If you’re planning to visit the mid-Atlantic states, it’s likely that you’ll be passing through (or flying into) one of these four iconic cities. As in most cities, the number of things to do can be overwhelming, so here are a few of our favorite things to do in each city. (We are a local family who lives within an hour or two drive of each.)
Baltimore – Visit the Inner Harbor and Baltimore Aquarium
The Inner Harbor is charming and has numerous options for dining and makes for a pleasant water-side stroll. You can spend several hours in Baltimore’s National Aquarium (situated front and center of the inner harbor) and still not see all there is to see. You can feed some rays, walk through shark alley, and it even has a jungle. Port Discovery (a highly acclaimed Children’s Museum) and the Maryland Science Center are also located in the Inner Harbor, and if you have a ship or war history enthusiast in the family, they’ll probably want to check out and possibly tour the USS-Constellation, the last Civil War vessel still afloat.
Philadelphia – Visit the Franklin Institute
I love the Philadelphia Art Museum, but my own children prefer the Philadelphia Zoo (it’s BIG!), and the Franklin Institute. If it’s a nice day and you have an animal-lover in the family, the zoo is absolutely worth visiting. But, the Franklin Institute is our best recommendation if you want one thing to do in Philly with your family.
It is an awesome (and also quite large) museum with a giant model heart/play area, a huge climbable spider web, and even an area where you can get a nice little electric shock (also a huge hit with my children. Kids are weird.) You can easily spend a whole day there, going from exhibit to exhibit.
The other nice thing about it is its close proximity to other iconic sites in Philadelphia. If you take the train into the 30th St. Station (and the station itself is a truly beautiful work of architecture and worth checking out all on its own), you are about half a mile from Franklin Institute. You will pass the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel on the way, and this has a lot of cool bugs, dinosaurs, and interactive displays that kids will enjoy. You will also see Logan Square across from the Institute, with it’s beautiful fountains, statues, and skyline. Walk another half a mile east and you will see Love Park, with its iconic and photo-worthy red sign, proclaiming Philly as the city of brotherly love. We recommend everyone spend some time there, and decide whether or not you agree!
New York City – Visit Central Park
We don’t like to go into big cities a lot – the crowds, the traffic, the possibility of small children getting lost among thousands of strangers… but that being said, there is something magical about Central Park. If you’re driving, it’s pretty easy to park at the American Museum of Natural History – just enter and let the attendants park your vehicle. They are fast and helpful. Of course, visiting the “Night at the Museum” museum will appeal to your kids, and it is a great experience with a lot to see. But, if you are a non-resident and don’t want to pay for it, you can still use the garage, walk out and make a right to enter Central Park.
From here, you’ll see the Swedish Cottage and a network of appealing trails. Follow the one past the cottage to head towards Belvedere Castle – just a short walk away from the museum, free, and enchanting. You can climb to the top for a beautiful view of the park and city, visit the little gift shop, and traverse the perimeter of the lake below the castle. It’s a walk that will appeal to most any age. Head about a mile south and you’ll find the Carousel. Roughly the same distance Southeast brings you to the Zoo, and there are several playgrounds throughout the park.
Drive or walk nearby to Times Square or St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and you can see a lot of famous buildings in a few short blocks. This is especially fun around the holidays, when things are lit up. Saks 5th Ave, Radio City, and of course the Rockerfeller all host enormous, over-the-top lights displays within a few blocks, and the Empire State Building can be seen rising into the sky with it’s iconic spire. Your kids may even recognize some of the sites from Home Alone II.
And of course, you can’t mention NYC without mentioning the Statue of Liberty. We have always seen it from the New Jersey side at Liberty park, but however you get there, Ellis Island and the Statue itself are worth seeing at least once.
Washington DC – Walk the Mall and stop in the Smithsonian(s)
If you’re in the mid-Atlantic region, visiting our nation’s capital should be high on your list. It’s a small place with a lot to see and do. If your kids are into trains, and you’re into a little bit of stress, ride the metro, just for fun, or take the train in. Union Station is another work of art – it is worth visiting even if you drive! A good time to go if you can swing it is the end of March/beginning of April, to see the cherry blossoms all around the capital.
If you have just a few hours and the weather is good, visit the capital building and the white house, and just walk the mall to admire the many beautiful monuments, which also happen to be rich with meaning. For many families, some will be especially important or interesting, such as the Lincoln and MLK memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, the WW2 Memorial, or the Pentagon Memorial. Wait till your children are a bit older to visit the Holocaust Museum or the Arlington Cemetery. These are rich experiences that young children do not have the tact or wisdom to appreciate quite yet.
The National Zoo as well as the Smithsonian Museums and the National Botanical Garden are free and fabulous for your little ones (and you) to enjoy. The Museum of National History is my personal favorite. There are few places in the US where you can visit such good-quality attractions for free, so take advantage of them if you’re there! They are BIG and you could easily spend several hours exploring each one. Walking through all of these attractions will tire you and your little ones out, and give you all an opportunity to learn and have fun at the same time.