When touring Washington DC, most people tend to work off of an itinerary that assigns single days to each activity or place. Sadly enough the Smithsonian ends up on this list of places. It would surprise many to find out that it comprises a bunch of museums and galleries, and even includes a zoo.
The Smithsonian Institution Building
Open from 08:30 am to 05:30 pm on every day except Christmas, this museum is housed in a red sandstone building fashioned after a 12th Century French castle. For that reason, this museum is also called the Castle. It is the perfect spot to kick off your Smithsonian experience, and also the location of James Smithson’s tomb. An English mineralogist and chemist, Smithson left his estate to his nephew, who died in 1835 without siring heirs. All that he once owned was used to set up “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”
Freer and Sackler Galleries of Art
Open from 10:00 am to 05:30 pm on every day except Christmas, the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery together from the National Museum of Asian Art under Smithsonian management. The Freer Gallery, when it opened in 1923, was the first Smithsonian art museum. If you visit this place while touring Washington DC, make sure to check out the Peacock Room. This used to be a dining room once, but has since been restored into a place which showcases works of art from various periods. Here, you get to see ceramics from Iran, Syria, China, Japan, and Korea.
Enid A. Haupt Garden
Open from 07:00 am to 07:00 pm on every day except Christmas, this expansive Victorian garden comprises three separate gardens on the Smithsonian rooftops.
- The Parterre: Set with symmetrical flowerbed arrangements and walking paths, this garden is reminiscent of gardens surrounding many French castles.
- Moongate Garden: A take on the Temple of Heaven located in Beijing, the Moongate Garden is a place where many visitors manage to find their Zen, given enough time to be by themselves.
- Fountain Garden: This garden is designed in such a way as to emulate the looks of the famous Court of the Lions located inside a 13th-century Spanish palace.
Museum of African Art
Open from 10:00 am to 05:30 pm on every day except Christmas, this place was originally a place for showcasing a privately funded collection when it opened in 1964. After moving in under the Smithsonian canopy in 1979, its inclusion expanded to about 8,000 costumes, sculptures, maps, books, photographs, etc.
Open from 10:00 am to 05:30 pm on every day except Christmas, the Hirshhorn Museum offers visitors free 45-minute tours, at half past noon, and then again at 3:30. It is located in a big circular building in the shape of a car’s air filter. It is an almost equal distance from the Washington Monument and the US Capitol Building. The name of the institution comes from Joseph H. Hirshhorn who was a successful uranium-mining businessman. He owned an impressive classic French Impressionist collection. Today, the Hirshhorn Museum showcases around 12,000 photographs, paintings, and sculptures. After checking some of those out, head to the sculpture garden, which is open till dusk. There is over an acre of sculptures here for you to admire.
National Air and Space Museum
Open from 10:00 am to 05:30 pm on every day except Christmas, this place has over 20 galleries covering 161,000 square feet in total. This makes it the largest Smithsonian museum, and the most visited Smithsonian Institution. It shows off artwork, aircraft, uniforms, and instruments, each dedicated to celebrating the history of flight, as well as space exploration. Here you get to catch a glimpse of the first airplane made in the country, the Apollo 11 command module, packets of food of the kind astronauts eat while in space, etc.
National Museum of the American Indian
Open from 10:00 am to 05:30 pm on every day except Christmas, this museum is located on the National Mall. The building is readily identifiable for its unique design, which was done by a Native American team. Rising up five stories, this curved structure resembles a weathered rock in appearance. Everything about this place reaffirms the oneness the indigenous people enjoy with the planet.
National Museum of Natural History
Open from 10:00 am to 05:30 pm on every day except Christmas, this is the second most popular museum under the Smithsonian banner. It contains more than 126 million specimens of plants, animals, rocks, minerals, and other objects. They have dinosaur skulls here for children and adults to gape at, displayed on the first floor. The Hall of Human Origins shows the various aspects of human evolution. There is also a Hall of Mammals, with over 250 preserved specimens.