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National Harbor With Kids

I’ve been a fan of Gaylord Resorts since I first visited the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville for a blogging conference. I knew that I wanted to take my kids to at least one of the Gaylord Resorts, and the location in Maryland seemed to be the most feasible based upon where we live. When we decided to visit Washington DC with our kids for spring break, I decided to book the Gaylord National. I didn’t know much about National Harbor MD, where the hotel is located, but we ended up really enjoying our stay there.

An overview of staying in National Harbor MD with kids - a complex along the Potomac River with restaurants, hotels, shops, and more.

National Harbor MD with Kids

Established in 2008, National Harbor, Maryland is a 300-acre development located on the Potomac River. Because of its location just minutes from Washington, DC, and the hotels located there, National Harbor is often a vacation destination. It offers over 200 shops and restaurants. 

National Harbor boasts several hotels, over thirty restaurants/bars, and dozens of shops, along with a newly opened Tanger Outlet complex. During our vacation, we stayed at the Gaylord National Resort, a gorgeous hotel perfect for families (see the whole Gaylord National review here). There’s also a marina, where you can take ferry/water taxi rides to Washington, DC, Alexandria, VA, and Mount Vernon. Because of its location on the Potomac, the views are really beautiful. 

National Harbor Restaurants

We visited DC or Alexandria daily, but always returned to National Harbor for dinner. There are loads of options in the complex, including the sit down restaurants and fast casual restaurants. Options include:

  • McCormick and Schmick’s
  • Shake Shake
  • Nando’s Peri Peri
  • Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse
  • Johnny Rockets
  • Granite City Food & Brewery

You really will have your choice of just about any cuisine and experience your family is in the mood for. Sometimes, when we were too tired to have a full dinner, we’d just get a quick service meal.

National Harbor MD at night

National Harbor MD at night

National Harbor Hotels

If you are looking to stay in the National Harbor area, you’ll definitely have several lodging options. In addition to the Gaylord National, where we stayed, there’s also the new MGM National Harbor luxury resort and casino, the AC Hotel National Harbor by Marriott, the Harborside Hotel, the Residence Inn, the Westin, the Hampton Inn and Suites, and the Wyndham. 

National Harbor Activities

So, how is National Harbor for kids? My children really enjoyed our stay there. We arrived on a Saturday, and the whole area was bustling with families. Some of the shops, especially the Peeps flagship store, really appeal to kids. My children saw the iconic Capital Wheel, pictured above, and immediately wanted to ride it. It’s definitely pricey – $11.25 for kids and $15 for adults (plus tax) – but it’s definitely a fun experience. There’s also a VIP experience. 

Each of the 42 gondolas fit up to 8 passengers, so the whole family can ride together. It’s definitely a lot smaller than the London Eye, so everyone can sit down and enjoy the ride. The narration is great, but the view is fairly limited – don’t expect to see the DC monuments from the ride (they are pretty far in the distance). The line for the Capital Wheel was pretty busy when we first arrived on a Saturday afternoon, but got much shorter later in the week. 

The National Harbor MD area also offers other activities, including Movies on the Potomac (in the summer), tours and sightseeing boats, a carousel, a pirate boat ride, pedal boat rentals, and a concert series. 

The shops include local and national chains – including CVS, Charming Charlie’s, Cariloha, Build-a-Bear Workshop, and Tervis. We enjoyed walking around the shops, but found more souvenirs of our vacation in the gift shops of the DC and Virginia attractions that we visited during our trip. 

Getting to DC is pretty easy from the National Harbor. It’s a quick drive, and there are many taxis available if you don’t want to drive or worry about parking in DC. You can also take a cab to the local metro station, or take a water taxi. We choose to take a cab each day, and found it to be quick and easy. The water taxi would be fun to do one day, but it probably isn’t the most practical way to get around on a regular basis. 

To learn more about National Harbor, visit their website.


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Monday 15th of June 2015

My family visited National Harbor and stayed at Wyndham in March, and we will definitely go back. It was cold when we were there and unfortunately the water taxi was not running, but we drove in to D.C. and that worked out really well. It's funny that you mentioned the Peeps store because my two-year old daughter was really drawn to that store.

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