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Washington, DC – National Mall Museums

museum natural history

The National Mall isn't a shopping mall – it's a wide grassy promenade, lined with wonderful museums, and the Smithsonian Museums are free! Let your kids choose which museums to see, hands-on exhibits are designed with kids in mind, allow plenty of time.

National Mall Museums Photo Album

Smithsonian Castle – Stop in "The Castle," original 19th century home of the Smithsonian Institution, for the Smithsonian Visitor Center. Pick up free maps to all the Smithsonian museums, there's also restrooms, a cafe. Visitor Center opens at 8:30am (helpful if you need a restroom before museums open at 10am).

Spirit of St. Louis
  National Air and Space Museum – No trip to Washington, DC is complete without a trip to the National Air and Space Museum, spacesuits worn by astronauts on the moon, and lunar rocks (the one you can touch is very cool), see original Wright Brothers and Amelia Earhart's airplanes.
    Entering the museum, the new Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall is filled with a crinkly Apollo lunar module, Gemini IV and Mercury Friendship 7 space capsules, Spirit of St. Louis, rockets, the fastest aircraft ever flown, Rutan Voyager, SpaceShipOne, and more.
    Also on the first floor, in the Space Race gallery are full size rockets and space telescope, and see how astronauts, ate, slept, took a bath in space in the Skylab Orbital Workshop. Check out fun hands-on activities for kids in "How Things Fly."
      On the second floor, your best bet is the themed galleries, with Pioneers of Flight, Wright Brothers, World War II Aviation, Apollo to the Moon, and Exploring the Planets. Plus there's an IMAX movie and Einstein Planetarium.
      Tip: This is a very popular museum, so go early (make this your first stop of the day).
      Don't miss the second location of the National Air and Space Museum, Udvar-Hazy Center, with famous airplanes such as Enola Gay, and Space Shuttle Discovery.
  National Museum of the American Indian What's great about this museum, it includes exhibits about the history, art and culture of indigenous peoples of both North and South America. On the top floor, in Our Universe galleries find out about beliefs, daily life, world-view of peoples from Alaska, New Mexico, Canada, Great Plains, California, Ecuador and Peru, Chile.
    In the ImagiNations Activity Center, kids can build an iglu, step into a tipi, weave baskets, learn about kayaking and snowshoeing, plus craft activities such make a corn husk doll or beaded necklace.
      Plan to have lunch in the Mitsitam Cafe, with dishes such as buffalo chili, Indian tacos, bison burgers, fry bread, cedar smoked salmon, tamales, cornbread, Mexican hot chocolate.
  National Museum of African American History and Culture – Discover the rich stories of African Americans – from slavery and a one room slave cabin, to papers of emancipation, a plane flown by black pilots in World War II, dress worn by one of the girls of the "Little Rock Nine," story of boxing great Muhammad Ali and other great athletes, a gallery of paintings by black artists, and much more.
National Galley of Art Photo Album
    National Gallery of Art – The National Gallery has a world-class collection of European paintings, including art works by Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Raphael, da Vinci, Picasso.

Read our blog post "Highlights of the National Gallery of Art" to plan your visit.

Sculpture Garden
  Sculpture Garden (National Gallery of Art) – Kids refusing to go in a museum? No problem, head for the outdoor Sculpture Garden next to the National Gallery of Art. These are fun sculptures kids can enjoy – cartoon style-house by Roy Lichtenstein, Calder's Red Horse, a moondog, giant typewriter eraser, and six granite chairs to sit on.
      In summer, dabble your toes (no wading) in the big wide fountain; in winter, have fun on the ice skating rink (rink is open daily, November to March) and pick up a hot chocolate in the museum restaurant.
american history
  National Museum of American History – There's nothing oldy or moldy about this museum – American history is fun for kids in this museum. Check out gowns, pearls, fans and furs, parasols and jewelry worn by first ladies (including the current First Lady), or the original Star-Spangled Banner, full-size American trains, trucks, cars, models of ships, a doll house replicating an 1887 house in exquisite detail, all about U.S. presidents, including presidential toys. And kids will have fun posing for a picture on the inaugural podium (just like the presidents).
  National Museum of Natural History – A twelve ton elephant in the museum rotunda is impressive, but you might want to rush up to the second floor to see the peerless Hope Diamond, plus an exquisite collection of ruby, sapphire, pearl, emerald, pink and yellow diamond necklaces, Marie Antoinette's earrings.
    More wonders of the natural world include dioramas of big mammals, skeletons of fishes, snakes, birds and bats, dinosaur fossils (T-Rex and Triceratops are huge), Human Origins hall, and live insect zoo (don't miss the tarantula feedings daily) and butterfly pavilion. The Discovery Room has hands-on activities, touch tables (good for little kids), and a wall with plants and animals of Washington, DC.
    The National Archives Building – In the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, kids can see the original documents of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and Bill of Rights. The National Archives has much more than old parchments. Don't miss the Public Vaults, with interactive activities for kids, or the Magna Carta.
    Tip: Every summer, for two weeks in late June and early July, the Smithsonian puts on the Folklife Festival outdoors on The Mall. The Folklife Festival brings people from all over the globe to share music, food, arts and crafts, culture and community. A unique event.
    Ride the carousel – Right in front of the Smithsonian Castle is a beautiful old carousel in the center of The Mall. Little children will enjoy a ride on the carousel, popular with local Washington, DC kids for decades.

Fun food


Farmers Market – Fridays, May to October, stop into the farmers market in the southwest corner of the mall (12th St. and Jefferson Dr. SW, across from the Smithsonian metro stop.) Buy fresh fruits and juices, breads, pastries, ice cream, sandwiches, salads, pizza, then take your picnic out to the grass nearby. Market is open 9am to 2pm.

kids books washington dc museums
awesome adventures at the smithsonian  

Just for kids guide to Smithsonian museums, chock full of museum maps, what's in the galleries, activities to do, and more information online. Essential for your trip to Washington DC with kids. (Activity book)


(More children's books on other Washington, DC pages)
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