The National Harbor is a gorgeous waterfront property located right on the Potomac River in Oxon Hill, Maryland. There is so much to see and do, that I hardly know where to start. No matter what your budget is or interests are; there is something unique and fun for everyone. From unique shops to exquisite dinning or family friendly events to exciting attractions you will find hours of entertaining in one spot. Did you know that the National Harbor sits on 300 acres of land, offers over 40 different restaurant options and even hosts free family friendly events and activities available throughout the year? Trust me when I say, this is an ideal destination for a day or even weekend trip for families in the Washington area.

I have had many parents tell me they are looking for entertaining things to do with their family that are inexpensive, fun and close to home for day trips during spring break and over summer. If you are looking for a place to go that follows these three guidelines than a trip down to the National Harbor is the perfect place! With many of my followers being from Southern Maryland, you will be relieved to hear that the National Harbor is less than twenty miles down the road. With this location being so close to home, you won’t have to worry about spending extra money on a hotel or worry about preparing the little ones for a long car ride. In this article I will highlight all things A-Z to do that I’m sure you won’t want to miss.

Admire the Artwork

There are many different sculptures, statues and various forms of artwork located throughout the National Harbor. One of my children’s favorite pieces is “The Awakening,” a 72-foot statue of a giant emerging from the sand. While this enormous sculpture can sound a little creepy at first, it’s a favorite to many. This is because kids are invited to climb and play on the five cast-aluminum pieces surrounded by beach sand. It’s the perfect spot to sit back and relax while the kids play. There are even Adirondack’s chairs to recline in and soak in the sun.

Helpful Hints: I have learned over the years what small essentials are needed to make this area more fun. I often will bring a few disposable or cheap cups for the kids and new friends to play in the sand with. I do this because the kids always ask for digging utensils and I want to bring something that can be shared and not cried over if lost. This area isn’t shaded and can get a little sunny, especially during the summer and late spring. Be sure to bring sun screen, hat and sunglasses.

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Build a Bear

Build-A-Bear is an awesome hands on interactive workshop where you get to make your own stuffed animal. There are tons of different stuffed animals to choose from: bears, bunnies, characters from favorite animated films and more. You even get to choose an outfit and accessories!

Helpful Hints: Make sure you do the heart ceremony is really cute!

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Capture the View on the Capital Wheel

Taking a ride on the Capital Wheel is a must…especially since it’s one of the most iconic attractions at the National Harbor. Enjoy views of our Nation’s Capital as you soar 180 feet above the Potomac River. Sit back in awe as this breath taking view provides a picturesque sight of historical landmarks and monuments. It truly is remarkable to see the Washington Monument, White House, Capitol and the Arlington Cemetery from a birds eye view. My son was excited to watch the boats sailing in the water below and planes take off into the sky. Each gondola is enclosed and climate-controlled, making this a very safe and comfortable ride.

Helpful Hints: Sometimes you can find great deals on Certifikid or Groupon. Also, be sure to check out their Kids Club for specials and promotions such as: VIP entry to events, free rides, complimentary t-shirt and even a free ride on your birthday.

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Dueling Piano’s at Bobby McKeys

Bobby McKey’s, is a dueling piano bar that hosts a Family Day at least one Saturday a month.  The restaurant serves lunch and plays live music. It’s the perfect activity for the energetic little ones to let out energy as they wiggle, giggle and dance to the music.  I haven’t had a chance to partake in this activity yet, it’s on the bucket list. I have however been to Bobby McKeys with my girl friends and had a great time!

Helpful Hints: Plan ahead check out the website to see what dates the Family shows are.

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Excursion on a Water Taxi

I love that you can take the water taxi to and from the National Harbor and Old Town Alexandria, which is just across the water. If you are visiting the area for a weekend it’s a great way to explore the surrounding area and it’s surprisingly cheap, only $16 for a round trip.

Helpful Hints: The best time of year to do this is during Cherry Blossoms season… You get the perfect view!

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Fun on the Carousel and Playground

Don’t miss out on riding the magnificent American themed carousel with beautifully decorated animals. I was amazed that admission is only $7 per child for unlimited rides for one day. Also free for carousel ticket holds is a great playground with a toddler play area right behind the carousel. It was closed up for winter still when we went this weekend; however, opens up in March!

Helpful Hints: It’s a huge plus that there is no charge for parents to ride along with their kiddos. There are also picnic tables in this area, so you could pack or purchase a lunch and eat it down by the water. Also, if you are military admission is reduced to $5 per child.

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Get Your Energy out at the Children’s Play Area

During our visit this time around, we discovered a charming little Children’s Play area located across from the Marbles store. At this spot you will find different animals for the kids to climb on.

Helpful Hints: If you look up in the trees you will find monkey’s hanging from the branches; see if your little one can spot all three.

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Helpful Hints for Parking

The National Harbor is super easy to get in and out of and there are plenty of parking options. There is a parking lot conveniently located down on the water. However, it gets filled up quickly. The National Harbor also has three covered parking garages. You will also find metered street parking in various different spots throughout the area. Additional parking is available at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center.

Helpful Hints: I highly suggest visiting the website or downloading the phone app to reserve and pay for parking ahead of time, this saves you time and money by using this hassle free option.

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Indulge in Something Sweet

I love that there are so many different options for those with a sweet tooth. A few of my favorites are Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Pretty Girl Cupcakery, Savannah’s Candy Kitchen, SPAGnVOLA and The Peeps Store.

Helpful Hint: SPAGnVOLA has another location, ask for information about touring their chocolate factory in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

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Jump at Bubble Bounce

Bubble Bounce is a children’s indoor inflatable play center featuring drop in play, drop off play, birthday parties, events, and more all in a safe and clean environment.

