10 Best Places to Take Your Kids While in Washington, D.C.
Endless. That's how one might describe the list of fun and entertaining things do with kids in the greater Washington, D.C. area. Sure, it may be a little hyperbole, but there are so many awesome museums, fascinating historical sites and fun attractions that we think you might end up agreeing with us. Nevertheless, we need to keep our list to just 10 items, which is easy to do. You start with the National Zoo. We've got pandas, every child's favorite. Then head to the great museums of the Smithsonian Institution. The best ones for kids — the Air & Space Museum and its sister site, the Udvar-Hazy Center. Don't forget the National Museum of American History, with an original Kermit the Frog and the Star-Spangled Banner. After you cover the basics, then start going niche. We're talking the fascinating Newseum, where history and current events come alive. There's the International Spy Museum where budding James Bonds can learn all about the world of espionage. From there, hit the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, the National Botanic Garden to cool off (or warm up) with plants and trees and flowers from around the world. (Trust us - there are plenty of kid-friendly activities here too.) Further afield, go to George Washington's home at Mount Vernon and zip up to Baltimore and visit the sharks and dolphins at the National Aquarium. That's 10, but trust us, we could keep going. Things to do with kids in D.C. — endless opportunities, endless fun.
Stop the presses! The Newseum is a must-see for any visitor to Washignton, D.C. Described as the "world's most interactive museum," the Newseum explores the history of journalism. But it's so much more than that. It's really an exploration of world history and American history. From early books printed in Europe to the coverage of World War II and the Kennedy assassination. There are incredibly powerful exhibits on Hurricane Katrina and the September 11th attacks, including a piece of the World Trade Center. There are five theaters showing documentaries on world events, more than 100 interactive games and more than a dozen galleries exploring every aspect of the world of journalism. (888-639-7386)
9 National Archives
Kids who have studied American history in school will surely understand the importance of standing before the original Declaration of Independence, as as the Unite States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. These three folios are the founding documents of our nation and to see them in one room is breathtaking. Nearby sits an original copy of the Magna Carta, a document that first started the ball rolling for declaring that individuals have rights. Visitors can also browse the Public Vaults where interactive exhibits showcase many of the valuabletreasures from the Archives, including Oval Office documents, wartime telegrams sent by Abraham Lincoln, the Watergate tapes and original patent drawings for some of our world's great inventions. (301-837-0482, 866-272-6272)
8 George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens
Just a short drive from Washington, D.C., the home of our nation's first president awaits visitors each morning. It's the beloved Mount Vernon Estate of George Washington, majestically sitting on the shore of the Potomac River. The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association has been preserving the property ever since they purchased the estate more than 150 years ago. Objects once used by Washington himself are on display as well as many other items appropriate to the period. Archeologists continue to excavate areas around the home and gardens as they search for additional clues to Washington's life and legacy. You can easily spend an entire day at Mount Vernon, so carve out some time and enjoy this unique place in American history. (703-780-2000)
7 National Aquarium
The National Aquarium sits an hour or so north of Washington, D.C. on Baltimore's beautiful Inner Harbor. A huge dolphin pool is one of the highlights, with underwater windows allowing you a close-up view of these amazing creatures. Marvel at the multi-leveled shark exhibit where you wend your way down past a vast exhibit filled with toothsome fish. There are strange tropical fish including the fearsome piranha, bizarre turtles and fluttering stingrays. And don't forget the jellyfish in all their undulating glory. The aquarium is a rare glimpse into the world beneath the waves. Make a day-trip out of your journey and enjoy all Baltimore has to offer. (202-482-2825)
6 United States Botanic Garden
Like a veritable garden of Eden in the middle of Washington, D.C., the National Botanic Garden is located at the foot of Capitol Hill. It's a lush paradise where climate controlled environments provide perfect places for plants to thrive and grow - regardless of where they originate in the world. The collection dates back more than 100 years and even the youngest kids will marvel at the lovely flowers and towering trees. During the summer months, it's equally lovely to stroll around the small, unique gardens and arbors that surround the building. Also, look for special exhibits highlighting ways that plants and plant-related industries have impacted the our nation. (202-225-8333, 202-226-4082)
5 National Air And Space Museum
Home to the world's largest collection of historic air and spacecrafts, this Smithsonian standout is divided into two locations and showcases countless winged wonders, including the original Wright 1903 Flyer, Spirit of St. Louis and Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest jet in the world. After touching a four-billion-year-old moon rock, piloting a plane with breathtaking simulators and speeding through space in a thrilling IMAX presentation, refuel with scrumptious freeze-dried fare from the three-level museum shop. (202-633-1000, 202-633-2563)
4 Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum — Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
Many people may not realize that there are actually two museums that celebrate the history of flight and space travel. There's the main National Air and Space Museum in downtown Washington, D.C. on the National Mall, but a short drive out in the Virginia suburbs will take you to the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center. This amazing museum is not to be missed. It's now home to the famous Space Shuttle Discovery, which took up permanent residence here in 2012. Besides that massive spacecraft, visitors can get up close with World War I and World War II aircraft, a Concorde supersonic plane and other marvels of the age of flight. (703-572-4118)
3 National Museum of American History
Sometimes called "America's attic," the National Museum of American History is filled with some of the most iconic items culled from the past 200 plus years of our nation's history. Our favorites -- an original Kermit the Frog, the ruby red slippers worn by Judy Garland in the movie, "The Wizard of Oz," the hat Abraham Lincoln was wearing the night he was assassinated, and so much more. By far, the most moving exhibit is likely the original Star-Spangled Banner, the massive flag that flew over Baltimore's harbor and inspired the famous song which became the National Anthem. It was saved by a family for decades before being turned over to the museum. (202-357-2700, 202-633-1000)
2 International Spy Museum
The secret world of espionage comes alive in the International Spy Museum in downtown Washington, D.C. Dedicated to the art of spy craft, the museum looks back at the ancient history of spying. But of course, the bread and butter is the spying that took place during the Cold War. Many accoutrements from the CIA and the KGB archives are on display - guns, gadgets, secret dossiers. There are also tributes to the master of all spies - the fictional James Bond. The Aston Martin driven by Bond in his early movies in among the most popular displays in the museum. There are interactive exhibits too that let little ones actually pretend they are a spy on a secret mission. Get ready, mom and dad, you're being spied upon. (202-393-7798, 866-779-6873)
1 National Zoological Park
The pandas from China are the big draw, the big claim to fame at the National Zoo, but there are plenty of other fascinating animals (more than 2,000) to wow the kids and grown-ups alike. A dramatic elephant display features a large path for the mighty beasts while the spectators look on from a bridge high above. At the other end of the scale, the tiny flightless kiwi bird is a favorite - if you can find him in his enclosure. Plan the better part of a day at the zoo and relax and take a trip around the world with exotic fauna from every corner of our amazing planet. (202-673-4800, 202-633-3055)
About Chris Wadsworth
Chris hails from Madison, Wisconsin and proudly wears the Cheesehead mantle. He majored in French and Russian at the University of Wisconsin and earned a Master's degree in journalism from the University of Miami. After 12 years working as a TV reporter and anchor, newspaper reporter and columnist and newsroom manager, Chris jumped into the deep end of the pool and became a full-time freelance writer. His work has appeared in many national and regional magazines, newspapers and websites. Chris and his family live in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and love exploring the nation's capital and its environs.
Read more about Chris Wadsworth here.