As the capital city of the United States, it’s no surprise that Washington, D.C. has much to see and do. In fact, you might not know where to start. While you want to be sure you and your kids see major landmarks like the White House and the Lincoln Memorial, you should also set time aside to visit one of the city’s many impressive museums. A museum? With kids? Am I crazy? While it might seem as though your kids will be bored during these visits, nothing could be further from the truth. Not only are the best museums in Washington, D.C. for kids filled with impressive displays and exhibits, but many also have an interactive aspect, so your children can play an active, fun role in their own education. As a bonus, most of these museums don’t charge admission. Instead, they simply encourage a donation. This means you can pay whatever you’re comfortable with, which is a huge bonus for budget-minded travelers.
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Washington, D.C. museums for kids are not specifically centered around children, yet there’s still an emphasis on taking an active role in learning. These museums don’t have a lot of exhibits that could be seen as frightening to smaller kids, and they are well-equipped with bathrooms and places to rest and snack as well. Below, we will explore some of the best museums for kids in Washington, D.C. Also, be sure to check out our North America Travel Destinations page for more US family-friendly travel ideas!
The National Museum of Natural History
No matter what age you are, this museum is truly awe-inspiring from the moment you walk in the door. Here, you’re greeted by “Henry,” a replica of an African Bush Elephant that weighs over 11 tons. Henry has been a favorite among all the museum’s visitors for over 60 years. This is one of the best museums for kids in Washington, D.C., as there is simply so much to look at and experience. No matter what age your children may be, there’s something here that’s sure to keep them engaged, happy and even fascinated while they’re learning.
You want to plan on leaving plenty of time to explore or make it a two-day excursion. Does your kid love dinosaurs? You can explore an entire hall dedicated to these prehistoric creatures along with an entire exhibit that showcases the skeletons of different animals. You can walk through a butterfly pavilion, which provides a glimpse of tropical paradise no matter the weather or look through a large section containing impressive specimens of precious gemstones. Braver kids can even get the chance to watch a live tarantula feeding!
Location: The National Museum of Natural History is located in the National Mall, at 10th Street and Constitution Avenue.
Hours: Open daily except December 25th, 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
The International Spy Museum
What kid doesn’t like to play hide and seek, to feel as though they’re part of a bigger game? As far as Washington, D.C. museums for kids are concerned, this is an off-beat option. It offers an alternative to the traditional, strictly educational aspect that is associated with museums. Rather than feeling as though they’re being forced to learn, your kids will feel as though they are playing an intricate game of pretend, which is sure to keep them actively engaged. Not only are you encouraged to think like a spy and put different pieces of evidence together, but you can also choose to take on a private, undercover mission as a family! While this a great option for older children, there are a few displays that might be a little too intense for smaller kids.
Website: The International Spy Museum
Location: The International Spy Museum is located at 700 L’Enfant Plaza
Hours: Open daily except for Christmas and Thanksgiving from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Cost: Children under six are free while kids aged 7 -12 can visit for $14.95. For everyone 13 or older, the cost of admission is $24.95.
United States Botanic Garden
Having been established in 1820, this place is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the entire country. While it might not be a museum in the strictest sense of the word, it does provide a large area for your child to explore and burn off some energy. Likewise, it’s one of the best museums for kids in Washington, D.C. as children can not only experience nature and learn about different plants by viewing them up close, they’re also kept completely entertained the entire time. Yes, it might sound like a recipe for disaster to think about taking the kids to a garden for the day to look at the flowers. Don’t be fooled; this is a perfect spot for kids of all ages to let their imaginations run wild as they explore different ecological habitats. There’s even a garden area that is specifically dedicated to children, where you can stop and let them burn off some energy by digging in the dirt and helping museum staff attend to the plants.
Additionally, you and your child can embark upon a scavenger hunt together, which rewards your child with a passport stamp each time they are able to correctly identify certain plants.
Website: United States Botanic Garden
Location: The United States Botanical Garden is located at 100 Maryland Avenue.
Hours: Open daily from 10 a.m.- 5 p.m, with extended hours until 7 p.m. during the summertime.
Smithsonian National Museum of American History
This place stands out as a veritable beacon, being well-known as one of the best museums for kids in Washington, D.C. The museum brings to life the nation’s past in a way no history book ever could. One of the most famous displays is the flag which was raised above Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. It was this flag that would become the inspiration behind America’s national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. Guests will also see the actual pair of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. Another favorite exhibit showcases the gowns of multiple First Ladies of the past. There are also plenty of interactive displays, as well as daily activities that allow your child to experience activities like using a printing press. For younger children, Wegman Wonderplace is a true delight, as they can play while they learn. Here, your kid can let loose as the captain of a tugboat, experience life on a farm, or pretend to cook in a professional kitchen. There’s a specific area dedicated to nursing, and a display designed specifically for babies who are just learning how to walk.
Location: The National Museum of American History is located in the National Mall, at 1300 Constitution Avenue NW.
Hours: Open from 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. everyday except for December 25th.
The National Air and Space Museum
What kid isn’t enthralled by the sun and stars, planets and outer space? This place lets your kid explore all things related to planes and air travel — from the Wright Brothers’ airplane that was built in 1903 to an actual rock from the surface of the moon to a piece of the Apollo 11 spacecraft. Be sure to catch one of the impressive planetarium shows, ride a simulator, or explore the skies with your child by gazing through a high-powered telescope in the observatory. There’s also an IMAX theatre which features kid-friendly movies featuring favorite characters like Big Bird and Elmo.
Website: National Air and Space Museum
Location: The National Air and Space Museum at 600 Independence Avenue
Hours: Open daily from 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., except for December 25th.
There is certainly no shortage of museums to visit in Washington, D.C. Most of them are sure to provide an opportunity for education coupled with fun for you and your kids. For the best experience possible, keep in mind that weekends and school vacations can become quite crowded, so you might want to try to visit during the week to avoid the crowds.