World War II Weekend in Reading, Pennsylvania is without a doubt the most amazing event for World War II enthusiasts and history buffs of all kinds. If you’ve ever considered attending any kind of niche cultural festival, make it this one!
WWII Weekend takes place every year at the Mid Atlantic Air Museum and has done so for the past 30 years. It’s an event where everything you’ve only seen in movies and museums comes to life. It’s got real Night at the Museum vibes for sure.
If the phrase “World War II Weekend” wasn’t enough to convince you (as it was for me!), here are 21 of the most awesome reasons you need to attend WWII Weekend in Reading, PA.
1. WWII Weekend in Reading, PA is relatively easy to get to
For starters, WWII Weekend is fairly easy to get to, especially if you’re an East Coast-er. While Reading is on the smaller side, it’s still one of Pennsylvania’s largest cities. And luckily, it’s not remote, difficult to get to, or difficult to navigate once you’re there.
Reading is just over an hour outside Philadelphia, meaning you can easily find flights to this major airport from all over the country.
If you’re driving, it’s also just:
- Less than 2 hours from Baltimore
- 2.5 hours from New York City
- 2 hours 45 minutes from Washington DC
- 4 hours from Pittsburgh
- 6 hours from Boston
…and all on major highways. Although drive time will vary if you’re planning to roll up in your Sherman. Otherwise, check out your WWII Weekend rental car options here.
Once in Reading, you’ll find it’s an easily accessible and maneuverable city. WWII Weekend itself is just as easy to get to with ample parking.
Also check out: the 14 biggest mistakes to avoid at WWII Weekend this year!
2. It’s the closest to time travel you can get
It should come as no surprise that, as a World War II buff, time travel is in fact my favorite kind of travel. And nowhere else comes as close to that as WWII Weekend in Reading, PA.
Besides the carnival-style concession stands and the phone you’re taking pictures with, there are almost no reminders of our modern day life. From top to bottom and everything in between, you will feel like you’ve gone back in time (but in a pleasant and fun kind of way).
Everyone around you is in period attire and has assumed a corresponding 1940s personality they will stick to at all costs. (I think my favorite of the whole weekend last year was the Milk Man.) We’re talking reenactors, employees, and plain ol’ festival-goers alike.
From all sides you’ll hear nothing but 1940s music and the constant sounds of tanks and gunfire. There will be World War II-era planes flying over you all day for three whole days. Sometimes you’ll even see paratroopers jumping from them.
You’ll see the thousands of reenactors navigating the festival on real WWII vehicles and maybe get to ride in one yourself. You’ll meander through mock villages and recreated army camps. And you’ll experience all of this amid the scorching heat of a Pennsylvania airfield in the summer (which feels appropriately comparable to the South Pacific).
From the moment you enter the festival, you will be fully engulfed in a bygone era.
3. There’s SO MUCH to see and do
When I was first considering attending WWII Weekend in Reading, PA, I weighed whether I would actually need to go all three days or not. (Should I just choose one of the days instead?) That is, until a faithful attendee assured me I’d want to go all three days. And he was right!
Toss all concerns of boredom aside—there is more than enough to see and do at WWII Weekend. It’s true—I attended all three days from beginning to end and still there are parts I missed and shows I didn’t get to see. You will definitely get your money’s worth.
I’ll go more into what all you can see and do here throughout this post, but just know that if you’re on the fence about whether or not one day is enough, know that it’s most definitely not. That being said, if you have just one day available to visit, by all means you should still attend!
But if you’re able to attend all three and are questioning whether it will be worth it or not, worry not! Some shows and events take place on multiple (or all) days, but some only happen on one of the three. When you arrive, you’ll be able to get an hour-by-hour schedule of events for the whole weekend. With this you can plan out everything you want to see and do so you miss as little as possible.
4. It’s very well organized
I guess this is what happens when you run an event for 30+ years – you learn a thing or two about logistics. I was pleasantly surprised at how organized this event was considering the vast numbers in attendance.
The festival layout itself is incredibly organized—with different theaters in their respective locations, a part dedicated to the home front, the speakers’ tents, etc. Despite the size of the venue, it’s never a challenge to locate what you want to see and how to get there.
