A family trip to Washington, DC would simply be incomplete without a visit to some of the best museums for kids of all ages. From the National Gallery of Art to more unique choices, like the International Spy Museum, DC has some of the best museums in the United States – and even the world! Whether your kids are art, space, or history enthusiasts, they’ll find something they’ll love. Plus, you don’t have to worry if you’re traveling with fussy toddlers or bored teens. Here, we break down the ideal museums by kids’ ages to help narrow the many choices, including elementary-aged children. DC is home to the Smithsonian Museums, which are free to enter, as well as some additional ticket-based options that are worth exploring based on your time and interest. Read on for the best Washington DC museums for your family adventures with kids of all ages!
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Best DC Museums for Toddlers
A museum may seem like an unlikely place to take a toddler, but your little ones will appreciate all the space to roam free and tire themselves out! Of course, it also helps that DC has some of the best museums, especially for toddlers. Here are some of the best Washington DC museums for toddlers!
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Little ones can engage in a sensory experience both inside and outside with a trip to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Located on Independence Avenue adjacent to the National Mall, it’s a great place to bring your kids for the day. The main indoor exhibits feature dozens of artworks, from the subtle to bold, the grand to toddler-sized. Plus, the outdoor space boasts more than thirty awe-inspiring sculptures for little legs to wander through, and the adjacent plaza is also an exhibition space for contemporary works. For parents of older kids, check out Hirshhorn Eye (Hi for short) an in-gallery guide that connects museumgoers directly with the artists behind the art via their smartphone. And for a special treat – and perhaps a little kick of caffeine or sugar – visit the Dolcezza Coffee & Gelato inside. It offers specialty gelato, espresso drinks, and pastries.
Smithsonian museums are free to enter (making it even better when you’re searching for the best Washington DC museums for toddlers). The sculpture garden is open daily from 10 a.m., and the museum is open several days a week. For more on visiting, check out Hirshhorn’s website.
National Children’s Museum
The National Children’s Museum is one of the newest museums to make its way to Washington, DC. It’s situated downtown, just a few minutes from the White House and within walking distance of other DC attractions on Pennsylvania Avenue. Exhibits offer something for every child under twelve years old, including toddlers. For example, the Little Movers indoor play gym helps little ones get out their wiggles with toys to build their fine motor skills. Little Dreamers put kids in the pilot’s seat to explore aviation- and weather-themed adventures. Art + Tech immerses creative children in the underwater world of SpongeBob Squarepants or a rescue mission with PAW Patrol. Tinkerers Studio invites little ones to design, create, build, and play with their creations. And that’s just scratching the surface of what’s on offer! There’s a reason this is one of the best Washington DC museums for kids of all ages!
Tickets can be purchased for a morning or afternoon session for certain days of the week (making it easy to plan around naps when scheduling admission to one of the best DC museums for toddlers), and even members need to reserve a spot to ensure the museum will remain within capacity. For more tips to prepare for your visit, check out their website.
National Building Museum
The National Building Museum’s sweeping columns and grand spaces may be enough to awe you and your little one. Located right off Judiciary Square, this funky building dedicated to preserving the history of architecture is instantly recognizable. But one of the greatest aspects of this destination is the PLAY WORK BUILD exhibit, designed specifically for budding designers and engineers! Kids can view the museum’s architectural toy collection (think: from Lincoln Logs to lesser-known building toys) for inspiration and then get building (and knocking down) through hands-on play with both virtual and real-life blocks. It’s a great way to get them to collaborate with other kids, and a good learning experience too. There are eight exhibits in total throughout the museum. Other ones that may be of interest to kids include Animals, Collected, featuring a ton of real and fantasy animal objects.
Timed passes to PLAY WORK BUILD are included in admission, and the museum is open several days per week. To learn more, check out their visitor page.
Best DC Museums for Elementary Aged Kids
Exploring DC with your elementary-school-aged kids? Take them to one of these fun museums! From history to air and space, here are some of the best Washington DC museums for young kids!
Smithsonian National Postal Museum
Does your family love a good journey? Check out vintage planes, mail trucks, and mailboxes at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, one of the best DC museums for young kids. Located on DC’s East End, it’s a little further than most downtown attractions and other museums, but worth venturing to nonetheless. Here, your little ones and learn all about how the U.S. Postal Service came to be and serves us now. This reasonably sized museum makes it perfect for exploration with younger kids, since it won’t take you longer than an hour or two to see. Plus, most exhibits have an interactive element to keep your little ones entertained. Explore the Pony Express, sort different packages, create postcards or design your own stamp. You’ll find a ton to do at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum; that’s why it’s one of the best Washington DC museums for kids of all ages!
Smithsonian museums are free to enter. The National Postal Museum is currently open several days per week. Learn more at the museum’s website.
