History, science, art and culture live at these free attractions in Washington, DC.
What is the Smithsonian Institution?
Collectively called the Smithsonian Institution, the world-renowned museum and research complex consists of 17 museums and galleries in Washington, DC, including the National Zoo. From the origins of man at the Natural History Museum to the future of space travel at the Air and Space Museum (and its even bigger sister facility, the Udvar-Hazy Center), Smithsonian museums are a guide to the most fascinating aspects of our world. The museum collection contains more than 150 million objects, works of art and specimens altogether. And the best part: you won’t have to pay a penny to experience it as admission is free at every location.
At the center of it all is the Smithsonian Institution Building, better known as "The Castle". The vital information point makes for a perfect meet-up spot, and its America’s Treasure Chest exhibit inspires all with a sneak peek at the types of artifacts displayed in all of the museums. Don’t leave without paying your respects at the crypt of English scientist James Smithson, who, upon his death, gave every last penny he had to establish the Smithsonian Institution.
Museums farther than the eye can see
Smithsonian’s collection of knowledge centers serve as a treasure chest for visitors. The aforementioned Air and Space Museum and Natural History Museum are definitely fan favorites. The American History Museum, with its endless array of Americana (read: the Star-Spangled Banner Flag), takes a comprehensive look at our country’s history, and the National Zoo, which features hundreds of species and the cutest panda cub around, Bei Bei, also draw millions each year.
But with the whole Smithsonian lineup at your disposal, we recommend that you also dig deeper in the District. Witness the wonders of Asian art at the Freer | Sackler Galleries. Marvel at cutting-edge exhibits and Instagrammable architecture at them Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and have your mind blown by the crafty wizardry seen in the art at the Renwick Gallery, located steps from the White House.
Take in centuries of artistic achievement at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and spend a lull or lunch at the architecturally riveting Kogod Courtyard. You won’t have to travel far to see the most complete collection of presidential portraits, because the building is also home to the National Portrait Gallery. Each president is immortalized in the “America’s Presidents” exhibit, and the works come from artists named Rockwell, De Kooning and Close. Worldly art lovers will want to check out the African Art Museum, which showcases traditional and contemporary art from the continent, as well as a collection of more than 500 African relics.
Discover Native American history, culture and art through in-depth exhibits and cultural events at the American Indian Museum, which is set in a jaw-dropping facade on the National Mall. For a more locally focused experience, explore the impact of social issues past and present on largely black neighborhoods at the Anacostia Community Museum. Delve into America’s enthralling postal history from colonial times to the present at the National Postal Museum, home to artifacts that tell the story of how America has delivered its mail.
The newest Smithsonian Institution museum is the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Situated on the National Mall, this new architectural wonder is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history and culture.
Where are the Smithsonian museums?
Many of the museums are located on the National Mall and are easily accessible by Metro. In fact, the Smithsonian has its own Metro stop on the Orange and Blue lines. There are others scattered throughout Washington, DC (the National Zoo in Woodley Park and the Postal Museum near Union Station), and even one in Virginia (at the Udvar-Hazy Center).
For the adults
Kids aren't the only ones who love museums. The 21-and-up crowd get down with Smithsonian at 8, an after-hours party with varying themes and settings. Attendees revel in cocktails, live music, food and more, with exclusive access to some of the most adored museums in the world. Be there for its next event!