As you pass the monuments along the National Mall in Washington, D.C., notice the unusual sight of the Smithsonian Castle, the Smithsonian Institution Building. Built in 1855, the castle originally stood alone, a Norman-style turreted structure of red sandstone across a canal from downtown D.C. Now it is surrounded by a museum complex containing some of the country’s greatest treasures. Inside it holds the crypt of James Smithson, who provided the institution’s initial funding.
James Renwick, Jr. designed the castle, although he had no architectural training. He later designed famous St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. Notice how Renwick incorporated Gothic features of rose windows, vaulted ceilings and tall narrow windows in the castle and his other buildings. Near the White House, visit another building he designed, the Renwick Gallery, now part of the Smithsonian, filled with American crafts.
Make the Smithsonian Castle your first stop on your museum tour of Washington, D.C. It serves as the Smithsonian Visitor Center, providing free information about the nearly 20 Smithsonian buildings in Washington. Talk with volunteers and use interactive tools to learn about the museums, plan your visits and tour the castle. Stop for a meal at the Castle Café or a seasonal cart outside the building. Visit the Museum Store and use the site’s free Wi-Fi. The castle is open daily except Christmas.
Stand at the Washington Monument gazing toward the white dome of the U.S. Capitol. Notice the striking sandstone of the Smithsonian Castle jutting a bit into the grass of the National Mall. Allow several days in your D.C. trip to visit the nearby Smithsonian museums including the Air and Space Museum, the Natural History Museum, the American History Museum, the American Indian Museum, the African American History and Culture Museum, the African Art Museum and several galleries.
Reach the Smithsonian Castle on a Mall walking tour or ride the metro to the Smithsonian and use the Mall exit. Driving in this part of Washington, D.C. is often congested, especially during holidays. The Smithsonian has no parking, but commercial lots are available north and south of the castle.