IN THIS POST: If you’re looking for a full-scale, amazing look at the world of aviation, then make the trip to the Udvar-Hazy Center. You might know it better as the Smithsonian Air & Space Center in Virginia. In any case, here is a review with what to expect.
Before I get into the full review, I want to say a word about referring to it as the Smithsonian Air & Space museum in Virginia. The correct and official name is the Udvar-Hazy Center. It is located in Chantilly, VA (outside of Washington, D.C.) near the Washington-Dulles airport.
I wrestled with nomenclature in this post because the correct name is not one that is often used. Typically I hear something along the lines of “the air and space museum NOT in D.C” or “the air and space museum in Virginia.” Just know that there are a few ways to talk about this museum, and I’ll sprinkle some variation of them throughout.
The Beginning of Your Visit
The Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia is part of the Smithsonian museum collections. The quality of exhibits and information remains Smithsonian standard, but this location allows for a much larger and impressive exhibits.
The building is located near the Washington Dulles International Airport. Why is this important? As you drive in and as you leave you will experience the deep rumble of airplanes as they fly close to the ground for their landing entry. We saw it multiple times during our visit, and it never failed to impress. We waved at passengers – and we were almost close enough to see if they waved back. A great start to the visit.
You get a parking ticket upon entry. It is $15 per vehicle, but you won’t pay until the end of your visit. Bring the ticket WITH YOU into the building. You can pay for it at a machine on the right side of the entryway inside the building, near the information/welcome booth.
Our tickets had wording on them that suggested we could ONLY pay for parking inside the building. We had walked most of the way to our cars when we had to circle the stroller and four walking kids back into the building to pay. It turns out that you CAN pay upon exit at the ticket booth so don’t panic if you do what we did.
Find a parking spot and walk in.
If you do not have access to a car, then your trip will be a combination of public transportation stops. Check their website for specific details.
You will need to have your bags checked if you bring anything larger than a small purse. Here’s a list of items not permitted in the museum.
There’s no admittance fee or tickets, just like at other Smithsonian museums.
Seeing the Exhibits
From the entrance you have food and gift shop to your left, IMAX theater to your right, and amazing air and space displays straight ahead. To get on the ground floor you’ll need to use the ramp on your right, but take a minute to take in the view.
By the end, everyone will have a favorite airplane. And most likely, someone in your group will claim the Blackbird. That was me in our group. The big, sleek, stealthy-looking plane smack in the center of the floor when you get to the end of the ramp. Didn’t see anything else that was quite as awesome as that one, in my opinion.
But of course, there were several other opinions. And so many airplanes to choose from.
When you stop by the Blackbird, check out the virtual docent. The screen at the side of Blackbird hosts a docent that will answer your questions just as readily as a person standing there.
One person in our group was a HUGE fan of the F-16, which is down at the very end of the second aisle on the right-hand side. My daughter loved the Nemesis NXT because it had a pink nose. It’s displayed next to a giant red and gold Boeing plane. The size contrast is impressive.
And then there is the Space Shuttle Discovery. It is an awe-inspiring exhibit. My youngest daughter appreciated the quarantine module that was on display. My eldest daughter explored the staircase for a view from the top.
What she found was the access level to viewing the restoration work. All the kids clambered up the stairs to watch artisans and mechanics work on several projects that were currently being preserved.
We took a circuitous route through the displays, stopping when something was of interest and blazing past planes when nothing caught our eye. #travelingwithkids
My daughters had been one other time so they helped us hit the highlights. One must-do was going up the clock towers to get a better view of the planes on display. If you are an 8-year-old and an 11-year-old in decent shape, you can carefully fast-walk to the top at about the same speed as the elevator takes to get you up there.
This level was fun because there were several one- and two-seater planes of various shapes and much smaller sizes. We walked to the end imagining all manner of amusing scenarios.
Only bottled water is allowed in the museum so don’t plan on bringing lunch inside. They have one restaurant, Shake Shack, offering the typical fried food fare and there are some pre-packaged sandwiches and salads and fruit cups at the other end of the cafeteria space. Expect museum prices.
A note on their website gives information about leaving to find lunch and returning so if that might be of interest to you, check out their guidelines here.
Saying Goodbye to the Smithsonian Air & Space in Virginia
All good things come to an end. But the memories will not be easily forgotten – it is such an impressive place to visit. Otherwise, there’s nothing unusual about saying goodbye. Don’t forget to pay your parking ticket inside.