Smithsonian Institution Building, Washington DC

#3 of 54 in Historic Sites in Washington DC
Castle · Hidden Gem · Government Building
Constructed of Seneca red sandstone in a faux Norman style that combines elements of late Romanesque and early Gothic architecture, Smithsonian Institution Building houses a visitor center and the administrative offices of over a dozen specialized museums. Nicknamed the "Castle" and finished in 1855, this building consists of a central section, two extensions, and two wings. Four large and five smaller towers are primarily decorative. Two galleries on the second floor contain the visitor information area, which offers free Wi-Fi, interactive displays, and maps. Use the visitor center's computers to find answers to most common questions about this complex of museums, or walk through the northern entrance to visit the tomb of the institution's founder, chemist and mineralogist James Smithson. Plan to visit Smithsonian Institution Building and other customer-reviewed, writer-recommended Washington DC attractions using our Washington DC itinerary planning site.
Create an itinerary including Smithsonian Institution Building

Smithsonian Institution Building reviews

Rate this attraction
TripAdvisor traveler rating
TripAdvisor traveler rating 4.5
3,538 reviews
  • The "Castle" is worth a quick stop. The building itself is very cool and they have some nice gardens around to tour. Inside, they have some odds and ends from the other Smithsonian museums...  more »
  • I visited the Smithsonian Institution Building also known as the Smithsonian Castle in August 2021. I went at 8:30 am on a Tuesday and it was closed (should have checked the website carefully). I...  more »
  • One of the most beautiful buildings in WDC. Es precioso este edificio!!!!
  • The Smithsonian Institution Building, located near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. behind the National Museum of African Art and the Sackler Gallery, houses the Smithsonian Institution's administrative offices and information center. The building is constructed of Seneca red sandstone in the Norman Revival style (a 12th-century combination of late Romanesque and early Gothic motifs; built in the Gothic and Romanesque revival styles) and is nicknamed The Castle. It was completed in 1855 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965. The Castle was the first Smithsonian building, designed by architect James Renwick, Jr., whose other works include St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City and the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery, also in Washington D.C. The building committee held a nationwide design competition in 1846 and selected Renwick's design by a unanimous vote. A cardboard model of Renwick's winning design survives and is on display in the Castle. Renwick was assisted by Robert Mills, particularly in the internal arrangement of the building.

Plan your trip to Washington DC

  • Get a personalized trip
    A complete day by day itinerary
    based on your preferences
  • Customize it
    Refine your trip. We'll find the
    best routes and schedules
  • Manage it
    Everything in one place.
    Everyone on the same page.