National Building Museum in Washington DC

The National Building Museum, located in downtown Washington DC, opened in 1985 after over a century of previous functions. Built in the late 18th century as the headquarters for the US Pension Bureau and as a honor to the men who fought in the Civil War, the space later hosted hundreds of celebratory functions in the nation’s capitol, including many presidential inauguration balls. It took over 15 million bricks to build the structure which includes a Great Hall, over a dozen gallery rooms, classrooms, meeting spaces, offices, and 234 busts (look up!) and 144 Doric style columns on the first and second floor.

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Traveling with Kids:

  • There is metered street parking or the museum suggests using Spothero service for garage parking. Take the Metro subway red line or the D6, 80, or X2 Metrobus to the museum.

  • The entire museum is handicap accessible and has elevators; strollers must be parked on the first floor.

  • There is a private lactation lounge located behind the stroller parking. 

  • A museum shop is located on the first floor.

  • A small cafe hosted by Firehook Bakery offering prepared sandwiches, salads, and sweets is located on the first floor. Seating is available on the second floor.

  • The museum offers daily programs and activities: check here for updates

  • Plan on 60-90 minutes to explore the exhibits (not accounting for time in the LAWN exhibit or Building Zone session).

Ten Things to DO at the National Building Museum:

1. Pick the photo of your favorite home (there are over 200 photos to choose from) and walk through homes in various stages of completion in the House and Home exhibit.  We found over two dozen famous houses we have visited.
2. Look at the  development of technology in items such as the telephone and the computer over the decades in the House and Home exhibit.
3. See how many animals you can find in the frieze in the Animals Collected  exhibit. Go home and take the quiz about the exhibit here.
4. Note the changes in the landscape of Washington DC in the massive model map in the main hallway. The model was meant to reflect the developement between 1960 and 1980.
5. Choose the best spot to play basketball in the Hoops  exhibit, which displays photographs of basketball hoops in locations around the world.

6. Sit in some of the unique wooden chairs located throughout the museum. Chairs were crafted in a wide variety of shapes and styles.
7. Build to your heart’s content in the Play, Work, Build  exhibit. Choose from Lincoln Logs and styrofoam pieces- event life size- and check out the toddler only space!
8.  Learn about the beginning of movie theaters in Baltimore, home to 240 theaters in the early 20th century, in the Flickering Treasures exhibit. See artifacts like original movie posters and seats and watch old cartoon film clips.
9. If your kids are part of the under six crowd, sign them up (on site only) for a 45 minute timed session in the Building Zone room. The area includes space to dress up as a construction worker, build with legos (so.many.legos), read in the Book Nook, and explore the Greenhouse, a life size “green” house.

10. Check out the rotating exhibit in the Great Hall. In the summer of 2019, the National Building Museum features LAWN a massive indoor playground. Kids of ALL ages will want to roll down the turf grass hill, swing in a hammock, play cornhole, check out the “pool” or relax in an Adirondack chair. There are also special events and programs throughout the summer.

** There are additional exhibits that are more appropriate for adults- check here for more information. Some exhibits are not allowed to be photographed.

Eating Nearby:

If you don’t like the options in the cafe (prepared sandwiches, salads, and some sweets), check out Batam King across the street for yummy ramen, or Penn Commons at the end of the block for American fare and a very reasonably priced kids menu (they have a great a la cart brunch on the weekend!) 


Disclaimer: My family was given a media pass to explore the museum. All opinions expressed are my own.