However, you’ll notice the logistical organization before you even step foot in the festival. Because so many people attend this event, the Mid Atlantic Air Museum’s WWII Weekend staff have organized free off-site parking and a shuttle bus system to get you there and back.
These buses run all day and night, are completely free, and will get you to the festival quickly and stress-free. You never have to worry about finding a parking spot or paying for expensive festival parking at WWII Weekend.
5. All the World War II aircraft you can handle
If World War II aircraft is something of interest to you, look no further than WWII Weekend in Reading, PA. WWII Weekend is largely an air show put on by the Mid Atlantic Air Museum at Spaatz Field. (Though it’s so much more than that!)
At WWII Weekend you’ll get to see multiple air shows all three days of the festival. You’ll get to check out these planes up close and even get to go inside some of the bigger ones. You’ll see rare WWII aircraft in action as they take part in some of the battle reenactments and get to watch some amazing aerobatics shows.
In 2021 the festival featured over 73 World War II aircraft of all sizes, including:
- Boeing B-29 Superfortress
- Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
- North American B-25J Mitchell
- P51 Mustang
- Curtiss TP-40N Warhawk
- Chance Vought FG-1D Corsair
- Douglas C-47 Skytrain
- Japanese Mitsubishi Zero (my personal favorite)
- and TONS more!
For an avgeek like myself, the many airshows and opportunities to see these planes up close was unforgettable. Seeing the Zero in action was particularly jaw-dropping, I tell you! (And that one wasn’t even listed in the program; it flew in as a bonus last minute addition.)
6. You can take a ride in a WWII plane
In between airshows, the Mid Atlantic Air Museum’s WWII Weekend is also the incredible chance to ride in one of these airplanes yourself! Have you ever wanted to know what it’s like to fly in a B-29 or a P51 Mustang? You can do that here. Even this carnival has rides, folks!
You can sign up in advance (recommended as seats are limited and sell out quickly) or decide while you’re there that you want to take a flight of your own in a true WWII warbird. You can choose from aircraft like:
- P-51 Mustang
- North American SNJ-4B Texan
- Douglas C-47
- the B-29 Superfortress
…and many more. In the B-29 you even have options of where you’d like to ride: Bombardier seat, Flight Observer seat, Flight Deck seats, or the Rear Fuselage Gunners’ seat.
The flights themselves last about a half hour and are not cheap. But, they are a thrilling once in a lifetime experience at least worth considering.
7. See the 101st Airborne jump from a C-47
One of the most thrilling parts of WWII Weekend for me was getting to watch the 101st Airborne Demonstration Team jump from a C-47! Their presentation is so authentic, you’d almost never know it was actually the 2020’s.
You can mingle with them on the ground and learn about what they do, then watch them jump on both Saturday and Sunday. (In 2021 the Sunday of the festival was on D-Day, so watching them jump then was surreal!)
They wear accurate World War II jump uniforms and use correct equipment and parachutes. And I imagine they use a lot of dope 1940s slang while they do it. (They also run a legit WWII parachute school where you can become a jumper yourself. Should I do this?)
8. Exciting battle reenactments
Over WWII Weekend, you’ll have the chance to watch multiple battle reenactments. These are super popular events that draw huge crowds and do not disappoint.
Most notable are the French Village skirmish and the US Marine Corps assault on Iwo Jima. Watch the Allies take out some Germans in a replica French Village right there at the airfield. Then see WWII flamethrowers in action and witness a mock flag raising atop Mt. Suribachi. All the while, American and Japanese aircraft fight for control of the skies above.
9. Everyone dresses the part
Maybe it’s my personal love of all things themed, but one of my favorite parts of WWII Weekend in Reading, PA was the fact that everyone truly embraced the WWII era.
WWII Weekend is attended by no less than 1,900 costumed reenactors, yes. However, it’s wildly unclear where the seasoned reenactors end and the civilian WWII enthusiasts begin. At WWII Weekend, everyone dresses the part.
There are US soldiers and sailors, Nazi commanders, Japanese soldiers, Rosie riveters, and every WWII persona in between. There are 1940s baseball players (men and women, don’t forget about the AAGPBL!), medics, French civilians, USO dancers, and what I can only describe as your everyday 1940s housewives. Basically, any WWII personality is fair game. (Again, I think the milk man was my favorite simply because of how totally random and unique that choice was.)
