The National Air and Space Museum, part of the Smithsonian Institute, was by far my favorite part of Washington, D.C.! I loved it so much that I went twice within my 3-day vacation, and I plan on going again soon.
The NASM is the most popular of the museums on the National Mall, although it is spacious enough that you don’t feel crowded in the exhibits (unlike the NMAI--please see my other entry). I arrived first on a rainy Friday afternoon around 3:30pm and ran into several school groups. But once I entered the museum, I was able to walk around at my own pace and did not feel crowded.
The museum is divided into two wings, one primarily dedicated to aviation and the second to space. I spent my first day among the rockets, satellites, and lunar modules that grace the lobby. You can see the spaceship Columbia, in which the Apollo 11 crew returned from the moon! For me, it was absolutely amazing to walk among these objects and think, "These have been in space!" Exhibits in this wing cover all aspects of space: early astronomers, planets and stars, early space flight, satellites, and the space race.
I returned to the NASM on the last day of my trip because I had seen less than half of the museum--and never even entered the aviation wing. My father and I started our trip by going through the Flight Simulator on the first floor ($6.50). We were strapped into a simulator and were able to duck, roll, and spin just like real fighters. You do go upside down in this must-see ride, but it can be tamed down for young children.
From there, we went through the Wright Brothers exhibit and learned how these former bicycle makers jump-started aviation. The original Flyer is also on display--it is hard to imagine this flew once you see it up close. Exhibits here teach the basic principles of flight and follow the aviation boom (think Lindbergh, Earhart) to the First and Second World War fighter planes. See planes that flew around the world and in many of our wars.
Finally, my dad and I were hungry, so we ran to the food court to eat. While it looks cool, the prices are sky high! Expect to spend at least $8 bucks a person on the bare-bones Donato’s, Boston Market, or McDonald’s fare. I guess if you don’t have to pay for the museum, you can spend more on lunch. But if you have the time, find food outside to save money. Tip: The small ice-cream cones are huge and are only $1!
If you can only go to one Smithsonian on your trip, pick the NASM, and plan on spending the better part of a day here. With 24 exhibits, plus dozens of real planes and spaceships throughout the museum, there is something for everyone.
Hours: 10am-5:30pm every day but Christmas
Metro: L'Enfant Plaza