With the 78th anniversary of V-E Day coming up on May 8th, I wanted to highlight another WWII museum in England that is an easy day trip from London. Your little airplane enthusiast will love visiting the Royal Air Force Museum.
The British Royal Air Force (RAF) was formed in 1918 at the end of WWI and was the first independent air force in the world. By the end of the war six months after its formation, it was the largest air force in the world.
During WWII, the RAF took on a significant role, providing aerial coverage for troops, dropping spies into the Nazi-occupied territories, and defending Britain during Nazi air raids. These were some of the most dangerous jobs in the entire war with the RAF bombers enduring a 44% death rate (out of 125,000 air crew, over 55,000 were killed and another 18,000+ were wounded or became prisoners of war).
After WWII, the RAF participated in the 1949 Berlin airlift which provided supplies for the besieged West Berlin citizens. It was in charge of the defense of Western Europe from the USSR during the Cold War. It also was involved in the wars in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and other conflicts around the world, and most recently, helped evacuate citizens from Afghanistan when its 25-year long operations ended in August of 2021.
The RAF Museum London is located on the former Hendon Aerodrome site and opened in 1972.
The RAF Museum has two locations, one in the London suburbs and another in Midland. We visited the London location, and it makes a perfect day trip for families who love history and airplanes!
The museum is made up of six buildings (former airplane hangars) and has free entry (they do ask for you to book free tickets ahead of time here)! Note that some hangars may be closed for maintenance (a few were closed on our visit) so check the latest update before your visit. Also check in at the entrance for the family trails guide and get a backpack of fun for little ones ages 3-8.
The first hangar has planes and artifacts from the RAF’s first 100 years of missions. There are some hands-on things for kids like their very own plane to sit in!
The simulator zone was really cool and fun for teens!
You can even go in a plane.
Hangar 2 has planes from WWI and Hangars 3, 4, and 5 concentrate on WWII and conflicts through 1980. We especially loved the 4D movie and you can even pay to sit in the cockpit of a WWII-era Spitfire! There’s also a Typhoon simulator (closed during our visit).
There’s even a cool flying-boat!
My favorite section was about the Battle of Britain. There is so much information here, I could have spent hours!
Hangar 6 is about the RAF in today’s world. There is a cool interactive interview your kids can do. They’ll love to see their face appear on the TV screens!
There was even an artifact from the recent pandemic on display.
Don’t miss the great little playground on site for your little ones.
The RAF Museum is a great stop if you’re getting a rental car at Heathrow or want to get out of London for a day trip with kids. It is lots of fun for airplane enthusiasts of all ages!
- Cost: Free (simulators have a fee)
- Recommended: all ages
- Tour time: 1-2 hours
- Check out its onsite gift shop (located in Hangar 1) and its website
- Transportation: The museum is an easy drive from Heathrow, and there is plenty of onsite parking. From London on the Tube, take the Northern Line (Edgware Branch) to Colindale Station.
- Dining options: The museum has two cafes onsite. The nearby Beaufort Pub looks great, and there is a casual Italian eatery, Spaccanapoli, near the Tube station.
- Nearby hotels: I recommend staying in London (see my travel guide for suggestions) or making this the first stop on your way to your eventual destination in the countryside.
- Nearby attractions include: Wembley Stadium, Harry Potter studio tour, Kenwood House, and Hampstead Heath
Books to Read:
See my Bookshop.org shop where I list my favorite WWII books for additional recommendations. Also see the museum’s online store which lists many more books.
All images below are Amazon affiliate links.