So, if you’ve ever wanted to dress up in 1940s attire but felt you never had an outlet, this is the place! Go nuts.
10. Fun in the Home Front
WWII Weekend at the Mid Atlantic Air Museum isn’t all about the battles overseas. There’s even a fun Home Front as well.
Here at the home front you can watch live radio broadcasts of classic 1940s radio shows like Abbott & Costello, the Lone Ranger, and more. There’s a whole weekend-long radio performance schedule actually.
There’s an old-timey Gulf station, candy and clothing shops, a recreated 1940s household, era fashion shows at the Base Club, barbershop quarter performances in the Officer’s Club, and much more. Pick up an outfit while you’re there perhaps? Either way, fun photos ops are had here.
11. Tank parades
One of my favorite parts of WWII Weekend were the tank parades. I’m a big tank nerd as it is, but typically you only get to see them parked in- or outside museums. But at WWII Weekend you get to see them in action and it’s INCREDIBLE!
Hearing and feeling their power and seeing them barreling down the road at you is something awesome you can’t experience in museums. (Most museums that is; the American Heritage Museum does have annual tank battle reenactments!) And there are all kinds here – Sherman tanks, Panzer tanks, and lots of other tanks I can’t name because I was too excited to take notes.
Additionally, there are other vehicle parades as well. These showcase all kinds of different automobiles from World War II. Cars, trucks, transport vehicles, motorbikes, and alllll different kinds.
12. Meet World War II veterans
But the real stars of the show are WWII Weekend’s many visiting veterans. Each year, WWII veterans from all over stop by to share their stories and meet with visitors.
These special guests are World War II pilots, soldiers, sailors, marines, engineers, survivors, Frogmen, submarine crewmembers, riveters, and beyond. Even former members of the Hitler Youth round out this list.
Here at WWII Weekend you can hear their stories firsthand, ask them questions, share your gratitude, and/or relate your own stories to them.
13. The Hangar Dance
On Friday and Saturday night of WWII Weekend, the Mid Atlantic Air Museum hosts a huge dance party inside the airplane hangar. It’s not all airplanes and automatic weapons… they also give you an awesome chance to get decked out and cut a rug.
Everyone who is anyone turns out for swing dancing at sunset to the sounds of the live big band playing all the top 1940s hits. I mean it, everyone is there: the Army, the Navy, the Marines, and everyone in between. The milk man, the paper boy, even Joseph Stalin showed up. Festivities kick off with an appearance by FDR himself.
Outside the hangar, everyone pulls up their Jeeps and bikes and cars (and parks them between the tanks and the planes) for one giant block party. Hot diggity dog, the Hangar Dance is SO MUCH FUN.
But the best part? The Hangar Dance is included in your daily festival pass—you don’t have to pay extra to attend the dance. But, if you want to attend only the dance on one of those days, you can pay a little to do just that.
14. Meet World War II celebrities… sort of
In addition to the thousands of soldiers, sailors, and airmen, you’ll also get the chance to meet some of your favorite World War II “celebrities” at the Mid Atlantic Air Museum’s WWII Weekend.
I already told you about Joseph Stalin and President Roosevelt’s appearance. (Though, I think Stalin was just a visitor’s choice persona as he was not on the official docket.) Besides them, also be on the lookout for these WWII political leaders and commanders:
- General Douglas Macarthur
- General George Patton
- Admiral Raymond Spruance
- Admiral Chester Nimitz
- General Carl Spaatz (the airfield’s namesake)
- Admiral William Halsey
- General “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell
- ADM Lord Louis Mountbatten of the Royal Navy
- And even young PT boat commander John F. Kennedy
And that’s just the official list–who knows who else you’ll see! You’ll hear FDR give his famous Declaration of War speech and see General MacArthur report from the steps of his C-46. (And when you meet them, they’ll assume full character so you can ask them all kinds of questions about their service.) It’s time to #fangirl out.
15. Cool weapons demonstrations
One of the neatest things about WWII Weekend is the chance to see, hear, and feel actual World War II weapons in actions. Where usually we have little more than movies and documentaries to go on, here in Reading, PA you can get a real sense of these powerful weapons.
