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Juliet Martini’s Washington Touring Hot Spots with Children in Mind

Traveling with children is challenge, even in Washington DC. It’s one thing having to listen to them complain on how much walking they’re doing, but also finding places and activities that will hold their interest, while teaching a little history along the way. When planning a family trip to Washington DC, I’ve found the following museums and tours to be a great hit with both parents and kids.

Smithsonian Institute:  It’s local humor to many of us living in the DC region to have visitors say they want to take aday to visit the Smithsonian. Our response is ‘which building?’ Many are surprised to learn the Smithsonian Institute is comprised of 19 museums and the National Zoo. With children, it helps to focus on the three most popular, take at least a day in each if time permits – the National Air and Space Museum, the Natural History Museum and the American History Museum. From dinosaurs to the Wright Brothers’ Plane … from moon rocks to Dorothy’s ruby slippers, these museums teach and entertain children with many eye-opening discoveries. If you plan ahead, the web sites for each of the museums offers scavenger hunt ideas to make a child’s visit more interactive and fun.


Mt Vernon:  If your kids are fans of the movie National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets, consider taking the special hour-long walking tour that includes behind-the-scenes information about the areas where the movie was filmed and how these locations were used during George Washington’s time. It’s a unique perspective of how history continues to entertain and teach us about the present and the past.


National Aquarium:  Not to be confused with its newer sister facility, the aquarium, located in downtown DC is theoldest aquarium in the country, with an unlikely home in the lower level of the Commerce Building. This dark space caters to over 200 species of fish and animals including alligators, piranha, shark, eel and Japanese carp. Newly renovated, the aquarium offers a 45 minute program of unique and engaging animals allowing for a brief pause to a busy tour day in the city … and in the summer it’s a welcome place to cool off!


The International Spy Museum:  Opened in 2002, this newest public museum is the only one solely dedicated to espionage and skull duggery. Featuring the largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on public display, many of these objects are being seen by the public for the first time. Both interactive and educational for both adults and kids, the museum focuses on human intelligence and shows the role spies have played in world events throughout history.

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum:  Before you roll your eyes, this world famous museum franchise has become a great addition to teaching history. The Presidents Gallery, a new exhibit, displays all 44 US Presidents in an exciting, educational and interactive environment. Comprising of fourteen highly themed immersive rooms, The Presidents Gallery is the only place in the world where people can see and interact with every presidents’ likenesses in 3D. With a focus on the history of the presidents, this exhibit was developed in accordance with the US Department of National Social Studies Standards and National Council for the Social Civil Rights Movement Studies Standards.


Ford’s Theatre Campus:  Comprising of three buildings (Ford’s Theatre, Peterson House and the Center for Educational Leadership) within walking distance of Madame Tussaud’s, the campus traces the story of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, assassination and legacy. Whether considering a brief visit or the full experience, Ford’s will deepen your appreciation and understanding of America’s 16th president. Beginning with a self-guided tour in the theatre exploring Lincoln’s presidency, you can view the Presidential Box where Lincoln was shot, and other rare artifacts like the derringer John Wilkes Booth used. Across the street at Peterson House were Lincoln died, you can learn about the people who were with Lincoln during his final hours, along with a visit to the newly constructed Center for Education and Leadership to explore additional exhibits focusing on the aftermath of the assassination and the how the hunt for John Wilkes Booth left and lasting impact on Lincoln’s legacy, and how we protect our president today.

Join us next week, our final week on DC, as Juliet continues to explore our historic capitol city.

All pictures courtesy of the websites listed. Please visit those websites for additional information.

Marilyn Baron - April 22, 2012 - 10:42 am

Wow, what an amazing list of things to do in Washington. One of the places I’d like to see is the Spy Museum and Mt. Vernon. Washington, D.C. has so much to see and do. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Maxine - April 22, 2012 - 12:31 pm

A great blog! Wow, you really know DC. I did spend my one day at the Smithsonian – Air and Space, but I really want to go back and spend lots of time! I always love an aquarium and that is a must see on my list. I had forgotten all about the Spy Museum. Thanks for the reminder. Again, I really enjoyed the post!

Sheila - April 22, 2012 - 1:02 pm

I wish the International Spy Museum had been opened when we took our fourteen-year-old son to D.C.! He thoroughly enjoyed the Smithsonian, but the National Archives, which we had to see, didn’t impress him. Thanks for a fun tour, which brought back fond memories of our long ago visit to Washington D.C.

Sia Huff - April 22, 2012 - 2:16 pm

I agree with Maxine – you do know DC. So happy you’re sharing all these wonderful places with us. I want to go again :)
19 building in the Smithsonian! I might put it on my bucket list to visit them all. Instead, I tend to go back to the same museum over and over. There’s so much to see. Thanks for sharing.

Sheila - April 22, 2012 - 3:36 pm

I’m trying a second time to post a comment. The first one apparently was eaten by the blogmonster.
I wish the International Spy Museum had been open when we took our fourteen-year-old son to D.C. He enjoyed the Smithsonian, of course. However, he wasn’t thrilled with the National Archives, which we wanted to see. Great list of tourist sites. Thanks.

Carol Burnside - April 22, 2012 - 9:16 pm

Great suggestions, Juliet. A couple of other things I enjoyed seeing was Einstein’s statue because you can climb on him, the U.S. Botanic Garden across from the Capitol building and the WWII memorial. Not sure kids would like the latter, but it was sure impressive and rather beautiful.

Carol Burnside - April 22, 2012 - 9:22 pm

Oh, and one thing a lot of people don’t know is that there’s a Nat’l Air and Space Museum located at Dulles Airport too. If you have a layover, you can hop a bus there and back. I was impressed with their collection, including the Enola Gay and the space shuttle Enterprise.

Tami Brothers - April 22, 2012 - 10:03 pm

Wow! Lots of great information. I am definitely going to have to go back. 19 museums!!! I thought there were only 5. Thanks for blogging today. I am adding to my list for my family’s next trip.

Tami :alien:

Tami Brothers - April 22, 2012 - 10:03 pm

Hey Carol! Just read all the comments and saw your recommendations to. Adding more to my list. :chic:

Mary Preston - April 23, 2012 - 3:57 am

If I ever make it to Washington I will be sure to give myself time to see everything properly. Wonderful thank you.

Susan Carlisle - April 23, 2012 - 5:29 pm

I haven’t seen the International Spy Museum but that is right up my ally. I’m going to try to get there the next time I’m in DC. Thanks for being such a great tour guide.

Juliet Martini - April 24, 2012 - 12:22 pm

Sorry I haven’t posted sooner! Glad to hear everyone is enjoying the mini tours. Thanks Carol for adding those other locations. I’ve been living in the area over 20 years and am always finding new places – especially for kids. The can be a tuff customer when it comes to keeping their interest. Happy Travels and Happy Writing! — Juliet

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