The National Postal Museum just reopened in late August for the first time since March 2020, the last of the DC Smithsonians to once again welcome visitors. I was running an errand nearby yesterday, so I decided to pop in for a little museum fix and see what is/isn’t currently on view, and to enjoy what I think is one of the most stunning spaces in the city.
The museum is in the Postal Square Building, which was DC’s main post office from 1914 to 1986
I’ve always recommended the museum as a particularly great one to visit with young children. Located in the Postal Square Building between Union Station and North Capitol Street, it doesn’t draw the big crowds that its Smithsonian counterparts on the Mall often do, which is especially nice right now. And the space isn’t huge, making it easy to explore with little ones. That said, it’s appealing to all ages and fantastic to visit without kids, too, like I just did…
Mailboxes from around the world
Since there’s already a whole KFDC write-up about the museum, this post of scenes is really just a reminder that it’s open again and a strong recommendation to go, plus a quick update of what’s on display and some highlights. The Pony Express area is closed, but most other exhibits are currently open. You can digitally design a stamp and start a collection in the Stamp Gallery, learn how the post office serves cities and scan and sort mail, read letters sent to and from soldiers in WWI, and go Behind the Badge to explore the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. And the lofty atrium featuring airmail planes, mail trucks, a train car, a horse & buggy, the trailer of a semi that you can climb aboard, and other large-scale modes of mail transport is as stunning as ever.
You never know who’s watching at the International Spy Museum
The International Spy Museum was pretty stealth about the transition to its new location at L’Enfant Plaza. The former venue in Penn Quarter closed at the start of 2019, then seemingly while we weren’t watching… poof! The beautiful, new building was complete and welcoming visitors in July.
Between summer travels then the start of school and a busy fall schedule, we didn’t make it there to check it out until a recent day off from school. But when we finally did visit, it made for a fun and, of course, intriguing outing for Sasha, her friend, and me for a few hours.
The new Spy Museum is much like the old one in that it showcases the fascinating world of espionage, and visitors discover it all on an “undercover mission.” What’s new and different is the breadth of the exhibits that extend to present times and generally cover much more. Not only is the state-of-the-art space twice as big as the old one, there are many more displays, multimedia installations, and interactives that are engaging for a wide range of ages.
Get a secret agent identity
Learn about spies from past times
Apparently, not all vodkas are what they seem…
Once you get your secret identity and watch a short video about being a secret agent, the museum is open to tour on your own throughout the 4th and 5th floors of the building. It starts on the 5th with “Stealing Secrets,” “Making Sense of Secrets,” and “Covert Operations.” There are large installations featuring several spies during different points in history. Exhibitions focus on tools of the trade and what it takes to be a good spy. Some of the updates include exhibits about the capture of Osama Bin Laden, a comparison of Kennedy and Krushchev, and stories about World War II operations. All of them include interactive elements that enhance the exhibits and let visitors put their spy skills to use.
Create a disguise
Craft secret messages
Be part of Operation Neptune Spear, the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden
On the 4th floor, exhibitions include “Spying that Shaped History” and “Uncertain World.” The former illustrates the impact of intelligence on history through a variety of exhibits including some that recreate spy locales from the past, a theater highlighting films about espionage, and underground operations to escape East Berlin. The latter explores modern responses to threats, from interrogation to surveillance, and how they should be handled. A whole exhibit about cyber security is part of this, including an “infinity room” reminded us all of Artechouse.
Watching vintage hidden camera footage (and videoing it on an iPhone)
Some of this might sound sophisticated for young museum-goers, but it’s presented in a way that makes it interesting for them with interactive elements like cracking codes, creating digital disguises, games that test their knowledge, and experiences that put them spy situations. And, yes, they still can crawl through the air duct!
They air duct never gets old
The museum is recommended for ages 9 and up, but I saw children even younger enjoying the hands-on activities with the help of parents. When you go, be sure to exit via the stairway, not the elevator. With glass walls, the atrium-like space offers fantastic views and makes for nice photo ops.
The International Spy Museum is located at L’Enfant Plaza, just south of the Smithsonian Castle, in Southwest DC. Metro is probably the easitest way to get there — the L’Enfant Plaza stop is on the Blue, Orange, Yellow, and Green lines. Hours are 10am – 6pm daily. Admission is $24.95/age 13+, $14.95/7-12, free for ages 6 and under. You can save $2 on adult admission when you purchase online.
