It can be exciting to visit Washington DC with teens. There are endless things to do, even if you just spend the day touring the National Mall! The United States capital is one of the best places if you have a budding politician or historian in your midst. But it’s really a special experience for the whole family.
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Fun Things to do in Washington DC with teenagers
There are a variety of things to do in D.C., from must-see historic sites to fun local destinations. There’s something on this list for everyone. Maybe you want to visit iconic landmarks or are looking for creative and fun ways to learn about the nation’s capital. Make the most out of your trip with these suggestions.
1. International Spy Museum
Lovers of spy movies and real-life stories of international espionage will want to stop by the International Spy Museum. It’s located just south of the Smithsonian museums along L’Enfant Plaza SW. Just seeing the museum is sure to take your breath away with its unique ultra-modern architectural details. Inside, you will find a cool museum that is fun for the whole family!
Visitors can simply walk among the exhibits, but it’s more fun to “go on a mission.” You’ll be given a spy name and work to crack codes across the museum.
Work on interactive exhibits across the different floors and see artifacts from famous spy movies like James Bond. You’ll also learn about American spies across history. Since this is a very popular museum, I suggest planning half a day so you have plenty of time to experience it.
2. National Museum of African American History and Culture
Visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture near the Washington Monument. This is a massive museum with multiple floors that deserves more than one visit.
Also, tickets for the coming month come out the first Wednesday of the month prior and they tend to go pretty quickly. Exhibits are set up chronologically from the first floor, covering a mind-blowing amount of Black history in America.
The NMAAHC does a great job covering important Black men and women across the nation’s history. Walk through educational and interactive exhibits covering things like slavery, the civil rights movement, entertainment, sports, and more.
There are even revolving galleries on current events and contemporary Black artists. It can be sobering to walk through some of the exhibits at times, but it’s done respectfully.
3. National Museum of the American Indian
At the western end of the National Mall, to the right of 4th Street SW is the National Museum of the American Indian. It’s a beautiful organic-looking building and the architecture is worth seeing, even if you don’t go in. Out front, you can visit the reverent Native American Veterans Memorial. The museum is open every day from 10 AM to 5:30 PM with free admission.
Inside you’ll walk through rooms full of exhibits covering the known history of indigenous peoples across the Western Hemisphere. There are presentations on tribes local to the surrounding Chesapeake region, too.
Learn about the impact indigenous people have had on American history, and about the cultures, traditions, and beliefs of different Native American tribes. There are artifacts, contemporary art displays, and interactive exhibits as well.
And if you’re hungry, the Mitsitam Cafe is a must. They not only serve American cafe classics but also contemporary takes on Western indigenous foods!
4. Local Sporting Events
Washington DC is a great place to attend a sporting event with your teens. There’s always something going on!
Both the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the Washington Capitals hockey team play at the Capitol One Arena north of the National Gallery of Art.
Or head south along the Anacostia River to watch the Washington Nationals MLB team at Nationals Park or the DC United play soccer at Audi Field.
Throughout the year, you can also find special events around the capital. The whole family can watch or participate in the fun DC Bike Ride that happens every fall. Or sign up for the huge, prestigious Marine Corps Marathon that’s been going on for four decades and welcomes runners of all skill levels!
5. DC Scavenger Hunt
When you’re looking for things to do in DC with teens, one of the best ways to get them interested is to make it a game. Why not bond over a family scavenger hunt that takes you across the entire National Mall? Hunt for specific buildings find inscriptions on national monuments, and notice details you would probably otherwise ignore!
You can find companies like Scavenger Hunt DC that have public events regular with details on their website. They meet at locations around the National Mall and split people into groups with clues.
Or if self-guided tours are more your thing, go with a great app like Let’s Roam. They’re super easy to use and let you pick your city and different themed tours/games. Let’s Roam even has kid-friendly characters and you can limit who in the family has clues depending on how many tickets you buy. Plus, you can pause the game as needed.
