Washington DC Itinerary with Kids: How to Spend 3 Days in Washington DC

Washington DC Itinerary with Kids: How to Spend 3 Days in Washington DC

Heading to Washington DC with kids? This 3 day Washington DC itinerary shows you the best things to do with kids and toddlers, including what to do, eat, and where to stay in DC.

Washington DC is the capital of the United States and it is a perfect place to visit with kids and adults alike. From historical monuments to world class (and free) museums to fun activities, Washington DC has a lot to offer for everyone (even kids)!

If you are planning to spend 2 to 3 days in Washington DC with kids, you would love this super practical DC itinerary. We recently did a family trip from New York City to DC over a long weekend, so I will share with you practical tips to plan the perfect Washington DC itinerary with children, especially those aged from 3 to 8.

This blog contains occasional affiliate links, where I receive a small commission on sales of the products/hotels that are linked at no additional cost to you. In addition, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases

Pinterest Pin: Washington DC itinerary with kids - best things to do with kids in Washington DC

Summary of Washington DC Itinerary With Children

If you are short on time and don’t want to read everything in detail, here is a quick summary to help you plan your family trip to Washington DC.

Best Museums for Kids in Washington DC

  • National Museum of Natural History (free)
  • National Air and Space Museum (free but reservation required)
  • National Museum of the American Indian (free)
  • National Postal Museum (free)
  • Planet Word (free but reservation required)
  • National Zoo (free but reservation required)
  • The National Building Museum: $10
  • International Spy Museum: $35
  • Museum of Illusions: $27.60
  • National Children’s Museum ($18.95)
  • United States Botanic Garden (Free but Children’s Garden only open from May to October)

3 Day Washington DC Itinerary for Families

  • Day 1: Arrival, checking out monuments
  • Day 2: National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of the American Indian
  • Day 3: The National Building Museum, National Postal Museum, Zoo, Georgetown

How to Get To Washington DC

You can easily get to Washington DC by flying, taking the Amtrak or Greyhound bus.

Flying to Washington DC

There are 3 airports in the Washington DC area:

  • BWI (Baltimore/ Washington International Airport): 40 minute drive
  • DCA (Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport): 8 min drive or 34 min on the Blue line
  • IAD (Washington Dulles Airport): 40 minute drive

If you can, always fly into DCA for Washington DC, since it is a very short drive to the National Mall area. You can also easily take the metro from the airport to the touristy area.

If you are traveling internationally, then you probably will have to fly to IAD. But if you are flying Southwest or some other domestic airlines, you can also potentially fly to BWI.

Amtrak to Washington DC

Amtrak from NYC to Washington DC

If you are traveling from Philly or New York City to Washington DC, then taking the Amtrak might be the best choice (unless you really want to drive).

The Amtrak goes to Union Station in DC, then it is a short metro (or Uber) ride away to the National Mall area.

We took the train from New York City Penn Station and it was about a 3 hour ride. The train is spacious with wifi (although sometimes slow), bathrooms, and dining car, making it a great form of transportation especially with kids.

Greyhound to Washington DC

Another way to get to DC without driving is to take the Greyhound. I don’t really recommend this with kids unless it’s a relatively short ride. The Greyhound also stops at Union Station, then you can take a taxi/ Uber or the metro to your hotel.

How to Get Around Washington DC With Family

Walking, taking the metro (or bus) and taking a taxi are the best ways to get around Washington DC, especially with children.

Walking Around Washington DC

Most of the museums and monuments are grouped together in the National Mall, making it very easy to walk around from museum to museum. Even if you take a taxi or metro around, you will inevitably need to walk.

If you are traveling with young children, it is best to bring a stroller since you probably will walk 7000-10,000 steps a day in DC.

Taking the Metro Around Washington DC

Similar to New York City, Washington DC has a network of metro lines that you can take to get around the city. The stations are huge and the trains are relatively clean (at least compared to New York City).

If you are just staying near the National Mall or Chinatown area, Metros are sufficient to get around (on top of walking after getting off the metro).

Unlike NYC though, the metro in Washington DC charges by distance. This means if you have 3 people in your party, you need to get 3 different SmartTrip cards (their metrocard). You can see the fare structure here.

The machine is confusing at best, so be sure you are not getting the unlimited pass by accident. There are elevators in each station, but you need to pay attention to look for them. When we first arrived at Union Station, we could not find an elevator and we were also confused about the metro card.

