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. (moneyfactory.gov; 877-874-4114)

Be informed. There are free festivals and special events every day, including nightly concerts at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage (kennedy-center.org). Find a searchable events calendar, editors' picks, and more at washingtonpost.com/gog.

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; mnh.si.edu; 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; spymuseum.org; 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; nationalzoo.si.edu; 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; newseum.org; 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; nbm.org; 202-272-2448)

Originally published in the October 2012 issue of FamilyFun

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