Seven Tips for Visiting the Museum During the Holidays

Posted on Tue, November 24, 2015
  • by: Sarah daSilva, visitor services manager at the National Air and Space Museum
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We’re gearing up for one of our busiest times of the year—the holidays! Our team of Visitor Services staff love to talk to visitors during this time. We enjoy learning where you’re visiting from and what made you add our Museum to your already impressively full itinerary. You can find us at the Welcome Center in blue vests, eager to hear your stories. Now that we’re practically family, we wanted to share some tips to make your visit more enjoyable. We won’t even ask to be invited to your Thanksgiving dinner in return. These tips are a slight update from ones we shared in 2011, although much of our advice remains the same year after year.

An original National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) full-scale wind tunnel fan is on display in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall in the Museum in Washington, DC.  

1. Plan ahead! This will always be our #1 piece of advice. We want you to make the most out of your visit. Use our website to get a feel for what activities you and your family might want to participate in during your time with us. Remember, the Museum has two locations—one in Washington, DC and one in Chantilly, Virginia—with location-specific events. In Washington, we have the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater and the Albert Einstein Planetarium, both with many great shows to choose from. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia has the Airbus IMAX Theater. The Udvar-Hazy Center is the first Museum in the world to feature a dual 4K laser projection system with a 12 discrete channel sound system. This basically means the sharpest, brightest, clearest and most vivid images in town, and it sounds great too. A perfect holiday treat!Of course, both locations have free public programs running every day. We especially recommend planning ahead to join one of our public tours offered at 10:30 am and 1:00 pm daily. The younger members of your family may also enjoy joining a Story Time. If you’re feeling competitive, you can also gather your loved ones for a friendly (or, not-so-friendly) competition in our Simulator rides. The Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory also offers a unique experience the entire family can enjoy (located at the Museum in DC).Reviewing our security procedures ahead of time will also help you avoid any surprises when entering the Museum. For example, we love seeing your selfies on Facebook and Instagram, but please leave those selfie sticks at home!

2. Utilize public transportation. If you’re visiting the Museum in DC, one of our most sincere recommendations is to leave your car at home and utilize public transportation (Metro, especially). This will save you from having to stock up on quarters to pay the parking meters. The Metro is tourist friendly! The nearest stop to the National Air and Space Museum is L’Enfant Plaza.If you’re headed to the Udvar-Hazy Center, remember there is a parking fee of $15. The parking fee is lifted every day at 4:00 pm, but public transportation is also an option.

3. Come later! (If you can) The Museums are generally the busiest between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm. If you want to try to avoid crowds we recommend coming later in the day. It’s common for museums to have extended hours during the holiday season so you may want to plan your timing accordingly. If you have the luxury of being flexible, try visiting the Museum in DC towards the end of the day—especially on a day that we’re open until 7:30 pm. Your visit might be more pleasant and there will (probably) be a shorter line for the restrooms. The same goes for the Udvar-Hazy Center, which is open until 6:30 pm on certain dates.If you’re in DC, consider taking a walk around the monuments after the Museum closes. There’s nothing quite like seeing the Washington Monument in the moonlight. You can do this on foot, on bike, or on a tour bus. If you’re walking, wear comfortable shoes, and be prepared for a 3-mile trek (if you are intending to see the majority of the memorials). The area is safe, but it’s always important to be aware of your surroundings. Most walkways are well lit and fully accessible.

4. Lunch … or dinner. And breakfast, too. No surprise here, museum food courts tend to be the busiest during peak meal times! We recommend eating a big breakfast at home before you come. If you’re eating inside a museum cafeteria you should be prepared for a crowd. If you’re visiting the Udvar-Hazy Center, note that you can leave and return without paying the parking fee a second time—this might be especially appealing if you’re interested in visiting one of the local restaurants for lunch (swing by the Welcome Center if you’d like recommendations from our volunteers).If you’re in DC, a local favorite is to have lunch at the Mitsitam Café, located inside the National Museum of the American Indian (right next door). There aren’t a lot of restaurants immediately near the National Mall, but Chinatown is a 15-minute walk away and has every type of dining experience you can imagine.

5. Remember we’re open 364 days a year. The day after Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year for us—only slightly less busy than our massive 4th of July crowds. But, don’t worry! We’re open every day except December 25. The days leading up to Christmas are especially pleasant (also convenient for last-minute gifts of spacesuits from our Museum Store!). The crowds pick up again the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

6. Comfort is key. Both Museums are bigger than they look. Each of the two floors at the Museum in Washington is three blocks long! And the Udvar-Hazy Center is even larger. Wear comfortable shoes, layers of clothes, and bring water (which is allowed in all Smithsonian museums).

A panoramic view from the Boeing Aviation Hangar overlook at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

7. Ask us! No, really. We like it. Is there a specific artifact or exhibit you’re looking for? Want to keep the kids happy and busy? Want to plan where you’re headed next? Visit the Welcome Center to talk to a Visitor Services volunteer or staff member. We talk to visitors several hundred times per day (really, we counted!) and are happy to help you with whatever you need.

The Welcome Center at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

For help planning your visit, Visitor Services staff and volunteers can be reached at at (202) 633-2214 or send us an email at NASM-VisitorServices@si.edu. We’re looking forward to seeing you at the National Air and Space Museum soon! 

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