Washington, D.C. Travel Guide

Washington, D.C. Sights

Smithsonian Castle Information Center

  • 1000 Jefferson Dr. SW Map It
  • The Mall

Published 07/20/2015

Fodor's Review

The original home of the Smithsonian Institution is an excellent first stop on The Mall to help you get your bearings and plan your exploration of the museums. Built of red sandstone, this Medieval Revival style building, better known as the Castle, was designed by James Renwick Jr., the architect of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. Although British scientist and founder James Smithson never visited America, his will stipulated that, should his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, die without an heir, Smithson's entire fortune would go to the United States, "to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge." The museums on the Mall are the Smithsonian's most visible example of this ideal, but the organization also sponsors traveling exhibitions and maintains research posts in outside-the-Beltway locales, such as the Chesapeake Bay and the tropics of Panama.

A 10-minute video gives an overview

of the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo, and the exhibition The Smithsonian Institution: America's Treasure Chest features objects representing all the museums, which reveal the breadth and depth of the Smithsonian's collections. James Smithson's crypt is in a small chapel-like room here. The Castle also has Views from the Tall Tower, an exhibit that lets you see how the Washington skyline has changed since 1863, a good café, brochures in several languages, and a museum store. Kids appreciate the historic carousel at the north entrance; at the south entrance you'll find the beautifully manicured Haupt Garden and copper-domed kiosk called the S. Dillon Ripley Center, which houses the Discovery Theater (delightful and affordable live, family-oriented shows on selected weekday mornings—usually geared for kids 2–12—are held here). The center opens at 8:30 am, 1½ hours before the museums, so you can plan your day without wasting sightseeing time.

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  • Smithsonian Castle, The Mall, Washington, D.C., USA

    Jiawangkun | Dreamstime.com

Sight Information


1000 Jefferson Dr. SW, Washington, District of Columbia, 20560, USA

Map It



Website: www.si.edu

Sight Details:

  • Free

Published 07/20/2015


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