Friday, April 10, 2015

Fun Things To Do With Children In Washington DC

Washington, DC is a great place to explore with kids!  It’s like being in an educational Disneyland filled with historic sites, museums, monuments, and outdoor recreation. 

More importantly, there are so many opportunity for kids and adults to learn.  History, art and culture, DC has it all!  Our nation’s capital is filled with family-friendly attractions to spark everyone’s interests. 

Also, the best part of visiting Washington DC is that unlike Disneyland, almost all the attractions are free.  So, you’ll be able to have a wonderful vacation without spending your mortgage.

So, without further ado, here are our 10 favorite places and things to do in DC.

We have visited many aeronautical museums around the world, but none was as impressive as the National Air and Space Museum.  It's the sheer number of aircraft and artifacts that make this Washington DC museum beloved by both the aviation-obsessed and the marginally curious. 

Not only does NASM displays the largest collection of air and spacecraft in the world, it provides a wonderful space where the whole family can learn about the history, science, and technology of aviation and space flight.  Some of the highlights include: the world's first airplane, the "Wright Flyer", the Apollo 11 Command Module "Columbia",

Make sure to check out “How Things Fly” exhibit in room 109, a learning lab, where children can conduct various hands-on experiments and watch demonstrations. 

Although our beloved Dinosaur exhibit was and will be under renovation until 2019, we enjoyed our visit to the National Museum of Natural History.

The facility contains some of the most famous museum artifacts in the world: the supposedly cursed Hope Diamond, more than 285 fossils and artifacts, an 80-foot dinosaur skeleton, an enormous prehistoric white shark, and an exact replica of a living North Atlantic right whale.

Make sure to check out the Discovery Room, where there is a great hands-on display for young children, and the Q?rius education center for older kids, a first-of-its-kind interactive lab where kids can make their own scientific discoveries.

Without a doubt, one of the most kid-friendly places in DC is the National Zoo, where you can see more than 400 different species of animals.  Favorite animals include giant pandas (Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and their new adorable offspring, Bao Bao), elephants, cheetahs, lions, and tigers ... oh my!  

Also, the National Zoo is located in Adams Morgan, a culturally diverse neighborhood filled with a great variety of shops and restaurants, which is a place the whole family can enjoy.

Housed in one of the most stunning Greco-roman building I’ve seen, the National Portrait Gallery offers much more than portraits of figures that shaped culture, art and politics over the vast history of the United States.  It’s a sublime museum experience and a refuge from the chaos and the crowd of the more popular Smithsonian sites. 

The Contemporary Art collection on the third floor is impressive, and the beautifully lit center courtyard deserves a visit –a perfect place for a break or a little treat!

You don’t need to brush up on American history to take your kids to the National Museum of American History, as it’s just as easy to take a refresher course by going through the museum.  Whether you’re looking at the Star-Spangled Banner or Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers, NMAH provides a great place for kids of all ages to use their imaginations and learn about our nation's history.

Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial is one of the most iconic symbols of our nation’s capital and a must see for all visitors. 

For our little boy, it was the site he wanted to see first, even more so than the White House, because it was a place where his favorite president was memorialized.  The Lincoln Memorial features a solitary, 19-foot-tall statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting in contemplation, which is flanked on both side chambers with inscriptions of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and arguably his most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address.

However, the place that meant the most to me was the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Stroll around the Tidal Basin 
... and see all the monuments & memorials: the Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Korean War Veterans Memorial

DC’s monuments and memorials are free and open to the public 24 hours a day.  Spread out across just two miles, it’s a wonderful place to go for a stroll, bike or take a paddle boat.  Of course, the whole experience becomes sublime during the peak of the cherry blossom season, but even when there is no petal in sight, it’s an absolutely picturesque place to be with your little one.

The elegant garden located adjacent to the National Gallery of Art is a true oasis.  A fountain, which serves as an ice rink in winter, is at the center of the Garden, and walking and seating areas offer visitors a chance to rest and reflect upon a wonderful collection of sculpture in the midst of nature.
Conveniently located on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. (between 7th & 9th Streets), the United States Navy Memorial honors the men and women of the United States Navy.  The outdoor Plaza that features a “Granite Sea” map of the world, towering masts with signal flags, fountain pools and waterfalls and The Lone Sailor statue, is an absolutely lovely place for a break and rest.

Also, check out Paul Bakery & Café, which offers a great selection of sandwiches, lunch menu and pastry option.

Looking at Contemporary Art may not be most children’s idea of a good time, but Hirshhorn Museum provides a small and manageable collection of large eye-catching art that will grab your child’s attention.

The museum comprises of innovative video or mixed-media installations, and more importantly, it’s one of the few museums that actually welcome visitors to walk through the art.  This was a huge hit with my 7 year old!
Where to stay: For my money, I would stay in the Arlington (VA) side of the Potomac River, preferably around Rosslyn Station.  It’s extremely easy to get to the Mall on the metro – 10 minutes, and there are a lot of restaurant options near by the station.

Where to eat: The meals at any of the Smithsonian Museums are like most public venues and amusement parks around the country, overpriced and underwhelming.  Nevertheless, when the little ones are hungry, and you can’t schlep across town to find a 5-star restaurant, you make do with what you have.  

However, Museum of Natural History, American History Museum and National Portrait Gallery provides some of the better dining option and definitely a more scenic dining area.  Also, the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden has a great cafe that’s worth taking a break from the museums. 

Tidal Basin is full of kiosks that sell fast food, but bring a sandwich or picnic items from a deli, as there are many lovely spots to have a picnic.

There are so many fun places to visit and things do in DC, and even after a week, we didn't have enough time to see it all - so, for the next time.
  • Glen Echo Park
  • International Spy Museum
  • National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
  • National Building Museum
  • Tugooh Toys
  • Waterfront Park
  • watch global fairy tales and puppet shows at the Smithsonian's Discovery Theater
  • catch a performance at the Kennedy Center


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