramps. No matter which you choose, DC museums have a lot of gallery space. Visitors are encouraged to pack sealable food and drink containers to stay hydrated in between museums. Please note that these museums close between 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., so you may only see one of the these depending on time.
You can end your day with one last monument stop by walking for 0.2 miles, or roughly five minutes, to Pershing Park and the new World War I Memorial. The site honors General Pershing and the soldiers that fought over 100 years ago in the world’s first global conflict. It includes a Peace Fountain and an upcoming Wall of Remembrance. Another 0.2 miles, or five minutes, west takes you to the view of the White House and its South Lawn, a must-do photo-op for any family. Be on the lookout for Marine One which shuffles the President between his home office and various sites in the area. Across E Street is the Ellipse, home to the National Christmas Tree during the holidays.
If you do prefer to have a guide or a ride around the monuments, you can do a tour with one of the city’s businesses such as Unlimited Biking, Big Bus, Old Town Trolley or DC Circulator. You can have a private tour for your family with companies such as Urban Adventures, which offers small electric cars for monument fun as well as food tours that combine mental and culinary stimulation.
Day 2: Around the Mall at Ford's Theatre, U.S. Botanic Garden, Air & Space and Family Fun
Your morning sightseeing can begin as early as 9 a.m. by visiting Ford’s Theatre. This working theater is most well known for being the site of President Lincoln’s assassination, which families can learn about in various programs such as a performance of the play One Destiny. You can check out artifacts related to this historic event in the museum and exhibits next door.
Then, you can go back in time with your young travelers at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, a six-minute, or 0.3-mile, walk south along 10th Street NW. After being greeted by “Henry,” the museum’s 11-ton African elephant, you can explore dinosaur bones in the Hall of Fossils, animals in Hall of Mammals or Ocean Hall, and for the rock lover of the group, the Hall or Geology, Gems and Minerals. Here you can find gems of all colors including the famous Hope Diamond. The National Museum of Natural History has elevators connecting the three exhibit and gift shop floors.
For your lunch break, surround yourself in nature and art at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. This quiet spot along the National Mall is right next to the National Museum of Natural History. Its Pavilion Café offers hot and cold sandwiches plus soups and salads as well as children’s meal options. After eating, grandparents can enjoy the artwork while the kids sit near the fountain in the warmer months. For a special treat, visit in the winter season when the fountain transforms into an ice rink.
Across the National Mall green space is the Smithsonian Visitor Center, or commonly referred to as the Smithsonian Castle (0.4 miles or seven minutes away). Inside you can learn about the history of the Smithsonian Institution and get insight into all the Smithsonian museums you can visit in DC. Outside to the right, the whole family can enjoy a slice of Americana on the carousel on the National Mall. While not a free attraction, this historic carousel has benches and tables around to take a break and watch the kids make this quintessential childhood memory.
Next walk east along the National Mall for about six minutes (0.3 miles) to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. If a child in your family loves rockets and spaceships, this is a must do. While undergoing a multi-year renovation, the museum is still open and you can see the Wright Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, and a whole section on the Space Shuttle program.
Finish your touring on the eastern side of the National Mall at the United States Botanic Garden. This trek should take about nine minutes for 0.4 miles. The historic conservatory is filled with orchids, succulents and a variety of trees, shrubs and plants all with benches to sit, relax and take it all in. Or get your hands dirty using garden tools to dig and tunnel in the Children’s Garden. Best of all, Bartholdi Park, filled with evergreens, roses and more, has the iconic fountain with views of the even more iconic U.S. Capitol.
You can get a family photo with the Capitol in the background in another four-minute/0.2-mile walk to the Grant Memorial, with this General of the U.S. Army facing his commander in chief, President Lincoln, on the other side of the Mall. It’s another 4 minutes to cross the street and walk to the U.S. Capitol steps, home to presidential inaugurations and the legislative seat of the U.S. government.
Evening options with the family include a night tour of the National Mall with Adventure DC Tricycle Tours, DC Trails, Inc. or one of the other tour operators mentioned previously. Even with the up-close views you’ve had, the monuments and memorials take on a whole new perspective in the moonlight. For a more active family activity, have some friendly competition at the East Potomac Miniature Golf Course. The oldest continually operating miniature golf course in the U.S., it is open year-round from 10 a.m. to dark. And with its location on Hains Point, you can take in the views of the Potomac River and Washington Channel. For a more leisurely and cultured option, catch a show. There are several family-friendly options at the Kennedy Center, the National Theatre, Signature Theatre Company or Arena Stage.
Walking Distance: 2.0 miles (map)
Day 3: South of the Mall at L'Enfant Plaza & The Wharf
This third day takes in the area south of the National Mall, beginning with the Museum of the Bible. This museum takes you through the history of the Bible through ancient manuscripts and books to the impacts the Bible has made on history and culture. There are plenty of hands-on activities at each of its six levels (take the elevator for a rotating video screen and accompanying music.). There’s also a Courageous Pages children’s area on the first floor where the kids can play Bible-themed games; grandparents can help the younger children read the stories and use the various mechanical elements or take a break.
The next stop is L’Enfant Plaza for some lunch and shopping, just 0.6 miles east or a 11-minute walk. There’s something for everyone with fast food standards and international options, plus its light-filled squares provide a quiet place to relax with indoor Wi-Fi.
In the afternoon, visit the International Spy Museum next door. It’s the one space where the kids can live “dangerously” and complete their own undercover mission using a badge and interactive kiosks throughout the museum. The whole family can enjoy playing the role of spy, working on disguises and trying to decode messages, all the while seeing espionage artifacts from all over the world and centuries old (plus some great movie items for the 007 fans).
For more hands-on experiences, take the family to ARTECHOUSE which is a six-minute, 0.3-mile walk, from the spy museum. This is a unique space where art, technology and science merge, which will cause you and your kids to never look at art the same way again. Plus, everyone can get involved with the exhibits through a variety of interactive elements.
For dinner, walk back to L’Enfant Plaza at 10th Street to take the SW Shuttle to the Wharf neighborhood. This five-minute shuttle is free and wheelchair accessible. Once at the Wharf, exciting restaurants like Del Mar, Mi Vida and Hank’s Oyster Bar treat your taste buds while the water views are a feast for your eyes. Plus, there is plenty of family friendly fun at the Wharf to explore any time of day.
After dinner, you can get a view of DC from the water in a boat tour. The water taxi docks at the Transit Pier, only 0.2 miles or a three-minute walk from the SW Shuttle stop. The water taxi can take you to the neighborhood of Georgetown where the adults and older kids in your group can take a walk on the spooky side with a ghost tour. Tours are offered year-round by companies like DC Ghosts and Fiat Luxe Tours and often can be accommodated for various ages.
Walking Distance: 1.3 miles (map)
And if you're looking for more adventures, don’t forget family favorites further out from the downtown area including attractions like the Planet Word Museum, Smithsonian's National Zoo and the O Mansion as well as shopping and eating districts such as Union Market and Yards Park.
Looking for more ideas for your visit to Washington, DC? Explore even more adventures and itineraries here.