You are here

DC On the Water: 12 Waterfront Activities & Things to Do in Washington, DC

Kayaking on the Capitol Riverfront - Family Friendly and Waterfront Activities in Washington, DC

Family-friendly outdoor water activities like boat tours, kayaks, paddleboarding and fountains make a splash in Washington, DC.

The District’s two rivers, the Potomac and the Anacostia, shine brightly once the warm weather of spring and summer settles on the city. Fortunately for visitors, there are plenty of ways to explore Washington, DC’s waterfronts, with family-friendly outdoor recreation that include being both on the rivers and lounging beside it. We’re not just talking “lazy afternoons” here – many DC waterfront things to do have a fitness component. Read on for more family activities and waterfront fun in the nation’s capital.

1 Live the Wharf life at DC’s hottest new development

Recreation Pier at The Wharf on the Southwest Waterfront - Dining, Shopping and Entertainment Destination in Washington, DC

DC’s waterfront offerings went through the roof when The Wharf on the Southwest Waterfront debuted in October 2017. The development features so many things to do, eat and drink – including awesome waterfront views, an array of stylish restaurants, four distinct piers, three new, state-of-the-art hotels, two great new music venues in The Anthem and Pearl Street Warehouse and a free water jitney that takes you to the gorgeous East Potomac Park. We know you want to check it out.

2 Savor the outdoors at The Yards Park

Children playing in Yards Park on the Capitol Riverfront - Things to do on the water in Washington, DC

Located near Nationals Park and at the center of the bustling Capitol Riverfront neighborhood, The Yards Park sits next to the Anacostia River in resplendent fashion. Its bridge is an architectural marvel while its modernized “outdoor rooms” make the park a perfect place for playtime. Nearby, waterfront outfitters Capital SUP offer kayak and standup paddleboard rentals complemented by views of the river's wildlife.

3 Hang out at The Washington Harbour in Georgetown

Summer sunset at the Washington Harbour at the Georgetown Waterfront - Waterfront activities and things to do in Washington, DC

Georgetown’s river waterfront is home to tons of great restaurants – many, including SequoiaTony and Joe's Seafood Place and Farmers Fishers Bakers, offer patio seating in warm weather – and plenty of outdoor activities. In summer, children (and adults, too) can splash in the sprinkler-style water fountain, watch the boats and feed the ducks. Before or after, get your shopping on in the historic neighborhood.

Discover Washington, DC in 360 Degree Video - Plan a Trip to DC

4 Head to the Key Bridge Boathouse for kayaking and paddleboarding

@_jenk - Summer Boating on the Georgetown Waterfront in Washington, DC

Located in Georgetown on the Potomac River, Key Bridge Boathouse is a great place to go for on-the-water adventures. Rent a kayak, canoe or even a standup paddleboard and make the river your personal playground. You should be able to catch views of the gorgeous Georgetown waterfront, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and even the Washington Monument. You can also paddle over to Theodore Roosevelt Island, which is an attraction unto itself.

5 Have a monumental time with Tidal Basin Paddle Boats

Tidal Basin Jefferson Memorial Paddle Boats - Washington, DC

Gaze at the gorgeous Jefferson Memorial and an array of cherry blossom trees as you glide around the Tidal Basin on either a pedal boat or a swan boat from Tidal Basin Paddle Boats. Expect picturesque views of the National Mall as you navigate one of the most scenic areas in the District.

6 See the sights on a DC boat tour

Odyssey Cruise on the Potomac River in Washington, DC

Located on the Southwest WaterfrontEntertainment Cruises offers sightseeing tours daily, providing stunning visuals of the memorials and monuments from an on-the-water perspective. Its boats offer lunch and dinner cruises, as well as themed excursions, so your options are plentiful. There's also Embark DC, which offers customized tours that depart from the Georgetown waterfront; Potomac Riverboat Company, which offers a variety of narrated cruises on the river, including water taxi excursions; and DC Cruises, which sports 100-passenger tour boats to see the monuments, as well as water taxi tours that connect Georgetown and the National Mall.

7 Discover dazzling views with DC Ducks

DC Ducks - Washington, DC Tours

DC Ducks offers awesome sightseeing tours on its distinctive amphibious vehicles. You start at Union Station, driving past the city’s famous monuments and museums, learning as you go. Then, the car turns into a boat, taking you straight into the Potomac River for a thrilling adventure off-land. This 90-minute journey is unlike any other tour in the District and a great family-friendly activity.

8 Walk, run or bike along one of DC’s outstanding trails

Runners in Georgetown along the C and O Canal Towpath - Outdoor activities in Washington, DC

Both the Mount Vernon Trail and the Capital Crescent Trail are ideal for a leisurely hike or an eye-popping bike ride. The Mount Vernon Trail winds for 18 miles, starting at George Washington's Mount Vernon (see below for more on the estate) and ending at Theodore Roosevelt Island, with gorgeous views of the Potomac River all along the way. The Capital Crescent Trail starts in Georgetown and winds all the way to Silver Spring, Md., flanking the Potomac throughout.

9 Take a C&O Canal Boat Ride
Take a C&O Canal Boat Ride Kathleen Conklin

At the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center in Virginia, you can hop on with C&O Canal Boat Rides and take a historic trek down the canal. The boat is a replica of those used in the 1870s, when the C&O was oft-used to transfer products like coal and lumber. Take in scenery as rangers in period clothing guide the way. Both kids and adults will enjoy this one-hour adventure (kids three and under ride for free).

10 Visit Mount Vernon, George Washington’s riverside estate

@kerrentonsnow - George Washington's Mount Vernon estate in Virginia - Historic sites and landmarks near Washington, DC

The historic and elegant George Washington's Mount Vernon sits right next to the Potomac River in Virginia, providing jaw-dropping scenery and plenty of period-authentic features. The property includes the iconic mansion, outbuildings, a tomb and even a working blacksmith shop and farm. The entire family will also love the interactive exhibits and artifacts inside the Museum and Education Center.

11 Explore National Harbor

Capital Wheel National Harbor - Maryland

Set just south of Washington, DC on the Maryland banks of the Potomac River, National Harbor presents numerous recreational options, including an exceptional roster of restaurants and hotels. The kids will love riding the Capital Wheel, which sports amazing vistas of the River, Old Town Alexandria and even Mount Vernon.

12 Make your way down the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail

Summer evening on Anacostia Riverwalk Trail in Capitol Riverfront - Waterfront activities in Washington, DC

The southeast pocket of DC has undergone significant development in recent years, including a continuous new 20-mile Anacostia Riverwalk Trail that runs along both sides of the Anacostia River through the Capitol Riverfront and Anacostia neighborhoods. Run, bike or stroll down the 10-12 foot wide trail that winds next to the revitalized waterway.

Looking for more warm weather fun? Check out the best things to do this spring and summer in the District.