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Smithsonian Museums

Updated: Jul 29, 2020

Entrance to the Museum of Natural History
Museum of Natural History

Overview: Nation's Attic

The Smithsonian Institution is a group of sixteen museums located in Washington, D.C. with many encircling the National Mall. The Smithsonian is essentially representative of a National Museum of the United States featuring some of the most renowned museums and galleries in the world. With artifact holdings amounting to over 154 million items, the Smithsonian Institute is often referred to as the "Nation's Attic." The Visitors Center for the Museums on the National Mall is based in the Castle Building which was the original Smithsonian Building and contains the crypt of its' namesake James Smithson.

The Destination: Smithsonian Museums

While one could spend weeks perusing the art galleries and wandering along the halls in remembrance of a bygone era, some museums of utmost notoriety include the National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, and the National Portrait Gallery.

Shown in the photo above, Henry the Elephant along with the most complete T-Rex fossil in the world and the infamous Hope Diamond are centerpieces of the Museum of Natural History.

Must-see exhibits of the National Air and Space Museum include the first airplane ever, the Wright Flyer, the Spirit of Saint Louis, and the Apollo 11 Command Module along with moon rock. Countless air and space artifacts are strung across the ceiling of the museum creating an impressive sight.

Ceiling of the National Air and Space Museum
National Air and Space Museum

The National Botanical Garden is a nice place to enjoy nature and escape the busy atmosphere of the surrounding museums.

Highlights of the National Museum of American History include Abraham Lincoln's final top hat, the star-spangled banner, and an exhibit featuring the first ladies' inaugural gowns.

Additionally, the National Portrait Gallery's collections feature a wide range of important Americans ranging from Frederick Douglas to Barack Obama to incomplete portrait of George Washington. The courtyard in the Old Patent Building is a site in itself holding both the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Other museums worth a visit if you have the time, are the National Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Admission to these museums is free of charge to all visitors and is a highly recommended stop while visiting the nation's Capitol.

Exterior of the National Museum of African American History
National Museum of African American History

Travel Recommendations

It is suggested to visit the busiest museums in off-hours and enter through the street side as the entrances facing the National Mall are often used by large tour groups. If you plan to spend a day exploring the museums around the National Mall, there are some fantastic food trucks that dot the area in the afternoon and perfect for a picnic and a lower cost option to the pricy restaurants around the area. However, the restaurants in the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of African American History and Culture both have carefully selected menus that reflect the culture and importance of food to the respective group.

This site should really be sixteen separate entries on the list as each museum in the Smithsonian group has its' own unique value to the people of the United States and to the world. It would take at least a full week to visit each section of this site and be able to fully recognize the importance of the vast collections the Smithsonian institute has to offer. However, for the sake of not being redundant, they have been grouped together here. As the museums are free, many visitors to the DC area do a quick run through of the museums that most interest them.


1000 Jefferson Dr SW, Washington, DC 20560


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