The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is the most visited museum in the country, with over 8 million visitors last year. It is simply a must-see when visiting Washington, DC. Use this guide for what to see and how to get to both locations, one the National Mall and at Udvar-Hazy near the Dulles Airport.
Visit the Air and Space Museum (National Mall & Dulles)
The museum is split into two different campuses: the main museum, located in DC on the National Mall right next door to the National Museum of the American Indian, near the U.S. Capitol building; and the annex, also called the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located just south of Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, VA.
National Mall Air and Space vs Udvar Hazy Museum
The main museum, while quite large at over 160,000 square-feet, could never display the extensive collection of air and space artifacts it owned, which is why the Udvar-Hazy Center was built, and it officially opened in 2003. The annex, sometimes just referred to as “Udvar,” is essentially two very large hangers that together more than double the exhibition area available at the main campus. It also houses a restoration hangar, research archives, and an observation tower that provides a stunning view of airplanes taking off and landing at nearby Dulles Airport.
Hours: Both campuses are open every day, except December 25th, from 10AM – 5:30PM.
During spring and summer, they also have extended hours during the height of the tourist season, and sometimes close early for special occasions.
Click here to check for the most up-to-date schedule.
What to see at Air and Space Museum
There are hundreds of amazing aircraft, spacecraft, missiles, satellites, and other aeronautical wonders, many of them literally hanging from the ceilings of both of these amazing places. Both campuses have exciting simulator rides (between $7-$10 per ride), state-of-the-art IMAX theaters, and tons of interactive exhibits. The National Mall campus also has The Einstein Planetarium, offering daily showings of different programs, including a free “The Stars Tonight” program. Get tickets from the planetarium box office on the second floor.
National Mall Air & Space “must-sees”
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. Not all exhibits may be open during your visit.
National Mall Air & Space “hidden gems”
Udvar-Hazy “must sees”
Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum hidden gems:
Tips on Visiting Air and Space Museum
Security : All the Smithsonian museums are currently undergoing revisions to their security protocols. Visitors to the Smithsonian museums should expect more “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 (mid-March to mid-June), possibly even longer.
Where to eat at Air & Space Museum:
Both locations have a super duper “space age” McDonald’s. (Seriously, the National Mall location is a futuristic model of efficiency. Even with what seems like impossibly long lines, you usually don’t have to wait too long for food.) Unfortunately, the McDonald’s there is pretty much the only option for food at Udvar. However, if you drive to Udvar, there are some good nearby food locations.
How to get to Air and Space Museum
The main museum is located on Independence Ave SW, between 4th and 7th streets. If you are utilizing Metro and heading directly to the Air and Space museum, it is actually a bit easier (and closer!) to get off at L’Enfant Plaza Station, as opposed to the Smithsonian Station.
Once at L’Enfant Plaza, there are several exits. For the one closest to the museum, you want to follow signs leading you to Maryland Ave, and exit using the escalators. Head in the same direction as the escalators, east along Maryland Ave, and take a left turn at the next block, 6th St. The Air and Space Museum will be right in front of you! (Click here for a Google map with directions)
Parking Panda helps those driving to the museum to search for and book guaranteed parking spots at commercial parking facilities anywhere along the National Mall. This is an easy way to do something (parking) that can usually be pretty frustrating!
The Udvar-Hazy Center can be a little more challenging to get to, but for those truly in love with aeronautics and space travel, it is well worth the hassle.
If you have a car, it’s a relatively easy 45-minute drive west of the city. There are a few different ways to drive to the Center, and the best one often is determined by the time of day you travel and the traffic conditions at that time. Keep in mind that I-66 is one of the worst highways in the area in terms of traffic. Though you may, understandably, think that driving back into the city after a day at Udvar wouldn’t be too bad because you’d be going against the flood of afternoon traffic out of the city, you would be wrong. I-66 will have bad traffic in both directions during both rush hours, so add at least 15-30 minutes if you drive to or from there during those times. You might want to hit up a local dinner option before making the trek back to the city or towards your hotel.
How to Get to Udvar-Hazy by Metro
An alternative to get to Udvar is to utilize the new Metro extension, also known as the Silver line. Take the Silver line west, towards the Wiehle-Reston East Station (pronounced “wheeley”) and get off at the end of the line. (Someday, in the distant future, the Silver line will end at Dulles Airport. But that day is not today.) Exit out of the North Entrance and look for the bus bay labeled “K.”
You will be looking for the Fairfax Connector bus number 983 (be careful not to board 981 at the same bay, as that bus will go to Dulles, but will not take you to Udvar).
If you use the same SmarTrip card you used on the train, the bus fare is $1.25 each way, so make sure you have enough on it. You can also use cash for the bus, but that is $1.75 and they ask that you use exact change. The bus leaves the Metro station every 20 minutes. (Click here for the bus schedule)
Visiting the Air and Space Museum with Kids
Katie Baird from Tips for Family Trips shares her advice for visiting the Air and Space Museum with kids.
After enjoying a tour around the National Mall with Free Tours by Foot, you will have a few hours to explore the mall area. How do you decide which Smithsonian to visit?
My top three choices for family-friendly museums on the mall would be the Air and Space Museum, the American History museum, and the Natural History museum. Today I want to tell you why you would love visiting the Air and Space Museum with kids.
I took my 3-year-old son to the Air and Space Museum this week. I wanted to visit again to check out the Spirit of St. Louis since I just read Bill Bryson’s “One Summer: America, 1927.” This book shares a lot of background about Charles Lindberg’s historical flight in May 1927 when he flew the Spirit of St. Louis nonstop from New York to Paris. The 33.5-hour solo trip was beyond gutsy.
The Spirit of St. Louis was designed specifically for this flight, and Lindberg did not want to be caught between a tank of gas and the engine in case of an emergency landing. So the plane designed with the gas tank in the front instead of a window. Lindberg flew the 3,600-mile flight with two small side windows and a periscope to see what was in front of him. I had to see this plane for myself, so I visited the Air and Space Museum where Lindberg’s plane is on display.
My son loved the airplanes suspended from the ceiling, the missiles and rockets, and the space ships. I loved how much aviation history I could learn as I wandered through the museum.
When my son got bored with my reading, we headed over to the hands-on “How Things Fly” exhibit. He loved playing with all the science demonstrations that explained thrust, air pressure, aerodynamics and more. Older children would have hands-on opportunities to reinforce their science lessons at the Air and Space Museum.
In the Air and Space Museum, kids can play with a flight simulator and walk through an airplane. If you need to rest, check out the IMAX theater or the Planetarium. Hungry? There is a McDonalds, Boston Market, and Donatos in the food court.
Looking for more things to do in Washington D.C.? Check out Tips for Family Trips Washington D.C. page for more great ideas.
Katie Baird is a family travel blogger at Tips for Family Trips. She lives in Fairfax County, Virginia, and blogs about all things related to travel. She has an adventurous spirit or she would never survive traveling with five children ages 3-14. Katie loves road trips, historical sites, and anything outdoors.