Washington, D.C. is the ultimate place to take your children. They can watch their school history books come to life in an exciting way — from the fantastic museums to the historic monuments — and you’ll pay nothing for the experience (okay, except for hotels and food).
There are so many free and fun things to do with kids in D.C., so pack your bags for a cheap, fun and educational getaway.
Technically, this one counts as numbers 1 to 19, as there are 19 Smithsonian museums in D.C — all of which are free to enter and explore! Our favorite Smithsonian museums for kids are the National Museum of Natural History, National Geographic Museum, National Museum of American History, National Air and Space Museum, National Postal Museum and the National Zoo. (Yes, even the zoo is free to enter!)
Abe Lincoln proudly faces the Washington Monument from his post at Lincoln Memorial Circle, and families can visit the 19-foot statue of our 16th president at no cost. The Lincoln Memorial is open 24 hours — go at night for a dramatic perspective of the statue and National Mall.
Walking Tour of National Mall
Speaking of the National Mall, it’s another attraction that’s free in Washington, D.C. Stroll the outdoor promenade and stop at the historic sites on your own, or join in on a free walking tour of the National Mall. DC by Foot offers free walking tours that cover several major sites in D.C. – the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument (no entry), Vietnam Veterans Memorial and more.
Cherry Blossom Festival
There’s no price on the beauty of Washington, D.C.’s famous cherry blossoms, which typically bloom in late March/early April. And the National Cherry Blossom Festival itself is completely free to enjoy, with arts and crafts, a kite-flying event, fireworks, shows and more. Click on our Family Guide to the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. for more details.
Between the mighty Potomac River and the Washington Channel is Tidal Basin, a reservoir that’s surrounded by lush greenery and in the spring, the area’s famous cherry blossoms. Tidal Basin is beautiful no matter the time of year, with paved walkways surrounding it. (You might also consider a paddleboat ride on the Tidal Basin, though there’s a cost).
The White House
Yes, you can tour the White House – for free! Tours just need to be pre-arranged with proper documentation and forms submitted. See How to Tour the White House with Kids to plan your family’s visit.
The tall monument that, from a distance, resembles a needle, can be explored free of charge. There are 898 steps, and in 2019, there will be an updated elevator system for easier access to the incredible views at the top. The Washington Monument is closed in the meantime, but the pictures are free!
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery is a humbling hour or two for any visitor — children included. It is where many of our nation’s military and leaders have been laid to rest, including John F. Kennedy, Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis and William Howard Taft. Be sure to visit the Tomb of the Unknowns, dedicated to the unidentified soldiers who lost their lives serving our country. New in 2017 is a free World War I exhibit at the welcome center.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is another humbling site that shouldn’t be missed on any trip to Washington, D.C. Some of King’s most famous quotes about equality are etched in the stone statue.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, or FDR Memorial, is two statues: one of Mr. Roosevelt sitting in a chair, the other his small dog resting by his side.
Are your children learning about the Declaration of Independence in school? Take them to the Jefferson Memorial to learn about the forefather who authored that very important document: Thomas Jefferson.
National Mall 4th of July
Celebrate Independence Day on the National Mall, surrounded by the history of our nation. It’s free! Family-friendly activities include arts and crafts, live entertainment and of course, a grand fireworks display.
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