The National Building Museum may not be as popular as some of the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall, but the indoor play areas at this museum are the best I’ve seen in Washington D.C. I cannot believe I only discovered this museum after four of my five children started school, because it is a great place to bring toddlers.
If you have young children, here is what you will love about the National Building Museum.
The Play, Work, Build Exhibit is a large hands-on play area for kids and adults alike. There are foam construction materials of all shapes and sizes that can be used for building. We built forts, towers, and mazes with the foam blocks. There are also Lincoln Logs and other smaller building materials to play with. We loved the interactive screen where you can make your shadow knock down a pile of bricks.
The Museum Shop is attached to the Play, Work, Build exhibit and sells a variety of educational toys. It would be a great place to pick up a fun birthday gift.
The Building Zone
The Building Zone is a play area designed for children ages 2-6. Entry to the Building Zone is included in your admission cost, but it is by timed entry only so you will need to select your entry time when you purchase your tickets. Admission to the Building Zone starts every hour at 15 minutes after the hour, and you can stay and play for 45 minutes. The last entry is at 3:15 each day.
The Building Zone is filled with different types of building supplies: bricks, Legos, gears, magnetic tessalations, blocks, and so much more. There are books about building and a quiet lounge to read them, and also several construction vehicles for kids to play with. The Building Zone also has a large play house with a kitchen and windows for those who want to play house.
My son’s favorite station at the Building Zone was the magnetic wall where he could construct his own maze with magnetic pipes and tubing and drop whiffle balls down it. The beauty of the Building Zone is the variety of building toys, and because the National Building Museum limits the number of visitors each hour, there were plenty of toys for each child to play with.
Other Exhibits at the National Building Museum
I wasn’t sure if my son would enjoy anything else at the National Building Museum besides the play areas, and they were certainly his favorites, but we did enjoy checking out the Great Hall and the traveling exhibit on the 2nd floor. The day we were there, the Great Hall was being set up for an event, which made this beautiful room come to life.
We walked around the 2nd floor balcony overlooking the Great Hall and enjoyed the HOT TO COLD: An Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation exhibit, which showcases more than 60 3D models of buildings from around the world. This exhibit will be at the National Building Museum through August 30, 2015, and really made me think about how well-made buildings blend in with their surroundings. We loved the ski hotel from Finland where you could pop your skis on as you left your room and ski off the roof of the building onto the slopes.
Older Children at the National Building Museum
If I had my older children with me at the National Building Museum, we would have enjoyed more of the permanent exhibits in the galleries and the self-guided tour. Teens might enjoy the free audio tour for smart phones. Bring your headphones if you would like to use the audio tour. Binoculars are available to borrow at the Information Desk for those who want a closer look at the building’s architecture.
Free 45-minute building tours are available daily at 11:30, 12:30, and 1:30.
Firehook Cafe at the National Building Museum
The Firehook Bakery and coffee shop offers sandwiches, salads, soups, baked goods and drinks. We did not stay long enough to enjoy lunch there, but it would make a great stop for families.
Good to Know
Where: 401 F St. NW, Washington D.C. (near the Verizon Center)
- Monday-Saturday, 10:00-5:00. Sunday, 11-5.
- The Building Zone closes at 4:00 p.m. each day.
- Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas, and occasionally for special events.
- $10 adults
- $7 kids (3-17), students with ID, seniors (60+)
- $3 for admission to The Building Zone only (last admission at 3:15 p.m.)
- Free for children under 3
How Long: 2 hours
Transportation: Metro is easiest with access on the red, yellow, or green lines. Some metered street parking is available on the same block as the National Building Museum, or you can park at the Verizon Center if you drive.
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Need a place to stay? Allison has stayed at Kimpton Hotel Madera and Hotel Harrington, which are both within a short walk or Metro ride from this and other popular attractions. Read her review of Hotel Madera HERE. Check rates and read reviews atTripAdvisor or Booking.com.
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