Have you been to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC since it reopened? We recently visited and it completely knocked our socks off! The Air and Space Museum in DC is super kid friendly and would make an excellent Washington DC Day Trip for families.
Check out this guide so you know what to expect and how to snag tickets!
About the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in DC
The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, located on the National Mall in Washington, DC is the most visited museum out of the Smithsonian campus, and probably one of the most popular museums in the world.
Before embarking on a seven-year project to renovate and transform the museum in 2018, it was home to over 20 exhibits that told the story of aviation and space throughout the history of the United States. Visitors walked through the doors and were immediately awed by aviation legends like the Spirit of St. Louis or Glamorous Glennis- the X1 that broke the sound barrier. However, the museum had not been renovated since opening in 1976.
In October 2022, the Air and Space Museum opened for the first time in over a year and visitors are already raving about the new galleries that chronicle historic early flight, space exploration, the Apollo missions, and more!
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
Before diving into the guide for the museum in DC, did you know there is a second location of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum? The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located about 40 minutes West of the National Mall at the Washington Dulles International Airport. Dubbed the Dulles Air and Space Museum, this massive museum encompasses two massive hangars, as well as a large restoration facility. Highlights include the Enola Gay, Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, and Space Shuttle Discovery.
Combined, the two Smithsonian Air and Space museums represent the largest air and space museum complex in the world.
The Wright Brothers & the Invention of the Aerial Age
So, before the renovations, we had visited the Wright Brothers exhibit and it was cool. But I didn’t realize that the Wright Flyer on exhibit was THE Wright Flyer. As in, the very first airplane ever flown. This new exhibit though really delves into the life of Wilber and Orville Wright, as well as how they actually invented the airplane.
It chronicles the first flights of the Wright brothers, including their misses. One of the things I love about the newly imagined exhibits throughout the museum is that the curators have added a number of interactive elements that tell the story of aviation and aerospace with hands on demonstrations and simulations.
The Early Flight exhibit contains quite a few historic aircraft from the time between the Wright Flyer in 1903 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914. It’s really hard to imagine how in just over 10 years, aviation developed so quickly. This airplane-development race is really just as impressive as the Space Race.
America By Air
America By Air gives a pretty cool summary of commercial aviation in the United States. It covers air traffic controllers, airmail, and more. You can climb aboard an older commercial airplane. You will be amazed at how luxurious air travel used to be. Don’t forget to sit in the standard passenger seats! They show how the seat sizes have shrunk over the years.
One of the more sobering interactive displays was the air traffic control panel that showed how quickly the thousands of aircraft flying on 9/11 were grounded safely.
One of the biggest highlights of the renovated exhibits is the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia on display inside Destination Moon. This exhibit is done really well.
You can walk around the module and see the underside, including the re-entry scorch marks. There is also an interactive simulator of the lunar module landing on the moon’s surface, complete with actual video and audio footage recreating the moon landing.
Additionally, you can see Neil Armstrong’s Apollo spacesuit, the Gemini VII Capsule, Alan Shepard’s Mercury Pressure Suit, Eugene Kranz’s Apollo 13 Vest, and more space artifacts.
Nation of Speed
The Nation of Speed is a fun exhibit that shows the synergy between big engines used for fast planes and big engines used for fast cars. There are artifacts from Evel Knievel, Mario Andretti’s Indy 500 car, and more. This is a fun exhibit space with plenty of interactive elements.
Kenneth C. Griffin Exploring The Planets Gallery
The Planets Gallery is just so visually stunning. I mean, it’s gorgeous. It’s meant to educate on space, space travel, and space exploration.
There are interactive video displays that show the solar system and our place in it.
You can see replicas of the actual Mars Rovers that explored the Red Planet.
And you can see actual footage of the surface of Mars. There are discovery stations throughout the exhibit space that walk you through the planets, the sun, and what we know about space.
Thomas W. Haas We All Fly
We All Fly is an exhibit about general aviation and its impact on our culture and development as a society. This is actually a really interesting exhibit so don’t skip it. You can read about how general aviation brought medicine to save indigenous populations in the heart of the Amazon.
There is a flight simulator very much like the kind you would see if you ever took a tourist airplane ride. They have an exhibit on drone technology. And you can try your hand at hand gliding.
