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A fun-filled family day at the RAF Museum

Photo of a plane inside the RAF Museum

Take a journey to the skies with Thameslink

The Royal Air Force (RAF) Museum London offers a fun, entertaining and educational day out for the whole family.

Whatever the weather, they’ve got you covered. Entrance is free and, with the Thameslink line running right past the museum, easily accessible from Mill Hill Broadway.

Photograph of the entrance of the RAF Museum

I’m proud to say that my father served in the Air Force back home in America and I literally grew up around aeroplanes with my best friend’s family owning an aviation company where we kicked balls around the hangar and ate hundreds of bags of the complimentary popcorn they laid on for pilots passing through. In addition to clocking up hundreds of thousands of air miles in my lifetime, I’ve been up in all types of aircraft including helicopters, private jets, and - my favourite - a two seated piper cub with canvas sides and an open cockpit. I’m bound to love the RAF Museum and, well, I really really love it! You don’t have to be a avowed #avgeek like me to have a great day out at the RAF Museum but you’re bound to leave as one.

A Journey Through History

The museum’s six enclosed hangars are packed to the rafters with exhibits spanning the entire history of the RAF, from its inception to the present day. Families can view the multi-award-winning displays of aircraft, explore inside historic planes, and experience the magic of flight firsthand through virtual reality.

Each exhibit not only showcases the impressive aircraft but also tells the stories of the people behind them, offering a glimpse into the lives of those who served. As a parent myself, I was pleased to find that the human cost of war is dealt with in a way that is sensitive and appropriate for all ages.

Photograph of an exhibit at the RAF Museum

Family Trails

Families can engage with the RAF story through various trails and activities designed for different age groups, from pre-schoolers to teenagers and beyond. These comprehensive activity based routes through the museum are available at the entrance to each hangar, ensuring that the adventure begins the moment you step inside.

Photograph of an exhibit at the RAF Museum

Young aviators haven’t been forgotten, with early years resources containing fun ideas for pre-school children, including counting, finding, and playing games. Moreover, the museum hosts Little Swifts, fun guided sessions held every second Tuesday and last Thursday of the month during term time (pre-booking recommended).

Photograph of an exhibit at the RAF Museum

I’ve visited twice, once with my teenage son and his friend, and we never found ourselves queuing or waiting to access any of the exhibits, nor did we quickly exhaust everything there is to see and do. One top tip from me: it wasn’t particularly busy on either of my visits but at times on the weekday one we felt like we had a whole hangar to ourselves and we may very well have.

Photograph of an exhibit at the RAF Museum

Aircraft Exhibition Highlights

A wide range of historic aircraft on display at the museum. Highlights include:

  • Supermarine Spitfire Mk XVI: The last major version of the Spitfire to be powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, it’s an iconic symbol of British aviation
  • Westland Sea King HAR3: Just like the one flown by Prince William during his military service, the Sea King is known for its search and rescue operations
  • Bomber Command Hall: Dedicated to the brave bomber crews of WWII, this hall features aircraft such as the Avro Lancaster and highlights their strategic importance

Photos of exhibits in the RAF Museum

Having recently attended an airshow, I was particularly excited to see a Hawker painted in the distinctive livery of the Red Arrows. That very plane, I learned, was once used by none other than King Charles during his RAF flight training. Also noteworthy for me were the several aircraft presented in their ruined and decaying state, having been salvaged following crash – a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by pilots and crews.

Photograph of an exhibit at the RAF Museum

Interactive and Educational Exhibits

There’s a lot more than static aircraft to explore at the RAF Museum, which has a variety of thoughtful and engaging exhibits showcasing stories of human endeavour and innovation. Highlights include:

  • RAF Stories: Engage with the first 100 years of the RAF through displays and personal accounts told through interactive media
  • Age of Uncertainty: This exhibition reflects thoughtfully on the RAF’s role in the modern era and its future contributions

Photos of the exhibits at the RAF museum

I particularly enjoyed the bomber hall, where it’s possible to explore inside a real WWII era bomber. Seeing the thin metal walls and cramped conditions really brought to life the experience of crews bravely fighting their way through enemy skies towards targets. One bunk bed - more a hammock or shelf than the type you or I might sleep on - was suspended almost straight over a bomb bay!

