Museums and Memorials: Washington DC with Kids

No visit to Washington D.C. is complete without visiting the Smithsonian museums and memorials. My husband and I have both visited DC several times, yet wanted to wait until our kids were a little older for them to visit. We wanted them to really appreciate and understand what they were seeing (as much as possible for a young child). At the time of the trip, the kids were 7 and 9. I’m glad we did hold off because I feel they really enjoyed the city and learned a great deal more about the US. These are their favorite museums and memorials ranked.

DC Kids

Best Museums in Washington DC

1. Museum of Natural History

They loved this museum (that’s why they picked it as their #1). It was all about the Earth’s past and had many fossils and prehistoric artifacts that they found fascinating. If your child loves animals then the Museum of Natural History is a great place for your family.

There are many kid-friendly exhibits and artifacts. From the moment you walk through the doors, you are greeted by a giant elephant. The atrium surrounding it leads you to the many “wings” to explore.

The sections range from dinosaurs, mammals, ocean life, the arctic world, to butterflies and gemstones (like the Hope Diamond). There is so much to learn and explore here that we could have stayed at least 3-4 hours (if the kids had it their way, we would have).

Natural History DC Kids

2. National Air and Space Museum

This is a great Washington DC museum for kids. There was a lot to do here too! The main lobby of this museum is filled with space capsules, rockets, and vintage planes overhead. There were a few planes, like this old Pan Am plane, that guests were allowed to enter (they found the pilot’s cockpit to be pretty cool).

Sure enough, they soon found a flight simulator and did this an innumerable amount of times. They crashed repeatedly and did not give up until they each had a successful landing on the aircraft carrier (perseverance right?)

Air and Space Museum

I would probably say their favorite exhibit was a kids’ interactive exploratory activity about flight. Here they learned about speed, velocity, gravity, sound and many other scientific terms. This section is a must do for any kid!

3. National Museum of the American Indian

I was very excited to go to this museum because I had never been. The kids really enjoyed themselves here too. We headed straight for the kids area, and they had a unique activity where kids were given a passport (notice my daughter’s hand below). They had to complete different activities and would get their passport stamped for completion. The first section explained how an Inuit child would learn to sled at an early age and how much balance is required for this.

American Indian Museum Kids

They enjoyed learning about how American Indians used the land and animals for their resources, and found these exhibits educational and very entertaining. I enjoyed the visual aspect of this museum. These areas were very bright, open and nicely themed too. I did not get that much time to explore other areas of this museum, as we had a Capitol tour to catch.

4. Museum of American History

This is personally my favorite Washington DC museum (being a history teacher and all). I decided to play tour guide through this museum and explain some history in the process. I honestly thought they would like the Presidential section, First Lady dresses and the Star Spangled Banner exhibits more, but they did not.

They stumbled upon an innovation kids area and spent a good 45 minutes playing and creating! Sadly for me, this was the highlight of the museum for them. My hope is the next time we visit, when they are a little older, they will appreciate more of the artifacts.

Best Memorials in Washington DC

Here are our kids’ favorite memorials in Washington DC. We made sure to walk around the National Mall and visit each memorial to explain its’ significance in history. We also took the Metro to Arlington as it is a bit of a walk from the National Mall. These are their top 3 Memorials in Wsahington DC.

Lincoln Memorial

They had already learned about the importance of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War years and this was the one memorial they were excited to see. I’m glad, because it’s my favorite! They rated this one the best memorial in DC.

Lincoln Memorial Fam

Arlington Cemetery

We had to do some teaching here. We explained the significance of the Changing of the Guard Ceremony, taught about John F. Kennedy and reminded them that each gravestone was a symbol of someone’s sacrifice for this country. It was a highlight for sure!

Arlington Kids

WWII Memorial

This was another teaching spot. Since the war was fought on two sides (Atlantic and Pacific), they learned why the memorial was split into two areas. They asked to take a picture with their home state.

WWII Florida

Overall, I am very pleased we waited until the kids were a little older to take them to visit our nation’s capital. I felt they understood the history of our country a lot more and came out a little more cultured than they arrived!

Viator

Among the places we visited that did not make the “kids pick list”:

The National Archives

The Capitol Building

The Supreme Court

DC Family

Where to Stay in Washington DC

We stayed in the Grand Hyatt Washington, which was very convenient due to the metro access from the lobby (there was no need to rent a car). It was just too easy! We arrived at Reagan National, hopped on the Metro and it took us to the lobby of our hotel. We are a budget travel family, but since we had just applied for a Hyatt credit card we had 2 free nights and were able to stay here for free! Read my post if you would like to learn how to get free hotel stays like this. Check out the Grand Hyatt’s rates or browse other options for hotels in Washington DC.

Booking.com

Other Things to See Near Washington DC

Day Trips from DC using Public Transportation

Mount Vernon

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor

Colonial Williamsburg

Best Time to Visit Washington DC

Springtime is the most beautiful time to visit DC. The cherry blossoms are in full effect and if you time your trip with peak bloom, your pictures will have a little extra color. Check out: Best Spots to See Cherry Blossoms – However, this is also high tourist time (along with the summer). If you are looking for a quiet time to visit Washington DC, you may want to consider the winter months.

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