The story of the grand, red-sandstone Smithsonian Institution Building starts with the story of James Smithson, founding patron of the Smithsonian Institute. Smithson was an English chemist and mineralogist who came from wealthy parents and had no children of his own. A clause in Smithson’s will gifted all of his wealth to the government of the United States, a country that he never visited, to found “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men” that was to be called the Smithsonian Institute.
The Smithsonian Castle is the primary visitor information center of the Smithsonian Institution
The first building was completed for the Smithsonian Institute in 1855 and is lovingly referred to as “the Castle,” although it is officially called the Smithsonian Institution Building. The Castle contains the primary visitor information center as well as all Institution administrative offices. The interior is just as beautiful as the exterior, with the vaulted ceilings more closely resembling a church nave than an administration building. It also houses a few exhibits about the Castle itself and the Smithsonian, as well as the remains of James Smithson himself, which were moved to the Castle in 1904.
This beautiful building is also home to Castle Café, serving specialty sandwiches, soups, pastries, organic salads, antipasti, Peet’s coffee, espresso/cappuccino bar, teas, bottled beverages, beer, wine, and, seasonally, novelty ice cream. Best of all, there is free visitor Wi-Fi.
Admission to the Smithsonian Castle is free. The castle is open daily from 8:30 a.m. through 5:30 p.m. and is closed on December 25th. The closest Metro Station is: Smithsonian.
For a description of all the Smithsonian Institutions in Washington, D.C., make sure to read The Unofficial Guide to Washington D.C. by Eve Zibart, Renee Sklarew, and Le Testa.
About the authors: Eve Zibart is the author of several books in the Unofficial Guides series. A contributor to Washingtonian and other magazines, she lives in Washington, D.C. Renee Sklarew was raised in the DC area and writes about her hometown for numerous publications, including The Washington Post, The Washingtonian, Northern Virginia Magazine, and VivaTysons Magazine. She contributed to Fodor’s Washington DC Guidebook in 2013 and 2014; she’s thrilled to be part of the Unofficial Guide team so she may offer readers her insider advice about navigating the city from a parent’s point of view. Len Testa is the coauthor of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland, The Unofficial Guide: The Color Companion to Walt Disney World, and The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. Len leads the team at TouringPlans.com, the website and research arm of The Unofficial Guides. Len lives in Greensboro, NC.