A Visitor's Guide to the Smithsonian Museums in Washington DC

A Guide to All of the Museums in Washington DC

Smithsonian Institution, Castle, Early Morning with Saucer Magnolia Trees in Bloom, Enid A Haupt Garden, Washington DC, USA
••• Danita Delimont/Getty Images

The Smithsonian Museums in Washington, DC are world class attractions with a variety of exhibits ranging from a 3.5 billion-year-old fossil to the Apollo lunar landing module. Visitors enjoy examining more than 137 million objects, including many irreplaceable historic artifacts, works of art, scientific specimens and cultural exhibits. Admission to all of the Smithsonian museums is free. With 19 museums and galleries, there truly is something for everyone.

Guided tours, hands-on activities and special programs are available. Although many of the museums are located within walking distance to each other on the National Mall, several of them are located in other parts of the city.

Following is a guide to help you plan your visit to the Smithsonian.

General Information:

Museums Located on the National Mall

  • Smithsonian Institution Building - 1000 Jefferson Drive SW, Washington, DC. The historic building, also known as the Castle, is a good place to start your tour of the museums. The Smithsonian Information Center is located here and you can find a map and schedule of events.
  • Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building - 900 Jefferson Drive SW, Washington, DC. The original home of the National Museum is currently closed for renovations.
  • Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum - 7th and Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC. This impressive museum displays the largest collection of air and spacecraft in the world as well as smaller items like instruments, memorabilia, and clothing. Learn about the history, science, and technology of aviation and space flight. IMAX films and planetarium shows are offered several times a day.
  • Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden - Independence Ave. and 7th St. SW, Washington, DC. The modern and contemporary art exhibits include arts of traditional historical themes and collections addressing emotion, abstraction, politics, process, religion, and economics.
  • Smithsonian Freer Gallery - 1050 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC. The world-renowned collection highlights art from China, Japan, Korea, South and Southeast Asia, and the Near East. Paintings, ceramics, manuscripts, and sculptures are among the favorites of this museum. The Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Auditorium provides free programs relating to the collections of the Freer and Sackler galleries, including performances of Asian music and dance, films, lectures, chamber music, and dramatic presentations.
  • Smithsonian Sackler Gallery - 1050 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC. This unique building is connected underground to the Freer Gallery of Art. The Sackler collection includes Chinese bronzes, jades, paintings and lacquerware, ancient Near Eastern ceramics and metalware, and sculpture from Asia.
  • Smithsonian National Museum of African Art - 950 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC. The collection includes ancient as well as contemporary works from Africa. There are special events, storytelling, demonstrations and children’s programs.
  • Smithsonian Natural History Museum - 10th St. and Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC. At this family favorite museum, you will see a variety of artifacts including an 80-foot dinosaur skeleton, a life-size model of a blue whale, an enormous prehistoric white shark, and a 45-and-a-half karat jewel a known as the Hope Diamond. The Discovery Room is a great hands-on display for young children. Feel the skin of a crocodile, examine the jaws and teeth of different animals or try on clothes from around the globe.
  • Smithsonian American History Museum - 12th to 14th Sts. NW, Washington, DC. With more than 3 million artifacts of American history and culture, visitors learn about the nation's history from the War of Independence to the present day. At the heart of the museum, the Star-Spangled Banner—one of the most recognized symbols of the nation—has been given a new state-of-the-art gallery. New galleries such as the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Hall of Invention, presenting “Invention at Play,” join old favorites including “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden” and “America on the Move.”
  • Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian - 4th St. and Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC. The newest museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC showcases Native American objects from ancient pre-Columbian civilizations through the 21st century. Multimedia presentations, live performances, and hands-on demonstrations will bring the Native American people’s history and culture to life.
  • Smithsonian International Gallery - 1100 Jefferson Drive, SW Washington, DC. Housed in the S. Dillon Ripley Center, this is the education and membership branch of the Smithsonian Associates and hosts a variety of traveling exhibits. The Smithsonian Discovery Theater and conference facilities are also located here.
  • Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture - Independence Ave. SW, Washington DC. The 300,000-square-foot museum is under construction and is expected to open in 2016. The museum has created a website to involve the public in planning a variety of exhibits and educational programs on topics such as slavery, post-Civil War reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, and the civil rights movement.

    Don't miss the other Smithsonian Museums that are located off of the Mall:

    • National Zoo - Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC. The National Zoo is a part of the Smithsonian Institution with more than 435 different species of animals. Open year round, the world-class property offers the opportunity to view and learn about favorites including giant pandas, elephants, tigers, cheetahs, sea lions and much more. The Smithsonian Biology Conservation Institute, the Zoo's conservation, and research center, located in Front Royal, Virginia, is a breeding preserve for rare and endangered species.
    • Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum - 1901 Fort Place SE, Washington, DC. This small museum focuses on African American culture. Exhibits rotate and feature regional and national topics.
    • Smithsonian National Postal Museum - 2 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Washington, DC. The museum displays the largest stamp collection in the world and examines the development of the postal system using interactive displays. This museum is located under Washington's old Main Post Office near Union Station.
    • Smithsonian Renwick Gallery - 70 9th St. NW, Washington, DC. The building was the original site of the Corcoran Gallery and is furnished with American crafts and contemporary arts from the 19th to 21st centuries. The museum features unique works of art in an impressive setting across the street from the White House.
    • National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum - 8th and F Streets NW., Washington, DC. This restored historic building in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of downtown Washington, DC, houses two museums in one building. The National Portrait Gallery presents six permanent exhibitions of nearly 20,000 works ranges from paintings and sculpture to photographs and drawings. The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the home of the largest collection of American art in the world including more than 41,000 artworks, spanning more than three centuries.
    • Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center - 14390 Air & Space Museum Pkwy, Chantilly, VA. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum opened a companion facility on the property of Washington Dulles International Airport to showcase additional aircraft, spacecraft, and other artifacts. The museum has an IMAX Theater, flight simulators, a museum store, guided tours and educational programs.