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tried & tested

Plane-spotting at RAF Museum London

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With weeks of holidays to fill it's nice to get out and about and enjoy different experiences, and it's even better if it doesn't cost too much! The RAF Museum London falls into that category as it's free to get in with just a charge for car parking.  Located just off the M1 it's easy to get to from Harpenden and, if the British summer weather isn't playing ball, it's perfect as it's indoors - so lots of boxes ticked! Even if you're not a huge fan of military history or aeroplanes the museum has plenty to offer.

You can marvel at the oldest planes and wonder about the bravery of the early pioneers that were willing to take flight in them; and be impressed at the progress of science and engineering with the modern-day F35 Lightning II (shown as a model mock-up only - they cost millions of dollars!) and the Harrier Jump Jet with it's vertical take-off and landing capabilities.

And it's not just planes.  There are medals, uniforms, other military vehicles, helicopters and exhibits dedicated to different aspects of the Air Force, for example the RAF Nursing Service, and all the exhibits are very well labelled and explained.

To help you find your way around there is a children's activity trail available to purchase from the main reception for just 60p and there is an Autism-friendly trail available to download from the website for free.  There is also an official guide book available to buy from the main reception.

During our visit when we were looking at the huge Lancaster bomber and working out where the seven crew members would be positioned a couple of older gentleman chipped-in to explain to the children that being the gunman at the back was the most dangerous position because the enemy would approach from behind, and that the crewman in charge of releasing the bombs had to lie down in a very cramped space at the front for the duration of the mission looking down through his window for the right location to release the bomb. I suspect there are plenty of such visitors to the museum who would be more than happy to share their knowledge with the younger generation, as well as of course the staff.

If you'd like to make the whole experience feel more real there are two flight simulators and a 4D theatre available for an additional charge. If you prefer to stick to the free activities then on the side of the main hangar is the Aeronauts Interactive gallery where the children can get hands-on with exhibits that demonstrate the science of flying.  

During the school holidays there are often extra activities for the children.  Check the website or keep an eye on our What's On page for details.

Another big plus for the museum is that there is a large indoor picnic area provided in the Aeronautics Interactive gallery, so you can bring along your own lunch. There is also a cafe serving drinks and snacks in the main hangar if you prefer, and no museum would be complete without a souvenir shop.

We enjoyed a very interesting and informative afternoon out and if you have children who are particularly interested in planes or the military they will love it!

Note: At the time of visiting the museum was undergoing a transformation programme which is due to finish in 2018 to mark the RAF's centenary.  As a result two of the halls were closed, so until the work is complete we'd advise checking the website before heading off to see what exhibits are open in case something you particularly want to see isn't available.  

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