Taking a Taxi/ Uber

If you are traveling with children to Washington DC, I would recommend taking a taxi (using the Curb app) instead of Uber. The reason is that official taxis don’t require you to have a car seat, and Ubers technically require a car seat.

Taxis were plentiful and came really fast when I used the Curb app, but if you are traveling to areas outside, like even in Georgetown, you would probably have trouble getting a taxi. We couldn’t get a taxi back from Georgetown, so we had to call an Uber.

There are Ubers with car seats, but these are often more expensive and take a much longer time to arrive.

Museums and Tours That Require Advanced Booking in DC

This family friendly Washington DC itinerary includes a ton of fun museums for the little ones. You may have heard that most public museums in Washington DC are free, but there are certain things that require advanced booking.

You may not do everything listed but it is always good to know before you go! Here are what you need to pre-book at least a week or 2 in advance:

  • National Air and Space Museum: There are 2 in D.C., one at the National Mall area and the other in Chantilly, VA. Both are free but the DC one requires a timed reservation. Passes get booked up a week or 2 in advance, especially during spring and summer breaks.

    There is also a same-day pass release at 8:30am every morning. So if you can’t book the tickets in advance, be sure to book right at 8:30am, otherwise they also can run out.

    I saw many families finding out they need a pass when they get there in person, so don’t be one of them and get disappointed.
  • National Museum of African American History: This is open daily, and it is the world’s largest museum dedicated to African American culture and past. It is one of the most popular Smithsonian Museums in DC and requires a timed reservation (free).
  • Washington Monument: This is the needle like monument located in the middle of National Mall. You can actually go up to the top for free, but a tour ticket is required. There are 30 day advanced reservations, 24 hour advanced reservations, and even same day tickets.
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: This museum is free and opens everyday. You also need a timed pass to view the permanent exhibitions. You can enter the museum without a pass however.
  • The White House and/or U.S. Capitol Tour: You can visit the White House and/or U.S. Capitol for free, but advanced reservations are required. You can schedule the U.S. Capitol tour online here, but for the White House tour, you will need to contact your representative.

Where to Stay in Washington DC with Kids

If this is your first time in Washington DC, then I would recommend to stay near the National Mall area for ease of access. When I was doing my research, I narrowed down my research to the area immediately north of the National Mall, Penn Quarter, Chinatown and Foggy Bottom neighborhoods in DC.

Personally I stayed at the Riggs, a 5 star hotel that had a pretty good deal when I booked online and it was not very expensive. They also gave me a $50 for breakfast credit every single morning and gave us a branded teddy bear when we checked out. The room is not the biggest but certainly big enough for a family of 4.

Other hotels that we considered included Hotel Washington, JW Marriott, and Intercontinental. They are even closer to the National Mall and the White House, making it easy to walk everywhere.

3 Day Washington DC Itinerary with Family in Detail

Day 1: Arriving in Washington DC + Monuments

Assuming you are flying into DC (or taking the Amtrak over from Philly or NYC), you will arrive in DC during the day.

After checking into your hotel or simply leaving your luggage there, you can start your 3 days in Washington DC immediately.

I would recommend using the first day to check out the National Mall area and see the monuments. Since you don’t have to worry about museums closing early if you arrive later in the day.

If you have seen the map of DC, you will notice that the National Mall area is a long rectangular shape, with the White House in the north, Lincoln Memorial in the west, the museums in the middle, the US Capitol and don’t forget Jefferson Memorial and tidal basin (especially if you visit during cherry blossom like we did).

The area is huge so you can expect to walk quite a lot. Depending on your interest and how much your kids can walk (or maybe it doesn’t matter since they will be sitting in a stroller), I would recommend spending your first day in Washington DC at the following spots:

Kids friendly Washington-DC-itinerary-white-house

  • Start north with the White House. You can only see the White House outside of the fence. If you are seeing it from the north side, go a little further to Lafayette Square for a better view than if you are against the fence.
  • Walk south towards Washington Monument. If you visit during cherry blossom season there will be a lot of cherry blossom trees on the north and east side of the monument. If you have reserved tickets you can go up Washington Monument for a nice view of the Washington DC area.

  • Continue walking south towards Tidal Basin and Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Since Tidal Basin is a loop, I think it’s best to go on the east side and see the Jefferson Memorial, then follow the walk to Roosevelt Memorial, MLK Jr. Memorial and eventually come back to the World War II Memorial (outside of Tidal Basin).