Smithsonian National Museum of American History
There’s so much for families to see at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History! Flanked by the National Mall, this popular DC museum attracts visitors of all ages, but it’s fantastic for toddlers too. In fact, it offers kids lots of chances to immerse themselves in the exhibits in a way a typical museum wouldn’t. Play president behind the podium, learn about some of the country’s greatest inventors, take in chic gowns worn by America’s First Ladies, and soak in cultural icons like Dorothy’s red slippers from The Wizard of Oz. For something interactive, Wegmans Wonderplace is the National Mall’s first exhibition specifically designed for children 0 to 6. And for older kids between 6 and 12, there is Draper Spark! Lab, which turns kids into inventors! Both exhibitions are currently closed due to COVID-19, but check the website for the latest updates.
Smithsonian museums are free to enter. The National Museum of American History is open most days of the week. Learn more on their website.
Ford’s Theater National Historic Site
Take in American history at Ford’s Theater National Historic Site, the site of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Though this attraction in Penn Quarter may not be suitable for younger children, it’s great for older kids who understand the history behind it. While most known as a live-performance theater, there is also a museum to complement what elementary school children may be learning in school about Lincoln’s life and role in American history. Families can also take a self-guided tour that offers unique and informative exhibits; they showcase the highlights of President Lincoln’s presidency – from being sworn in until the end of his life. Certainly, this is one of the best DC museums for young kids, especially those who have learned a bit of history in school.
Advance tickets are currently required to visit, and the museum and theater are open most days of the week. Check out their website for more details.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum has two locations for families to take an imaginary trip to the skies!
The DC Museum
Located on Jefferson Drive, between 4th and 7th Streets, NW, the DC museum offers many exhibits about flight; from the Wright Brothers’ first airplane adventure to the race to the moon and the exciting evolution of our universe. Families can experience aircraft large and small, interactive exhibits, and even get tickets for a space simulator. The number of aircraft on display varies, but families can expect new galleries in the coming years! If you’re visiting on the weekend, the “How Things Fly” gallery is a kid-friendly, interactive environment that is sure to delight aspiring pilots (open on Saturdays and Sundays only). Grab some astronaut ice cream from the gift shop, and it makes quite the trip!
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia is a much more expansive space with many types of aircraft on display, including business and commercial jets, military planes from throughout the 20th century, rockets, and other spacecraft. Learn about the science behind spacecraft that orbit the earth, the technology propelling human flight, and more! In fact, exhibits range from early ballooning into the 21st Century. Can your kids find all 3,000 artifacts on display, including almost 200 airplanes? We think they’re up for the challenge! While temporarily closed, the Observation Tower lets you watch the planes take off. Lastly, don’t miss catching a documentary-style film or the latest Hollywood flick at the Airbus IMAX Theater (currently open Wednesday – Sunday, check the website for current listings and showtimes).
Certainly, both rank amongst the best Washington DC museums with kids. Smithsonian museums are free to enter, however, you must pay to park at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Note that the DC museum is in the middle of a multi-year renovation so check the website for what’s open. Learn more about visiting both museums. Finally, parking at the Udvar-Hazy Center is free for vehicles entering after 4:00 pm.
Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
Want a meaningful DC museum experience for your kids? The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian provides families with a deeper look into the culture and lives of those indigenous to the United States. It’s located on the National Mall near other Smithsonian Museums, so it’s easy to add to your trip. The museum provides a special look at the Algonquian people of the Chesapeake region, the American Indians local to the mid-Atlantic region, alongside several rotating exhibits. Uncover the philosophies and worldviews, historical events, and modern-day life, and historic leaders of American Indian communities. In addition to compelling exhibits, the museum also has a fantastic food court – Mitsitam Café – that highlights relevant cuisines from various U.S. regions (it’s currently closed due to COVID-19).
Smithsonian museums are free to enter, and the National Museum of the American Indian is open most days of the week. Review the website for more information.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Animal lovers, geologists, paleontologists, and more will love exploring the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. As another Smithsonian museum located on the National Mall, couple it with your visit to other nearby destinations. We guarantee your kids will thank you for it; it’s one of the best Washington DC museums for kids of all ages! From the giant elephant that greets families at the atrium to the tiny skeletons of flying fish, animals on land and from the sea feature prominently here. Ancient artifacts are also on display, showing the history of prehistoric creatures. For gem enthusiasts, the geology hall showcases minerals, rocks, and gems from the obscure to the famous – including the Hope Diamond. Kids will need at least an hour or two just to take everything in here, so it’s sure to keep them occupied a little while.
Smithsonian museums are free to enter, and the National Museum of Natural History is open most days. Check out the website for more.
