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National Building Museum

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National Building Museum

Grand entrance to the National Building Museum

Photo By Tania Anderson

D.C.'s Hidden Gems: The National Building Museum

One of the most interesting and off-the-beaten-track museums in Washington is the National Building Museum at 401 F Street, NW. It's not part of the Smithsonian collection of museums and you won't find it on the National Mall, but it's the place to see everything from a Lego version of the Empire State Building to finding out if you can actually build your own structure with large blocks.

What To See

As soon as you step through the doors of the museum, your breath is taken away by the grandness of the great hall, a 65,000 square foot space with soaring ceilings and large marble columns. Exhibits and other activities surround the great hall on all sides with interesting things to see and do for adults and children.

The Lego exhibit: Ever tried to build something out of Legos? Prepare to be impressed by the museum's collection of 15 Lego structures by Adam Reed Tucker, including one of the Empire State Building, the St. Louis Gateway Arch and Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. It's hard to believe someone could build such impressive structures with just plastic Legos, but it was done and it's a must-see. The exhibit, which will be at the museum until September 2011, requires tickets. They're distributed in one-hour intervals from 10 AM to 5 PM and are $5 for adults and free for children three and under. They sell out quickly but can be purchased at the museum up to two weeks in advance.

What To Do

There's more to a museum than exhibits. And the National Building Museum had done a great job making it a hands-on experience for its visitors.

Build: The Building Zone is in a corner of the museum where children, ages two to six, can make structures out of Legos, wooden building blocks and drive tractors and bulldozers through a construction zone. Just be prepared for a wait as the Building Zone restricts the number of visitors to 30 at a time. Even adults can get in on the action by building an archway made of large foam blocks outside of the Building Zone. You'll need more than two hands for this experiment.

Tour: The museum also features a series of tours, including several self-guided ones of the historic architecture of Washington, a docent-led tour of the way Washingtonians have lived and worked throughout history on Thursdays through Sundays at 2:30, and a $12 tour of the ghosts that haunt the museum. Those are appropriately around Halloween and lead into November. The museum has a full list of the museum's tours.

Shop: Like most Washington museums, the National Building Museum has a shop that's worth a visit and possibly a purchase. You can find everything from $10 mugs and $14 calendars to Lego sets of the White House for $55 and a $125 scarf inspired by one of the exhibits.

How To Get There

The best way to get to the National Building Museum is by Metro. Take the Red Line to Judiciary Square and the red brick historic building will be across the street from the entrance of the Metro stop. The museum is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 AM to 5 PM and Sundays from 11 AM to 5 PM.

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