One World Connected
One World Connected was the sleeper hit of the entire remodeled experience. This exhibit is all about satellites and how they connect our world. Check out the Window on Earth exhibit for a simulation of what Earth looks like from space, including special treats like the aurora borealis.
The revolving and interactive globe in the center of the exhibit space is really interesting. You can plug in the type of satellite tracking you want to see and it will pop up on the globe. We really loved seeing the animal migrations that are tracked by satellites.
Aviation and Pop Culture
There are a few really fun nods to pop culture that you definitely don’t want to miss!
The T-70 X-Wing Starfighter, which was featured in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” hangs over the entrance to the planetarium and will put a smile on every Star Wars fan’s face! R2D2 has even hitched a ride!
And at the temporary entrance to the Air and Space Museum, you can see a replica of the U.S.S. Enterprise. If you are there at the top of the hour (every hour), it will even light up. Very cool.
And even though Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis is not hanging in it’s customary spot (the main entrance is still undergoing renovations), you can still see the airplane on exhibit.
Before the Air and Space Museum closed for renovations, they had both a planetarium and an IMAX theater. I am hopeful the IMAX will return in 2025 when the rest of the museum opens up. But the planetarium is open now and they are offering a few new shows that will knock your socks off!
We saw a 25 minute planetarium show that showed actual footage from space exploration of Saturn’s moons and rings, Mars, Venus, and more. It was really very fun and there isn’t a bad seat in the theater!
Mars Cafe and other food options
The main concession area is still undergoing renovations. However the very space-y Mars Cafe is open! The selection is limited but you should still be able to find plenty of snack and light lunch options. There are chips, bottle water and sodas, candy fresh fruit, pre-packaged salads and sandwiches.
Additionally, they serve some delicious baked good (the almond croissant is to die for), coffee (yes!), and a small menu of hot sandwiches, soup of the day, and flatbreads.
If this menu doesn’t do it for you, outside the entrance on Independence Avenue, there will be a long line of food trucks you can choose from. Also, the Mitsitam Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian has a fantastic selection of food with a Native American twist.
If all else fails and your kids are completely melting down, there is a McDonald’s one block down from the National Mall on the corner of 4th St SW and C St. SW.
FAQ/Know Before You Go
FAQ/Know Before You Go
Yes. you need to reserve FREE timed-entry passes to the DC Air and Space Museum. The Museum releases individual passes for six-week periods. You can check their FAQ for specific release dates. They also release same day tickets (if there are any available) at 830am. Pro-tip: If you can, reserve a 10am time slot. The first hour you are in the museum it will be mostly empty. By noon the museum will be rather busy. However, not nearly as busy as it was pre-renovations.
If you see and do everything (including the planetarium), shop, and grab a snack, it will take you 3-4 hours to go through the museum’s 8 current exhibits. You can rush through it but our 10 year old was engaged the entire 3 hours we were there.
Use the Spot Hero app to find the parking location that best suits your needs. We typically always park at either the parking garage under the Holiday Inn Washington Capital or the Federal Center Plaza Garage. Note: They are right next to each other.
The Museum is near Metrorail (subway) stops on the blue, orange, silver, and green lines. The closest Metrorail stop is at L’Enfant Plaza. Metrobus stops are located on Independence Avenue, SW, and along 7th Street, SW.
Yes, the main entrance is closed. You must enter via the Independence Avenue entrance (the back entrance). I would recommend lining up at least 15-20 minutes before your timed entry spot. The line will get very long, but once your window opens, it will move fast.
Hours of Operation: 10am-530pm every day except Christmas.
Address: 6th Street and Independence Ave SW; Washington, DC 20560
The future of the Air and Space Museum
When completed the National Air and Space Museum in DC will feature 23 exhibits.. almost 3x the number of exhibits currently open. The complete renovation is scheduled to last until 2025.
What’s Nearby? Make a Day Of It!
The National Air and Space Museum is perfectly situated on the National Mall for an easy day trip. It is located between the National Museum of the American Indian and the Hirshhorn Museum. On either side of those museums are the US Botanic Garden and the Smithsonian Castle and Enid A. Haupt Gardens.
The Air and Space Museum is directly across the mall from the massive National Gallery of Art and directly diagonal from the National Museum of Natural History. One block away from the National Mall is the Museum of the Bible.