National Harbor with Kids: 21 Best Things To Do in National Harbor, Maryland

National Harbor has plenty of things for kids to do, including an Americana-themed carousel. Photo courtesy of the Capital Wheel
National Harbor has plenty of things for kids to do, including an Americana-themed carousel. Photo courtesy of the Capital Wheel
10/16/22 - By Jennifer Marino Walters

If you're craving some waterfront family fun in the DC area, look no further than National Harbor. This 350-acre Maryland town on the banks of the Potomac River seemingly has it all: over 150 shops, 40 restaurants, a 180-foot Ferris wheel, world-class hotels, and gorgeous views and sunsets. Plus, there are so many things to do in National Harbor with kids, from free festivals, outdoor movies, and concerts to the famous Christmas activities at the Gaylord National Resort. Plus, it's only minutes away from the city, making it one of the best day trips from DC for families.

Here are 21 fun things to do in National Harbor, Maryland with kids, including fabulous National Harbor hotels and kid-friendly National Harbor restaurants.


Things To Do in National Harbor: Capital Wheel 
Take a spin on the giant Capital Wheel. Photo courtesy of the Capital Wheel at National Harbor

Best Things To Do in National Harbor with Kids

1. Take a Spin on the Capital Wheel

Soar 180 feet above the Potomac River in a climate-controlled gondola on this giant Ferris wheel, from which you'll be treated to breathtaking views of National Harbor, the Washington Monument, and more. Colorful lights make the wheel itself a sight to behold at night. Each gondola seats up to eight people, so families can ride together. The Capital Wheel is open 365 days a year, but check the website for current hours.

2. Ride the Carousel

Kids can ride a 36-foot Americana-themed carousel over and over again for one price—and adults can ride with them for free! The carousel is open daily from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day plus two weeks over the holidays, closed from January through April, and open Fridays through Sundays the rest of the year. See the website for the most current operating hours.

3. Experience Christmas at Gaylord National

Gaylord National Resort is famous for its plethora of holiday activities and events. While some of them change every year, you can always count on a magical experience. For 2022 the popular Ice! experience is back, featuring scenes from the holiday classic A Christmas Story. Families can also enjoy the Cirque: Spirit of Christmas show, go on a Snoopy-themed scavenger hunt, have storytime and cookies with Mrs. Claus, take photos with Santa, ride ice bumper cars, go ice skating, decorate gingerbread houses, and so much more.

RELATED: 25 Fun Things To Do in Fairfax, Virginia with Kids

Things To Do in National Harbor: Kayaking 
There are plenty of ways to get out on the water at National Harbor.

4. Get out on the Water

There are plenty of ways to enjoy National Harbor from the water with kids in the warmer months. You can rent pedal boats, kayaks, paddleboards, and hydro bikes, charter a yacht, or ride in a two-person catamaran. Or, take your mateys aboard a pirate ship through Urban Pirates.

5. Do Some Shopping

The Tanger Outlets at National Harbor are a great place to score some deals on everything from clothing to jewelry to housewares. Children's stores include Carter's, OshKosh B'Gosh, The Children's Place, and others. There are also plenty of other unique shops and boutiques along Waterfront Street, Fleet Street, and the surrounding blocks that are fun to explore. Warning: Build-A-Bear Workshop and It'Sugar are among them!

6. Practice Your Putt at Topgolf

It seems like Topgolf is everywhere these days, and National Harbor is no exception. Families can hit golf balls year-round in the climate-controlled hitting bays, using Topgolf's complimentary clubs or bringing their own. The on-site restaurant serves up burgers, sandwiches, and more and has a kids' menu to please picky eaters.

RELATED: Best Art Classes for Kids in DC

Things To Do in National Harbor: Muse Paintbar
Take a family-friendly painting class at Muse Paintbar. Photo courtesy of the paintbar

7. Paint a Masterpiece at Muse Paintbar

The National Harbor location of this painting-studio chain offers family painting classes on Saturday mornings at 11am, during which instructors guide kids and grown-ups step-by-step on the project of the day. The projects are often tied to the holiday or season and are simple enough for the youngest Picassos. All ages are welcome in the studio at many other times as well, so check the website to see upcoming projects and to register for a spot.

8. See a Dueling Piano Show at Bobby McKey's

This popular dueling piano bar is normally adults-only, but at least one Saturday afternoon per month it welcomes kids as well. The two-hour, all-request dueling piano show includes a kid-friendly lunch buffet and unlimited fountain drinks, while grown-ups can purchase adult beverages. Sure, the talented musicians will play kid favorites like "Baby Shark", but they'll also play plenty of rock, pop, rap, and other songs to please everyone. Kids love writing their song requests on provided slips of paper and going onstage to submit them, as well as interacting with the musicians throughout the show. It's truly a great time for all ages!

RELATED: Visiting Kensington, Maryland with Kids

Things To Do in National Harbor: The Beach ​
Dig your toes in the sand at the Beach.

