Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

One of the world's most visited museums, the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum has an incredible array of original artifacts from the history of flight and space exploration.
Space Shuttle Enterprise
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One of the world’s most visited museums, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum has an incredible array of original artifacts from the history of flight and space exploration.

During its visitor numbers heyday in the late 1990s through the early 2000s, the Smithsonian‘s National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC was a contender for the most-visited museum in the world, besting even long-established institutions like the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London. In recent years, the annual tally has slipped somewhat,1 even if the Smithsonian Institution seems reluctant to relinquish the crown2, but it still attracts something north of 5 to 6 million visitors annually. And perhaps most remarkably, it handles this crush of visitors with surprisingly few lines.

Thanks to an annex opened in 2003, the Air and Space Museum is now actually two venues, one on the National Mall in downtown Washington DC close to the US Capitol, and another hangar-like structure known as the Udvar-Hazy Center about 30 minutes away in Chantilly, near Dulles Airport. Considering the extraordinary size of many of the museum’s artifacts–there are only so many airplanes you can fit in a building–the Udvar-Hazy extension was purpose-built to display a good portion of the 85 percent of the museum’s artifacts that simply didn’t fit in the building on the National Mall.

Highlights of the Udvar-Hazy Center include the Space Shuttle Discovery, an SR-71 Blackbird, a Concord, and the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Highlights of the main building on the National Mall include the original Wright Brothers Flyer, the Apollo 11 command module, the Spirit of St. Louis, and a full backup Skylab.

Photos of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Space Shuttle Disovery at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
The sun casts a silhouette of a display of an astronaut doing a space walk near the Space Shuttle Discovery. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC Main Foyer
National Mall building. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Clipper Flying Cloud
Known as the Clipper Flying Cloud, this is a Boeing 307 Stratoliner first flown in 1938. It was the first airliner with a pressurized cabin and could carry 33 passengers at a cruise altitude of 20,000 feet. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
John Glenn's Friendship 7 capsule, during which he became the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth on February 20, 1962, as part of <a href=

Planes on Display at Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
SR-71 Blackbird at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Cold War-era supersonic military reconnaissance aircraft that remains the world’s fastest jet-propelled aircraft. On its last flight, which was to bring it from Los Angeles to the Smithsonian in 1990, it set a speed record by completing the route in 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 20 seconds, averaging over 2,100 miles per hour. For comparison, a typical commercial passenger flight between LA and Dulles takes around 5 hours. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Control Tower at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
Control Tower and entrance at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC Main Foyer
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Planes at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Red Baron at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC
Red Baron and World War I exhibit. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
World War II Fighter Plane at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Spirit of St Louis
Charles Lindbergh’s plane the Sprit of St. Louis. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Space Shuttle Discovery at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
Space Shuttle Discovery. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Spitfire at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Spitfire. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
SR-71 Blackbird at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
SR-71 Blackbird. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC Amelia Earheart Exhibit
Amelia Earheart exhibit. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Clipper Flying Cloud
Clipper Flying Cloud. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
SR-71 Blackbird spy plane
SR-71 Blackbird spy plane. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC Commercial Aviation Exhibit
Commercial aviation exhibit. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Smithsonian Air & Space Museum SR-71 Blackbird Spy Plane
Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Smithsonian Air & Space Museum Planes
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Space Shuttle Enterprise thrusters
Thruster rockets of the Space Shuttle Enterprise. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Spitfire at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Spitfire. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Control Tower at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
A control tower at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center forms both an exhibit and a viewpoint for watching planes land and take off at the nearby Dulles International Airport (IAD). Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com

360 Degree Panoramic Virtual Tours of the Udvar-Hazy Center



What to Know Before You Go

Both are free to enter (but parking at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center is $15 per car). Both can get very busy, especially during the summer, but the vast expanse of the Udvar-Hazy Center can accommodate more people without it feeling crowded.

The National Mall Building is easy to find–it’s right on the National Mall, up the eastern end towards the US Capitol Building.

For directions and public transport options for the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center, see their website.

Both have McDonald’s restaurants inside the facility. (UPDATE: The cafe in the National Mall location is closed for renovation.)

Information for Photographers

If you plan on taking photos at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, I’ve put together a separate pages for each of the facilities with information for photographers: National Mall Building | Udvar-Hazy Center.


  1. Farah Nayeri, “Louvre’s 8.5 Million Visitors Keep It as No. 1 Museum Worldwide,” 29 March 2009, Bloomberg News; Ben Zongker, “Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Sees Fewer Visitors,” 20 February 2007, USA Today
  2. According to information that used to be on the Smithsonian’s website: “The National Air and Space Museum is recognized as the world’s most visited museum. For 2005, a total of 6,100,871 people visited the museum building on the Mall, which has on average attracted more than nine million people annually. For 2005, the Udvar-Hazy Center attracted 1,169,951.” 

Where to Next?

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