Tips for Visiting the National Air and Space Museum

Posted By Katie on Feb 19, 2015

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Hey there!

Looking for tips for the most popular museum in Washington D.C.?

I took my 3-year-old son to the National Air and Space Museum last week. I wanted to check out the Spirit of St. Louis since I just read Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America, 1927. This book details Charles Lindbergh’s historical flight in May 1927 when he flew the Spirit of St. Louis nonstop from New York to Paris. At that time, the solo trip was beyond gutsy.

Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis was designed specifically for this flight, and I had to see this plane for myself. It is one of the best-known exhibits at the National Air and Space Museum.

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. This one located on the National Mall and Washington D.C. The other is the Udvar-Hazy Center located in Virginia near the Dulles Airport. The Udvar-Hazy Center holds many airplanes and the space shuttle Discovery in two large hangars.

Here are my tips for enjoying the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall.

Tips for visiting the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. with kids | | Smithsonian | Things to do in Washington DC

Arrive early

The National Air and Space Museum is the most popular of the Smithsonian museums and it will be busy most days of the year. 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.

Pack light

You will go through an airport-style security screening as you enter the building. You’ll get through faster if you minimize what you bring in.

Start with”How Things Fly”

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.

National Air and Space Museum

Must-see exhibits

The National Air and Space Museum is home to some of the most famous airplanes in history. They include the Wright Brothers’ flyer, Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, a plane flown by Amelia Earhart, lunar vehicles, relics of the space race with the former Soviet Union, and many more.

This entire museum is kid-friendly, from the airplanes and rockets in the lobbies to the flight simulator that my older kids 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.

Tips for visiting the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. with kids | | Smithsonian | Things to do in Washington DC

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. You’ll likely walk miles when visiting Washington D.C. and an hour off your feet in a climate controlled theater might feel great.

Eat at the Food Court

The National Air and Space museum has a food court with enough familiar names to keep most picky kids happy.  Grab lunch at McDonalds, Boston Market, or Donatos Pizzeria when you need a break.

Tips for visiting the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. with kids | | Smithsonian | Things to do in Washington DC

Good to Know

Where: On the National Mall at Independence Ave. and 6th street. The Smithsonian station is the nearest Metro station.

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


How else can we help?

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 at TripAdvisor.

Do you know about Explorer Pass? Save up to 40% on admission to the International Spy Museum and Mount Vernon, plus other attractions of your choice. Learn more HERE.

Get more ideas for your Washington D.C. trip on our Washington D.C. page or our Washington D.C. for Families Pinterest board!

Katie is a busy mom living in Northern Virginia with her husband and five children ranging in age from toddlers to teens. When she isn't traveling, she is planning her next trip. Katie loves all types of travel, but she especially loves beach vacations. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a favorite family destination.


  1. This wouldn’t be the first museum on my list when going to D.C., but after reading your post, I think my daughter would really enjoy it. Thanks for enlightening me!

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    • I hope you get a chance to visit sometime! It really is one of our favorites.

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