National Harbor is a great destination for a day trip or even a staycation overnight adventure if you’re a local. My daughter and I were lucky to visit on a beautiful summer day and want to share our Top 5 activities for a delightful family day trip.
How to reach National Harbor
1. Take the water taxi. If you’re in Virginia, a convenient way to get to National Harbor is by water taxi. We took the Potomac Riverboat Company water taxi right from the heart of Old Town Alexandria. It was a 25-minute relaxing journey on the water to cross over to Maryland. Live in Maryland or DC? Then National Harbor is easily accessible from the beltway or by water taxi in SW. Round-trip fare with the Potomac Riverboat Company is $16 for an adult and $10 for ages 2 to 11. Pricing is subject to change.
Tip: If you’re traveling on a weekday and book online, there is a $2 discount.
The Capital Wheel: Is it worth it?
2. Take a ride on The Capital Wheel. Is it worth it? Absolutely! The Capital Wheel takes you 180 feet over the Potomac and the views are striking. If you’re on the wheel on a nice, clear day you can see the Washington Monument, Washington National Cathedral, U.S. Capitol Building, Ronald Reagan National Airport as well as Alexandria. The bonus is that you sit in a comfortable gondola that is air-conditioned or heated depending on the time of year that you visit.
I’m a little scared of heights, but this ride was smooth and looking out at the remarkable scene before me made it worth the ride. The folks who worked at the Capital Wheel were very friendly and eager to answer any questions that we and other guests had.
The ride can last anywhere from 12-15 minutes (ours was 14 minutes). Open daily, tickets are $15 for adults, $13.50 for military/senior; $11.25 for children ages 3 to 11 and free for under 2. Tickets can be purchase at the venue or online.
Tip: Check their Facebook page for any specials plus upcoming event information.
3. Try a watersport. Nothing is more relaxing to me than being on the water, so we were excited to go SUP’ing (aka standup paddleboarding) with Boating in DC. We’ve SUP’d before, but never at National Harbor. What’s unique about this location is that you can paddle around in National Harbor proper or venture out a little further towards the Woodrow Wilson bridge to catch some of the wildlife in action on Rosilie Island or be impressed by the architecture of the Woodrow Wilson bridge.
SUP’ing is for ages 8 and up and is a nice way to squeeze in some exercise. People ask me if it’s hard to balance on them and I think it’s fairly simple. SUP’ing isn’t as hard as it might appear to be. It takes a little getting used to being upright on a board in the water, but you can also kneel and paddle as well. If you’re new to it, the folks at Boating in DC will give you a brief lesson. Rentals are $20 per hour. If you’re not into SUP’ing, they also offer kayak ($15-$20/hour) and pedal boat ($30/hour) rentals. We saw many families heading out on the swan and dragon pedal boats as well as several other kayakers.
Boating in DC is open from May to late September/early October depending on the weather. During the summer, they are open daily from 11 a.m. to ~7:30 p.m.
Tip: go early or go later. It can get hot out there in the middle of a summer day, plus you’ll avoid those harmful UV rays. Also, pack light if you’re kayaking or paddleboarding as there are no lockers to store your belongings. We left our shoes and bag on the dock, which seemed to be the norm.
Where to eat at the National Harbor?
4. Dine at one of the many eateries. We were at National Harbor for lunch and dined at Nando’s Peri Peri. Know that when you dine at Nando’s you are getting farm fresh chicken, not frozen (we loved this fact!) that has been marinated for 24 hours. It is then grilled to order over an open flame. Choose how spicy you want your food — from plain…ish to extra hot. Since we were first-timers at Nando’s, we ordered a flame grilled chicken breast and a chicken breast wrap both with Peri chips (aka fries). The courteous young lady who took our order, suggested we try the Perinase (Peri-Peri mayo) to go with the fries and boy are we glad we did. Delicious!
Our taste buds were awakened with the first bite of our food and we were still talking about it on the ride home on the water taxi. For those with younger children, there is a kids’ meal for ages 10 and under which includes various chicken entrees and a grilled cheese option as well.
Tip: National Harbor has over 30 options for dining. Before you go, consult their website so you can plan out where you want to go.
5. Go shopping! A day isn’t complete without a little shopping so we headed to Tanger Outlets. You can theoretically walk from National Harbor up to the outlets, but we chose instead to grab a cab at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. It was barely a 5-minute cab ride and was just $5. There are over 85 brand stores in the complex and we scored some great “end-of-summer” deals at the Gap Factory Store, Express Factory Outlet, Claire’s Factory Outlet and a few others. There is also a Carter’s, Gymboree, Justice, Osh/Kosh B’gosh, The Children’s Place and more that cater to children.
Back at National Harbor, we decided to check out one store in particular that caught our eye earlier in the day — The Children’s Place. I think we could have stayed in there for over an hour, but knew we needed to catch our water taxi home. You must check it out when you’re visiting, the kids will love it and so will you!
Tip: there is a FREE shuttle service that runs to/from National Harbor and Tanger Outlets Monday to Saturday from 4 to 9 p.m., which is what we took on the way back from our shopping adventure.
After we shopped, we grabbed a scrumptious treat (milkshakes for us both) at Ben & Jerry’s to end a great mother-daughter day trip to National Harbor. We had a full day with the above five activities, but if you have kids that are younger, National Harbor has several additional options that you could integrate into your itinerary! There is a farmers market on the weekends, Movies on the Potomac on Sundays, the carousel, playground plus “The Awakening” sculpture.
Put the National Harbor on your summer bucket list — with so much to do, it makes for a pleasurable day trip with the family.
Photos courtesy of National Harbor website.
Disclaimer: Our Kids LLC received tickets to ride the water taxi, the Capital Wheel and to try out paddleboarding. We also received a complimentary lunch, but paid for any other activities and shopping purchases. All opinions are our own.