One of the most attractive offerings that Washington, D.C., has for its visitors is free admission to a multitude of sights, museums, and buildings. You can walk the National Mall without paying an entrance fee. An elevator will take you to the top of the Washington Monument for free. The National Arboretum, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and even White House tours are free.
Many of the Smithsonian’s free resources are within walking distance of downtown D.C. But out in Chantilly, Virginia, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is a companion facility to Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, where you can see the actual Discovery space shuttle and a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird (both on display as of Oct. 11, 2014 when writing this post). Like all of the Smithsonian Institution’s offerings, there is free admission into the museum and observation tower. The main Air and Space Museum in downtown D.C. is enormous (at more than 161,000 square feet), but this Virginia facility is even larger (at 760,000 square feet) and holds a more substantial array of aircraft, spacecraft and other aeronautical items.
If there is a downside to the museum, it would be its location. Getting out there requires either a car or creative public transportation. If you do have a car, the parking fee is a whopping $15 per vehicle (enforced until 4pm every day). Then parking is free from 4pm-closing and for vehicles that are just pulling in to drop off passengers. Without a car, a one-way journey from Chinatown in D.C., for example, would require a combination of one Metro ride and three bus rides, clocking in at around two hours (Google Maps or WMATA’s trip planner are both good starting points for figuring out your best route if you do not have your own vehicle).
|Days of Operation||Hours of Operation|
|…..Sept. 8-May 21
||Sunday – Saturday||10am-5:30pm|
|…..May 22-Sept. 7
||Sunday – Saturday||10am-6:30pm|
The museum is truly enormous, and whether you walk around on your own or sign up for a free tour, it is best to factor in several hours to appreciate what is on display at this educational and awe-inspiring museum.