Family Events in Washington, D.C.

Our nation’s capital offers a year-round slew of special events, guaranteed to give you and the kids a fun lesson in history and culture.


Washington, D.C. is host to a wonderfully diverse calendar of events. With all there is to see and do, from the annual Cherry Blossom Festival to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, work in one of the following events to your itinerary if you are lucky enough to be in town. 


  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday: This national holiday is celebrated the third Monday in January. Washington, D.C. honors King throughout the city with festivals, speeches, dance and choral presentations. There also is a wreath-laying ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial. Standing at the same site where King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, while listening to a children’s choir, is a moving experience your family won’t quickly forget. Most events are appropriate for ages 8 and up.

Late January or February (depending on the year)

  • Chinese New Year Parade: Washington’s Chinatown celebrates the Chinese New Year with an exhilarating colorful festival featuring giant dragon and lion puppets, musical performances and loud firecrackers. The festivities last for up to two weeks. While some kids will consider the frenetic pace and loud noises a feast for the senses, the sensory overload and chaos is likely too much for young children. 

Late March or early April (depending upon expected peak bloom)

  • National Cherry Blossom Festival (, tel. 202-547-1500: This two-week festival is the pride of D.C. and probably the city’s most famous event. Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate, but if you are fortunate enough to catch the festival when the cherry trees reach peak bloom, make a beeline to the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial and join the throngs to experience the spectacular springtime bacchanal that celebrates the 3,000 cherry trees given to Washington by the city of Tokyo. Beyond the tidal basin, the two-week celebration continues with a parade, a Japanese street festival, a Japanese lantern-lighting ceremony, special festival-inspired menus at restaurants throughout the city, free musical performances and a fireworks show. Dates and schedule of events are available on the Web site.
  • Smithsonian Kite Festival ( This is usually held during the Cherry Blossom Festival as it celebrates the importance of the kite in Japanese culture. Kite makers from around the country converge to compete in this annual kite-making competition. There is a special competitive category for kites made by children, but most kids enjoy the many programs held throughout the day where they can learn about kite flying and the history of kites, as well as participate in kite-making activities. We made a pilgrimage during our double-stroller days and our toddlers were captivated by the magic in the sky during this annual rite of spring.


  • Dragon Boat Races (, May 17-18, 2008:  Usually held over Memorial Day weekend, or the weekend before, as is the case this year, the Dragon Boat Races feature 45-foot boats painted along the sides to resemble the scales of a dragon with a colorful head at the bow and a tail at the stern. The boats are powered by 20 rowers who race along the Potomac River between the Thompson Boat Center and the Kennedy Center. For a great view, stand along the Potomac just in front of the Kennedy Center, or call up the Key Bridge Marriott and ask for a table at its rooftop restaurant overlooking the Potomac. Enjoy lunch and an air-conditioned view of this unusual spectacle.


  • Smithsonian Folklife Festival ( June 25-29, 2008 and July 2-6, 2008; tel. 202-357-2700: Safe to say, there is nothing else like it. Each year for 10 days starting in late June, the Smithsonian takes over the National Mall to showcase cultural traditions from around the world. The festival usually focuses on two to three different cultures and explores every aspect of the cultures’ everyday living. For many participants, it’s their first time outside of their villages or countries. (A hotel manager I know says one group that stayed at his hotel had never seen an elevator before.) Each day is packed with interactive demonstrations and things to do and see, including dance and musical performances, crafts, cooking demonstrations, storytelling and discussions of cultural issues.

Planning tips: This is not the festival to just show up and walk around. There is a lot of walking and this tends to be one of the hottest times of the year, so bring water and take advantage of the many activities under tents to spend time in the shade.

While my husband and I have visited many times without kids, when we took our two girls this year we did our research in advance and arrived with a list of the activities that we knew they would enjoy, a map of where each activity was located and a schedule of events. All of this information is available on the festival’s easy-to-use Web site. Knowing our kids are big Food Network fans, we made sure to catch the cooking demonstrations. They also enjoyed a storytelling session, and the oldest was particularly excited by a session on Northern Ireland outdoor games.


  • International Children’s Festival ( Sept. 13-14, 2008:  Held at Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts in Virginia, this festival celebrates the cultural heritage of children from around the world through art displays, music, performances and interactive activities. Last year, more than 80 performers from countries including Bolivia, Nepal, Spain and Sweden participated. Our kids are particularly inspired watching children performers, which last year included acrobats and tap dancers, but they’ve also enjoyed marvelous storytellers and hands-on arts projects. There are usually four stages of entertainment, and in 2007 the festival added a hands-on technology pavilion. Tickets are $12, children 2 and under are free.


  • National Christmas Tree Lighting and Pageant of Peace ( For three weeks in December until Jan. 1, the lighting of the National Christmas Tree, located on the ellipse outside the White House, is celebrated with musical performances during a Pageant of Peace. Surrounding the primary tree are 56 decorated trees which represent the country’s 50 states, five territories and, of course, the District of Columbia. To walk along the “Pathway of Peace” and be surrounded by the holiday glow from the trees while listening to glorious holiday carols is a true Washington, D.C., holiday experience.

Destinations: Washington

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Arts and Entertainment, Sightseeing

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