I took my 3-year-old son to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. last 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. Lindberg was worried about being caught between a tank of gas and the engine in case of an emergency landing, so the plane was 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. He said he never used the periscope. I had to see this plane for myself, so I visited the National 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.
There are two Smithsonian Air and Space museums–the one featured here is located on the National Mall and Washington D.C. The other museum is the Udvar-Hazy Center located in Virginia near the Dulles Airport. The Udvar-Hazy Center is an additional facility that holds many airplanes and the space shuttle Discovery in two large hangars. I love the Udvar-Hazy Center as well and will soon be posting tips on visiting the Udvar-Hazy Center.
Here are my tips for enjoying the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall.
1. Arrive early.
Like most museums, this one will be least crowded first thing in the morning. On the cold winter day I was here, I felt like we had the place to ourselves, which is pretty unusual for the Smithsonian museums.
2. Start with the “How Things Fly” exhibit.
If you can get an early start in the “How Things Fly” exhibit, your kids will have more time to enjoy the hands-on science activites. My loved playing with all the science demonstrations while I learned more about thrust, air pressure, aerodynamics and more. Older children would have hands-on opportunities to reinforce science lessons at the National Air and Space Museum.
This entire museum is kid-friendly, from the airplanes and rockets in the lobbies to the flight simulator that older kids would love. My son was content to run through the exhibits pretty quickly, but anyone interested in history will want to linger over the exhibits about the Wright Brothers and the early history of flight. The space race and mission to Mars exhibit also has amazing photographs and a land rover from Mars.
3. Enjoy an IMAX movie or the Planetarium.
When you are ready to sit down and relax, take advantage of the exciting IMAX movies or visit the Planetarium. Young children will enjoy “One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventures” at the Planetarium.
4. Visit the Food Court.
The National Air and Space museum has a food court that will keep your kids happy. Grab lunch at McDonalds, Boston Market, or Donatos Pizzeria when you need a break.
Good to Know
Where: On the National Mall at Independence Ave. and 6th street
When: Open daily 10:00–5:30, closed Christmas.
How Much: Free entrance to musuem. Buy IMAX and Planetarium tickets online or at the door.
How Long: 2-3 hours
Transportation: Metro to the Smithsonian station is your best bet.
Tips: Limit the number of bags you bring as you will need to go through security as you enter each Smithsonian musuem.
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Need a place to stay? Allison has stayed at Kimpton Hotel Madera and Hotel Harrington, which are both within a short walk or Metro ride from this and other popular attractions. Read her review of Hotel Madera HERE. Check rates and read reviews atTripAdvisor or Booking.com.
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