A Family Trip to Washington, D.C., Part 17: Day 4 in the City

In case you missed the first few posts in this series, we are chronicling our family trip to Washington D.C.  The first post in the series is here.  You can find the rest under the travel menu on our main page.   Last week I reviewed what we saw and did on our third day in D.C..  This week I will continue on with the events of our fourth day in the city.

Once again, I will cover the smartphone apps we used on this day’s travel at the beginning of today’s post to make it easier to read the rest. We only used one new app on this day of our trip.

The National Gallery of Art’s Your Art app. This app was a lifesaver for us in the gallery. Our favorite part was the tour of the top 50 pieces in the collection. It included biographical information about the artist as well as background on the piece itself. It also has a searchable catalog of all the works in the museum. It allowed for searching by artist, the artist’s nationality, the name of piece, the piece’s theme, or even its location in the museum.

The only other app we used was the National Mall app I covered a couple weeks ago. Once again, it proved to have good information about the many places we visited. One feature we used, that you will read about below, is the hours of operation for the attractions.

What did we see and do on this day of our trip?

day 4 dc with kids

Library of Congress:
The buildings that house the Library of Congress are architecturally impressive. Especially the Thomas Jefferson building. Before we toured this building we made sure to print off a copy of the kid’s activity sheet available from the library’s website. A copy of it can be found if you click on the picture below. This activity forced us to focus on the architecture, not just the books. We were able to find most of the animals listed, but not all. Maybe you can do better.

The displays of books were incredible. One room was filled with Thomas Jefferson’s personal library. Another contained the Gutenberg and Mainz bibles. There is an entire room devoted to cartography and maps. During our trip there was a display of many of Rosa Park’s books and artifacts. There was also a room filled with various historically important documents on display.

library of congress dc kids travel family
The ceiling of the Thomas Jefferson building

Supreme Court:
This was one stop on out trip that was not well planned. The kids were not too excited about the tour. They thought it sounded boring. However, Melissa and I wanted them to see the building. After all, it is in the news constantly lately, and that does not appear to be changing anytime soon. Since the court plays a large role in our government and the laws of the country, we felt it was important.

So with less than a bundle of enthusiasm, we headed to the Supreme Court building. This is where our planning fell apart. As we approached the building there was one school group on the steps and nobody else. Strange. Everything else was busy. We checked the out the hours of operation and found that it was closed on Saturdays. And it was Saturday. I have no idea how we missed that detail, but the kids were pleased. After taking a few pictures on the steps, it was off to our next destination.

supreme court dc family travel

U.S. Capitol:
This is a building that we were neutral about walking through. We knew we wanted to see the building, and walk through at least a portion of it. A tour? We could go either way. We decided to forgo the tour and instead walk the public areas looking at the statues that each state provided to be on display. We also walked through the Exhibition Hall.

The Exhibition Hall was an interesting walk through the history of our country’s government and capital city. Many of the early, important documents Congress created are on display. There are also displays and dioramas of Washington D.C.’s progression from early, humble beginnings to the current layout of impressive buildings and monuments.

Along with these items are some interactive ones as well. There are replicas of the House and Senate chambers with live feeds to Congress when it is in session. There are kiosks and displays about the current members of congress. There is even a scale replica of the capitol dome. From the front, it looks like the dome illuminated at night. From the back, it is a sectioned view so you can look and see the architectural details.

us capitol dc with kids

National Air and Space Museum:
This is a place I could spend a majority of a day. The rest of the family did not feel the same. They enjoyed the museum, but not as much as I did. The museum seemed to be laid out more for older kids and adults. There were plenty of cool planes and space travel items to look at, but many of the exhibits were full of long narratives to go along with the gigantic machines on display. It is not like most of the other museums in D.C., where there are hundreds of small items mixed in with the larger ones. Much of that was expected since it is, after all, filled with air and space travel items. Many of which are extremely large.

Among the items of interest in the museum were the Wright Brothers’ early gliders and planes. The kids enjoyed seeing those. They also like the area filled with aircraft firsts. First nonstop Transatlantic flight. First solo flight across the Atlantic by a female. First around-the-world flight. There was also a display of the many military aircraft. Everything from World War I aircraft to the X-15 test plane.

There were plenty of things to see and explore from space travel as well. We visited Kennedy Space Center a few years ago, so we were familiar with many of the items on display. We were fortunate enough to see one of the last shuttles on the launch pad on our visit t Florida. That being said, there was still a lot of fascinating things to see in the space travel portions of the Air and Space Museum.

There was an Apollo lunar module on display, as well as many artifacts from throughout the history of space travel. Many of the suits and equipment used on various missions were on display. A lunar rover was there, along with some other items from the moon. I think the most disturbing item on display for the kids was a monkey that went into space as a test pilot. Taxidermied and secured into its launch seat. It was on display with may other items, so there is a chance you may miss it if you don’t look close.

There are plenty more aircraft on exhibit at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA. This is a companion site to the Air and Space Museum. We did not make it there on this trip. Perhaps on our next visit. Or maybe I’ll go by myself so I can take all the time I want.

space monkey

National Gallery of Art:
This was our last stop of the day and the kids were not interested in seeing the entire collection the museum housed. In all honesty, neither was I. The collection is massive, and we were starting to get tired of the crowds and chaos.

In order to make this stop meaningful, yet efficient, we chose to use the “Kid’s Tour” on the art gallery’s app. It laid out the 50 greatest paintings on exhibit. The tour is presented in a relatively logical order based on museum configuration, not just a top 50 list. As we walked through the gallery, we would search out the painting on the tour, but also look for other works a family member really wanted to see. The kids wanted to see the Degas dance themed paintings, Melissa and I had our own interests that we kept an eye out for.

As we worked our way through the tour, we learned several interesting facts about the paintings and artists. We also learned some interesting things about some of the other visitors. Several people paused for a picture in front of the Napoleon painting, mimicking his pose. Others seemed more interested in seeing how comfortable all the couches were than looking at the art. Then there was the one middle-aged man none of us will forget. Every time he saw a painting or sculpture of a topless woman, he posed for a picture next to it. With a silly grin on his face. Every single one. Even with these distractions, the tour proved to be a good way to see the bulk of the gallery.

One thing I will say about this gallery is that it was laid out in a much more logical manner than some of the other art galleries we have been to in the past. At times, it felt like a labyrinth of rooms and halls, but at least each room had its own theme or artist.  They room configurations made sense, but we were tired. I think this feeling was only exacerbated by the fact that we were nearly chasing our youngest child from painting to painting by the end.

art gallery dc with kids
The labyrinth

Once again, we had another full day of wandering the city. After a relatively uneventful train ride home we were ready to eat dinner and relax. Then it was time to review our plans for the next day and head to bed for a much needed night of sleep.

Do you have any fun(ny) stories of visiting museums with kids? Share them with us!