Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center - My Family Travels

Family travelers looking for some “space” away from the crowds should plan a weekend around the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. All the Smithsonian museums are currently open to the public and the Udvar-Hazy Center should top your list.

Henry, age 3, plays with a toy airplane during Flights of Fancy Story Time. Photo by Danile Sone, c. Smithsonian
Henry, age 3, plays with a toy airplane during Flights of Fancy Story Time. Photo by Danile Sone, c. Smithsonian

This lesser known museum is cut out of a forest at the southern end of Dulles International Airport’s long runway, 25 miles outside Washington, D.C. An annex of the very busy main building on the National Mall, this location is a cavernous series of hangars, chock full of all sorts of intriguing objects from more than 100 years of aviation and space flight.

The Udvar-Hazy Center’s Top Aviation Attractions

The backbone of the museum is a jaw dropper: the Boeing Aviation Hangar, more than three football fields long, larger than the entire National Air and Space Museum.

It houses a Concorde (which used to fly into Dulles), the Enola Gay (of Hiroshima fame), the world’s fastest jet, fighter planes lined with deadly guns and scores of other aircraft, suspended overhead on two levels and scattered across the sprawling floor. The exhibits are marked with mercifully brief explanations on placards so kids quickly can get the point without reading a tome.

By the way, some artifacts have been moved or covered as part of the roof project in the Boeing Aviation Hangar, due to be completed in mid-2022.

Space & Subsonic Planes in Action

Kids can see how aircraft are restored before display at the Udvar-Nazy Center of the NASM.
Kids can see how aircraft are restored before display at the Udvar-Nazy Center of the NASM.

Space Shuttle Enterprise which opened the museum’s massive, adjacent hangar, has been replaced by Space Shuttle Discovery. This spacecraft is considered the “work horse” of the shuttle fleet, having completed 39 missions and spending a combined total of 365 days in space.

My kids enjoyed the Observation Tower for a close-up 360-degree view of “real” airplanes flying in and out of Dulles. Note that while this part of the facility has been closed in conjunction with other coronavirus prevention protocols, you can still watch aircraft fly past from the parking lot as they take-off and land at Dulles.

Kids Activities & Learning Tools

Teacher and students at Udva-Hazy Center of the NASM.
Teacher reading aloud to students at Udvar-Hazy Center of the NASM.

There are many activities for preschoolers. One favorite, The Simulator, is a Disneyesque imitation shuttle flight that didn’t overly impress my kids after a long wait.

The Information Desk suggests your print out their scavenger hunt programs so the kids can look for planes with various wing shapes and air speeds. This helps provide some structure for small ones wondering around such a massive building. It’s free and if you forget to print one, you can scan a QR code at their front desk.

We also checked out an exciting and educational movie at the Airbus IMAX Theatre. After being closed during the height of the pandemic, it now operates Wednesday to Sunday. Book ahead to catch short films that relate to the Museum’s collection during the day or the latest Hollywood films at night.

Udvar-Hazy Trip Planning Details

WW2 Aviation display at the Udvar-Hazy Center.
Grandparents will love the WW2 Aviation display at the Udvar-Hazy Center. Photo by Eric Long for NASM.

Despite its magnificent size, the Udvar-Hazy Center is the type of museum where in two hours your kids can actually see everything. Once my kids got past the “awe” factor, though, they wished there were even more hands-on opportunities.

As for me, I’m ready to go back and wander much more slowly through the spectacular century plus history of aviation. Just being in this space with these aircraft is exhilirating.

Make a Weekend at the Udvar-Hazy Center

The museum is open daily, free admission. Face masks covering the nose and mouth must be worn by all visitors ages 2 and older.

For our family, this really could be the focus of a fun weekend away. Our favorite site for hotel bookings is and there is a Fairfield Inn and a Home2 Suites nearby. Both are ear-marked for having stated safety policies to cope with the pandemic. Both hotels have indoor pools and have rooms with two queen beds, including breakfast, starting at less than $100 per night. Alternatively, you can base your family in nearby Washington, D.C.

Tips: Note that food service is not available yet. Picnic tables are right outside and there are many restaurants for takeout or outdoor dining nearby. Look for my kids’ favorite, Shake Shack, coming to the Udvar-Hazy campus in early 2022.

Parking costs $15 for the day (free for entry after 4pm), and public transportation is available to the site. For more information, call 703-572-4118 or visit the Udvar-Hazy Center’s website.

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2 Replies to “Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center”

  • htt

    Hi! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say
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    Many thanks!

  • MFT Admin

    Reposting here for reader TravelTrackers: “The air and sea museum is in Chantilly 20 miles outside DC.”

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