Visiting Washington, D.C., with Kids During the Holidays

Visiting Washington, D.C., with Kids During the Holidays

From waterskiing Santa to a mini version of the city made from plants, D.C. is great fun.

By: Andrea L.

Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day is an amazing time to visit Washington, D.C., with kids. You have the advantage of much smaller crowds than during the peak tourist season, and there are some unique exhibits that can only be seen during this time of year.

The worst winter storms are often after New Year’s Day, so the weather — while a bit cold — will often still allow you to get around easily.

If you’re planning on a trip to the capital this holiday season or even just visiting some relatives, here’s a three-day itinerary that’s full of kid-friendly activities during the winter holidays.

Day 1 — 10 a.m.
Start your day with a visit to the Conservatory at the U.S. Botanic Garden. The U.S. Botanic Garden has two amazing displays every holiday season: In the Garden Court, there are miniature replicas of many of the famous monuments and buildings in Washington made out of natural plant materials. As you look closer, you can see that the Capitol is comprised of gourds, acorns and vines.

Next to the Garden Court is the train display, but don’t imagine that this is just any train display. These trains chug through an Enchanted Forest, again made with all natural plant materials in exquisite detail.

For the smallest crowds, arrive just before the building opens at 10 a.m. (preferably on a weekday). Street parking is easily available at this time if traveling by car. Make sure to line up for the train display first. You can enter the rest of the building first, but you’ll need to exit to get in line for the train display, so it’s generally best to see the train display first when the crowds are smaller.

Next door to the Conservatory is the National Museum of the American Indian, a beautiful golden-color museum, built to look like natural rock formations.

After viewing the holiday display at the U.S. Botanic Garden, we love to stop by the Mitsitam Café in the museum. This spot has some of the best food on the National Mall, featuring native foods from throughout the Americas.

Don’t worry if you have non-adventurous eaters — there’s a small section devoted to hamburgers and fries (but it shouldn’t be hard to convince a picky eater to try one of the tacos).

Take some time to go through the museum after lunch, too: It’s generally less crowded than other Smithsonian museums and has beautiful stories, artwork and hands-on activities for kids.

2 p.m.
Cross the National Mall and walk west about one block, where you’ll find the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery of Art. This is an especially appealing sculpture garden for kids, even more so in the winter when the fountain is transformed into an ice skating rink. Where else can you skate with a giant typewriter eraser in the background?

4 p.m.
Just a few more blocks west will bring you to the Ellipse near the White House where you can see more than a lit-up tree. Smaller trees representing all 50 states, D.C. and U.S. territories are decorated with handmade ornaments representative of their location. There is also a train display around the base of the tree.

Day 2 10 a.m.
Your second day begins with a visit to the Washington National Cathedral. This is an amazing building to see and offers very good activities for kids, including a self-guided Darth Vader tour. During the winter holidays, they also present the Crèche Exhibition, which features nativity scenes from many different countries and cultures.

1 p.m.
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is only a little farther than a mile east of the Cathedral. There are several restaurants around the zoo where you can grab something to eat before heading in to see the animals, too.

The National Zoo is always fun to visit, but during the winter holidays, you can also have fun at ZooLights, a holiday festival which starts at 5 p.m. nightly. After an afternoon of enjoying the animals, you should be able to catch the beginning of ZooLights before the kids are wiped out.

Day 3
If you have more time in town, consider a day trip to George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon. This time of year, the first president’s home is decorated in a traditional style. You might even be lucky and catch a special candlelight tour.

If you’re spending Christmas Eve in Washington, you’re in luck and can see the waterskiing Santa. Every year on the afternoon of Dec. 24, Santa heads out on the Potomac River and puts on a show on water skis. He’s joined by elves, the Grinch and Frosty the Snowman.

Waterskiing Santa appears at the National Harbor, which hosts many special activities during the holidays.

Looking for a place to stay? Washington Hilton is near the National Zoo, and Capital Hilton is within walking distance of the White House.

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Andrea is a writer for Hilton Mom Voyage and a single mom in Arlington, Virginia, with a 12-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter. Her children took their first trips when they were just 4 weeks old and now look forward to their next trip as much as their mom. The trio really loves experiencing new and different things to see, eat and do on their trips, but always keeps in mind that the time together is what makes the travel fun.

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