The National Building Museum is hands down my favorite kid’s museum in DC. Albeit a slightly confusing place to go for the first time. So, let me break it down for you in this post.
A family could easily spend an entire day or an afternoon here. Which is why it’s great that eating is allowed in the lobby is and if you didn’t bring a lunch from home their cafe has you covered with sandwiches, sweets and coffee. The lobby is the only place you may eat or drink, no food is allowed in any of the exhibits.
Upon entrance you will find yourself in their grand lobby. It is completely free to hang out here while enjoying a coffee from their cafe. The admission desk tends to move from day to day, I suggest you ask a security guard where it is upon your entry. Your fee to the museum also covers timed entry tickets to the Building Zone.
The Building Zone
The Building Zone is a permanent exhibit for children aged 2-6. Timed entry tickets are needed and can be acquired at the admission desk and are included in your overall entry fee The Building Zone closes at 4pm, an hour before the rest of the museum. Despite the recommended age range of 2-6, I’ve been bringing my daughter here since she was 14 months old and she’s always been able to engage with the exhibit.
The enclosed exhibit, which includes stroller parking, is my favorite play date spot for when I’d like to be able to talk to my friends, as opposed to watching my child like a hawk. I will add that my toddler is able to open the entry gate and escape so, I can’t stop watching her entirely. In one large room there is a mini house, a train set, multiple magnet boards and magnetic toys, a reading area as well as various legos and building blocks. The space has something for everyone. I suggest getting two sets of timed tickets, back to back, the time flies in this exhibit and it’s and easy place to have low stress fun with your kiddo.
Play Work Build
Play Work Build is the second permanent exhibit specifically for children at the National Building Museum. Unlike the Building Zone, timed tickets for entry are not required and there’s no suggested age range for play. I tend to use this area the most when I’m waiting for my time to enter the Building Zone, or after the Building Zone closes at 4m.
My daughter and I have created some pretty cool structures using the oversized blocks, her favorite is to make a slide. This exhibit is also home to a dance pad, and two tabletop areas for building with smaller blocks and widgets. This area can get a bit crowded in the summer months when school groups pay visits, but even then we still have a good time.
Family Tool Kits
Family tool kits are available for check-out within the museum, allowing families with children from ages 3-11 to explore together, you may inquire about the family tool kits at the information desk. The tool kits come in four varieties; House & Home, Patterns, Eye Spy and Constructor Detector. Each kit has a different age range, ask at the information which kit is right for your family.
Based on docent availability, kids aged 5 and up are invited to enjoy one of two interactive programs (Bridging the Gap or Arches and Trusses) about construction. Discovery Carts occur Saturdays and Sundays at 12pm and 2pm. Call 202.272.2448, ext. 3302. to see if the program will run on your desired day.
A friend and I joke that this museum does a fantastic job of making seemingly boring topics really interesting. For example, Life in a Dollhouse and Timber are two exhibits on display right now that we both agree are alot more fun than we’d assumed. And both incorporate areas for children. Life in a Dollhouse has an area where children can play dress up and kitchen in a Victorian Dollhouse or in a groovy 70’s Doll Apartment.
Timber is a small exhibit filled with big concepts. The exhibit is filled with interesting information about why timber is such a great building material. And also included these stumps-which made a great Instagram photo.
Every summer the museum wows DC with an incredible summer exhibit. They usually consume the lobby and give cause for late nights and performance art. The 2017 exhibit is to be designed by the award winning design firm, Studio Gang. The bar is set pretty high, here are photos from the last two years.
Icebergs hit DC in 2016 where families could eat mochi ice cream after sliding down an iceberg.
The Beach is still being talked about. And the balls from the exhibit were even re-imagined for a different art space, DuPont Underground (that exhibit is now closed, unfortunately).
- A family membership is a great value. For $90/year I can bring two adults and four children at every visit. (Best playdate spot ever.)
- Visiting after 1pm on a weekday seems to be the least crowded option.
- Their parking lot is not for the general public, street parking is available.
- They have an onsite coffee shop.
- Brining a picnic is totally normal-I recommend it.
- Beware of their fountain, it’s a toddler magnet and has no railing to prevent a kid from falling in.
- When you get timed entry tickets to the Building Zone consider getting them for two time slots back to back, the tickets “sell out” and your time goes by quick.
- You can lean more about the history of the building, here.
Plan Your Visit
The Museum and Museum Shop are open Monday through Saturday, 10 am–5 pm, and Sunday, 11 am–5 pm
Building Zone hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 am–4 pm, and Sunday, 11 am–4 pm
Firehook Café hours: Monday–Friday, 8:30 am–4:30 pm; Saturday, 10 am–4:30 pm; Sunday, 11 am–4:30 pm
The Museum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and occasional special eventsHow to Get There
Free Museum members; children aged 2 and under
$10 General adults
$7 General youth (ages 3–17); students with ID; seniors (age 60 and over)
401 F Street NW
Metro Judiciary Square(red line) Gallery Place/Chinatown (red, yellow and green lines)
Street Parking where available, or reserve parking via Parking Panda
Have fun! Let me know in the comments if you had a good time 🙂