National Postal Museum in Washington DC

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The National Postal Museum, housed in a building that opened in 1914 as the city’s post office until 1986, opened as a museum in 1993. In addition to the 35,000 square foot public museum, the building is home to a 6,000 square foot research library, stamp store, and museum shop. The museum is part of the Smithsonian Institute, the world largest museum complex, encompassing 19 museums (and a zoo!) in Washington DC and New York City. The Postal Museum is one of my favorite museums in Washington DC and one of the most kid friendly places in town.

Traveling with Kids:

  • The museum is FREE and open 364 days a year (closed on Christmas)- check here for seasonal hours. 

  • There is limited, metered street parking nearby- Union Station is the closest paid parking garage (4 levels!). Take the Metro Red Line to Union Station. More information here.

  • The museum is handicap accessible. I would not recommend a stroller- kids will want to climb and explore in all the exhibit halls.

  • FREE, docent led tours of the museum are offered each day at 11am and 1pm- check here for more information. Self guided tour information can be found here

  • Make sure children pick up a scavenger hunt to complete- see it online here

  • A small gift shop and stamp store is located on the lower level, as well as restrooms, water fountains, lockers, and a working post office. 

  • The museum is located next door to Union Station, which, in addition to being the main transportation hub for trains, buses, and tours, also has tons of dining and shopping options- there are more than 30 possible dining options. See the list here

  • Plan on 60-90 minutes to explore the exhibits and lower level.

Ten Things Kids Should DO at the Postal Museum:

1. Learn about stamps in the Gross Stamp Gallery. Create your own stamp design and grab up to six cancelled stamps to start your own collection. 

2. Check out the National Stamp Collection- there are over 4,000 stamps in chronological order, in sets of ten years. Pick a special year and check out the issued stamps.

3. Follow the trail in Binding a Nation by starting at the 1673 route between Boston and New York the first post rider followed. Continue to the Pony Express in the early 1860s and the Postman Takes Flight gallery. Read the front page headlines from dozens of city newspapers.

4. Watch the evolution of the mailbox and the expansion of the postal service in the System at Work exhibit. Learn how barcodes work and read about the expansion of the mail in the 1980s. 

5. Play the Zipcode Challenge and toss packages in the correct state. 

6. Scan packages with an electronic scanner from the 2000s and learn about automated mail in the 1990s.

7. Ponder the importance of mail correspondence for the military in the Mail Call exhibit. Consider how mail was the only connection to friends and family to servicemen abroad and sailors at sea. 

8. Walk through the vault door and read about the security measures taken to protector mail, packages, and privacy in Behind the Badge. Learn about past crimes and investigations, including counterfeit postage stamps. Honor the postal workers who have died in the line of duty.  

9. Come aboard a red mud wagon for Old West mail delivery, a Railroad Service Car, and the front cabin of a tracker trailer. 

10. Check out John Lennon’s childhood stamp album dating back to 1950- he had more than 550 stamps in his collection! Other popular museum memorabilia include Amelia Earhart’s flight suit and the “Inverted Jenny”, the most famous stamp error in history. 

Bonus: Look DOWN at the floor of the lower level- what do you notice about the pattern of the titles? And then look UP and check out three hanging aircrafts used in postal delivery dating back to 1911!

Note: At the time of our visitor in summer 2019, the Postmaster’s Gallery was unavailable for visit.

Looking for other adventures in Washington DC? Check out our visits to the International Spy Museum, the National Building Museum, and Mount Vernon.