Want to witness animal migrations from a hot air balloon, submerse in the deep sea to study marine life, discover new species in the rain forest, or gear up for a polar expedition? These are all adventures — simulated ones, anyway — to be experienced at the National Geographic Museum’s newest exhibition.
An explorer greeting at the entrance
Earth Explorers takes you on a journey around the globe, offering a glimpse into the work and passion of real explorers in the field. Hands-on displays, interactive installations, and Nat Geo’s signature stunning visuals are your guides in this informative, inspiring, and fun experience.
Eye-popping exhibits will thrill all ages
Learn more about this featured Earth Explorer
The exhibit features six stations covering different regions and types of explorations: Base Camp, Oceans, Rain Forests, Mountains and Caves, African Savannah, and Polar Regions. Each area provides a sense of the work environment in its particular setting. Video footage and photos let you see the places and wildlife that exists there. Gear on display shows you the equipment needed to do the work. And field journals from the explorers provide insight into their work — how they got started, how they approach expeditions, what impels them to probe the unknown, and advice for future explorers.
Journals reveal more about each explorer
The view from the sub
Get a bird’s eye view of the African savannah
Guests can get even more of a feel for the work in immersive installations that replicate the experiences of the explorers. Delve into the ocean in a submarine, take an aerial survey of the African savannah from a hot air balloon, study ecosystems under a tent in the rain forest, check out an Arctic cabin and learn how scientists study polar animals, and ride in an off road vehicle used in the field. These are just some of the larger interactive elements. Smaller ones, like touchscreen displays and fun, wall-mounted trivia games, abound.
Chill out in an Arctic cabin
Interactives are fun and educational
There are so many neat details to the exhibit that you’ll feel like an explorer yourself as you go through it. You don’t want to miss something that might provide key insight into a particular region or expedition or discovery. And a unique supplement is an interactive digital experience that utilizes an advanced technology, augmented reality (AR), to bring various animals inside the exhibit to life on your iOS or Android device.
Earth Explorers is also an exhibit with all-ages appeal. While probably best for about ages 8-13 — there is quite a bit of reading and information that older kids will digest more easily — younger children will love the hands-on and immersive parts along with striking and playful imagery and video. No matter what age, it’s meant to inspire and get kids to think about what they might want to be when they grow up.
It’s given me all kinds of ideas! 😉
Earth Explorers is on view at the National Geographic Museum through September 10, 2017. Tickets are $15/adult, $12/seniors, student, & military, $10/ages 5-12, free for under 5. Museum hours are 10am – 6pm.
Get a close look at the world’s animals at Nat Geo
Monday – Relish in the sunny day on the trail at Riverbend Park. Make that your starting point for a 2-mile hike to Great Falls, where you can take in magnificent vistas, explore the Nature Center, and have a picnic. Or just wander around Riverbend and enjoy the Visitor Center and views there. Park hours are 7am to dusk, Visitor Center 9am – 5pm. Admission is free.
Tuesday – Zoom in on the world’s animal species at the National Geographic Museum, where two fantastic exhibitions, Photo Ark and CROCS, will engage visitors of all ages. Hours are 10am – 6pm. Admission is $15/adult, $10/ages 5-12, free for 4 and under — look for discount tickets here.
Wednesday – Check out your local library. Drop in for story time, sing-a-longs, arts & crafts, and other activities, or just go to browse for books. See this post from the very early KFDC days for a little background and quick links to libraries around the area. Hours vary by location, admission is free.
Thursday – Take a little time trip through Baltimore’s early business days at the Museum of Industry. The Inner Harbor attraction highlights the trades and people that helped build the port city through exhibits that showcase relics from the past and recreate various industry environments. Hours are 10am – 4pm (Tuesday – Sunday). Admission is $12/adult, $7/ages 7-12, free for 6 and under.
Friday – Put some colorful music in your morning at a Rainbow Rock show. The kindie band is playing at Jammin’ Java at 10:30am (doors open at 10am). Admission is $5, but you can find a discount on Certifikid). Plan on lunch there, too — the full menu will be available.