Outdoor Adventures

No family day out is complete without some outdoor fun. The RAF Museum’s flight themed playground is designed for children under 11 and features mini models of iconic aircraft that can be climbed up and slid down. It’s the perfect place for children to burn off energy and whilst parents relax nearby with a coffee or snack from the adjacent café at one of the plentiful picnic tables. There’s also a large, grassed area for those who prefer to roll out a picnic blanket. It appears that local mothers take advantage of the all weather covering of the hangars and step free lengths of paved outdoor paths to get a bit of exercise whilst pushing their baby around in a pram.

Photograph of an exhibit at the RAF Museum

On both my visits, ample outdoor seating was freely available both inside and outside the café. I only had a coffee, which was like you might typically get at any high street coffee chain, but everyone around us looked like they were enjoying their meals. Indeed, two older gentlemen nearby looked a lot like they’d come entirely for lunch - a real possibility given the free entry.

Photograph of the cafe at the RAF Museum

Activities With Additional Fees

The Museum offers, for additional fees, several interactive experiences for an extra-special day out. History buffs can book a seat in the cockpit of a genuine Spitfire whilst future pilots can experience the high-speed thrills of a Red Arrow pilot from the safety of a flight simulator. The museum recommends pre-booking these experiences.

Photograph of an exhibit at the RAF Museum

There’s also a well-stocked gift store offering a wide variety of books, educational toys, models and memorabilia. If you are particular into modelling, Hannants London, located within a couple minutes walking distance of the Museum, is a vast warehouse of scale models and supplies to suit all interests and skill levels. I’m not a very accomplished modeller, so I bought only a small all-in-one Spitfire kit that came with all the paint and other supplies required to turn it into (my very best attempt at) a masterpiece.

Other Transport Related Days Out

A family could spend an entire day at the RAF Museum, particularly with the cafe and picnic areas offering options for lunch. However, if you wanted to split your day of transport discovery, you could add the excellent London Transport Museum as a second destination in your itinerary. It’s located at Covent Garden, just three stops on the Underground from the Thameslink station at Kings Cross / St. Pancras. If sailing is more your speed, another option is the Greenwich Maritime Museum, accessible from Greenwich station on the Rainham line and also highly worthy of a visit.

Getting to the RAF Museum London

I found travelling by train to the RAF Museum London, in my case from St. Albans, easy and worry free. Get off at Mill Hill Broadway and take the 303 bus which runs from just in front of the station to the entrance of the Museum. On my recent visit, I waited for 5-6 minutes each way. Nonetheless, it would make sense to check schedules as service times can vary, especially on weekends and public holidays. Please note: At time of writing, the Colindale tube station is closed for redevelopment and this wasn’t exactly clear in Google Maps.

Thameslink train passing the RAF Museum

The museum is open seven days a week from 10am- 5pm. Admission is free but, as the museum is operated as a charity, donations are appreciated. Some special exhibitions and experiences are chargeable – see website for booking and details.

Accessibility

All buildings at the RAF Museum are accessible to wheel-chair users but a handful of exhibits do require the use of steps. Additional needs can be accommodated see the RAF Museum website for details. Information about Mill Hill Broadway station facilities and services is available on our Station Information page. A staff-operated ramp is required for step-free access between the trains and the platform at Mill Hill Broadway. If you require assistance, please contact our Assisted Travel team.


About the Author: Robin Hamman is a former BBC Journalist and award winning photographer with a life-long passion for aviation. Originally trained as a history teacher, Robin is now a freelance journalist, consultant, and university lecturer. During his career he’s worked with several airlines, an aircraft engine manufacturer, and a project restoring a Spitfire to flight worthiness. He has two children and lives in St. Albans. All experiences described were paid for by Govia Thameslink Railways.

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