Kid-Friendly Washington DC on a Shoe-String Budget

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

8 Free or Affordable Things to Do with Young Kids in DC

Washington, DC is a great place to visit with kids, luckily for parents you can bring together an entire weekend of activities without spending a dime thanks to our tax dollars at work funding the Smithsonian Museums.

In terms of finding a place to stay there are two easy ways to travel hack Washington, DC and accommodations for less. The first is to visit DC on the weekends, weekend rates at hotels drop $50 to as much as $100 dollars per night as business travelers decline. This means that hotels which were already reliable are not some of the cheapest hotels to stay in DC over the weekend.

The second way to travel hack Washington, DC is to stay outside of DC in Maryland or Virginia. Most travelers like staying in Arlington, VA because it is on the orange line which is the same line as the Smithsonian Museums and National Mall

Here are eight educational venues that any family with a young child can take advantage of!

1. Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Smithsonian National Zoo by Pamela Jenkins
Image: Smithsonian National Zoo, Photo by Pamela Jenkins

Cost: Free

One of the oldest zoos in the US, the National Zoo is a great place to visit with kids of all ages!

The zoo is home to over 1,500 animals across 300 different species and sits on 163 acres of land. Whether your child wants to say hi to the Giant Pandas, see the newborn cheetah cubs or pet the farm animals in the Kid’s Farm exhibit, your family will have a great zoo adventure that your animal loving child will love!

If you’re staying in the Woodley Park area, then you’re in luck! Because, the zoo is right in the heart of the Woodley Park neighborhood and only a few blocks from the Woodley Park-Zoo Metro station.

Remember though, it IS free, so it can get pretty crowded by midday. To get the most out of your zoo adventure, make sure to arrive early when the zoo opens; plus the animals are more likely to venture out in the open then, too

2. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Dinosaur Hall by Chip Clark
Image source: Smithsonian Natural History Museum by Chip Clark

Cost: Free

If you’re looking for something incredibly fun with educational value, the National Museum of Natural History will be right up your alley!  Like all Smithsonian institution’s, it’s free admission. They have tons of interesting exhibits to pique your child’s curiosity about the natural world and biology.

Young kids will especially love the Q?rius jr. Discovery Room that features hands on activities to bring out the inner scientist. The bonus: it’s fun for parents too!

Some other activities to look for are the IMAX 3D movies (which is less than $10 for a ticket) or the Butterfly exhibit ($6 or less for a ticket). The National Museum of Natural History is located in the National Mall area, making it easily accessible to anyone staying in the Metro DC area!

3. National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Image source: Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, by Mark Avino

Cost: Free

Does your child love pretending to fly? Fascinated by spaceships and planes? Let the inner pilot and astronaut be amazed by the National Air and Space Museum!

This is yet another museum in the Smithsonian series and it’s a must see for families. It’s filled with incredible engineering accomplishments and kids will love the many interactive exhibits available in the museum.  If you plan ahead you can also find many family friendly events that will engage your little one even more!

4. National Museum of American History

Babe Ruth Baseball
Image Source: Smithsonian Institution

Cost: Free

America’s history may be shorter than most other countries, but it certainly doesn’t lack in important moments! Another museum in the Smithsonian series, located in the National Mall area, is the National Museum of American History.

Explore the exhibits that boast America’s accomplishments and history in this impressive museum. Whether it’s famous battles, inventors, snapshots into the past, or the Spark!Lab activity for kids, expose your children to appreciating the rich history in creating, and maintaining, America.

5. United States Botanic Garden

US Botanical Gardens
Image Source: “US Botanical Garden” by James is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Cost: Free

For anyone with kids (or anyone in general!) who love flowers, plants, and experiencing a whole new environment, make sure to include the Botanic Garden as a stop for your DC trip. It’s one of my all time favourite places to visit as it’s truly a beautiful sight to see.

With their incredible collection of plants, they create different worlds like jungles, tropics and deserts as well as specific gardens for rare and endangered plants. In all they have about 14 permanent and rotating garden themes!

If you plan on visiting DC in the summer, you’re in luck! Their Children’s Garden opens for the season during the summer months, where your child can play and explore the garden to learn, with their own hands, about plants. They may get a little dirty so be prepared!

6. National Museum of the American Indian

Museum of the American Indian
Image source: Wikimedia Commons, Author Gryffindor

Cost: Free

This museum is a great stop for any family looking for an intimate look into Native American culture. Take a look at the history of the earliest residents of the United States and learn how they persevered through hardships.

As children explore through the number of artifacts and exhibits, they can also find fun activity carts along the way that gives them hands on experience crafting and making everyday tools just like the artifacts they in the exhibits. NMAI also has the imagiNATIONS activity center, perfect for young children and adults alike.

Activities such as weaving baskets, exploring full-sized tipis and the many ways Native Americans utilized nature are all available for your young child to enjoy.  The National Museum of the American Indian is also located in the National Mall area, near the L’Enfant Plaza and Federal Center SW metro station.

7. National Geographic Museum

National Georgraphic Museum by Mary Mark Ockerbloom
Image Source:  Wikimedia Commons by Mary Mark Ockerbloom

Cost: $10 for kids 5-12 and free for children 4 and under

The National Geographic Museum hosts tons of family friendly exhibitions that your children can learn from and love. One of the most family friendly museums in DC, their most popular family friendly exhibit is the Earth Explorer exhibit.

Let your child experience what it’s like to become an explorer and an observer of nature through interactive displays and learn the skills employed by real-life explorers.  You can find the National Geographic Museum a few blocks north of the White House near the Farragut North and West metro stations.

Fun tip: the National Geographic Museum isn’t very expensive, but you can save even more if you purchase tickets online (they’ll waive any service fees!).

8. International Spy Museum

International Spy Museum Safe Cracking
Image source:

Cost: $14.95 for kids 7-11 and free for children 6 and under

Probably one of the coolest museums for both parents and kids, the International Spy Museum is well worth the trip!

This is also the most expensive of all the museums listed, but at under $15 for kids between 7 and 11 and being free for younger kids, it really is affordable. Plus, this museum is interesting and fun for everyone.  There are tons of interactive exhibits and interesting facts about the history of spies, including a nod to one of the most notable film spy: James Bond. Learn about the various gadgets, technology, and methods utilized by the second oldest profession.

You can find the International Spy Museum a few blocks north of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, near the Gallery Pl-Chinatown metro station.

About The Author: 
I’m Kate Howard, an avid traveler, parent and nature buff. If I’m not spending time exploring DC for family trips, I’m relaxing at home with my two favorite people in the world. Always up for new adventures with my child and SO. Fun fact: I despise traffic and finding parking, like most others who have ever lived in DC.








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