With so many free, fun and educational attractions, DC earns high marks from family vacationers. Kids of all ages love the National Air and Space Museum, home to huge planes, hands-on experiments, flight simulators and even a moon rock you can touch. The Sackler Gallery’s ImaginAsia program complements the museum’s featured exhibitions with hands-on art projects, Asian storytelling and more.
Insects, mammals and dazzling jewels are on display at the National Museum of Natural History, but the famed museum also has Q?rius. A first-of-its-kind interactive learning experience, Q?rius helps teens and tweens understand science as it relates to nature, the planet, universe and ultimately their lives.
The National Zoo is another must-see. Make sure to visit Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and baby Bao Bao, the zoo's famous pandas, who are among the prime attractions in the Asia Trail, where they share a home with sloth bears, fishing cats, red pandas and other animals. Kids can lend a hand tending goats, cows and chickens at the Kid’s Farm, an on-site facility designed to teach children about the importance of the agricultural world.
Families and aspiring architects will have a ball at the National Building Museum. The breathtaking Great Hall offers hands-on activities like arch construction, bridge design and egg drop competitions. Kids will also enjoy the magnificent design of the Washington National Cathedral, which introduces them to its magnificent gargoyles through regularly scheduled tours. And you’re almost certain to find a kid-friendly special exhibition on display at the National Geographic Museum.
Visit the National Archives to see the original Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Before you leave, stop by Public Vaults, a permanent exhibition that gives visitors the sensation of walking into the Archives' behind-the-scenes stacks. Kids can step into the boots of soldiers on the front lines, follow the original investigation into the sinking of the Titanic and even listen in on the deliberations of presidents as they faced some of the country’s greatest challenges.
For another "official" Washington experience that doesn’t require much planning, visit the Library of Congress. It’s a treasure trove of Americana, packed with artifacts like the Wright Brothers’ flight logs, Bob Hope’s collection of jokes and Harry Houdini’s catalog of magic tricks.
The Newseum dazzles and delights with exhibits designed with future journalists in mind. Kids can deliver the weather forecast in front of a green screen, get critiqued by a professional photojournalist after snapping photos of a news scene and view front-page stories from around the globe.
The International Spy Museum is a hit with older children and parents alike. It explores the history of espionage with interactive exhibits and an hourlong program for visitors ages 12 and up. Operation Spy, which combines live-action video characters, special effects and hands-on activities, makes for an intrigue-filled adventure based on an actual case drawn from the files of U.S. intelligence. The International Spy Museum also offers Spy in the City™, a new GPS-based interactive experience that allows participants to embark on a series of self-guided outdoor missions using GPS technology.
Whether for summer or winter, National Harbor in nearby Fort Washington, Md. always puts on amazing spectacles. In warm-weather months check out the Movies on the Potomac series (May 25-Sept. 28) and the Little Tots program, which includes carousel rides on the fourth Wednesday of every month from May through August, starting at 10:30 a.m. Meanwhile, in winter National Harbor celebrates the holidays with the Gaylord National Resort's ICE! exhibit, which includes an extra cool winterscape completely carved out of ice, plus everything from a water skiing Santa and plenty of red and green fireworks.
For kids, getting there may really be half the fun. DC’s safe, efficient and color-coded Metrorail system offers easy access to most points of interest, and for many kids, navigating the Metro is an attraction in itself.