As many of you know, I live just outside Washington, DC, and I feel so fortunate to live so close to an abundance of museums. Most are free and many are especially kid-friendly. Here are eight of my favorite must-see museums, so hold onto this list for your next trip to Washington, DC.
National Air and Space Museum: If your kids like planes, satellites, planets and space shuttles, this is wonderful place to stop. It’s also one of the most popular museums in the city, so expect crowds and try to get there early or late (hours are 10-5:30 daily, extended hours in the summer). Take a tour, watch an IMAX movie or climb aboard a flight simulator.
National Museum of Natural History: Your kids will love the huge elephant in the rotunda as they enter the museum, as well as all the amazing exhibits on everything from mammals and dinosaurs to the Ice Age and the earth and the moon. You can even see the world-famous Hope Diamond in the gems and minerals exhibit. You’ll find an IMAX theater here with three different movies playing every day. Stop by on Tuesdays to visit the Butterfly Pavilion free of charge.
National Museum of the American Indian: My eight-year-old, Clare, studied several American Indian tribes in school last year, so it was fun to learn about how the tribes have changed over time. Be sure to take in the 13-minute “Who We Are” movie in the Lelawi Theater on the 4th floor. A 45-minute guided tour also sets off twice a day (an extra morning tour is added on the weekends). Stop by the information desk for a free family activity guide, which is ideal for younger children.
Crime & Punishment Museum: This is a great choice for families with older children. Your kids will be able to solve riddles, decode ciphers and learn about state-of-the-art techniques used by law enforcement to match criminals to crimes through evidence found at the scene. Among the most popular attractions are a high-speed chase simulator, an FBI shooting range and the America’s Most Wanted television studio.
International Spy Museum: The only public museum dedicated to espionage, your kids will have access to the largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on public display, including weapons, bugs, cameras and all kinds of spy-tech. The admission fee can be fairly steep, but you’ll find half-price deals on Groupon a couple of times a year, so keep your eyes open. This is another must-stop for families with older children.
Newseum: A museum dedicated to newsmaking, you’ll find some amazing exhibits, like the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery and the 9/11 Gallery. Among the fun travelling exhibits, check out “First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Pets.” It’s a fun way for your family to learn more about the U.S. Presidents by way of their pets, like the Obama’s dog, Bo, and even Franklin D. Roosevelt’s dog, Fala.
National Museum of American History: One of my favorite museums, your kids will love checking out various collections, like Family & Social Life (look out for the circa 1989 Nintendo game Boy), Computers & Business Machines (all kinds of old school “electronics”) and Popular Entertainment (check out Kermit the Frog and the Alien egg prop). Lead your own tour with downloadable guides, like this one for families with kids or this American Girl-focused tour.
National Postal Museum: Your kids will love the “Systems at Work” exhibit, which recreates the paths of letters, magazines and parcels as they travel from sender to recipient over the last 200 year. Other cool exhibits focus on the Pony Express and stamp collecting. Be sure to check out their calendar of events for frequent family-friendly activities, like making Valentines to send to military personnel and National Cherry Blossom Festival Family Day. Look out for the William H. Gross Stamp Gallery to open up later this year.
Have you been to Washington, DC with your kids before? What’s your favorite museum? I’d love to hear your must-see museums in the comments section below.