As far as cities go, Washington D.C. is not that old. But the architecture in D.C. does its best to make it feel old. Reaching back in time many different styles, especially Greco-Roman, were brought into the city to give it a sense of history and power. I don’t know why it surprised me then to find a castle plopped down the middle of the National Mall. This is the Smithsonian Castle, and it serves as a visitor center for all Smithsonian Museums.
How to Get to the Smithsonian Castle
You literally cannot miss the Smithsonian Castle. It sits directly in the middle of the National Mall. You will know it because it is the only castle there. It’s red turrets rise into the blue sky and invite you into a world of wonder.
The closest metro stop is, appropriately, Smithsonian (Orange, Blue, and Silver lines). But depending on what else you are seeing that day you could arrive from any of the National Mall metro stops.
You can enter the castle from either the National Mall or the gardens that are in back. Both entrances have a bag check but lines are small to none. As with all Smithsonian museums there is no cost to enter.
What You Will See at the Smithsonian Castle
The main purpose of the Castle is to serve as a visitors center to the Smithsonian Institute and Museums. To help you in planning your visits the main area of the Smithsonian Castle is dedicated to information booths and large touch screens with information about the different venues. There is also a gift shop where you can get souvenirs from all the Smithsonians (this makes the Castle a good place to go if you decide you want something after leaving one of the other museums).
The man behind the Smithsonian Institute, James Smithson, was an interesting man to say the least. He never came to America during his life time, but left orders that his fortune should be used to found an institute here. The Smithsonian Castle became the final resting place of his remains through a series of events you can learn about at the Crypt.
The Crypt is found just inside the Mall-side entrance to the castle.
Castle of Curiosities
The main exhibit of the Smithsonian Castle is found on your right if you enter from the Mall-side. This exhibit contains a hall with history of the Smithsonian Institute. I found this to be really interesting and if you download the Smithsonian app you can listen to an audio tour of the exhibit. Each of the plaques will tell you which section to listen to.
At the end of the hall is a room full of curiosities. Essentially it has a few pieces from each of the museums’ collections. This makes it a great place to get an overview of the types of things you will see in each of the museums.
The Smithsonian Castle is not the most important thing to see in Washington, D.C., but if you aren’t sure which museums you want to go to it is a great place to start. It is also fun to see the exhibits here and learn more about the Smithsonian Institute. It doesn’t take any time to get in so it is a nice place to get out of the sun for a while on a hot day.