The Smithsonian Castle Serves as the Gateway to the Smithsonian Museums

The Smithsonian offers eleven museums and galleries on the National Mall and six other museums and the National Zoo in the Washington, DC area. The iconic — and original — Smithsonian building, known as the Castle, is a helpful information center — and therefore should be your first stop if you’re new to the Smithsonian Museums.

The view of the Castle from the National Mall.

The building is constructed of Seneca red sandstone in the faux Norman style (a 12th-century combination of late Romanesque and early Gothic motifs; built in the Gothic and Romanesque revival styles).

Detail from the ceiling.

Completed in 1855, the Castle makes a great gateway for the Smithsonian. There, you can consult with an in-house volunteer experts about what to see and do; plan your route through the museums; get a grasp of the scope and scale of the Smithsonian; see collections highlights from each Smithsonian museum; marvel at 19th-century architecture; grab a bite to eat; and purchase a souvenir.

Detail from inside the Castle.

The Smithsonian Institution Building, located near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. behind the National Museum of African Art and the Sackler Gallery, houses the Smithsonian Institution’s administrative offices and information center.

As you explore the Smithsonian, be sure to explore the adjacent gardens. If you stop by the Smithsonian Information Center, then head to the back (opposite the National Mall) and explore the Haupt Gardens — the outdoor photos included with this post (with one exception) were taken in the Haupt Gardens.

The many gardens that surround the Smithsonian museums are a “museum without walls.” All have been designed to complement the museums they border and to enhance the overall museum experience of learning, appreciation, and enjoyment.

Know before you go: Bring only a small purse or “fanny-pack”-style bag. Avoid bringing large daypacks, backpacks, or luggage into the museums, as they will be subject to a lengthy search in each building entered.

Hours: Open 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily except December 25, unless otherwise noted. Special spring, summer, and holiday hours are determined annually. The Haupt Gardens are open daily dawn to dusk, except December 25.

Getting there: 1000 Jefferson Dr SW, Washington, DC 20560, but truly, the best way to get there is via the Metro (Smithsonian stop)


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