National Building Museum

Washington, DC

Devoted to architecture and urban design, the museum is housed in a magnificent 1887 edifice modeled after the Renaissance-era Palazzo Farnese in Rome. The space has hosted 17 inaugural balls – from Grover Cleveland’s in 1885 to Donald Trump’s in 2017. It's free to view the glimmering public areas; the admission fee is for the exhibits, which will please architecture buffs. Step inside to see the inventive system of windows and archways that keep the Great Hall bathed in natural light.

Four stories of ornamented balconies flank the dramatic 316ft-wide atrium, and the Corinthian columns rise 75ft high. For more information you can pick up a self-guided-tour brochure at the information desk, or join a free 45-minute docent-led tour (11:30am, 12:30pm and 1:30pm). There’s also a nice cafe and a nifty bookstore inside.

The museum's Building Zone for kids is a local secret, where two- to six-year-olds stack block towers, drive toy bulldozers, and otherwise construct and destroy in the hands-on play area.