Fun Free Things To Do in National Harbor with Kids

9. Hit the Beach

Well, it's not so much a beach as it is a large stretch of sand on the banks of the Potomac. But, it's the perfect place to relax and take in a gorgeous view while the kids dig and play in the sand. The beach is also home to The Awakening, a massive, five-piece cast-iron sculpture of a giant emerging from the sand. Children love to climb on and play around the sculpture while grown-ups admire its beauty.

10. Go on an Art Scavenger Hunt

In addition to The Awakening, there are a ton of historical statues all around National Harbor. If you text ACNH to 56512, you'll receive a link to a scavenger hunt that will help your family find them all. Take photos of your kids next to Rosie the Riveter, George Washington, Louis Armstrong, and many more. It's one of the coolest and most unique things to do in National Harbor.

RELATED: 9 Things To Do in Clifton, Virginia with Kids

Things To Do in National Harbor: Movies on the Potomac
Enjoy a free movie al fresco on the big screen.

11. Attend a Children's or Family Festival or Event

There are so many free events for families happening year-round on the National Harbor waterfront. Try Harbor Halloween in the fall, the National Harbor Tree Lighting and Holiday Movies on the Potomac in winter, the Sakura Sunday Festival in the spring, and Movies on the Potomac, Kids Day on the Plaza, and the Salute the Sunset Concert Series in the summer.

12. Explore the Playground

Right next to the carousel sits a fun little playground that includes a climbing structure and slides, a toddler play area, and shaded picnic tables. It's a great place for kids to burn off energy and for parents to take a break.

RELATED: Kid-Friendly DC Restaurants Guide

Grace's Mandarin restaurant in National Harbor
Anyone can find something they love at Grace's Mandarin. Photo courtesy of the restauran

Kid-Friendly National Harbor Restaurants

13. Grace's Mandarin

This gorgeous Asian-fusion restaurant has a huge menu that offers something for everyone—sushi, rice and noodle dishes, meats, seafood, and more. There's also a gluten-free menu, a vegan menu, and a kid's menu offering chicken nuggets, dumplings, or plain fried rice or noodles with fruit and a chocolate chip cookie. Patio seating is available during the warmer months.

14. Cadillac Ranch

This rock and roll-themed restaurant serves up burgers, steaks, seafood, salads, pasta, flatbreads, and more in a fun, laid-back environment. There's a kid's menu with a variety of child favorites like mac and cheese, chicken tenders, and cheese quesadillas. Note that things can get rowdy late at night, especially on the mechanical bull!

15. Fiorella Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria

Pizza, pasta, and great views of the Potomac—what more could you ask for? Oh, we know—a make-your-own-pie, where kids (and kids at heart) can add their own toppings to a cheese pizza. Plus, there's a great outdoor dining area when the weather is nice.

16. Rosa Mexicano

Rosa Mexicano, located in the center of National Harbor, offers sweeping views of the Capital Wheel, DC, and Old Town Alexandria. The menu includes a variety of tacos, enchiladas, and other Mexican favorites. Be sure to try the guacamole, made fresh table-side. Families can sit on the patio when the weather is nice.

17. BurgerFi

Head to the National Harbor location of this quick-service burger chain for all-natural Angus beef burgers, juicy chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, fries, and creamy milkshakes. Kids' meals include a burger, hot dog, grilled cheese, or chicken tenders with fries and a juice pouch. BurgerFi is a quick, delicious way to fuel up in the middle of all the fun.

Gaylord National Resort atrium Christmas tree
Enjoy a plethora of seasonal activities at Gaylord National Resort. Photo courtesy of Marriott

Best National Harbor Hotels for Families

18. Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center

This gorgeous, Marriott-owned resort is located steps away from the shops, restaurants, and activities of National Harbor. There's a spa and fitness center, several on-site restaurants, an indoor pool, and an outdoor kids' splash zone. What makes it so great for families, though, is its wide variety of seasonal events and activities (especially at Christmastime, as noted above). Some fun examples are the Jack-o'-lantern Walk in the fall, Ice! in the winter, springtime cookie decorating in the spring, and Pirates and Princesses Academy in the summer.

19. MGM National Harbor

If you want to feel like you're in a mini Las Vegas without leaving the DC area, stay at this bustling resort, complete with a casino, a spa, and several on-site restaurants and high-end shops. But its outdoor pool, seasonally decorated conservatory, and variety of rooms and suites also make the MGM National Harbor a great resort for families. The on-site Theater at MGM National Harbor hosts many big-name acts, including family-friendly shows like Cirque Dreams Holidaze.

20. The Westin Washington National Harbor

This hotel on the Potomac River has a heated outdoor pool, a 24-hour fitness studio, an on-site American restaurant, and incredible views. Plus, it welcomes pets (up to 40 pounds per room), making it a solid choice for families traveling with their furry friends.

21. Residence Inn National Harbor

The pet-friendly Residence Inn offers everything from studios to two-bedroom suites, accommodating families of all sizes. All rooms and studios have fully equipped kitchens, and free breakfast is included in your stay, meaning you'll save a lot of money on meals. There's also a 24-hour fitness center on site.

All photos courtesy of the National Harbor Facebook page unless otherwise noted

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