Nine things to do with kids in Washington DC

Lisa Blake
03 November 2014

If you're taking the whole family to Washington DC, and want things to do that will keep the kids happy, fear not — Lisa Blake has done the legwork for you

Taking the family to Washington DC for a dose of American history but fear a rebellion from the young? That was the challenge I faced earlier this year when taking my two teenage boys to our nation’s capital. It took a bit of research but I discovered it is possible to squeeze reverence and roller-coasters into the same trip. Here are a few activities and sights to keep everyone entertained:

1. Segway tours — 16 years +
It may seem a bit offbeat, but that’s why it’s so much fun — touring the self-serious Washington landmarks on a Segway motorised scooter. Several companies offer two-hour guided tours covering over 25 DC sites on these new-fangled, two-wheeled gizmos, which do require a certain level of fitness to operate. £40—£50 depending on tour, available morning to evening.

2. Bike the sites (all ages)
Keen to get some exercise along with your history? You will be pleased to know that guided bicycle tours exist for everyone in DC — even the tiniest tot can ride along in a carriage. Prices vary depending on equipment rented – bikes and helmets, as well as trailers for the very little ones, are available, but call ahead to make reservations. Evening is the best time to bike between the monuments - the temperature is cooler and the crowds are gone. Those who want something less structured can rent the bike, get a map and tour the city at your own pace. £25 adults, £18 kids, £3 more for a night tour.

3. The International Spy Museum (7+)
Young fans of the Spy Kids film franchise and adult fans of James Bond will enjoy this private museum dedicated to the art of espionage. It boasts the world’s largest ever collection of espionage artifacts on public display, and exhibits are interactive and immersive, giving you a real taste of spy life. Go now to see Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains and get in touch with your inner Dr No. The museum also stages special events for families with young children. Adults £14, children age 7-11s £9, children age 6 and under go free. 

4. National Geographic Society HQ (all ages)
If your kids are budding anthropologists, palaeontologists or just love wildlife, then they'll appreciate a visit to the headquarters of this esteemed magazine and its TV channels. The Society has fascinating exhibits and lecturers, of course, but that’s not the cool part. The place to be is in the restaurant. Explore one of the main exhibitions, then head for the food hall: it’s subsidised by the organisation and it’s where society guests and members eat, so the quality is outstanding and the price extremely easy on the wallet. While enjoying your wholewheat pasta, bask in the knowledge that you are dining with real life explorers, archaeologists and filmmakers. Check website for calendar, tours and exhibits. 10 am–6 pm, 7 days a week. Adults £7, ages 5-12 £4, under-fives free. 

5. Georgetown University Athletics Department (all ages)
Georgetown University is the oldest Catholic university in the US. It also boasts a superb athletics department showcasing its standout sport – rowing. Men’s and women’s crew teams practice and compete here all year. Those unfamiliar with the sport will be amazed at how exciting it is as a spectator, not to mention the joy of being on the banks of the Potomac River. Depending on the weather, bundle up, but all the cheering is sure to warm you up. If the weather is co-operative, make a picnic of it. Either way, it’s a surprisingly fun excursion for families of all ages, not to mention an exciting and unusual way to begin an exploration of Georgetown. If watching the Georgetown Hoyas row floats your boat, rent your own at Key Bridge Boathouse where canoes and kayaks are available (ages 13 and up). Take them out on the Potomac to get a view of the monuments from the water. 

6. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (all ages)
This vast museum is so much fun, even for those who don’t particularly think of themselves as aeronautically inclined. Climb inside an actual spacecraft, or check out the old-school aeroplanes and come away with a new appreciation for that luxe A380 flying you home. As if all of that insight into flight isn’t enough, admission is also free. 

7. National Zoo (all ages but best for the little ones)
Set in Rock Creek Park, DC’s zoo is lusciously landscaped and the animals well cared for, housed in enclosures and alongside exhibits that redefine the typical zoo experience. As part of the Smithsonian Museum, it does not charge for admission, and strollers can be rented for smaller wildlife fans. Afterwards, take a stroll up the street for dinner at Comet Pizza and Ping Pong. 

8. Comet Pizza and Ping Pong (all ages)
Excellent pizza, ping pong and a full bar: some might say Comet is the ideal family restaurant. Relaxed enough for the adults to unwind, hip enough for the teens to feel cool and friendly enough for the toddlers to throw their pasta with impunity. An excellent place to unwind following a day at the zoo. Check its website’s calendar for live music offerings.

9. Six Flags America (ages 5+)
Invest in a rental car and, in just 40 minutes of drive time, find yourself in pure theme park bliss. Like all Six Flags parks, Washington’s has separate areas for families with small children as well as a pack of serious roller-coasters to make both teens and adults reconsider their theories on gravitational pull and kinetic energy. Order tickets online for best prices. Full price £38, guests under 4’8” £25, under-twos free.