I must admit, visiting the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum wasn’t high on my list of must dos on our trip to Washington DC, even though my daughter is a massive science geek and I grew up wanting to be an astronaut, I just thought there were so many other things we needed to cram into our visit so I only gave us a few hours to visit. Unsurprisingly we ran way over time, staying pretty much till closing and didn’t get bored once! Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Washington’s Air and Space Museum with kids.
Like all Smithsonian institutes, a visit to the National Air and Space museum is completely free so it can a great value day out. It’s located on the National Mall, alongside other Smithsonian attractions like the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Hirshhorn National Museum of modern art. It’s easy to get to by public transport, the nearest Station is the Smithsonian Station.
The museum contains the largest and most significant collection of aviation and space themed artefacts in the world buts is so much more than a stuffy museum, many of the exhibits are interactive, encouraging kids to get hands on with their learning, they hold educational but very child friendly, fun lectures about the science behind space flight and I would be surprised if any child leaves the museum without Pilot or Astronaut being high on their potential careers list.
There are a wealth of historically important aviation objects on display. We were both fascinated to see the 1903 Wright Flyer, the first successful plane and learn about how it was built and why.
Little Space fans will love the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia, the only piece of Apollo 11 to return to Earth and the section of Lunar Rock it bought back that you can actually touch!
The Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall is like every kids ideal mobile, with spectacular planes hanging from the ceiling, great fun to see from both above and below. You don’t have to be involved in the Industry to appreciate the engineering.
It’s not just all planes and rocket ships, the museum has a fantastic section on how we have learnt about space, how our ideas about the universe have changed as we have developed new ways to study it.
Piper loved reading about what daily life is like for astronauts,
examining a space suit
and a moon buggy, she’s fascinated about how things work and asked loads of questions – so we found the answers together!
I think our favourite exhibit was the How Things Fly hall, this is where you’ll find the majority of the hands on experiments and hammers home the basic principles of flight - Thrust, Lift, Drag and Weight.
Piper can now confidently explain everything involved in getting an object off the ground after just 30mins experimenting vs probably a whole term in class.
We also loved the Sea-Air operations section where you can visit the deck of an aircraft carrier at sea
and marvel at the scale of these ships with a to scale model – what kid doesn’t love a miniature model?!
All the exhibits and information can get a little overwhelming – remember, you don’t need to read every last info poster (that would take all day and sometimes you need an engineering degree to understand it all!), take it at your own pace and focus on what the kids are really interested in.
Have you been to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum with kids? We’d love to hear what you think, just leave us a review or pop a comment below.
Independence Ave at 6th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20560
Closest metro stations are Smithsonian Station on the Blue, Silver and Orange lines
Admission is FREE
Open Every Day Except December 25
Regular Hours: 10:00 am to 5:30 pm
You can normally buy food in the museum however the food court is currently closed for maintenance, all the other museums have cafes, you could take a picnic to eat on the grassy areas outside the museums or choose from one of the many food trucks along the National Mall.
The museum gets very very busy during the peak summer season, its one of the most popular visitor attractions in Washington, line can be pretty long and some exhibits a little crowded. We experienced a bit of pushing and shoving in the How Things Fly Hall.
You might also enjoy our review of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum
Or if you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Washington with kids, our review of the Watergate Hotel