Company Logo - Home Link

Guide to Visiting the Air and Space Museum in DC

Book a Guided Walking Tour

This post provides information about visiting the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC. (We also have a post for the Dulles location)

We include details about how to get here, when you can visit, exhibits to see, security checks, and more.

Let's get started!


OVERVIEW

The Air and Space Museum is a Smithsonian museum located on the National Mall, and it’s entirely free to visit.

The attraction will be open Thursday to Monday 1030am-5pm.

There are several exhibits on display here covering some of the most notable moments of aviation history in the United States.

Since it’s located on the National Mall, the National Air and Space Museum isn’t too difficult to find, but you can always check our section on how to get there for step-by-step instructions.

The Space Race Gallery, National Air and Space Museum. The Space Race grew out of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, the most powerful nations after World War II. For a half-century, the two superpowers competed for primacy in a global struggle pitting a democratic society against totalitarian communism. Most of the Soviet space objects displayed here were purchased by The Perot Foundation of Dallas, Texas. Before purchase, some of these items had suffered from years of neglect and deterioration; others were in danger of being lost or destroyed. The Perot Foundation intends to hold these artifacts in trust for eventual return to the Russian people. Meanwhile they have been placed on loan to the Smithsonian Institution.

We’ll also cover any guided tours you might be able to take at this museum, as well as tours you might want to consider either before or after your visit.

Visitors to the Smithsonian museums should expect “airport-style” security screening, meaning metal detectors for all guests and X-Ray machines for bags.

This could add up to 15 minutes to get through security, and during the busy school season possibly even longer.

Prohibited Items:

  • Firearms or ammunition
  • Knives (including pen, pocket, or “Swiss Army”-style knives)
  • Aerosol cans (including pepper spray and Mace)
  • Scissors
  • Tools (screwdrivers, awls, etc.)
  • Placards, signs, or banners
  • Pets (except service animals)
  • Wagons (collapsible and fixed wheel)

In addition to the Air and Space Museum on the National Mall, there is actually a second branch located at the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport.

However, it can be a little challenging to reach, making it an attraction better suited for someone with a car or other means to visit.

If you want to know more, please read our post covering the Udvar-Hazy Center.


GETTING HERE

The main museum is located on Independence Ave SW, between 4th and 7th streets. If you are taking the Metro, the closest stop is the L’Enfant Plaza Station. 

Follow signs leading to the Maryland Avenue exit and take the escalators up.  Once you are on the street, you will be at the intersection of Maryland Avenue and 7th Street, NW.  At the intersection, turn right.  The Museum is one block away, but the entrance is on Jefferson Drive, one more block up.  Then turn right on Jefferson Drive to get to the entrance.

You can also use many of the hop-on / hop-off bus companies to get around town – all of which have stops at or near the Air and Space Museum.

If you are driving, street parking is limited and is usually only 2-3 hour spots, so be sure to read the sign before you leave your vehicle.


WHEN TO VISIT

March-July is the busiest time of the year for DC. With Spring Break and school letting out, this is the time when most families and school tours visit. This means longer lines and crowded exhibits.

Saturday afternoon is one of the busiest times to visit.

We suggest visiting this museum on a weekday.

If you want to avoid crowds, we suggest planning a visit to the museum for the off-peak season (January-February and September-December.)

Typical weekdays during the high months will be a little more manageable, especially if you arrive when the museum opens at 10 am.

Opening Hours

  • Thursday - Sunday
  • 10am - 530pm
  • Admission is Free

How Long to Spend at the Museum

The National Air and Space Museum has 23 galleries exhibiting hundreds of aircraft, spacecraft, missiles, rockets, and other flight-related artifacts, as well as a planetarium and an IMAX theater - however in 2021 during renovations only 6 of them are open. (see a floor plan of what is open)

Lunar Lander Air and Space Museum DC

With so many things to see and do, we recommend budgeting at least 2 hours to see the museum.

During renovations of the National Mall location, many of these exhibits may be closed. You could probably see the entire museum in less than 2 hours during this time.


GUIDED TOURS

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry! we’re here to help with our private tour of the Air and Space Museum.

Whether you’re simply unsure which path to take or want to breeze through the museum with efficiency, a private tour is a perfect way to get the most out of your visit. You can book a private tour with us.

Once you’re done with the museum, enjoy exploring the rest of DC with one of our walking tours.

The National Mall and Capitol Hill tours are both nearby and are a great way to continue exploring Washington, DC.


EXHIBITS

Please note that from December 2018 – 2025 there will be rolling closures as the entire Air and Space Museum undergoes renovations to the decades-old building and exhibits.

The Planetarium is closed until autumn 2022.  The Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater is closed until the renovation project is complete (2025)

Not all exhibits may be open during your visit.


The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age

The original 1903 Wright Flyer is the centerpiece of the exhibit that commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. 

Explore the beginning of flight with over 250 photographs and 150 artifacts that includes a reproduction of the Wright Brothers’ 1899 experimental kite.


Destination Moon

Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission is a traveling exhibit that celebrates the first lunar landing in 1969.

The exhibit is here with one-of-a-kind artifacts from the historic mission, including Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit. 

A permanent gallery is set to be unveiled in 2022 that showcases the incredible exploration of the Moon, from the Moon race of the 1960s and 1970s to what is going on today.


Spirit of St. Louis

In the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall is the Spirit of St. Louis.

Spirit of St Louis

It was in this that Charles A. Lindberg completed the first nonstop solo transatlantic flight in history from Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York to Paris, France on May 21, 1927.


Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory

This is an often overlooked part of the museum since it’s actually outside the museum on the eastern terrace, near the intersection of Independence Ave SW and 4th St. 

Opened in 2009, the “International Year of Astronomy”, the 16-inch Boller & Chivens telescope, as well the Sun Gun Telescope, and other instruments, are available for public use (with staff assistance!) Wednesdays through Sundays, noon to 3 pm. 

They also do monthly evening programs; check the updated schedule for more information.

About The Author

Canden Arciniega

Canden is a historian and tour guide in Washington DC with 4 published books about the city. She has written for HuffPost Travel and has been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. She's also been interviewed by the BBC, NPR, Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. Canden is the producer of our podcast, Tour Guide Tell All With a M.A. in History from University College London and a B.A. in History from Elon University, she is an authority on D.C. history, and has led tours in the city for over 10 years. She currently resides in DC, but has also lived in London and South Korea, and has travelled to 28 countries. Her two children (both under the age of 4) have their passports and own frequent flier accounts.
Updated: October 2nd, 2021
Back to Top
cross