Washington, DC, like London, is one of the best places in the world to visit museums with kids. Many of the museums in both cities are free, which means you can spend an hour or more exploring, but you don’t have to worry about getting your money’s worth because you bought tickets. This is not to discount the fee-based museums in DC, which are fabulous on their own and offer up a ton of educational opportunities for families with kids of all ages. Toddlers can be the hardest to entertain though, so we are sharing our list of favorites to visit when you tackle the museums of the nation’s capital.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Planes and rockets—do you really need to tell a toddler more? Probably not, especially if you have a 3-year-old, airplane-loving kid. The Air and Space Museum is huge, but it isn’t overwhelming. The main sections are filled with real rockets and planes, many of which are even suspended from the ceiling. You could easily just see these two main spots without ever going into the exhibits and your toddler would probably be happy. Do make the time to go into the How Things Fly exhibit, where kids can sit in a real plane and move the tail, play with gravity and learn how airplanes get up in the air. There are regular presentations by staff members that bring aeronautics down to a kids level too.
Smithsonian National Zoological Park
Zoos aren’t typically thought of as museums, but when it comes to toddlers they are the best museums of all. Even babies can enjoy a museum, and DC has one of the best in the nation when it comes to seeing how our country is helping with the conservation efforts of creatures around the globe. The most popular exhibit is the Panda Pavilion, where resident panda bears Mei Ziang, Tian Tian, Bao Bao and Bei Bei live. Cheetahs, lions, gazelles, sloths, sea lions, elephants and bald eagles also call this zoo home, along with several other species of animals.
National Building Museum
A building museum may sound like a stretch for a toddler, but not when you are at this DC museum. Although some exhibits are geared more towards older kids and their parents, the Play Work Build exhibit encourages little ones to create their own architectural marvels. The Building Zone and Discovery Carts are also great ways to get your little engineer’s hands on with the tools they love. This museum has a permanent collection, and special exhibits (including the 2015 smash hit The Beach). Always check the museum website to see what extra special activities and exhibits might be offered during your visit.
National Museum of Natural History
Little ones will get to know a few more creatures on the planet as they first meet the elephant in this historic museum’s rotunda and then the Right Whale hanging from the ceiling in the Sant Ocean Hall. What will really get toddlers excited though is the dinosaur exhibit. Although some of the dinosaurs are packed up while their main exhibition space is renovated, a few are still on display. The Insect Zoo is the place to climb around like a termite, and if your kids are really lucky, a few bugs will be passed around by one of the museum employees. This hands-on museum if a favorite for good reason, and kids of all ages will love it.
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
Not all kids can keep their hands to themselves long enough to appreciate an art museum, but all kids can have fun in an outdoor sculpture garden. For parents that want a glimpse of the collection at the National Gallery, they can head to the Art Sculpture Garden where their kids can get some of the wiggles out, and also gaze at some crazy sculptures, some that are even larger than life. Ask your toddler what they think each piece is. You may be surprised how insightful (and hilarious) their answers will be. There is no right or wrong answer as long as you all have fun.
Keep up with the latest travel news, stories and updates and sign up for our newsletter today!