6. White House Tour
If you’ve ever been to the DC area you might have seen the White House from afar through the gates on Pennsylvania Avenue and wondered what it looks like inside. It is possible to tour the building, but it does require some planning in advance!
Tours of the White House are first come, first served, and have free admission. But there are some specific instructions you’ll need to pay attention to on the White House website.
First, if you’re an American citizen, you’ll have to schedule your tour through your current Member of Congress. If you’re not an American citizen, you’ll have to go through your embassy in Washington DC.
Second, tickets are in high demand, and you should book them as early as possible before your trip. However, you can’t book them more than 3 months in advance, and you have to book them at least 3 months in advance. And this all happens once you have confirmation from your Congress Member.
Tours are currently held between 8 AM to 12:30 PM Tuesday through Saturday and you’ll be given your time slot in a confirmation email.
There are 45-minute long self-guided tours and they cover public rooms in the East Wing, and possibly the Oval Office and the South Lawn where the president’s helicopter lands.
Try to visit the White House Visitors Center beforehand for exhibits with historic artifacts (and a restroom). Nearby there’s also the White House Historical Association store where you can pick up gifts and souvenirs to commemorate your visit!
7. U.S. Capitol Building Tour
The rules for booking a US Capitol building tour are similar to booking a White House tour. The difference is that if you’re unsure of going about things yourself, you can also go directly through the US Capitol Visitors Center website. They require reservations, and your tour will begin at the visitor’s center with an educational orientation video.
Tour guides will give you an informative 90-minute-long tour of the most famous government buildings in the world. You’ll see the Rotunda, the Crypt, and the National Statuary Hall. However, you will not be able to see where the Senate and House meet.
The Library of Congress and the Supreme Court buildings are directly behind the Capitol Building. You can book tours of the Library of Congress on-site 20-minutes before you want to attend, but the Supreme Court doesn’t offer tours. However, there are portions of that building open to the public.
8. Nighttime Tour of the Monuments
As breathtaking as monuments like the Lincoln Memorial and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial are during the day, they’re even more impressive at night. The buildings and sculptures after dark when they are lit against the backdrop of the night sky are stunning! You can find a variety of moonlit tours from bus to biking to walking tours.
I recommend taking a tour via an open-air trolley so you can enjoy the sights and take pictures. You’ll be led by experienced drivers and tour guides around the historic DC area to see some of the most iconic floodlit monuments.
During the 3-hour tour, you’ll be allowed to get out at many locations for a short walk to look around and listen to narration from your guide. Plus, guides are very accommodating if you have family members with mobility issues.
9. Performance at the Kennedy Center or Ford’s Theatre
If you would like to see some of the most amazing shows in the world in a beautiful, historic setting, consider visiting the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts Center.
The building sits on the banks of the Potomac River heading north from the Lincoln Memorial and has been home to iconic names in music and entertainment. Throughout the year you can see Broadway Shows, performances by the National Symphony Orchestra, or even the Washington National Opera. Or you can walk through exhibits honoring the center’s namesake, John F. Kennedy.
Ford’s Theatre might even be more famous. This historic site was the location of Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. The theater looks almost exactly like it did 160 years ago. Take in musical and theatrical performances or you can tour the historic site and museum for a small fee.
If you visit during the spring and summer months, your tour will include a play that relives the experiences of those working in the theater on the night of the assassination.
10. Take Paddle Boats Out on the Tidal Basin
If you’re visiting DC with teens in mid-March, you don’t want to miss out on a trip to the Tidal Basin. The waterway is surrounded not just by beautiful white stone national monuments, but also by hundreds of stunning blush-pink cherry blossom trees!
The famous flower blooms only last a few weeks once the buds appear, but when they do, they’re quite the sight to behold. A uniquely beautiful way to see them is to rent paddle boats at the Tidal Basin.
