For years we’ve been looking for a place to go ape in Northern Virginia – a place to climb trees, inch across hanging bridges, and swing from the branches. You know, just like the apes do.
Finally, Go Ape has opened at the South Run Park in Springfield, Virginia. I recently took my daughter and her friend to try it out. Do I even need to say that we had a blast? We had a blast.
When you arrive and check in (15 minutes early, please!) you’ll be fitted with a safety harness that you’ll wear through the entire course. After an introduction and a safety presentation, you’ll try out a couple of stations that are close to the ground under supervision of the staff, to make sure you understand the basics.
Once you’re done with that, you’re on your own to try any of the series of platforms and bridges and ziplines. Of course, there are staffers all around to help if you get stuck, which is more of a psychological issue than a physical one. The park is designed around safety, and it’s virtually impossible to get physically stuck, but if you’re afraid of heights or if you have a panic attack in the middle of a bridge, staff members are on hand to talk you through it, and if need be, they will come and help you down. But tha happen because you will love it and it feels very very safe.
Allow 2-3 hours to complete all the activities.
Requirements for Go Ape
For the Junior Course, which has 20 obstacles and 2 ziplines, with a maximum platform height of 27 feet, there’s no age limit, but you must be 3’3″ to participate.
For the Adult Course, you must be 10 years old AND 4’7″.
What to Wear
Wear closed toe shoes that are flat, and flat-bottomed. Grippy hiking shoes with a chunky tread are not the best option, because you won’t be able to feel your way along the rope bridges and obstacles as well.
Wear slim-fitting shorts or pants, or leggings. Looser clothing can get caught as you go through.
Have a harness or zippered pocket for your phone or camera, or just leave it on the ground while you’re in the trees. If you bring a GoPro, use the chest harness, as some of the other placements might interfere with the safety lines.
Our Experience at Go Ape
As captured in our Instagram Story:
We recommend wearing some kind of gloves, especially for the ziplines. Despite our best efforts – and we were really, really talented with the zip lines, believe me – two of the three of us ended up with nasty blisters.
Dudes – be careful on the Tarzan swing. I’m not sure exactly how you should prepare for it, but every male I saw on this one experienced a very uncomfortable crotch squeeze that kind of rained on the adrenaline rush of the swing itself.
The Alliance Francaise and Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens invite families to celebrate this holiday (also known as ” crêpe day”) in festive French fashion by eating crêpes, enjoying classic tales told in French and English, and experiencing the exciting culture of Brittany, where crêpes originated. Embark on a quest to discover tales of knights and mythical creatures in the art in Hillwood’s mansion, and create your own artwork by making a knight’s shield to take home.
2. Chinese New Year Parade, February 10, 1-3pm, Chinatown, DC
Come watch the traditional Chinese Dragon Dance, Kung Fu demonstrations and live musical entertainment.
3. Nordic Cool at the Kennedy Center, February 20-March 17, Kennedy Center, DC
We are SO excited about this one! It’s a month-long international festival of theater, dance, music, visual arts, literature, design, cuisine, and film to highlight the diverse cultures of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden as well as the territories of Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and Áland Islands. Not only will they have Lego displays and play spaces, they will also have stations to try cool Nordic video games, three children’s plays from Sweden and Demark, and an Icelandic feature film about the legend of Thor. Also check schedule for free nightly Millenium Stage concerts that are part of Nordic Cool.
4. Birds of Paradise: Amazing Avian Evolution, thru May 12, National Geographic Museum, DC
Found only in New Guinea and parts of Australia, the birds of paradise are a case study in the evolutionary power of sexual selection. This exhibit is as vibrant as the birds themselves, based on 18 expeditions by Edwin Scholes and Tim Laman, two Cornell scientists who certainly put the sexy in bird watching. Seriously, it blew our minds–tons of hands-on kids’ activities, including Dance Dance Evolution.
KanKouran West African Dance Company, February 1, Baird Auditorium, Natural History Museum
Tosin and the Afrikan Rhapsody Band, March 13, Baird Auditorium, Natural History Museum
Flying Feet and Fiddle Bows: An Irish Celebration, March 15, Ripley Center, Smithsonian
6. Anime Momotaro, January 30 – March 10, Imagination Stage, Bethesda, MD
Performed in the style of popular anime cartoons with traditional Japanese influences, this action-packed staging of Japan’s most famous folktale teaches powerful lessons about inner strength and how creativity, kindness, and cooperation win out over brute force.
