Like many kids, my 3 year old is fascinated with all things transportation. After hearing many parents rave about the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA, we packed up the family and headed over to check it out.
The Udvar-Hazy Center is paradise for fans of airplanes. It’s home to many of the aircraft that were too large to display at the main Air & Space Museum building in Washington DC. Many of the planes are right at eye level for little ones and it’s easy to see how kids who love planes could spend hours taking it all in.
Our favorite exhibit was in the Space Hangar where the Space Shuttle Discovery is on display. My daughter was enthralled with looking at Discovery, especially since we were lucky enough to see the fly-over as it arrived in our area last spring.
After spending some time looking at the Space Shuttle and some other planes, we headed up to the Observation Tower. Because of the museum’s location right next to Dulles Airport, the tower provides a phenomenal view of two of the airport’s runways. We joined several other families who had sat down in front of the giant windows and excitedly looked and waved at each plane that arrived.
There is also a level with an air traffic control workstation, equipment, and other artifacts. Because there is often a line for the tower, we recommend leaving some extra time to make sure you have enough time to really enjoy this part of the museum.
Be sure to check the schedule of events for the day at the information desk when you arrive. Different demonstrations and hands-on activities (called “Discovery Stations”) are offered throughout the day around the museum. On the day we were there my daughter participated in a paper airplane contest, where museum staff taught the kids about stability and helped each create a plane that would fly through a hoop. She was also thrilled to be able to “fly” a real airplane â€“ a Cessna that is on display. Free guided tours were also going on while we were there, which would have been great if you want to learn more about the aircraft on display.
For older children, there is a wide selection of interactive flight simulator rides to test out. Tickets are $7 or $8 each (depending on the simulator) and you must be 42″ tall to ride unless accompanied by an adult. There is also an IMAX theater that shows various space and aircraft themed movies as well as various current blockbusters (“The Hobbit” is currently playing). Tickets are $9 each.
Aside from the fun of looking at the various aircraft, the Udvar-Hazy Center is a favorite amongst local families for those days when your kids just need a space to run around. With its long hallways and open layout, there is tons of space for kids to run around. In fact, the day we were there we joked that we didn’t see a single child who WASN’T running around the museum. Museum staff were friendly and seemed to enjoy seeing so many kids enjoying the space, rather than ask them to stop and be quiet. It’s a great choice for the cold days ahead when you need someplace to get the wiggles out and can take in a museum at the same time.
Some things to know as you plan your visit
- As with all of the Smithsonian Museums, admission to the Udvar-Hazy Center is free. There is however, a $15 fee to park. If you are planning on going frequently, the museum offers a parking pass that is good for 6 entries for $75 (purchase at the welcome center). Parking after 4pm is free if you want to go for just a short visit.
- No food or drink is allowed in the museum. A McDonalds & McCafe is located inside for lunch and has ample seating. There are also many family-friendly restaurants within a mile or two of the museum. There is also a nice gift shop near the entrance for all your Air & Space souvenirs.
- Bathrooms and water fountains are located throughout the museum and were very clean. Separate baby changing facilities were also available. Coin operated lockers are also available near the entrance if you don’t want to carry jackets & bags. Bring a couple of quarters with you if you plan to stow your stuff.
- The Udvar-Hazy Center is open from 10am to 5:30pm every day except December 25. The observation tower often closes before the rest of the museum – be sure to check hours for the day when you arrive. We were also told that there are often extended hours during the summer, where you can really take advantage of free parking after 4pm.
- While there are not a lot of hands-on displays, the aircraft were interesting enough to hold my 3 year-old’s attention. If your young child is not interested in airplanes, however, this might not be the museum for you.
- The museum offers various programming through the year. Two staples are the Flights of Fancy Storytimes and Super Science Saturdays which are held on a monthly basis.
Photos by Mara Surridge.