The Smithsonian Visitor Center in Washington D.C. is located in a beautiful red sandstone building known as “The Castle”. Learn why you should check out this castle before going to the other Smithsonian museums around the city.
Smithsonian Castle History
James Renwick, Jr. designed the Castle as part of a design competition in 1846. The Castle, formally the Smithsonian Institution Building, was built in 1855 as the institution’s administrative building and visitor center in Washington D.C.
Just 10 years after it was built, the Castle caught fire and lost many important artifacts: the correspondence of James Smithson, the namesake of the Smithsonian; two hundred oil paintings of Native Americans by painter John Mix Stanley; and more succumbed to the fire. The building was then further fireproofed and expanded over the years.
The Gothic Revival and Romanesque building strikes a commanding pose on the south side of the National Mall. It has nine towers in all, though only four have occupiable space; others are simple decoration or house stairs.
Touring the Smithsonian Castle
You don’t have to visit the Castle before going to the Smithsonian museums, but it’s a great starting point if you need any help planning your visit to D.C. as it is technically the visitor center for all the Smithsonian museums. You can see what is going on at the museums for that day and get help from an in-house expert on what to see and do on your visit.
In their America’s Treasure Chest display, you can find items from each of the Smithsonian museums on display, so you can get a taste for what’s on at each of the museums.
And a crypt inside the north entrance holds the tomb of James Smithson.
You can also learn more about the Castle and D.C. through interactive exhibits and maps on display throughout the museum.
There is a free docent-led tour of the castle where you can learn more about its architecture and history. This tour is offered twice a day and is a great way to see the castle and to learn even more about it.
Visiting the Smithsonian Castle
The Castle is free to visit. It is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The castle’s free docent-led tours of the building take place at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
So why does this castle count? These American castles would never count if I weren’t playing it fast and loose with my “castle” designation. I like the idea of this castle being in the capital — the nation’s most important city should definitely have a castle in it! Plus, I’ve always been a sucker for Gothic castles.
Read next: Top Things to Do in Washington D.C.
Ready to visit the Smithsonian Castle in Washington D.C.? Plan your trip with these tips.
- Book your flight: Find the cheapest flights using Skyscanner, my favorite flight search engine.
- Find accommodation: You can find top hotels in Washington D.C. using Hotels.com.
- Get packing: Make sure you’ve packed everything you need with my packing list resources.
What is your favorite thing to do in Washington D.C.? Let me know in the comments!