7. Smithsonian Mardi Gras Family Day, Feb 16, 11am-4pm, Anacostia Museum, DC
The event features entertainment, arts and crafts, face painting, balloon art, dancing, and costume contests.
8. Discover Engineering Family Day, Feb 16, 10am-4:30pm, National Building Museum
Maybe not technically global but awesome just the same. Take part in slime-making, day-long robot demonstrations and competitions, design bridges and helicopters, and much more. Free. $5 suggested donation. Most appropriate for children ages 5-13.
9. Alexandria St. Patrick’s Day Parade, March 2, Alexandria, VA
Old Town Alexandria celebrates the Irish holiday with a classic car show, a dog show and a Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. Elected officials; the Irish Ambassador; military commanders; and other local celebrities participate along with local scouts, marines and high school bands.
10. Adventures in Travel Expo, March 9-10, Washington Convention Center, DC
Start planning your next active family vacation! Learn about a wide variety of adventure travel packages and tours, attend educational seminars, meet leading travel writers and participate in free hands-on activities.
11. National Shamrock Festival, March 16, 1-9pm, RFK Stadium, DC
Enjoy a day of family fun at the largest Saint Patrick’s Day party and street festival in the DC area featuring more than 50 live bands.
12. Las Aventuras de Don Quijote de la Mancha, March 18-30, Gala Hispanic Theater, DC
With his sidekick Sancho Panza, a chilvalrous Spanish gentleman takes up his lance to defend the helpless as he rides in search of glory and grand adventure. A bilingual adaptation for the entire family of the timeless novel by Cervantes.
13. One Man’s Search for Ancient China: The Paul Singer Collection, Jan 19-July 7, Sackler Gallery
Collector and scholar Paul Singer (1904-1997) once packed 5,000 objects into his small apartment. Singer’s bequest to the Sackler Gallery created one of the largest and most significant Chinese archaeological collections in the US. In this exhibition, landmark archaeological discoveries shed new light on his acquisitions and on life in ancient China. Highlights include an early bronze plaque with exquisite turquoise inlay; jade and stone objects that closely resemble those found in the tomb of the royal consort Fu Hao dating to the 13th century BCE; 2,000-year-old human hair pieces; and rare and amusing figurines and miniature vessels.
14. ImaginAsia – Family art activities at the Smithsonian Freer Gallery
Beautiful Writing: Arabic Calligraphy, February 2, 2pm
Coiling Dragons: February 10, 2pm
Cuneiform Tweets: Inscribe a short message in cuneiform, March 9th, 2pm
Just above the Brussels Information Center (BIP) – the place to pick up maps, brochures, and Brussels Cards – lies a charming exhibit about the city of Brussels as it exists today. This is more funhouse than history museum, where you’ll learn the interesting tidbits that will make you and your family sound like experts on the city.
Did you know that Brussels is home to inhabitants from 171 different countries? Or that one in three residents of Brussels come from another country? This is one big reason why English is gaining in use around the city. This exhibit is a good example – all of the wall information is in English (alongside some French and Dutch)!
Kids will love creating streetscapes from the large soft building blocks in the Scale Model room. And when I say “soft building blocks,” I mean that the blocks are large buildings representing frite stands, office buildings, hotels and historic buildings. Let the kids run around in here for a bit while you read the rest of the factoids on the walls.
It’s a fun introduction to the surprising city of Brussels, and a great place to let kids let off steam on a rainy day.
Age: All ages
Hours: Every day from 10 AM- 6 PM (exept December 25th and January 1st)
Getting There: Rue Royale 2-4, Brussels 1000. Metro: Central Station or Porte de Namur
You can bring your own lunch and eat it in the cafeteria on-site for a charge of 0.50€ per person (book in advance). For a fantastic view of the city from a stunning art deco building, head around the corner to the top-floor café at the Museum of Musical Instruments (MIM). Just have a coffee or quick snack there; the meals are pricey and not the best in the area. The nearby Ciabatta Mania offers fresh juices and sandwiches in a comfortable setting. Or look for the ubiquitous yellow waffle truck on the street for a sweet treat.