Getting out on the water is a fun pastime that gives you a unique viewpoint of the landmarks and the surrounding scenery. Spring through fall you can book reservations for a 4-person boat to be taken out between 10 AM and 5 PM.
Imagine seeing the Jefferson Memorial or the Washington Monument from the water! There’s a parking lot close by if you need it, but this is a very popular activity, so don’t depend on there being space.
11. Washington Monument
The Washington Monument was completed in 1884 to honor George Washington. The obelisk is a gorgeous centerpiece of the National Mall and you can see it in a few ways.
Exploring the grounds at the base of the monument is an experience your teen will never forget. You can read educational markers and take pictures with the monument in the background.
If you have time, be sure to plan a visit to the top of the Washington Monument. There are exhibits and works of art to see in this piece of history.
The view of the National Mall, the Reflecting Pool, and the White House are breathtaking from the observation deck that sits 500 feet above the ground.
There are a few ways to buy tickets. You can go the same day at the Washington Monument Lodge, but tickets sell out fast. It’s recommended to buy them online in advance.
12. Ghost Tour in DC with teens
One of the best things to do in Washington DC with teens is to take a ghost tour. There are many different kinds of tours in the area.
I recommend the Ghosts of DC walking tour. During the 90-minute adventure, your tour guide will take you to some of the most important historical landmarks in the Capitol. Enjoy a mix of history and ghost stories as your guide tells you fascinating bits of the city’s dark history that you’ve probably never heard!
This tour is great for guests of all ages. And it’s nice that they keep the tours small with a max of 15 people.
13. Union Market
For something a little different during your visit to DC, try to make time for a visit to the Union Market. Located in the northeastern part of the city, it’s a melting pot of some of the hippest eateries and boutiques around. A great way to break up a vacation filled with historic sites is to show the budding cultural scene of our nation’s capital.
Teens will love exploring some of the highest-quality coffee shops, cafes, and restaurants in DC. Enjoy ice cream, international cuisine, or local fresh foods like seafood.
Union Market has been a significant part of the city for almost 100 years with a recent new life. Today it’s not only a food market but also spotlights a rotating list of pop-up shops. You’ll find high-end home goods, artisan jewelry, and local designer clothing brands. And Union Market hosts a variety of special experiences like the Museum for Black Girls.
14. Air and Space Museum
The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is a must for everyone in the family. Like all Smithsonian museums, it’s free admission, and it’s packed with fun things to see!
Check out fascinating artifacts like the Apollo 11 command module and a spacesuit that Neil Armstrong wore in space. Teens love the exhibits on lunar rocks and what daily life is like for astronauts in space.
Walk through the history of aviation in the United States, from the Wright Brothers all the way to the present day. Don’t miss the plane hangar that’s packed to the brim with historic aircraft. You can even go inside many of the planes. Be sure to see what’s playing at the IMAX theater.
You will need to plan ahead because timed tickets are released online 6 weeks in advance of your visit and they tend to go fast.
15. National Museum of American History
You’ll find the National Museum of American History on the northwest side of the National Mall. It’s an exciting museum for the American history buff in your crew, with exciting and unique collections you won’t find anywhere else. There are an impressive number of topics covered here, from different cultures and women in American history to pop culture and food.
Teens might be interested in a collection of preserved ink comic art from the 1940s and 50s. There’s another exhibit with the original video game player that discusses the evolution and future of gaming.
Or check out a wide range of artifacts and learn about practices around the role of religion in America. Admission is free with no reservations required, and you can find out about multimedia self-guided tours at the front desk.
16. Artechouse DC
Artechouse DC is a really cool interactive museum on the topic of art and technology and the ways they intersect. You’ll go through several immersive installations that use advancements in technology for a multi-sensory experience.
Check out interactive displays and learn about the inspiration behind the pieces. You can sit in large art spaces on cushions as art moves around you projected on walls. Tickets are available at the door, but it’s recommended to purchase them online in advance of your visit.
