21 Free Things To Do Indoors in the DC Area: Indoor Places To Play On Cold and Rainy Days

Planet Word offers lots of free interactive fun. Photo courtesy of Planet Word
Planet Word offers lots of free interactive fun. Photo courtesy of Planet Word

Cold and rainy days make it harder for kids to burn their energy and stretch their little legs—especially without spending some serious money. But there are several free indoor places to play in DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia where kids can run, climb, and explore without parents reaching into their wallets. From play areas at free museums to free nature centers to free mall playgrounds, these indoor places to play are all great options for bad-weather days.

Here are 21 free things to do on cold and rainy days when kids need to blow off steam and burn some energy. For more family fun that won't break the bank, check out our guide to Free Things To Do in DC with Kids. Plus, our Guide to Indoor Fun for DC Kids includes even more places to play indoors when the weather outside is frightful.


Note: Many of these indoor places to play are closed on certain days of the week, so check their websites or call ahead for current operating days and hours.

Wegmans Wonderplace at Smithsonian's National Museum of American History 
There's so much for young kids to explore at Wegmans Wonderplace. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American History

Free Kids' Play Spaces in Museums

1. Wonderplace at the National Museum of American History — Washington, DC

This 1,700-square-foot exhibit for kids ages 0-6 features plenty of interactive elements, including a construction area, a climbing structure, a soft-play area for crawlers, a pretend farm and kitchen with play food and accessories, a mini portrait gallery, and more. There's also a nursing bench and a reading area with a cozy beanbag chair. On busy days, Wonderplace uses a timed ticketing system through which families can pick up free tickets good for 30 minutes of play.

2. Spark!Lab at the National Museum of American History — Washington, DC

Older kids visiting the National Museum of American History can get hands-on at this activity center designed for children ages 6-12. There they can create, collaborate, explore, test, experiment, and invent. The activities pair science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) with art, history, and creativity.

3. imagiNATIONS Activity Center at the National Museum of the American Indian — Washington, DC

This huge exhibit for children of all ages is one of our favorite free things to do with kids in DC. It features all sorts of hands-on activities such as basket-weaving, building a giant igloo, arts and crafts, "walking" in snowshoes, and so much more. Kids can also explore a tipi, walk through a replica of an Amazonian stilt house, solve puzzles, and relax in the cozy reading area full of books. Even the grown-ups will have fun here!

4. Experiential Learning Center at the National Museum of the United States Army — Fort Belvoir, VA

This immersive learning space allows kids of all ages to develop skills and have fun with geography, science, technology, engineering, and math (G-STEM). At Fort Discover, kids 8 and under can use imaginative play to climb an Army tower, radio friends, drop cargo supplies, launch a space rocket, drive a Jeep, serve up chow in the dining facility, and more. In the Training Center, older kids can participate in interactive training simulations.

5. Planet Word — Washington, DC

While this fantastic free museum does not have a dedicated play space, there are plenty of interactive opportunities for kids to blow off steam. Children can marvel at a 22-foot talking word wall, deliver a famous speech using a teleprompter, bring books to life in a magical library (complete with a hidden door to walk through), sing karaoke, and much more.

Free Nature Centers Near DC with Fun Indoor Play Areas

There are nearly a dozen free nature centers in DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia that allow kids to get up close to animals, learn about the natural world, and develop a love for the great outdoors. When the weather is bad, though, these four nature centers have great indoor spaces for kids to play and stretch their legs.

6. Hidden Oaks Nature Center — Annandale, VA

The indoor area of Hidden Oaks Nature Center features a small play structure, a reading nook, dress-up costumes, a kid-sized table with a toy tea set, several live animals, and plenty of hands-on activities. Little ones love to pull open the various drawers to discover tiny fossils, plant specimens, and other treasures inside them.

7. Croydon Creek Nature Center — Rockville, MD

This nature center a short distance from downtown Rockville features kid-friendly exhibits, games, puzzles, and small animals including reptiles, amphibians, and an owl.

8. Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium — Washington, DC

This fabulous nature center is home to a Children's Discovery Room, exhibits on local plants and animals, live animals, a bird observation deck, and the only planetarium in the National Park Service.

9. Long Branch Nature Center at Glencarlyn Park — Arlington, VA

Long Branch Nature Center features seasonal exhibits, a Children's Discovery Room, live animals, and more. Many of its programs and activities for kids, including storytimes and animal meet-and-greets, are free.

Libraries Near DC with Free Indoor Play Areas

Visiting the DC area's public libraries is one of the best free things to do with kids. Almost all of the libraries offer dedicated children's sections and free kids' programs such as storytimes, performances, game nights, and more. Here are a few libraries we think offer a little something extra for kids.

