The Smithsonian Castle looks like it should housing exotic treasures. But it doesn’t really–at least, not many and not any more. The Smithsonian now sprawls across 19 different facilities, but this is the original building. And as you enter through the Mall entrance, you’ll pass the crypt of James Smithson, the institution’s founder, on your left.
There are some items on display there, especially in the West Wing, but for the most part the building serves as the administrative headquarters of the Smithsonian Institution.
It was completed in 1855 and designed by James Renwick Jr in a Gothic Revival style replete with the distinctive castle turrets. And research in recent years has revealed that its distinctive red bricks were quarried by slaves.
The Smithsonian Castle sits directly on the southern side of the National Mall, in the heart of the cluster of other Smithsonian museums. The closest metro stop is Smithsonian (Orange and Blue lines); L’Enfant Place (Orange, Blue, Yellow, and Green lines) is only a couple of blocks away. Depending on the day of the week and time of day, there’s some on-street parking, but it’s best not to count on it.
There’s no problem using tripods or flash from the outside of the building. For a different angle, and some spectacular gardens, head around the back of the building to the Enid A. Haupt Gardens. A personal favorite is early spring when the magnificent saucer magnolias are in bloom. The gardens are closed at night, but the are on the National Mall in front of the building is always accessible.
Tripods aren’t allowed inside the building for the usual safety reasons, but flash is mostly allowed.
Commercial shoots and filming may require a permit.
If you're coming in from out of town, here are some of the most popular guidebooks that can help you make the most of your visit.
And here are some interesting options for less traditional guidesbooks if you'd like an emphasis on exploring DC on foot or diving into some of the region's rich history.