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Smithsonian Castle Tips (54)

Castle in a Democratic Country

The Smithsonian Castle, if you will, is actually the tourist information center for all the Smithsonian Institution Museums in Washington DC. This was the first building in the family of Smithsonian buildings. Built in 1855, it is constructed of red sandstone from Seneca Creek, Maryland. It's architecture is of the Norman style (which is a combination of late Romanesque and early Gothic). It had several reconstructions throughout its history, one which was after a fire in 1865. From 1968-1969 it was renovated.

In the castle, you can find all kinds of maps. There is a handy-dandy one of the downtown surrounding areas that you can purchase for $2.25. There is also a Smithsonian visitors guide that is free and lists the museums and includes a small map of the area so that you know where the museums are in relation to each other. You can also download a copy of the visitor guide from their website (or use this address: ) It's kind of handy. There are also interactive touch-screens inside the visitor's center that go through information on the Smithsonian and other capital attractions. Also available is a video orientation, electronic wall maps, and scale models of Washington DC.


HOURS: 8:30am to 5:30pm daily except for Christmas.

jlee008's Profile Photo
Nov 21, 2004

Smithsonian Institute Castle

With little doubt, what sets Washington, DC apart as a country capitol is The Smithsonian Institute. The breadth of the complex is without parallel with 16 museums, a zoo and numerous research facilities to its credit. Few major world metropolises have as many museums scattered about let alone clustered all within a few city blocks and none can offer such a plethora for free. Ironically, a man who had never been to the United States is responsible for this disproportion. The illegitimate son of an English Duke, scientist James Smithson, was perhaps lashing out at his country's rigid class system or was enamored by the idealism of universal education but his decision to leave the entirety of his estate to his nephew and later if he remained heir-less to the United States of America was to have great consequences for its ultimate beneficiary. The eventual $500,000 contribution was a lofty sum when it was donated 1835 and led the US Congress to charter The Smithsonian Institute in 1846. This led to the building of The Castle as it is refered to today though at the time it was the Smithsonian Institute in its entirety. It has grown considerably since and now encompasses over 140 millions artifacts!

The Castle today is the Institutes administration building and also serves the appropriate function as the Visitor Information Center and is thus most people's first introduction to the wonders of the Smithsonian Institute.

richiecdisc's Profile Photo
Apr 25, 2010

The Castle or the Palace?

The distinctive red, sandstone building called usually the Castle is the easiest to recognize edifice along the National Mall because of its different exterior design. It's also a landmark of Washington, D.C. Well, it does not look like charming and mysterious European castles, I have already visited, rather like a mixture of a palace and church for wealthy and religious people.

I've got to know that it was built in the Norman style (a 12th-century combination of late Romanesque and early Gothic motifs) and completed in 1855. Being the Smithsonian's first building it's officially called the Smithsonian Institution Building. If you want, go to see the crypt of James Smithson, benefactor of the Institution near the north entrance and a bronze statue of Joseph Henry, the eminent scientist who was the Institution's first Secretary, outside on the Mall.

The Castle is also a very important buiding for every visitor to Washington, DC as it houses Smithsonian Information Center, the most valuable source of information on numerous Smithsonian museums. They offer free brochures in various languages but not in Polish, yet! Could I become a Smithsonian volunteer and translate a few their leaflets into Polish, please? There are helpful interactive touch-screens, scale models and electronic wall maps of the city of Washington. Although the information center is the second largest I have ever seen (after that one in Grand Canyon, Arisona) there are lines to information desks. Skip them unless you need up-to-date information not easy to find in other way. If you know English enough watch 24-minute video orientation.

Hmm... I had to enter the Castle because of the most trivial human need. Well, when the nature calls while you are at the National Mall keep in mind that you usually must go through hand-check of all bags and sometimes metal detectors to reach a toilet in any museum. They really care you to do these things in peace and quite. Maybe it explains why they call casual toilets restrooms.

matcrazy1's Profile Photo
Jan 12, 2006


When visiting DC, every tourst should visit the Smithsonian's Visitor Center prior to touring the museums. It is open daily 8:30-5:30. The building, built to look like a castle, is made of red sandstone. It is centetrally located on the National Mall and has entrances on Jefferson Drive and through the Enid A. Haupt Garden. The castle is the focal point for the Smithsonian's 16 museums in DC, the National Zoo in DC and it's 2 musueums in NYC.
There are several information options to choose from. Volunteer Information Specialists are on hand to answer questions and provide directions. You can even see a free 24-minute video orientation at various times throughout the day. My one complaint is that I couldn't find the pamphlets I wanted and it was so crowded the day I stopped in that I couldn't be bothered waiting around. Luckily there are maps every block or so to view.

moiraistyx's Profile Photo
Jun 21, 2006
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The Original Smithsonian

