When it comes to family entertainment in Washington, DC, any parent will attest to the fact that it has to entail something that excites kids as well as adults. Certainly the nation’s capital has no shortage of war museums and memorials, art museums and galleries, as well as many historical sites. However, if the children are going to be entertained, which makes it much more plausible that the parents will enjoy their time, then most of those choices are probably not going to be an option. Instead, the focus should be on castles, space travel, a zoo and even a monument or two. Now we’re talking fun for the whole family.

Wait! There are castles in Washington, DC? Well, there is one castle and it serves as the information center for the Smithsonian museums and the admission to “The Castle,” as it’s called, is free. There are two orientation theaters, interactive touch screens in six languages, electronic maps, and scale models. Constructed in 1855, the Castle was the original Smithsonian museum building, housing all Smithsonian operations, research and administration, lecture and exhibit halls, the library and reading room, laboratories, storage areas for specimens, and living quarters for the museum’s Secretary and family, as well as visiting scientists. Later, in 1881, the current Arts and Industries Building opened next to the Castle and would come to house most of the museum’s collections at that time.

The Smithsonian Institution was actually established some years earlier with a donation from James Smithson, a British scientist who lived from 1765 1829 and who left his estate to the United States to found “at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” President James K. Polk signed an Act of Congress on August 10, 1846, establishing the Smithsonian Institution. Since then, the Smithsonian has grown to become the world’s largest museum and research complex, consisting of 19 museums, the National Zoo, and 9 research facilities. So, why stop at visiting the Castle? Why not continue on to all that the Smithsonian has to offer, which certainly will keep the family entertained for days, if not weeks.

For starters, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum has the world’s largest collection of aviation and space artifacts available in one place and it encompasses every aspect of human flight, from Kitty Hawk to the moon. Having opened in 1976, there are exhibitions on aviation, space exploration, and planetary science, with programs featuring educational activities and performances that reflect the American spirit, innovation, and courage in the history, science, and technology of flight. The museum is also home to the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, the scientific research unit within the museum.

After spending a day or two at the National Air and Space Museum, the family can head over to The National Museum of Natural History that was made famous in the movie Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, which also featured the National Air and Space Museum. Parents might want to watch the movie in the hotel room as a motivator to visit the actual location. Opened in 1910, the museum houses our national collections and is by far the world’s most notable museum and research complex in the world. The main building is located on the National Mall and contains 325,000 square feet of exhibition and public space featuring more than 126 million natural science specimens and cultural artifacts, including 30 million insects, 4½ million plants, 7 million fish, and 2 million cultural artifacts, just to name a few.

Only 17 more museums and a zoo to visit! As you can see, just the Smithsonian alone offers enough activities and family entertainment in Washington, DC, without ever stepping foot in the White House or the Capitol Building.