    If you are visiting in March during cherry blossom season, Tidal Basin will be lined with cherry blossom trees the entire 2.1 miles loop. However it will be really crowded since everyone wants to see the blooms.
  • Once you reach the World War II Memorial, you will see the reflecting pool behind it and the Lincoln Memorial on the other end. If you still have energy, you can walk to Lincoln Memorial and visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial as well as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial nearby.

Since both Lincoln Memorial and Thomas Jefferson Memorial have a ton of steps, you will need to carry your stroller up if you have one with you. Kids would love the walk up and down the steps though.

Dinner at Mi Vida in Penn Quarter

After a long day, check out this super popular upscale Mexican restaurant in Penn Quarter right across from Capital One Area.

I would highly recommend getting a reservation at this restaurant ahead of time, since it gets super popular, especially when there is a game at the arena and on the weekends.

Their drinks are really good and I absolutely loved the Birria dish. The short rib was super tender and flavorful and I still think about it today!

Day 2 in Washington DC: Smithsonian Museum Hopping

Washington DC has a large number of free Smithsonian Museums, and most are located near the National Mall. The most popular museums to visit for kids include:

  • National Museum of Natural History
  • National Air and Space Museum (reservation required)
  • National Museum of the American Indian
  • National Postal Museum

Other popular non-Smithsonian museums in Washington DC that are great for kids include:

  • The National Building Museum: $10 per person
  • International Spy Museum: $35

Since you can’t do all of them in one day, I would suggest picking 2 (or max 3) to explore during your second day in Washington DC.

Morning: National Air and Space Museum

Head over to one of the most popular museums, the National Air and Space Museum. The museum opens at 10am but there is already a line formed 30 minutes in advance outside of the museum.

Keep in mind that this museum requires a timed reservation even though it is free.

You can visit this museum in the afternoon and switch up the order if you want. The reason I put this museum in the morning is because on Thursdays and Sundays, the Air and Space Museum has a free Elmo & Big Bird planetarium show at 10:30am.

This show is super cute for little kids to understand stars and the moon. It also teaches a little bit of Chinese since the show was produced in collaboration with the Beijing planetarium and other Chinese organizations.

This museum is huge but when we visited, half of the museum was under construction so we didn’t see the rockets. However there were other cool new exhibits like the Wright Brothers & the Invention of Airplanes, Destination Moon, an exhibit on race cars, the solar system, and you can walk inside a Boeing airplane to see what the cockpit looks like.

Lunch

You can head over to eat inside the cafeteria of the Natural History Museum, but there are also restaurants outside nearby such as the Capital Grille and Carmine’s (known for huge portions).

There are also a ton of food trucks from actual food to ice creams and drinks outside of the Air and Space Museum (as well as outside of the Natural History Museum ). One word of caution: the ice cream trucks really rip you off and I read on Reddit that one ice cream truck charged a guy $300 for an ice cream and drove off immediately after he paid.

Therefore if you can avoid it, I would not recommend getting ice cream at least from the food trucks outside.

Afternoon: National Museum of Natural History

If your kids enjoy dinosaurs, ocean animals or want to see some butterflies (costs extra), they would like the National Museum of Natural History. No matter what time of the day you go, there is always a line outside of the museum so expect to wait between 10 to 30 minutes to get in.

The most popular exhibit in the National Museum of Natural History is the dinosaur fossils, where you will see fossils of a T-rex biting a Stegosaurus as well as the fossils of other large dinosaurs.

There are other exhibits that include a mummy and ancient Egyptian artifacts, the origin of humans, a hall of mammals, the famous Hope Diamond, and a night sky and stars exhibit.

There is a cafe on the second level and a cafeteria on the first floor. Note that the first floor cafeteria usually has a very long line (but moves relatively fast) and they have kids meals like peanut butter & jelly sandwich, chicken tenders and fries as well as chocolate milk and whole milk.

Bonus: National Museum of the American Indian

Depending on how long you spend in the first 2 museums, you can also briefly check out the National Museum of the American Indian.

What’s so special about this museum and why is it good for kids? Besides the beautiful architecture and interesting exhibits, the best thing about the National Museum of the American Indian for kids is that there is a kids play area.