17. Shopping in Georgetown
If your teens love shopping, take a trip to the beautiful, historic neighborhood of Georgetown. Start on M Street and follow the curve up Wisconsin Avenue. You can park and enjoy a walk along the red brick walkways under shade trees.
Take in the spotless 19th-century storefronts and historical landmarks that date back to before the Revolutionary War! Along the entire stretch, you can visit an endless number of fast food restaurants, specialty shops, luxury, and big-name brands, as well as antique stores and tailor shops.
18. Take a Segway Tour
If you and your teenagers love a good Segway tour, I recommend adding a tour with Capital Segway to your to-do list! You’ll meet at the company’s headquarters and after a 30-minute safety less on how to drive your Segway, your tour will begin!
See the White House and all of the most famous landmarks along the National Mall while your tour guide gives you important facts and historic details about each location.
For the best experience, wear a helmet and a headset so you can hear your tour guide all along the way. We would recommend this activity for older teens since you have to be 16 years old to ride a Segway.
You can book tours the day of, but they can sell out fast, so it’s suggested to do it online or over the phone in advance. Also, there are both group or smaller, private VIP tours to choose from.
19. Escape Room
If you’re a fan of escape rooms, then you’ll have a good time at the awesome escape rooms in Washington DC. Throughout the Capitol Hill area, as well as in Georgetown, there are a handful of really entertaining escape rooms!
The Escape Game Washington DC will knock your socks off with its impressive 9 different escape rooms across 2 locations. Another option is Escape the Room a national brand with two DC locations where you can enjoy 60-minute games.
20. National Zoo
Get outdoors at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. It’s an absolutely beautiful American zoo that’s a must for your family vacation to the nation’s capital. There are over a dozen different themed sections of the park where you’ll see animals from across the world.
The zoo park and the Conservation Biology Institute are part of a combined effort to save endangered species and hopefully reintroduce them into the wild. While you can’t visit the institute, at the zoo you can learn about endangered species and rare animals, including the Red Pandas that live there!
When you’re hungry, there are multiple restaurants and cafes to choose from. There’s a playground for the little ones and a carousel the whole family will enjoy.
The zoo is free, but you have to register tickets in advance, which roll out in 4-week segments. Parking is pricey, and you should purchase those passes at the same time.
21. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Just south of the Washington Monument is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. While these types of museums can be difficult to do, they’re necessary, especially for older children.
It’s important to not shy away from giving a voice to those who have experienced the darkest parts of human history. The Holocaust Memorial Museum respectfully does this, with an overall message that there are things that can be done to combat hatred.
Take your time as you see graphic artifacts from the concentration camps. Hear from the perspective of Holocaust survivors, American soldiers, and even an 8-year-old boy. You’ll pay respects to the victims and also learn about current victims of genocide across the world.
The museum is only $1 for admission, and tickets are available every day. However, they sell out quickly and you might want to buy tickets in advance.
22. See a Concert at 9:30 Club
If you have older teens, you will certainly impress them with a trip to the 9:30 Club. It’s an iconic venue that’s been showcasing some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry for 40 years.
A Washington DC mainstay, you’ll find it in the hip, diverse neighborhood of Cardozo. The 9:30 Club is an all-ages club with 4 different bars, a coffee bar, food stands, and a great atmosphere in an intimate setting.
If your teens have been asking to go to a concert, it’s a great opportunity to give the experience in a safe place that’s been hosting all-age shows for decades. Check out their lineup of comedy shows, concerts, and more.
23. Mount Vernon
The estate was originally contracted by George Washington’s great-grandfather in the late 17th century and stayed in the family for several more generations after his death. Today, you can visit the massive estate, which has many points of interest.
Take a tour of the mansion that’s been preserved to look like it did when George Washington lived there. There’s also a museum that’s great for families.
On the grounds, you’ll find hiking trails where you can see monuments and tombs. You can visit the plantation farm, distillery, and gristmill and see demonstrations.