The Abbey of Villers-la-Ville dates back almost a thousand years and walking through its majestic ruins, with its hidden nooks and crannies, you will get a real feel for both the hardships and the serenity of the medieval monk’s life. The grounds also make for a great game of hide and seek!
The Abbey was founded in 1146 by twelve monks and five lay brothers who relocated from France to found an abbey. The original buildings were added onto throughout the years. Life in the abbey continued until 1796.
Pick up a copy of the English-language family guide, I, Radulphe, at the reception. It’s full of interesting historical tidbits and games. Follow the self-guided tour through mossy stone passageways and into the inner sanctum of abbey life. On a cloudy day with the sounds of pigeons and crows flying overhead, it’s easy to imagine the medieval monk’s daily life of work, contemplation and prayer.
Monks lived by a very strict moral code and work ethic that dictated every aspect of their lives. Since Villers-la-Ville is a Cisterian abbey, they followed the Rule of St. Benedict. The monks ate bread and thick soup every day with occastional treats like eggs, dairy products, chicken and fish. But they never ate meat from quadrupeds (animals with four legs) because the Rule of St Benedict forbade it.
Age: All ages, though the ruins are not stroller friendly.
Adults-6 euros; children (6-12)-2.50 euros; children (<6)-free
Every year, on Easter Sunday, the Abbey hosts a family day with games and activities. If you’re there in the summertime, do inquire about the spectacular live plays performed on the abbey grounds. Past examples include The Name of the Rose and Cyrano de Bergerac.
Getting there: The best way to get to Villers-la-Ville is by car. It is 30 km from Brussels.
Eating: There is a restaurant directly across the street from the Abbey, Le Moulin de Villers. However, the prices are quite steep and the atmosphere a bit formal. You might want to opt instead for the Chalet de la Foret, located about 100 yards down the street. They serve sandwiches (3 to 4 euros), omelets, and pasta. Serving lunch and dinner daily.
An occasional series on cool places to take your kids in and around DC to run off their winter wiggles.
“Getting there is half the battle,” said the museum docent when we finally found our way to the U.S. Navy Museum. That’s because this museum sits on a working naval base and security is pretty tight. You’ll have to show your ID at the Visitor Center (passport or driver’s license) to obtain passes. If you’re driving and need a parking pass, bring your car registration and proof of insurance to the Visitor Center for a parking pass.
The entrance rigmarole is well worth it, though. Kids love this museum. It has lots of space for wandering and they will love the miniature ship models, some in bottles, and the climbable WW II antiaircraft gun, as well as the weaponry displayed in the front yard. Ask for a scavenger hunt pamphlet to fill out during your visit.
Cool vintage underwater exploration contraption
Located in Navy Yard, the National Museum of the U.S. Navy chronicles the history of the U.S. Navy from the American Revolution to the present. Once part of the U.S. Naval Gun Factory, the building is chock full of model ships, exhibits and artifacts, including a fully rigged top and gun deck of the frigate U.S.S. Constitution; guns from World War II; a fascinating display of nearly 1,500 years of underwater exploration devices; and a submarine room. Also on display are exhibits of the navy’s long history of exploration, including an interesting exhibit on polar exploration, Commodore Perry’s voyage to Japan, which opened up Japan to the rest of the world; and the Turtle, the first submarine built in 1776.
The museum holds a great exhibit about the important role the Navy played in ending slavery. Slave trade was declared by Congress in 1819 to be piracy, and as such, punishable by death. The Navy’s African Slave Trade Patrol was established to search for and bring to justice the dealers in human misery. Never exceeding a few ships in number, the Patrol, which included the U.S.S. Constitution, plied the waters off West Africa, South America, and the Cuban coast, a principle area for slave disembarkation. By the start of the Civil War more than 100 suspected slave traders had been captured.
Definitely make time to climb aboard Destroyer Barry which is docked a few hundred feet away. On a recent visit with my three boys, the sailor on board told us “not to worry about breaking anything.” We were all stunned into silence—I don’t think we had ever heard those words during a museum visit before and doubt we’ll hear them again!
Destroyer Barry is a decommissioned Cold-War-era destroyer, which is permanently moored at Pier 2, a few hundred feet from the museum. We visited on a cold winter day and had full run of the place. Commissioned in 1956, the Barry served 26 years in the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. It is generally open for tours Monday through Saturday but follows a different schedule from the Navy Museum and is sometimes closed for maintenance so be sure to call first.