The imagiNATIONS Activity Center inside the museum is an amazing activity center for kids aged under 10. This center exposes kids to ingenious innovations and ways of life through fun activities such as arts and crafts, basket making, balancing in a kayak, hearing sounds of animals and other activities.

This activity center is first-come-first-serve and you can get a timed ticket from the staff outside of the Activity Center inside the museum. The timed sessions are 30 minutes long and this center closes at 4:30pm everyday. If it’s a busy day, staff will be strict on the 30 minute time limit, but if it’s not too busy they sometimes let you stay longer.

There is also a toddler (3 and under) room where your young ones can explore.

Dinner: Chinatown

After your long day at the museums, head over to Chinatown for some delicious budget eats.

If you want a sit down restaurant that’s still relatively cheap, then head over to Reren Lamen, a noodle soup restaurant that’s super popular for visitors.

If the wait is too long at the restaurant, then walk around the corner to the Luna Hall, a food court with bubble tea and a stall called Dumpling District, known for their dumplings, soup dumplings and noodles.

Other restaurants worth checking out in Chinatown include Kura Revolving Sushi, Spice 6, and Wiseguy Pizza.

Day 3 in Washington DC: More Museums or the Zoo and Georgetown

On your third and last day in Washington DC, you have some options on what you want to do.

You could go to more family friendly museums, or go visit the zoo (unfortunately the panda got returned to China), or take a day trip (or half day trip) to the cute neighborhood of Georgetown.

Personally we went to a couple of more museums and headed to Georgetown because we had no interest in the zoo, but every kid is different so you can decide what you want to do.

If you want to go to more museums, I would highly recommend the National Postal Museum and the National Building Museum, especially for younger kids (like under 6). If you have older children, then they probably will like the International Spy Museum, Planets Words or the Museum of Illusions more.

The National Postal Museum is a free Smithsonian museum. Inside the museum you can design your own stamps, collect up to 6 real stamps, see all the old stamps from all over the world, solve a stamp puzzle game, and “drive” a mail truck.

I personally think the National Postal Museum is probably the most underrated and interesting museum in DC, since there were so many interactive elements for both adults and children.

The National Building Museum is a paid museum where there are rooms that kids can play with real legos and build something. They also had a small hands-on block play area.

In the past there were cool exhibits like a giant maze in the lobby, or a fun house in the lobby. So when you go, be sure to check the website to see what are the current exhibits.

We didn’t go to the Spy Museum and Museum of Illusions since they have those in New York City also, but if you are not from a city with those museums and you have older kids, then those are worth checking out instead of the Building Museum.

Another option you can consider is to check out the United States Botanic Garden, known for its Children’s Garden. It is only open from May to October so we didn’t get to go, but lots of families love this garden since there are a lot of interactive hands-on activities for kids.

Georgetown

Georgetown is a neighborhood about 3 miles west of the National Mall and monument area. You can take a taxi, Uber, or a bus from the museum area to Georgetown.

While some people really love Georgetown, especially for the shopping experience and restaurants and cafes, I didn’t find it to have that many children activities. Therefore if you are visiting with kids, I would recommend checking that out for a couple of hours and grab dinner and ice cream.

If you do want to check out Georgetown, I actually would recommend bringing a balance bike or a scooter for younger kids to scoot around the waterfront park.

Then you can check out the viral Georgetown Cupcake and get ice cream from Pasha Castle Sweets, Tea & Ice Cream, known for their Turkish delights and ice creams. If your kids like cats, you can also stop by Crumbs & Whiskers, a cute cat cafe (reservations highly recommended).

Lastly, walk by the small hidden Rock Creek Park before heading to dinner at Georgetown Seafood, known for their fried shrimp and lobster rolls.

This concludes your 3 day Washington DC itinerary and I guarantee your kids will love all the activities.

Is Washington DC a Good Place to Travel With Kids?

Washington DC is actually one of the best cities to visit with children, young or older. There are tons of free family friendly museums that kids can enjoy, as well as parks and zoos. The streets are wide and clean, making it a great place for those with strollers.

There are public transportation as well as taxis and Uber, so it is super easy to travel around DC with children as well.

3 to 4 days is a great amount of time to visit Washington DC, as you can do a combination of museums, monuments, tours and also see other areas near DC.

Like this post? Pin this Washington DC itinerary to Pinterest!

Pinterest Pin: Washington DC itinerary with kids - best things to do with kids in Washington DC