This post was updated January, 2017.
Washington, DC is a wonderful place to visit, and we are fortunate to live in the suburbs of this popular city. How many other towns can boast about such an amazing collection of galleries and museums with no admission fees? Over the years, we’ve learned about animals, airplanes, American Indians and art by visiting many of the Smithsonian museums. But we’ve also had the chance to enjoy some of the other unique museum offerings in DC. Here are 6 favorites, popular with both tourists and locals.
1. International Spy Museum. The Spy Museum is probably one of the most popular museums outside of the Smithsonian family. The cost of admission is a bit pricey at over $20 a ticket for anyone age 12 and up, but you can often find discounts through a site like Groupon. Kids can check out spy gadgets, test their code breaking skills, or try one of the interactive events. Fans of James Bond will enjoy Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains, which includes over 100 artifacts from the movies. Download the Family Missions Guide before you go to help make the experience for kids even better. For additional fun, combine your visit to the museum with one of the interactive spy experiences, like Spy in the City or Operation Spy. To get the most for your money, I think the museum is best suited for kids 7 or 8 and older.
2. Newseum. Considered by Trip Advisor to be one of the Top 25 Museums in the US, the Newseum is a great place for history buffs and budding journalists. Many of the exhibits are interactive, like the Ethics Center where visitors can decide how to tackle some of the real life scenarios that a journalist might face, and the Interactive Newsroom. Others are filled with moving images, like the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery and the 9/11 Gallery. During the summer, take advantage of the Summer Fun Deal, where up to 4 kids can get in for free with one adult admission. Tickets are good for two consecutive days, so if you want to spread out your visit you can.
3. Madame Tussauds. I must admit that I wasn’t sure what to expect when I made my first visit to the Madame Tussauds location in New York City a number of years ago. But it turned out to be a really entertaining experience, so I was excited when I had the opportunity to visit the Washington, DC Madame Tussauds location about two years ago. It’s a fun place that brings history alive as you get up close with 45 US presidents. There are also cultural icons like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, along with music, sports and media favorites. Where else can you take pictures of yourself with so many famous Americans from the past?
4. National Geographic Museum. You can always count on National Geographic to provide a cool learning experience at its 17th Street location. Over the years we’ve enjoyed seeing unique exhibits like China’s Terra Cotta Warriors along with Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology. The museum recently was the only museum on the east coast to host THE GREEKS: Agamemnon to Alexander the Great, containing over 500 treasures from ancient Greece. The exhibits are ever changing, so it's best to visit the website for the most current information.
5. Ford’s Theatre Museum. For Abraham Lincoln fans, visiting the Ford’s Theatre Museum is a must in DC. Take a self-guided tour to follow the life of Lincoln, and you’ll get to view some rare historic artifacts like the clothing Lincoln was wearing the night he was assassinated. While you are there, listen to a talk by a National Park Service Ranger, then walk-through the historic theatre. Visit the Petersen House across the street, where Lincoln was taken after he was shot. Finally, stop by the adjacent Aftermath Exhibits, to learn about the events that took place after Lincoln died. View a 34 foot tower of books made from bent aluminum, featuring titles of 205 actual books written about Lincoln. Limited free same day tickets are available at the Box Office, or you can reserve tickets for a nominal fee.
6. Marian Koshland Science Museum. Rounding out the list of unique museums in DC is the small, lesser-known Marian Koshland Science Museum. For teens and adults who want to address current, real-life science issues such as climate change, this might be the place for you. Explore the Earth Lab, Idea Lab and Life Lab exhibit areas. Participate in hand-on activities Saturdays and Sundays between 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. The museum is closed on Tuesdays.