The Smithsonian Castle is a good place to start experiencing the marvels of this great institution. It is the original home of the Smithsonian built in 1865. Interestingly, the funds to found the Institution came from and Englishman, James Smithson for the purpose of “increasing and diffusing knowledge among men.” I love the old building although not much of the collection can be seen here as the Smithsonian comprises 18 museums and galleries. However, there are interesting displays and information on Smithson and the early construction as well as the Crypt Room where the tomb of Mr. Smithson is housed. The old castle with its irregular shape and series of towers, turrets and spires of red stone make it stand out and, in my opinion, very attractive. Just behind the castle is a lovely 4 acre garden. We got coffee from the little cafe and coffee bar inside and enjoyed sitting on a little terrace overlooking the garden.

rexvaughan's Profile Photo
Feb 28, 2006

"The Castle"

The Smithsonian's first building, known as the Castle, houses the Institution’s administrative offices and the Smithsonian Information Center. The original Smithsonian Institution Building was designed by the same guy who designed St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City and finished in the mid 1850s. It's old-world architectural style stands out like a watermelon in a bowl full of chick peas amid more modern buildings of the Smithsonian and the monuments on the edges of the mall.

b1bob's Profile Photo
Jun 27, 2006


the smithsonian is a huge complex of museums founded by james smithson. james smithson was an english scientist and philanthropist who donated $ 500,000 in 1836 to found a place of knowledge in washington. it is interesting to note that smithson never visited the united states. pictured is the smithsonian castle designed by james renwick and built in 1855. this building housed the original smithsonian collections. today this building is just one of many smithsonian museums located on washington's mall. it would take at least a week to view all of the collections of the smithsonian.

doug48's Profile Photo
Sep 16, 2007

The Castle on the Mall

When you get out at Smithsonian Metro or have just finished your trek through the Natural History Museum you will look across the Mall and you will see this red sandstone building that looks sort of like a Castle. Designed by James Renwick, it uses materials from just up the road at the Seneca Quarry in Montgomery County, Maryland.

This was actually the first Smithsonian building, completed around 1855. I remember back in my younger days this used to house the Air and Space museum long before it had gigantic exhibits and large groups of people waiting to come in and see it. Even though we were not supposed to, I think my brother and I did climb into the space capsule exhibit (nothing happened).

Today the Castle serves as the main administrative offices for the Smithsonian. There is an interactive visitor center and last I remember there was also an active academic group in there.

By the way, if you are wondering who that statue is of as you are coming from the Mall side to the Castle...its Joseph Henry (1797-1878) who was a pioneer in electro magnetics and was the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. He invented the precursor to the electric doorbell among his other contributions to science.

If you go in from the independence avenue side it is much more impressive, you can see the full castle and it has a very relaxing garden with some sculptures (and shade!!!)

Visiting Hours
830-53- pm daily
except December 25.

GentleSpirit's Profile Photo
Jul 15, 2013

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Smithsonian Castle

This building is the oldest of the 17 Smithsonian museums in DC. The castle houses the crypt of founder James Smithson, visitor orientation theater, scale models of exhibitions, and helpful information volunteers to assit you. It even has a cafe & store. Open daily 8:30 am - 5:30pm except Dec 25. Its Free. I've seen it so many times in the distance so it was nice to actually see it upclose. What a lovely building.

Yaqui's Profile Photo
May 10, 2011

The Smithsonian Castle

If there is a castle, I'm always sure to see it! ;-) This one is nothing old according to European standards, it is just a Norman-castle-style building completed in 1885.
It was the original Smithsonian Institution Building designed by James Renwick Jr. (the one who also designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC). Today it houses the Institution’s administrative offices and the Smithsonian Information Center. In fact the Smithsonian Institution is the world's largest museum and research complex - it runs, among others, the museums located along the National Mall (see the tip above). So it is the place to start your tour of those museums and galleries, be sure to get there for brochures and information.

And if you're tired of walking around, sit down to rest and relax in one of those beautiful quiet gardens surrounding the Smithsonian Castle.

Opened daily from 8:30am to 5:30pm, may be entered from Jefferson Drive in the Mall or from Independence Ave.

gosiaPL's Profile Photo
Jan 29, 2005

Smithsonian Castle

This ornate, red-brick "castle" was built in 1855 by James Renwick. It houses the Visitors Center, a small cafe, and exhibits on James Smithson. He was a wealthy Englishman who left a vast endowment to create this magnificent collection of museums.

Tom_Fields's Profile Photo
Aug 24, 2006

Smithsonian Castle

The Smithsonian consists of many buildings, but the centerpiece is the castle. Located about midway down the's towers can be seen from the distance...holding promise of wonderful things to see and learn about. There is an information center in the building and for members....there is a wonderful castle room restaurant with the best buffet in town. Served daily from 11 - 2 pm. Hope you get to enjoy it sometime.
UPDATE: I'm told that the buffet is no longer being served. They have scaled down to a small sandwich cafe. Sad. The buffet was always very well attended when I was there.

Pawtuxet's Profile Photo
Aug 30, 2007

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