RELATED: The Best Indoor Play Spaces for DC Kids

Storyville Rosedale
Explore a child-sized village at Storyville Rosedale. Photo courtesy of the Baltimore County Public Library

10. Storyville — Baltimore and Woodlawn, MD

Inside the Rosedale and Woodlawn branches of the Baltimore County Public Library you'll find Storyville, child-sized villages filled with books, toys, and activities for kids ages 0-5. Each village includes a pretend grocery store and mailroom, a puppet stage and theater, a home living area, a construction zone, a library, a baby garden, and a toddler area. It's like having a free mini children's museum right inside the public library!

11. Noyes Library for Young Children — Kensington, MD

This adorable one-room library is filled with books, toys, puzzles, and activities just for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Founded in 1893, the library also offers free storytimes and other events for little ones. After playing and reading in the library, families can explore the great parks, shops, restaurants, and historic homes in the charming town of Kensington.

12. Haymarket Gainesville Community Library — Haymarket, VA

This library has one of the best children's sections in Northern Virginia. In addition to a huge variety of books, kids can enjoy a small play area, puzzles, computers, and rentable tablets. The library hosts various programs for kids of all ages, including storytimes, coding and dance classes, LEGO clubs, and more. The library is closed on Sundays.

Free Indoor Playgrounds at Malls and Stores

Free mall play areas sometimes get a bad rap, but they're great places for babies, toddlers, and even preschoolers to burn energy on a cold or rainy day—especially after being pushed around the mall in a stroller. But not all mall indoor playgrounds are created equal. Here are seven we think are especially cool.

13. Springfield Town Center — Springfield, VA

Little ones never get as excited over fruits and veggies as they do while playing at this produce-themed play area on the first floor of Springfield Town Center. Kids can slide down a slice of watermelon, climb on a pile of grapes, shimmy across a giant banana, and more. There are plenty of cushioned benches for grown-ups to rest on.

14. Westfield Annapolis — Annapolis, MD

The small play area at Westfield Annapolis has a bright, colorful ocean theme. There's a blue whale for little ones to slide down, a tall lighthouse to crawl through, starfish to step on, and more fun activities.

RELATED: 7 Awesome Trampoline Parks Near DC for Indoor Family Fun

Nationals Play Park at Dulles Town Center
Dulles Town Center's Nationals-themed play area knocks it out of the park. Photo courtesy of Dulles Town Center

15. Dulles Town Center — Dulles, VA

Little sluggers go batty over Nationals Play Park, a Nationals-themed play area at Dulles Town Center. Kids can slide down a hot dog, crawl through a bucket of popcorn, sit in a giant baseball glove, and more. The play area's convenient location in the food court makes it easy to grab a bite when the kids get hungry.

16. Arundel Mills — Hanover, MD

The play area at Arundel Mills has a fun Maryland theme. Kids can go inside a replica of Thomas Point Lighthouse, crawl through an oak tree, clamber onto a crab, and "swim" in a birdbath next to a giant oriole. Perimeter benches provide places for grown-ups to take a breather.

17. Tysons Corner Center — Tysons, VA

The large third-floor play area at Tysons Corner Center has a National Geographic Kids theme. There are animals to climb on, a honeycomb to hide inside, a log cabin to explore, and lots more. Plus, it's next to the food court, so families can easily fuel up in between play sessions.

18. The Mall in Columbia — Columbia, MD

The Mall in Columbia has one of the larger free mall play areas, giving toddlers and preschoolers plenty of space to run around. Its health and wellness theme means little ones can crawl through a pile of fruits and veggies and a water-bottle tunnel, step over a giant toothbrush, climb aboard (and slide out of) a pretend ambulance, and more. There is plenty of seating for adults.

19. Potomac Mills — Woodbridge, VA

The Virginia-themed play area at Potomac Mills is unique in that it is geared to children up to 48 inches tall. Kids can climb aboard a ship, hang out in a mini replica of Monticello, crawl through a tree, and more. There are also two toddler nooks with wall-mounted mirrors, various manipulatives, and a giant piano keyboard.

20. IKEA Småland — Baltimore, MD

Småland is a supervised, magical forest-themed playground inside IKEA stores, where parents can drop off their potty-trained kids for one hour while they browse the store (which is basically a playground for adults). While Småland remains closed at many locations following the pandemic, the one in Baltimore is open daily.

Free Rec Centers in DC

21. DPR Fitness Centers

Washington, DC is home to more than 30 recreation centers that are completely free for DC residents. They all offer varying indoor places for kids to play, such as basketball courts, tennis courts, gymnasiums, arts and crafts spaces, and game rooms. Try the indoor pools with water slides at Barry Farm Recreation Center and Deanwood Community Center, the children's pool at Takoma Community Center, and the soft-play space for toddlers at Arthur Capper Community Center. Some of the fitness centers even have dedicated teen rooms.

Places featured in this article:

National Museum of American History

National Museum of the American Indian National Mall

National Museum of the United States Army

Croydon Creek Nature Center

Long Branch Nature Center at Glencarlyn Park

Haymarket Gainesville Community Library

Barry Farm Recreation Center

Deanwood Community Center

Arthur Capper Community Center