After you and your teens have been to the “required” sights every visitor to Washington, D.C., must see — the Capitol Building and the monuments on the National Mall — head for these attractions especially fascinating for teenagers.
National Air and Space Museum
Popular with all ages, this museum on the National Mall is packed with actual air and space craft, as well as high-tech exhibits that illustrate the technology and science of aviation and space flight, along with its history. The combination of how-it-works interactive exhibits and the actual objects involved — the original 1903 Wright Brothers Flyer, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and a moon rock they can actually touch — bring flight pioneers, the space race and the future of aeronautics to life.
Flight simulators allow visitors to fly combat missions doing 360-degree barrel rolls, and there is a planetarium and an observatory where they can see planets, lunar craters and other astronomical sights through telescopes. Be aware the Air and Space Museum has begun a seven-year renovation project that will mean some galleries and exhibit halls will close temporarily. You can learn which ones are open and what historic aircraft is currently displayed by checking the museum website.
National Museum of American History
Your teens may think they get enough history in school, but while you’re on the Mall, you should suggest stepping inside this vast repository of our national heritage. Far from dry displays of dusty relics, the National Museum of American History is a treasure trove of our shared past. Along with the large and famous artifacts, such as the original flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words to “The Star Spangled Banner,” they’ll find popular culture, science, entertainment, fashion, foods and every other aspect of American life. From Thomas Edison’s original lightbulbs to Muppets and Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the movie The Wizard of Oz, the artifacts show how much more cool stuff there is to American history than what they study in school.
International Spy Museum
What kid can resist the chance to step inside a spy story and get the inside scoop on how international espionage is carried out? The International Spy Museum exposes the tricks of the trade throughout history and fiction, with interactive and other exhibits that explore technology, tools and techniques, as well as the roll of espionage in our present day. Audiovisuals, special effects and actual equipment (such as an umbrella designed by the KGB to shoot poison darts) explain the technology and methods.
Collections include movie props used by fictional spies, including James Bond. Teens will love seeing 007’s Aston Martin DB5, equipped with oil jets, an ejector seat, radar screen, tire slashers and rotating license plate and learning how some of these features actually inspired the same equipment for real espionage vehicles. One floor explores the careers of real-life agents, detailing their tools and methods as well as how they were caught.