Best DC Museums for Teens
Teens may be hard to impress sometimes, but they’ll love these Washington DC museums for families! Whether your kid is interested in US history or modern art, there’s something in the city to keep them happy. Keep reading for the best DC museums for teens!
International Spy Museum
Discover the secrets of DC’s elite government officers at the International Spy Museum. Located in L’Enfant Plaza, families visiting this kid-friendly museum can tap into their secret agent abilities to learn about spy life. It’ll be a real thrilling experience for everyone! Visitors will receive their cover identity and mission at the Briefing Center. Then, families can go undercover to test their skills at 17 physical and digital interactive exhibits spread across several floors. Learning about famous spies then put some of their practices into action to get immersed in life as covert operatives. The museum’s primary audience is ages nine and older, though the museum notes younger children can have a fun and fulfilling experience. It’s definitely one of the best DC museums for teens!
Advance purchase of tickets is recommended for the museum, which is open daily. Children six and under are free. Learn more at the museum’s website .
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
It’s no secret history buffs have their pick at a wide range of destinations in DC. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is no different, as it provides a history of the Holocaust through historical artifacts, video footage, and personal stories. As a plus, it’s right by the National Mall and easy to reach. From a birds-eye perspective of the concentration camps to eye-witness testimonies from the ground, this museum provides a sobering view of events around World War II and even more contemporary ones. The website also provides several informational resources about the Holocaust, antisemitism, and other relevant topics to help you prepare for the museum. While anyone can visit, this museum is geared toward adults and older children given the serious subject matter. Though it may not be ideal for particularly sensitive kids, it’s definitely worth a visit if your children are interested or can handle it.
The Museum is free, but timed tickets are required.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Opened in 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is a relative newcomer to the National Mall. Still, it’s already earned a spot on our list of the best Washington DC museums for kids of all ages! Exhibits showcase the Civil Rights movement, diversity of African American communities across the United States, and African Americans’ important cultural contributions to U.S. art, literature music, and more. As one of the best family-friendly museums in Washington DC, it gives families hours of compelling content to take in and experience. There’s even an exhibit of the making of the museum itself, so kids are guaranteed to find something of interest. Want to prep your kids before you go or give them fun activities to complete? The website has learning resources to enhance the visit or learn from the comfort of home.
Smithsonian Museums are free to enter, though timed-entry passes are required to visit the museum. The museum is open most days of the week.
National Gallery of Art and Sculpture Garden
Is your teen a fan of ancient, modern, or contemporary art (or maybe just a fan of posting on Instagram?)? The National Gallery of Art and Sculpture Garden offers exploration across many centuries worth of art – 3,200 works on view. This includes indoor galleries, as well as 21 modern and contemporary sculptures on display outside in the sculpture garden! Certainly, it will keep any family entertained for hours. Admire famous portraits, soak up 14th to 21st-century prints, paintings, and photos depicting scenes from cities and countryside alike, and take in the whimsical mosaics or swooping structures. Budding artists are welcome to take their sketchbooks if inspired to do some drawing. The Pavilion Café offers a picturesque place to fuel up for more family exploration. There are virtual learning and event resources on the website before, during, or after your travels.
Certainly, one of the best DC museums for teens, the museum is open daily. Learn more about the museum’s visitor policies.
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O Museum in The Mansion©
Sometimes you’re searching for something different among the best DC museums for kids of all ages. If you’ve done the Smithsonian museums before or looking for something a bit quirky, O Museum in The Mansion© might be the perfect DC museum for your family. Predictably, this unique property is located on O Street, right off DuPont Circle. A self-guided tour of the museum takes you through a labyrinth of up to 100 rooms and over 80 secret doors, among uniquely themed spaces with historical and cultural memorabilia and art. Tours are available daily, and the museum promotes family fun nights on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Occasionally, it even hosts events like the Mustache Madness Tour, which lets kids act like amateur sleuths as they go on a treasure hunt throughout the museum!
Families and groups can book museum visits and tours online (reservations required); the museum is open daily.
Enjoy the Exhibits!
We hope this list of the Best Washington DC Museums For Kids Of All Ages inspires some exhibit-hopping with your kids in Washington, DC! From interactive activities with beloved characters to getting up close with historical artifacts to immersing in the latest technologies and current events and getting a dose of pop culture, DC museums have something for each family at each age and stage of a child’s life. Enjoy your trip to Washington, DC with your kids!
Take a virtual visit to Washington, DC: Travel From Home: Washington, DC.
*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the attractions, accommodations, or things to do on this list may be closed. Please ensure availability before making your decision.
*This post may contain affiliate links that may earn us a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links in no way inform the hotels, sights, products, or other recommendations included in our articles. All opinions and recommendations expressed here are compiled from submissions submitted by the generous members of our Families Who Love To Travel community.
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