The Visitor Services Division at the National Air and Space Museum is shaking off the winter doldrums and preparing for another exciting summer season. The National Air and Space Museum consists of two museum locations, the National Mall building in Washington, DC and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport in Chantilly, VA. The National Mall building is the most visited museum in the world with over 8 million visits a year. That averages out to almost 23,000 every day! The Udvar-Hazy Center sees over one million visits every year. If you are planning on visiting one of our Museums this summer, here are some tips for an enjoyable and safe experience.
The Cherry Blossom Festival is usually the busiest time of the year. Washington, DC could see a million visitors during the week of peak bloom. Our summer season starts with the cherry blossoms and ends after Labor Day weekend. Holiday weekends, like July 4th and Memorial Day, are usually busier as well.
A rule of thumb is ‘the earlier the better.’ As the day progresses, the number of visitors in the Museum will increase, so try to arrive right when we open at 10 am or during the ‘lunch break’ between 12 pm and 1 pm. The National Mall building will be open until 7:30 from March 25th through September 4th and the Udvar-Hazy Center will be open until 6:30 from May 27th through September 4th; however, we will occasionally close at 5:30 for special events. Please double-check our website to see if we are going to close early on the day you plan to visit.
Entrance to the Museum is free and no tickets are required. The entrances have security checks where all visitors are screened and bags are inspected. Do not bring tripods, scissors, tools and especially knives. Even pocket knives or Swiss army knives are prohibited.
If you need help while you are at the Museum, head over to the Welcome Desk, which is near the entrances to both locations. Volunteers are ready to answer your questions and give you tips for your visit. You can buy the $2 Go Smithsonian Visitor Guide, which has descriptions and maps of each Smithsonian building, or we can give you a simple free map of our Museum. Maps can also be found on our website.
We recommend comfortable shoes for both locations.DC is a walking city and if you come to the National Mall, you should expect to be on your feet all day. The Udvar-Hazy Center is also very large (approximately the size of three football fields) and has a concrete floor.
Sandals, flip-flops, flats and Crocs are not the best for walking. We talk to visitors every day that have broken sandals, sore feet and blisters. Try to bring band-aids; you or someone you’re with may need them. Remember to dress and pack appropriately. DC can be cool, especially in rainy weather, so check the weather forecasts right before you leave. But, DC can also get very hot, so bring plenty of water. Outside food cannot be eaten inside Smithsonian museums, but water bottles are welcome. Staying hydrated will help you get through the day.
Visiting multiple Smithsonian museums in one day can be difficult. Forgetting to eat lunch or waiting until late afternoon to eat can easily happen. Most museums have food courts inside. It could be easier to eat in a museum as there are very few restaurants around the National Mall.
The DC Metro system has several stations around the National Mall area. L’Enfant Plaza is the closest station to the National Mall building. L’Enfant is on the corner of 7th and Maryland St. SW and the museum is on 7th and Independence St. SW, only two blocks away! Use the Smithsonian Metro station to go to the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of Natural History. The Smithsonian Metro station is six blocks away from the National Air and Space Museum.
The Udvar-Hazy Center is 30 miles away from downtown DC. Visiting both locations in the same day is difficult. Traffic can be very heavy during rush hour and can lengthen your travel time significantly. Public transportation to the Udvar-Hazy Center is available, but depending on your point of departure, you may need to use a combination of public transportation options to reach the facility. Please consult MetroBus and the Virginia Regional Transit for the best routes, schedules and fares. If you are driving, the Museum has a large parking lot; however, there is a $15 parking fee for all personal vehicles. Buses park for free.
We are looking forward to seeing you at the National Air and Space Museum and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. If you need additional information that our website does not provide, you can email us at NASMVisitorServices@si.edu. Have a safe and enjoyable summer and we’ll see you soon!
Josh Chartier is a coordinator in the Visitor Services Division of the National Air and Space Museum.