Visiting Washington DC with Tweens and Teens

Parents share what to do and see in Washington DC with Tween and Teen kids.

Photo caption: The Air & Space Museum got a lot of thumbs up from PSP parents. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute



In this article:


What to do:

Smithsonian Musems

Other Museums

Non Museums Activities Non Museums Activities

Tips on:

Saving money in DC

When to go

What to plan ahead

Where to stay

Where to eat

Driving? Tips about where to stop along the way


What to do:


Smithsonian Museums:

The Smithsonian Institution—the world’s largest museum and research complex—includes 19 museums and galleries and the National Zoological Park.  Most Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are free and open every day of the year except December 25. Here are Smithsonian museum's recommended by PSP members for Tweens and Teens.

National Air & Space Museum
“Air and Space Museum. You can catch an IMAX show.”
“really cool”

The Smithsonian American Art Museum

Museum of the American Indian
“for a yummy lunch.”
We love Washington DC and of all the many museums my kids love the National Museum of the American Indian, and we eat there all the time, the restaurant Mitsitam is fantastic.

The National Museum of American History
“Did American History Museum - they have an exhibit that includes items from all the different wars. Of course lots of weaponry.  Son loved. No lines.”

National Gallery of Art
“The Smithsonian is great in general. I love, love, love the National Gallery.”
“It might be a hard sell to go to a 'portrait gallery' but this is actually a historical museum through portraits. There are some great paintings there - and also some not so great, but it is a collection of people and I challenge anyone not to find it fascinating! The presidents gallery is amazing (Nixon's portrait was painted by Norman Rockwell!- it used to be kept under glass because people kept spitting on it). See Stephen Colbert's portrait hung between the restrooms. I think it is a hoot. Also the glorious room on the third floor is worth seeing for its fabulous arts and crafts high style architecture.”

Postal Museum
"If you happen to be taking the train, the Postal Museum is right by the station too (also a good pit stop if you ever have an Amtrak layover and want to fill in the gap for a spell)."

The Renwick Gallery
“Great -- highly recommend.”
"We recently moved from DC to Brooklyn. All of our friends have raved about taking their tweens to an exhibit titled Wonder at the newly renovated Renwick Gallery, near the White House. It is a Smithsonian, so it is free. It is rare that so many friends will let me know about an exhibit."

National Zoo
“The other thing - though it might be too cold this time of year [February] - is the National Zoo. The reptile house is wonderful in particular - and I say this as someone who hates reptiles.”
“My kids still enjoy the National Zoo.”


Other Museums

Folger Theater

The Kennedy Center
"You might want to see what's on at the Folger Theater or the Kennedy Center."

The National Archives

African American civil war museum and Memorial

Library of Congress
“Love love love the Library of Congress (beautiful building and nice to be in the actual place).”

The National Building Museum

Bureau of Printing and Engraving - US Department of Treasury
“I haven't been to Printing and Engraving since I was a child, but it made a huge impression- all that money stacked up on pallets.”
“I agree with recs for Bureau of Engraving and Printing--great tour about money (bills, not coins) being made. Really interesting.”

Spy Museum
Very interesting and lots of fun! You can buy tickets online in advance.”
“Did Spy museum and yes it was the thing my son liked the most.”

President Lincoln's Cottage tour


When to go:

“For anyone looking in the future -- this President's week is a good time to go to DC -- no lines anywhere”

“DC is wonderful for multiple trips especially off season, but it is true, bring your walking shoes.”


What to plan ahead:

"a Capitol tour (booked online just days prior)."

"Call your congressperson and see if you can get a tour of the Capitol. For a lot of other govt buildings it seems you have to request access months before from your congressperson?"


Money saving tips

For short stays, do free stuff first:
“Lots of folks suggested the Newseum and the Spy Museum -- which may or may not have been more interesting to my kid but with so much to do for free -- and such a short visit (only 2 nights), I didn't think it made sense to spend all that $$.”

Make the free stuff fun:
“Remember, all the Smithsonians and National Gallery are free. But you might want to try to find a way to make it fun… scavenger hunt, bring sketchbooks and copy a favorite work, give them a camera and tell them you will create a book together to remember the visit.”


Non-museum Things to Do

Bike rides:
"Also, there is a great 14 mile (?) bike trail that goes all the way from Memorial Bridge to Mt. Vernon, along the river - and through Alexandria. It is a great ride."

A night monument tour:
“A night tour of the monuments, especially the Lincoln Memorial.”

Explore neighborhoods:
If it's not too cold and you're into walking and architecture and history, neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, Georgetown, Old Town Alexandria, etc. can be lots of fun to explore. I'm sure there are websites or apps with self-guided walking tours.

The fish market:
"The fish market on the Southwest waterfront (interesting to walk around and have lunch if weather is okay."

Visit the Supreme Court:
“Also, not sure if US Supreme Court is in session, and you'd have to get on line really early, but it's certainly riveting. It's possible if you go later in the morning you can still go in and out for short time--not sure of details.


Tips on Where to stay:



We stayed in Alexandria -- thinking we'd metro it around -- but turns out the metro for 3 of us round trip is more $$ than driving in and paying for a lot.”

“Alexandria is a great place to stay - notice the monument to the Confederacy faces away from DC. I was born in a DC hospital, my brother in Arlington. My mother used to say, as a lesson in the saddest chapter of our history, "you would have been for the Union and your brother for the Confederacy". So much history in one small space.”  


Where to eat:

“It’s hard to find good food when you are on the National Mall, and not so fun to walk if it is cold. Most people don’t realize that the Mall is 2 miles long. So think that through in advance. My favorite spots are the Museum of the American Indian cafeteria, gelato underground between the 2 National Galleries (lovely light) or Teaism, not far from the mall.”

"Also agree with lunch suggestion at Museum of Amer Indian."


Where to stop along the way:

"I grew up in Wilmington, DE which is about halfway between NY and D.C. There's a great toddler-friendly playground right off the i-95 freeway called the "Can-do" playground: 
And then if you go down Rte 202 (Concord Pike) a couple of minutes there's a great old-school 50's diner called "The Charcoal Pit" which is kid-friendly (and lots of other options along that road as well...)  
As I was looking this up, I found this helpful site that lists playgrounds across America!"