The RAF Museum only reopened this year and it’s really been upgraded. Across four buildings they have six hangars, each dedicated to a different era, packed full of planes, helicopters and equipment. We went back again this week with my Dad and even since my last review of the RAF museum there’s been improvements.
What I think is a lovely touch is that throughout all of the hangars they have photos of some of the people involved in the RAF from the past 100 years, and you can hear about their stories. It really helps to bring it to life. There are lots of interactive displays, games and activities throughout the museum where you can have a go at some of the tasks RAF personnel have to do on a daily basis. There was also a very moving video about the Blitz and the Battle of Britain.
Hangar 1 – RAF stories; The first hundred years
It seems to be in here that the most work has been done and it is certainly where most of the interactive activities are. There are lots of model planes that the kids can climb into and have their photo taken. There’s a VERY popular model helicopter that tends to get swamped with too many kids, but on our second visit all three kids were able to spend a decent amount of time in there. They also have a rescue helicopter that you can look into, a pilot’s seat you can sit in and interactive galleries and games you can play.
A new addition since my first RAF museum review, which we thought was really spectacular, is that they’ve opened up the interior of the Short Sunderland. You can now walk in and through it. If you’re not sure which plane I mean, it’s the MASSIVE white flying boat at the back of the hangar over the cafe. When you go inside you get to see lots of cool stuff like the kitchen, missiles and even the loo.
Hangar one is where one of their quiet rooms is located. If you think this might be of use then please check out their website for all the details.
Hangar 2 – The First World War
For me this was the hangar that made me really stop and think the most. The planes they were flying just 100 years ago were basically just wood and fabric! The didn’t even have proper flight suits. It’s amazing how far the RAF has come. A new addition to this hangar is that there are now two models you can explore. There’s a wooden flight simulator and there’s a cockpit / gunner combo. (Side note, please forgive me for giving some things the wrong names. I do spend a fair amount of time running after smallest child so don’t always get to read all the signs fully.) They also have a morse code machine that they boys thought was fascinating.
Hangars 3, 4 & 5; War in the air
These three are interconnected and cover the RAF during 1918-1980. There are so many aeroplanes and helicopters in these hangars. Unlike in Hangar 2 most of them are on the ground so you really can get close to them. We actually did these three last and we were all a bit tired by then so the cafe in the middle was a welcome break.
It was brilliant to be able to get so close to all kinds of planes and you could see inside the cockpits of a fair few. Some of the planes were much smaller than I’d imagined and some of them were huge, like the Lancaster Bomber. There are also additional experiences that you can take put in at an additional cost, such as the Spitfire Experience, but we didn’t do any of these.
They now offer FREE STEM backpacks in hangar 3. I’m not sure if they’re new since the previous review of the RAF museum, but I only noticed them this time. We decided we’d get one for this visit. The backpack included; wind up torch, compass, binoculars, note pad, pencil, question sheet, magnetic aeroplane puzzle, plane related story and a cuddly teddy. You are asked to pay a refundable £40 deposit according to the sign but they actually just took my bank card itself and didn’t make a charge. The back-pack was OK. I’m not convinced how much it added to our family’s experience, but I’m sure some kids would love it. The puzzle and story came in handy at the cafe whilst the adults had their drinks.
Hangar 6 – The RAF in an age of uncertainty (1980 – present day)
This is where to latest (and most exciting??) aeroplanes are displayed. It’s the smallest hangar but it’s got some pretty cool kit in it. It also has lots of interactive displays. There’s a video wall where you can leave a short video answering a yes / no / maybe question. Absolutely no-one leaves silly videos on this wall……..
There’s also a timeline of recent history (aka my lifetime) and it’s quite weird to see all these significant world events that have happened in our lifetime and changed everything. On a lighter note, there’s also a little wall where you can play music across the decades; from Spice Girls to Nirvana. There are a couple of planes that you can climb up to see the cockpit and there’s the front of a helicopter where you can have a look inside too. How on earth anyone remembers what all those buttons do I don’t know! Up on the viewing gallery there’s a little colouring station with pictures of fighter jets. This gave a little respite for smallest child who was starting to get a bit tired.
What else is on-site?
Since I first wrote this RAF Museum review they’ve added a staircase and viewing platform between the two boats out in the airfield. This means you can now have a proper look at them too.
As well as the hangars and indoors exhibits they also have a really lovely, and very popular, playground area. All of the apparatus is RAF themed and it’s actually been done quite cleverly. It’s right next to the main restaurant and there is outdoors seating so a lot of parents grab a coffee and watch the kids run around. I’m guessing the drains are around here somewhere because there was a rather unpleasant smell right next to the seats on our first visit. That seemed to have gone by the second visit. They’ve recently fenced off the playground area as well.
For once we didn’t take a picnic on our first visit and we (literally) paid for it. £4.95 for a kids lunch, £5 for a sandwich, £2.50 for a CAN of coke etc. But it’s a captive audience and they have to make their money somewhere. In spite of the price, the food was good quality. They didn’t have a lot of highchairs though, but it was busy so I don’t blame them. On our second visit we just stopped for coffee and cake. The cake was £3 a slice but was really nice.
It was busy when we went but, because of the size of the site, it didn’t feel packed. The only problem was that at some of the popular models for children it seemed to be a bit of a free-for-all, but only the pushiest kids actually got to have a go. We waited for a while and gave up. Hangar one is the busiest hangar but once you leave there everywhere seems a bit quieter.
Biggest Child’s Review of the RAF Museum
It was amazing! There were quite a lot of hands-on displays. You could listen to people who were involved in the wars talking. You can look inside the cockpits of the planes. It’s really cool. My favourite was the Kitty Hawk. They also had a really nice cafe. I really liked Hangar 6 because it had a platform to view the planes and you could go inside a helicopter. I really like the playground as well. 5/5Biggest Child, aged 9
Entry – Free. Additional activities and experiences may have a charge.
Parking / How to get there
Parking – £4.50 for up to 0-3 hours, £6 for 3-6 hours and £9 for 6-9 hours. They have now installed a pay on exit system so you don’t have to worry about getting the wrong ticket. It’s all done by ANPR and there is one machine in the car park and two more inside hangar one.
Address – Grahame Park Way, London, NW9 5LL
Plenty on site; there’s one in every hangar. Some seem to be the originals but even they are clean.
They have two cafes and a restaurant. There is outside seating near the cafe / playground but the inside seating is for patrons only. There are some picnic benches the opposite side of the playground for people to bring their own food. You can also have a picnic on the “airfield” and a couple of rugs are provided if you want to borrow one. There is an indoors picnic area in hangar 3.
Our REview of the RAF Museum
Rating – 5 / 5. This place is very impressive and it kept the boys’ attention for the entire time we were there. We went back for a second visit within 6 months and the boys were just as entertained.
I’m Vicky and I am a mum of three living in Aylesbury. I set up Free Time with the Kids to review free and cheap family days out in Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire, mainly because I kept forgetting all the fabulous places that were recommended to me!! I love getting out and about with the kids (and hubby of course) and we have adventures all over the place. My reviews tell you all the things you need to know about the family days out and activites we’ve done such as how much it costs, if there’s parking, toilets and if there’s a cafe or if picnics are allowed. I really hope you find the reviews helpful. If there’s anywhere that you’d recommend please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch via Facebook
Looking for something similar? Why not visit the National Maritime Museum in London?