Helpful Hints: This is a great option if weather should interfere with your plans.

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Kayaking and Paddle Boating

Get out on the water by renting a kayak or paddle boat by the hour. My boys got a kick out of the dragon and swan pedal boats.

Helpful Hints: To save money on rentals try the  Washington D.C. Explorer Pass by clicking HERE.

Website: Click here

Lunch at Pot Belly’s

Pot Belly’s is a great lunch option that provides a family friendly menu that’s affordable. Enjoy a toasted, made to order to sandwich just the way you like it.   They also have homemade soups, chilis and craveable salads. They even make hand-dipped milkshakes and sell fresh baked cookies daily in the shop!

Helpful Hints: Check out their kids menu

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Magic at MGM

If you are looking for a magical or romantic date night option consider checking out the many options at MGM. From concerts to fine dining there are lots of options for a night out with your sweetheart.

Helpful Hints: Be sure to make reservations for a table ahead of time.

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Nautical Tours and Cruises

Take in the beauty of the Nation’s Capital aboard the Matthew Hayes for a narrated cruise on the Potomac River. Enjoy the view and learn something new while you tour historical monuments and treasured landmarks such as the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the John F. Kennedy Center.

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Outdoor Movies

I love how family oriented the National Harbor is. On Sundays at 6 pm, families are invited to watch a free family-friendly movie right on the big screen on the waterfront. Be sure to check out their schedule for more information.

Helpful Hints: Since this is a popular event that fills up fast, arrive early to find a spot. Make sure you bring a blanket or folding chairs. You can even pack some drinks and snacks to enjoy during the show.

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Paint Party’s at Muse

I have to be honest I haven’t tried this one out yet; however, have heard many rave people about it and it’s at the top of my bucket list. Muse combines painting instruction with a restaurant & bar.  Painting sessions are hosted each week that are open to the public.

Helpful Hints: Check their schedule to for kid painting events or even book a party.

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Rest & Relaxation

If you decide to stay the night, I highly recommend staying at the Gaylord National. It’s the most kid friendly hotel in the area with a huge indoor pool and other amenities for families. They also have one of the best spas in the area if you want to take time to get pampered.

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Specialty Shops

National Harbor has so many stores to explore. The kids enjoy Marbles, a store that offers fun and education strategy games and toys. I’m a huge tea fan so I always love to splurge at Capital Teas. The whole family also loves the Peeps store; everyone gets to pick their favorite little treats to take home. If you have time head over to the Tanger Outlets for more shopping.

Helpful Hints: The Tanger Outlets hosts a Mommy and Me event once a month May-September. It’s a free event with snacks, entertainment and activities. They even give you an awesome coupon booklet with amazing discounts and hand out door prizes. Click here

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Table for Two

As I mentioned before there are over 40 different restaurants to choose from. Picking a restaurant can be difficult with so many different ones to choose from. Whether you want to sit down for fine dining or grab a quick bite to eat there are plenty of places to make your taste buds smile. I want to point out that the National Harbor isn’t just a family location but an excellent date night location. So if you are looking at grabbing a table for two I highly recommend Red Stone Grill, Old Hickory or Succotash. Each of these restaurants are right on the water and offer spectacular views and amazing food. You can’t go wrong with any of these choices.

Helpful Hints: If you eat at Old Hickory they will validate vela parking!

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Urban Pirates Adventure

The popular Urban Pirates is returning to National Harbor this Spring/summer. This awesome adventure offers pirate-themed cruises where you can sing, play games and fire water cannons. During the day hours cruises are geared towards families to engage the children; while adults can enjoy a ride on the “bring your own grog” cruise in the evening.

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Visit During the Summer

Visit during the summer on Friday night’s for great live music at the National Harbor Marina’s free outdoor concert series. Check out there calendar to find out date, times and shows.

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Watch a fountain show at the GayLord  Hotel & Convention Center

Be sure to stop by the Gaylord National Hotel in the evening to watch the fountain show, which is free and open to the public. Starting 6 pm and then every hour on the hour the illuminated fountains in the hotel’s atrium jump up to 60 feet high and “dance” to the music. At 9 pm, a new laser light show creates fun colorful shapes in the atrium.

Helpful Hints: If you stand close enough to the fountain you will get soaking wet. Children love to get splashed, be prepared with an extra change of clothing.

More Information: Click here


X-Y-Zelator Drone Building and more at Local Motors- Last but not least I’d like to point out a really cool attraction where you can tour a facility that showcases a 3-D printer. They actually print cars! You can visit the showroom and watch the process, attend workshops, and see a display where members of the community can contribute ideas.

Helpful Hint: You can drop by Local Motors anytime, but it may be good to call ahead to ask about tours and upcoming events.

More Information: Click here

The thing I love most about the National Harbor is that no matter how many times you visit; there is always something new and different to try.



Contest Rules:

The Playful Parent is hosting another fan club give away for a family 4 tickets to ride on the Capital Wheel at the National Harbor. Contest starts Sunday March 5th and ends Sunday March 12th at 11:59 PM. Like, comment, share to win!

  • To enter COMMENT on What time of day riding the Capital Wheel would be most fun to you? either on Facebook or on the website article.
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  • You MUST be a Playful Parent Fan! This can be done by subscribing on the website or liking the page on Facebook.
  • The winner will be selected randomly through a lottery drawing.
  • Tickets cannot be exchanged for cash and they hold no monetary value.
  • You must be 18 years or older to enter.
  • Facebook is not affiliated with this contest.