Smithsonian Castle, Washington DC, Where the world’s largest museum began

How do you sum up the Smithsonian? It is 19 museums, ranging across everything from the National Zoo to the Air and Space Museum, from the Natural History Museum to the American History Museum. There was a time though, when it was just one building - the Smithsonian Castle.

The Smithsonian is the perfect place to hop off your Washington DC Bus Tour and get to know your way around. In the information center you can see interactive displays and maps to help plan your visit. Entry to all the Smithsonian museums is completely free.

Thank you Mr Smithson

The Smithsonian began life as a bequest to the United States by the British scientist James Smithson (1765-1829). He never actually even visited America, but he helped found the ‘increase and diffusion of knowledge’ through this Institution that bears his name.

A red castle

The castle was designed by architect James Renwick Jr. and is made of red sandstone. It’s in the Gothic Revival style, which basically means it looks a bit like a medieval castle. As it’s not symmetrical either - the thinking was that they could just add extensions onto either end of the building if the museum collection grew.

Other interesting facts about the Smithsonian Castle

  • You can see a cardboard model of the original architectural design inside the building
  • It was originally intended to be built of white marble, but red sandstone was a lot cheaper
  • 4 of the towers have rooms inside, and 5 smaller ones are just for show
  • The tallest tower is 145 feet (44 meters) high