Among the largest and most popular Smithsonian museums, Washington D.C.’s National Air and Space Museum is devoted to all things aeronautics. Its three galleries house historic flying machines, from early airplanes—including the original 1903 Wright Flyer—to Apollo command modules, as well as state-of-the-art digital displays chronicling the history and science of flight in the United States. An on-site IMAX theater shows films throughout the day, and a planetarium offers further insight into the wonders of our solar system.
Because of its large size, the National Air and Space Museum can be overwhelming. If you’d like someone to show you around, sign up for a private or small-group guided tour. Some tours combine a trip to the National Air and Space Museum with a visit to the nearby Museum of American History. While the vast majority of the museum is given over to permanent exhibitions covering everything from World War II to the Space Race, temporary exhibits are also hosted here. Free docent-led, 90-minute tours focusing on the highlights of the collection are held twice daily and are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The museum has a second exhibition facility, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport, which showcases more aircraft from the collection, including the Space Shuttle Discovery.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Bring small, easy-to-search bags to speed up your passage through security.
- Tickets are required for IMAX and Planetarium shows, and for the flight simulators.
- The National Air and Space Museum is accessible to wheelchairs.
- Wi-Fi is available at the museum.
How to Get There
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is situated at the west end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The museum is fewer than five minutes from L’Enfant Plaza station (Blue, Orange, Green, Yellow, and Silver lines) and about 10 minutes from Smithsonian station (Blue, Orange, and Silver lines). To get to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, take the Silver Line to Wiehle-Reston East and transfer to the Fairfax Connector bus 983.
When to Get There
The National Air and Space Museum is busiest from March through August. Avoid the crowds by coming early on the weekends or in late afternoon during the week.
Highlights of the Collection
In addition to the Wright brothers’ famous 1903 flight machine, the National Air and Space Museum displays many other noteworthy aircraft. Look for Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis jet, Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1 (the first plane to fly faster than the speed of sound), and SpaceShipOne, the first privately financed craft to successfully enter space. All are located in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall.