An Insider's Guide to Washington DC

Go-to guides

  • Smithsonian Mobile app Easier than toting a visitors' guide. (Free; iOS, Android)
  • Washington DC with Kids app A guidebook in your pocket, from FamilyFun contributor Candyce Stapen. ($3.99; iOS)
  • Family Guide Washington, DC Detailed write-ups, playful design, great art, and a "kids corner" sidebar on almost every page. ($25; DK Publishing)

Success strategies

Get there early. Same-day reservations are required at some free attractions, such as the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where lines start forming around 6:30 a.m. But even if you can't get in, you can still buy a bag of shredded cash in the gift shop. (; 877-874-4114)

Be informed. There are free festivals and special events every day, including nightly concerts at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage ( Find a searchable events calendar, editors' picks, and more at

Follow the (food) rules. Open that bag of chips on the metro and you'll not only get dirty looks from locals, you just might get a ticket. Food and drink are banned in government buildings, too. (And forget stashing stuff outside. That lunch bag in the bushes just might trigger a threat alert.)

5 Family favorites

1. The National Museum of Natural History is a must-see in DC. Via its new concierge program, you get the lowdown on exhibits from iPad-toting guides. (Free;; 202-633-1000)

Spy Museum

2. When you visit the International Spy Museum, you'll learn about espionage, the art of disguise, and how to make and break codes. ($20 adults, $15 kids 7 to 17, free for kids ages 6 and under;; 202-654-0932)

3. Head to the National Zoo around 8:30 a.m. to see the animals in their outdoor enclosures without the crowds. Stay until 10 a.m., when the buildings open, for the full experience. (Free;; 202-633-4888)

4. The new HP Social Media Gallery at the Newseum will wow tweens and teens with its interactive displays showcasing the role of social media in global news reporting. ($22 adults, $13 kids 7 to 18, free for kids ages 6 and under;; 202-292-6100)

5. At the National Building Museum's Building Zone playspace, kids ages 2 to 6 can don hard hats, build block towers, and drive toy vehicles. ($8 adults, $5 kids 3 to 17, free for kids ages 2 and under;; 202-272-2448)

Originally published in the October 2012 issue of FamilyFun

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