Must-See Museums in the Nation's Capitol
If the mention of the word "museum" elicits groans from the younger members of your travel party, a trip to Washington, D.C. is in order. There are plenty of museums in our nation's capital that bring history, science and other school subjects to life, to the point of making them—dare we say—fun. Fortunately for your wallet, many museums in Washington D.C. that are conducive to family visits are run by the Smithsonian Institute, which has no admission fees.
Discover Pop Culture at the National Museum of American History
Even children who are averse to anything that sounds remotely academic will be enthralled by the artifacts at the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of American History (Constitution Ave. NW between 12th and 14th Sts, Washington, D.C.), which famously include Dorothy's Ruby Red slippers from the Wizard of Oz and the original Bert and Ernie puppets from Sesame Street. Make sure to check out the First Ladies exhibit, which displays dresses worn by America's first ladies starting with Martha Washington. And the national anthem might take on a new meaning for little ones after they lay their eyes on the original flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Let Curiosity Soar at the National Air and Space Museum
From the aircraft Wilbur and Orville Wright used for their first flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903 to a sliver of moon rock that you can actually touch, few attractions in Washington D.C. strike a chord with kids like the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (600 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C.). Adults find it cool, too; eight million people visit the museum each year. Also guaranteed to be hits with young patrons are the IMAX and Albert Einstein planetarium shows and the simulator rides.
Admire the Wonders at the National Museum of Natural History
With an insect zoo, a live coral reef and more, the National Museum of Natural History—another Smithsonian property—satiates many a curiosity, making it a popular option for families with children. The famous Hope Diamond, considered the largest deep blue diamond in the world, is guaranteed to produce some "oohs" and "ahhs." And not to be missed is the "Eternal Life in Ancient Egypt" exhibit which features real mummies, human and animal.
Learn about First Nations at the National Museum of the American Indian
An interactive area known as the imagiNATIONS Activity Center makes the Smithsonian National Museum of American Indian (4th St. SW & Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C.) a "can't go wrong" choice for families. Here, young visitors can engage with Native American culture as they sit inside a life-sized tipi, weave baskets and practice maintaining their balance on a kayak. The Native Beats Music Room offers an introduction to indigenous music through percussion instruments. Young book worms will also enjoy the story room, where they'll find age-appropriate works about Native American cultures and texts by Native American writers.
Get Cryptic at the International Spy Museum
Traveling to D.C. with older children or teenagers? The International Spy Museum (800 F St. NW, Washington, D.C.) is a must-see, with a collection that features spy gadgets like a Cold-War era piston fashioned to resemble a lipstick tube and a pigeon camera from World War I. Children 12 and older can put their sleuthing skills to the test in Operation Spy, an interactive, role-playing experience that allows participants to complete a number of challenges as part of a larger mission.
Unlike the Smithsonian museums, the International Spy Museum charges an admission fee. Adults and children over 12 pay $22, while children between the ages of 6 and 11 pay $15. Children under the age of six are admitted free. A separate ticket for $15 is required for Operation Spy, but you can save a few dollars by purchasing a General Admission and Operation Spy combo ticket for $29.
- Frommer's: Especially for Kids in Washington D.C.
- Frommer's: National Museum of American History
- Frommer's: National Air and Space Museum
- International Spy Museum: Exhibition Experiences
- International Spy Museum: Collection Highlightts
- National Air and Space Museum: Objects on Display
- National Air and Space Museum: Museum in DC - Things to Do
- National Museum of Natural History: Museum Must-Sees
- National Museum of the American Indian: imagiNATIONS Activity Center
Since beginning her career as a professional journalist in 2007, Nathalie Alonso has covered a myriad of topics, including arts, culture and travel, for newspapers and magazines in New York City. She holds a B.A. in American Studies from Columbia University and lives in Queens with her two cats.