Washington DC is like the Magic Kingdom of culture. But instead of rides and make believe characters, the city serves up activities that make living history the star attraction. The city’s bounty of world class museums, iconic monuments and landmarks define it as one of the most exciting destinations in America. Here are five spots not to miss when you visit Washington DC with kids.
With so many museums and activities in Washington D.C., it’s important to do some research before the trip so you can plot everything out efficiently. A nice way to get an overview of the city is to do the classic hop on, hop off tour with Open Top Sightseeing . You’ll learn about iconic people and historic buildings that make up the city’s capital delivered with amusing, kid-centric anecdotes from the tour guide.
What to See in Washington DC with Kids
Whether you choose to take the bus tour or venture out on your own, here are the five best things we discovered on our family trip to Washington DC.
It would be easy to spend an entire day at the zoo which is smack in the middle of the city. My kids went crazy for Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and Bei Bei, the Chinese giant pandas. The Cuban crocodiles in the Reptile Discovery Center were creepy/cool. And, the Amazonia exhibit with turtles, sting rays and titi monkeys made us all yearn for a trip to Brazil.
We found this site to be thrilling. The perfectly preserved museum is the actual site where John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. We saw newspaper clippings, photographs and the actual (wee) gun used in the assassination. Blow up descriptions and images depict the events leading up to the shooting in child friendly verbiage. Across the street at Petersen House, we saw the perfectly preserved room where the 16th President died. Though macabre, the kids could not believe how small the beds were back in the day.
Spies are cool so this espionage-themed museum was a home run. My digital-savvy brood loved seeing the Soviet show transmitter and East German cameras capable of photographing through walls. Highlight: An interactive feature of the museum that invites kids to climb into secret passages in the ceilings and scuttle through air vents a la James Bond.
This museum is catnip for culture vultures of all ages. I loved seeing Julia Childs’ PBS test kitchen. The kids were impressed with the original Star Spangled banner. and Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from the Wizard of Oz. But the most important visual was the Woolworth’s lunch counter from Greensboro, NC, the site that ignited the Civil Rights Movement.in 1960. This memento ignited a serious conversation about equality and freedom of speech.
C&O Canal Ride
If you are visiting in the spring/summer, book a C& O Canal Ride and experience what it was like in 1870 to travel the canals pulled by mules. It’s a little slow, more history lesson than entertainment.
Our Next Visit to Washington DC with Kids
We only got to experience a fraction of what Washington DC has to offer. Next time we plan to visit during the cherry blossom season and get tickets for the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. Also on my hot list is the Newseum, a museum dedicated to explaining freedom of expression through exhibits and mixed media. To get kids engaged, there is a staging area where kids can play newscaster and tape themselves delivering a broadcast.
TravelingMom Tip: The monuments are a major attraction in D.C. Avoid massive crowds by making this an evening activity with a moonlight tour. You can take a group tour or ask your hotel concierge to book your family a private one. My family did this after dinner and it was one of the highlights of our trip.