Holiday Tips for Visiting the Museum

Posted on Thu, November 10, 2011
  • by: Beth Wilson is Discovery Station Program Coordinator at the National Air and Space Museum.

As the weather gets cooler and Thanksgiving approaches, I start thinking about the throngs of holiday tourists that will be lining up to get a chance to view the great stuff we have here at the Smithsonian.  For our holiday visitors, I’d like to suggest the following tips for a more enjoyable visit.

1903 Wright Flyer

1903 Wright Flyer at the National Mall building.

  1. Plan ahead. First things first, visit the websites of the museums and plan your visit.  The National Air and Space Museum and our Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Northern Virginia have public programs running every day. Both locations have Imax theaters, and the Washington, DC building has a planetarium and an observatory.  Think about what you’d like to see and plan accordingly.  Check out the maps of  the museums you want to visit and the National Mall (central to DC and where the majority of Smithsonian museums are located).  When you get here visit the Welcome Center for any changes or updates.
  2. If you’re coming down to the National Mall, consider leaving the car behind. If you're not familiar with roads, traffic patterns or parking in the District of Columbia, you might want to consider taking public transportation. Even better, enjoy a great walk in a great walking city. The city's Metro is clean, comfortable, and easy to navigate. Metro's website lists the buses and trains you'll need to take to get you anywhere you want to go. The nearest Metro stop to the National Air and Space Museum is L'Enfant Plaza.
  3. If you're coming to the Udvar-Hazy Center, driving is the best choice. It takes about 45 minutes by car to get to the Udvar-Hazy Center from Washington, DC. There is plenty of parking at a cost of $15 per car. Public transportation to the Udvar-Hazy Center is available, but only from a few Virginia locations, and you will need to use a combination  of transportation options to get there. Please consult MetroBus and the Virginia Regional Transit for more information.
  4. Come early or later. The Museum is busiest between noon and 4:00 pm. Consider coming at 10:00 am and having a late lunch next door at the National Museum of the American Indian or a nearby cafe. Some of the museums are open late or hold evening programs over the holidays, so you may want to plan your visit for later in the day. Even after the museums close the monuments are open all night.
  5. Think about having a late lunch. The Museum’s Wright Place Food Court is currently closed for maintenance, and around noon when everyone is hungry the cafes near the Museum are packed!  Eat a big breakfast, enjoy the museum while everyone else eats and by the time you start to feel hungry things will most likely have cleared out. If you have questions about where to find a tasty option for lunch or dinner, stop by the Welcome Center and our staff and volunteers are happy to help!
  6. Just ask. Want to know where the 1903 Wright Flyer is? Where’s the restroom? Can’t find the closest Metro stop? We know — we live and work here — and we’re happy to help you find exactly what you’re looking for. Just ask any staff member or visit the Welcome Center.
  7. Remember we’re open 364 days a year. The day after Thanksgiving one is the BUSIEST days of the year, period.  Every museum in DC is packed, but don’t worry we’re open every day except Christmas.  Weekdays are quieter than weekends, and the days after Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s are busier than the days preceding those holidays.
  8. Comfort is key. The National Mall is bigger than it looks.  If you want to see both the National Air and Space Museum and the Lincoln Memorial, for instance, that’s a two mile walk, but the walk is worth it.  Check Google Maps, they have an icon for walking and will tell you the mileage and approximately how long it will take. Wear comfortable shoes and layers of clothes.

National Mall Building

Exterior shot of the National Mall building

No matter when you come, whether it's crowded or not, you will have a great time visiting the Smithsonian — one of the most fascinating museum complexes in the world and a great place to spend your holiday vacation.

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