Have you heard about National Harbor? I hadn't until my husband attended a professional conference there last July. We made a family vacation of it, and had a wonderful time!
National Harbor, Maryland is a new planned community and conference venue. It is located about 10 miles from downtown Washington D.C. We loved relaxing by the pool and exploring all the fun things to do right in National Harbor during the conference.
We saved all our Washington D.C. sightseeing for after the conference so my husband could join us. We booked a hotel in downtown D.C. for that part of our trip. National Harbor was the “vacation” in our Washington D.C. vacation.
National Harbor is walkable. Once there, we didn't need a car at all. However, public transit is not yet a good option between Washington D.C. and National Harbor. You'll need to rent a car, drive your own, or use taxis.
Uber and Lyft are both readily available in Washington D.C. However, we found that it was easier to get a ride to National Harbor from D.C. than the other way around. Our Uber driver no-showed and we finally took a taxi back to D.C. It was probably just bad luck, but local taxi rates are competitive with Uber and Lyft, except for the tip.
Here are our favorite activities for families in National Harbor, Maryland.
The Capital Wheel dominates the National Harbor skyline. We saved our ride for sunset views and cooler evening temperatures. It's fun to ride at night when the lights are on, but summer heat turned out to be no problem. The cars are air conditioned. The monuments of Washington D.C. are a bit too far away, but we enjoyed lovely views of the Potomac River and National Harbor.
Disclosure: My family received complimentary passes to the Capital Wheel for the purpose of review.
This famous sculpture was purchased and moved to National Harbor, where it now is part of the man-made beach. Kids are welcome to climb and play. Consider bringing sand toys, beach chairs and umbrella. Benches are available all around, but there isn't much shade. Even my 12-year-old loved climbing on the arms and feet. It's a fun place for photos.
A classic Americana-themed carousel is the perfect fit for festive National Harbor. For $7, your child can ride all day long with the Potomac in the background. You'll find a playground and picnic tables near the Carousel, which makes this a good base for a family day in National Harbor.
Local Motors exceeded our expectations and sparked our imaginations. It is a design company that is building cars and other cool things with 3-D printers. Ask about a tour of their microfactory, check out their hands-on design zone for kids and find out about special events and classes for families.
Potomac Riverboat Company
The Potomac Riverboat Company has water taxi docks in National Harbor and at Gaylord National. We used it to visit Old Alexandria and Mount Vernon. It's a fun way to get around in National Harbor!
Urban Pirates is a 90-minute floating pirate party for families. We didn't try it, but it looks like a slam dunk for families with younger children. Learn pirate lingo, blast the water cannons and search for treasure on this fun family adventure!
Kayak, stand up paddle board and pedal boat rentals are available from Boating in DC on the National Harbor waterfront. Explore on your own or consider a class or kayak tour. The pedal boats are cute swans and dragons – so fun for kids.
There is always something fun going on at National Harbor. During our visit it was free waterfront Zumba classes and outdoor movie nights. Find something fresh at the farmer's market on Saturday mornings. Be sure to check out the events calendar before you go.
Related: 3 Days in Washington DC with Kids
National Harbor is filled with fun shopping for families. When Katie and her kids came to play with us, we finished the visit with a stop at Savannah's Candy Kitchen where all five kids were happily overwhelmed by ALL the choices. Kids in a candy store, indeed.
We also loved the Peeps store, Del Sol and Marbles, an educational toy store. If you're serious about shopping, Tanger Outlets is nearby.
We found lots of fun restaurants for families in National Harbor. We stuck to quick and casual fare, though there was no lack of good full-service options. Crab Cake Cafe was our favorite place for both Maryland crab cakes and kids meals that delighted my picky children. Potbelly Sandwich Shop and Chipotle were also big hits. Get dessert at Ben and Jerry's.
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Need a place to stay? National Harbor has several hotels. We stayed at the Gaylord National. It's the most convenient hotel to the convention center. It has a big indoor pool and other amenities for families. Read reviews and check rates at TripAdvisor.