There are numerous weapons demonstrations throughout the weekend. Some are specific to the Pacific Theater, some are more general. They even have flamethrowers you can see (and feel!) in action. They explain the weapons, when and where they were used, then show you how they were used. (With blanks, of course.)
To hear these weapons in person and up close gives you a whole new appreciation for what those who used them must have experienced. (But don’t leave with a bullet wound like I did.)
You can see Allied weapons as well as Axis weapons. Everything from grenades to pistols to mortars, to submachine guns, and wayyyy more. You can also pick up, handle, assemble, and fully examine all kinds of other weaponry inside many of the army tents and camps.
16. Now fire some yourself at the WWII shooting range
There’s also a firing range at WWII Weekend in Reading, PA where you can shoot World War II weapons yourself! Full disclosure: I did not try this, but I did watch others do it for a while. (And I did get hit by a shell from a Tommy gun.)
As terrifying as this must be, it also sounds pretty amazing. I might need to do this next time. (I mean, if these 8-year-olds can do it, so can I.) You can choose from a variety of weapons like:
- Thompson submachine gun
- M3 grease gun
- German MG 34
- M1 Carbine
- …and many more.
17. Massive flea market
WWII Weekend also features a massive flea market with over 120 vendors (one of the country’s biggest). You can shop for everything here—tons of World War II memorabilia and clothing, household goods, and just about anything else you could ever want to see at a flea market.
Besides the flea market, you’ll also be able to shop from tons of vendors inside the hangar during the day. These vendors typically sell books and other such materials, military equipment, memorabilia, and more.
18. Dine in the mess tent
When I say everything at WWII Weekend is on theme, I mean everything. As in, you can even have breakfast and/or lunch in the mess tent in the American encampment.
You can enjoy an authentic(ish) GI meal in the mess tent run by and benefitting the local Civil Air Patrol chapter. If you’ve had a hankering for Spam lately, get in there!
19. Never before seen artifacts
One aspect of WWII Weekend that I loved was getting to meet the reenactors who shared their personal family World War II stories. Meanwhile, I got to page through their personal photo albums filled with photos from their grandfather’s time during the Battle of Normandy, and others.
And I experienced this at many of the encampments. I saw unique items that had been passed down in the family and got to hear the interesting stories of where they came from. You can visit all the World War II museums there are, and yet still see never-before-seen photos and hear stories you’ve never heard before here at WWII Weekend in Reading, PA.
20. Sunday church service
If you’re worried about missing church because you’re spending all weekend at the Mid Atlantic Air Museum, fret no more. WWII Weekend offers Sunday church service at the festival.
At 9:00 am on Sunday morning you can attend a battlefield chapel service conducted by a Regimental Chaplain, over near the airfield. (Though in 2021 I found another service taking place within the US camp.)
21. Unique photo ops
If you just so happen to be into both World War II and photography, this place is a dream! (It wasn’t until after I attended the festival, seeing everyone’s photos on Facebook and Instagram, that I realized how often those two hobbies crossover.)
Tons of people staged formal and informal photos shoots here. Romantic ones, battle scenes, pin-up shoots, lots of airplane shots, and so much more. I’m telling you, WWII Weekend in Reading, PA is the closest thing you can get to time travel. So, if you’re into creative photography, don’t miss this!
Where to stay for WWII Weekend
While at WWII Weekend you may feel like you’re pretty far away from it all (both in space and time), it’s actually in a great location. And though there (unfortunately) aren’t any cool World War II-themed hotels nearby, you still have a range of options for where to stay to WWII Weekend. You can stay in Reading, yes, but you can also find great deals in nearby Wyomissing, Pennsylvania.
Wherever you decide to stay, book it ASAP. WWII Weekend is super popular and is attended by way more people than there are hotel rooms. As of this posting (January), rooms are already limited from what I’ve seen!
If you can’t decide on a place to stay, check out my post on how to pick the perfect hotel every time.
WWII Weekend 2022 will take place Friday – Sunday, June 3-5, 2022 (rain or shine). For more information and to purchase tickets for WWII Weekend in Reading, PA, check out their website here.
Have a great time at World War II Weekend!
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