Tens can also learn about the lives of the enslaved men and women of Mount Vernon. There are the slave quarters, gardens, and outbuildings where you can see the work they did.
24. Old Town Alexandria
While you’re near Mount Vernon, take half a day and visit Old Town Alexandria. All along the waterfront and up King Street, you can enjoy cobblestone streets and 17th-century buildings packed with history! George Washington and other early figures notoriously spent time at Gadsby’s Tavern, which is now a museum.
Shop the boutiques or enjoy all the museums and restaurants with waterfront dining. Make sure to visit the Freedom House Museum to learn about the city’s history in the slave trade.
There’s also the Old Town Farmers Market every Saturday that’s been active for almost 300 years! And the Torpedo Factory Art Center is a fun museum inside a historic dock factory.
25. Arlington National Cemetery
Heading back towards Washington DC, you’ll pass by Arlington National Cemetery. It’s definitely worth a visit, with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and John F. Kennedy’s grave with its eternal flame.
You can visit daily from 8 AM to 5 PM, but vehicles aren’t allowed inside the 639-acre grounds. It’s easy to drive and park or take the metro to the Visitor’s Center.
While you can walk around the cemetery once you get through security, the tram tours are the way to go. They’re hop-on-hop-off and stop at the major sites at the cemetery, so you can get out to walk to different gravesites if you wish.
Trams run every 30-minutes during the day and the driver narrates the ride with educational and historical information.
26. United States Mint
The US Mint has a few different locations across the country, each with a different function. The Washington DC location serves as the administrative branch, and most of the building isn’t open to the public.
However, if you have a coin collector in the family, it’s worth a visit to the US Mint Coin Store on 9th Street NW in Penn Quarter. You can visit Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 4 PM to see collections of coins and bills. Peruse the glass cases for rare coins and novelty items and buy a souvenir. And it’s fun for kids who usually get a free gift.
Have Fun with Your Teenagers When You Visit Washington DC
I’ve shared a variety of creative things to do with teens in Washington DC. A first time in the nation’s capital can be exciting, and overwhelming! While everything is relatively in a small geographic space, I suggest taking at least 3 days if you plan on visiting more than a few different sites!
There’s so much to do and it definitely takes more than one visit to see everything there is to see in a place with such a rich history. I hope you make the most of your visit to this great city.
Book Your Flights
You can find discounted fares using sites like Momondo or Skyscanner. If you want to keep an eye on discount fares, we suggest signing up for Scott’s Cheap Flights, a daily newsletter with flight sales around the world.
If you travel frequently, consider investing in a Priority Pass for airport lounge access. It’s nice to have a space where you can relax before your flight.
Book Your Accommodation
We regularly use Hotels.com and Expedia.com to find lodging when we travel. It’s a great way to compare vacation rentals, hotels, and resorts.
If your family knows they want to stay in a vacation rental, we recommend looking at VRBO and Plum Guide.
Book Your Transportation
For rental car agencies, try Rentalcars.com. We tend to use Hertz simply for the quality of service.
Book Your Tours and Travel Photos
We regularly used companies like Viator and GetYourGuide to book tours when we travel. Both have great communication and a large variety of activities that work for all ages.
If you’re visiting a city with multiple attractions, be sure to check out a discount pass, such as CityPASS or Go City. Tiqets is another place to purchase tickets for attractions.
Context Travel is another option and they offer more educational based activities. The former teacher in me loves their tours.
One of our favorite things to do annually is take photos with Flytographer. They have photographers around the world and we’ve used them on four separate occasions. This is our favorite travel souvenir.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
With the state of travel these days, it’s important to have some type of travel insurance to cover any unforeseen accidents, illnesses, threat or cancellations. We always travel with insurance and would recommend SquareMouth, Travelex, or Medjet as good options. And if you want to compare different insurance options, use Travel Insurance Master to find the best policy for your group.