DC is no stranger to museums. In fact, there are about 70 Washington, D.C. museums and galleries in the district. Families can entertain their kids for over a year’s worth of weekends without ever leaving D.C.
Not every museum is right for every age group though. Some of the city’s museums tackle tough events in history, or just don’t cater to the younger crowd. We’ve pulled a few of our favorites for every age group, so you can have a great time when visiting the Washington DC museums with kids.
Even better, we are also telling you, the parent, which museum you will like with your kids. Let’s face it parents, we don’t ALL want to sit in kiddie museums on our day off.
Washington DC Museums for Preschoolers
Smithsonian National Zoological Park
OK, so this is not a traditional DC museum. We are including it anyway because really, what kid doesn’t love a zoo.
The Smithsonian National Zoo is best known for its panda exhibit, which is part of an international breeding program. In 2019, the zoo sent it’s last panda cub, Bao Bao, back to China to breed, joining his sister Bei Bei in a program that helps diversify the panda population and grow their numbers.
Have no fear mom Mei Xiang and dad Tian Tian are still in the panda exhibit. We are all anxiously awaiting to see if Mei Xiang has a new cub.
The zoo is also home to elephants, apes, reptiles, and mammals from across the globe. Make sure you head to the Kids’ Farm for hands-on activities with the animals and vegetable gardens. There is also a playground here if your kids need to jump and climb for a bit. You will pass the historic carousel on your way. Yes, you can stop for a spin around, for a fee.
NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM
Airplanes and rocket ships—do you really need to say more to get a toddler out the door?
The National Air and Space museum is actually in two separate locations. The original National Air and Space Museum is downtown, but it has a counterpart, the Udvar-Hazy Center, which is basically a big hanger out by Dulles airport that is filled with aircrafts, like the space shuttle Discovery, the Concorde Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.
The downtown museum has a “How Things Fly”exhibit that is the best place to start with younger children. This hands-on exhibit allows kids to touch and sit in an airplane, push buttons and find out just how these massive vehicles get into the sky.
An online counterpart to this exhibit is a fun way to prep kids for a visit or continue their flying education at home.
DC MUSEUMS FOR GRADE SCHOOL KIDS
National Museum of Natural History
Dinosaurs are the biggest draw for families heading to the National Museum of Natural History. There is an updated exhibit to wander, so make sure you stop in.
Other reasons to bring your kids include a look at the Hope Diamond and a walk through the butterfly house. Warning- the gem section is massive. You could spend your entire visit just looking at rocks and minerals.
The Sants Ocean Hall, an interpretive exhibit may be best known for the 45-foot long North Atlantic Right Whale hanging from the ceiling, but it brings the biology, geology and anthropology of these waters to kids through 647 marine specimens and models, hi-def videos and ever changing exhibits that highlight different aspects of our planet’s waterways.
National Museum of American History
As children dive into their U.S. history lessons, the National Museum of American History is a great place to connect those in-school lessons with actual artifacts from that time. The museum is home to Abe Lincoln’s top hat and the original Star-Spangled Banner.
Families can pick up a self-guided tour sheet at the museum that includes games, facts and questions to spark more interest in the exhibits.
The youngest members of the family will love the Spark!Lab and Wegman’s Wonderplace. Kids ages 6-12 can get hands on at Spark!Lab where creating, collaborating, exploring and inventing are encouraged through activities like making a skateboard or figuring out how to adapt a vehicle so you can drive it with no legs.
In Wegman’s Wonderplace, children ages 0-6 can cook their way through a child-size replica of Julia Child’s kitchen or captain a tug boat. This exhibit is free, but you do need a timed ticket to enter this Washington DC museum.
DC MUSEUMS FOR TEENS AND TWEENS
International Spy Museum
Step into the secret world of spies. Test your spy skills at interactive stations, and check out over 200 spy gadgets, weapons, cameras, vehicles and tech. Walk through the history of spies going all the way back to the Trojan Horse and the Civil War, or simply test your skills at making and breaking codes.
The KidSpy Zone on the museum website is filled with activities to get kids excited about their visit and continue their spy education long after they get home.
Holocaust Memorial Museum
The Holocaust Memorial Museum is a place that everyone, no matter your age, should visit. However, it can be a very intense, hard to understand experiences for younger children, similar to the 9/11 World Trade Center Museum and Memorial in NYC.
Parents of children under age 10 should be very careful. Be prepared to answer hard questions before you bring little ones.
Every guest is given an identification card that brings you through the life of someone who was in the holocaust. By the end, you learn if that person survived or not.
Throughout the three floors of the exhibit—Nasi Assault, The Final Solution and Last Chapter– families will see a model of the Auschwitz Crematorium, a powerful room piled with the shoes of people who were killed in the concentration camps, and learn the stories of the people from across Europe who tried to rescue Jews.