The first building of Smithsonian Institution was the Castle constructed in 1855 in neo-Gothic style. The Smithsonian Castle used to house a gallery, a permanent collection devoted to natural history, a laboratory, and the apartment of the first secretary of Smithsonian Institution, Joseph Henry. His statue resides in front of the Smithsonian Institution, facing the National Mall.
Even as the Victorian style exterior of the Smithsonian Castle indicates a bygone period, it is now home to a visitor center featuring interactive 3D maps that pinpoint and detail the 17 properties of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, comprising museums, the National Zoo, and the galleries. Since most of the Smithsonian museums reside nearby the National Mall, visitors can afford to map out a museum-hopping experience when on tours in Washington DC. It helps that admission to Smithsonian’s museums are free of cost; the castle serves a gateway to the museums along the National Mall.
The Smithsonian Institution has a Docent Program, which you can take advantage of instead of visiting the Smithsonian museums with printed guides supplied by the volunteers at the visitor center. There are also shops for snacks and coffee and an open seating area that provides accesses to free Wi-Fi in front of the Institution; this serves as an ideal spot for refreshments and planning a trip to the Smithsonian Museums nearby.
If you are travelling with kids, a visit to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History is worth considering for its gallery housing arthropods, including ants, crabs, spiders, and some curious insects. On the other hand, if your area of interest lies in contemporary artworks, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is the place to be when on Washington DC tours.
Prior to starting the museum hopping, do check out what is housed inside the Smithsonian Castle. One of its startling highlights is the crypt of James Smithson, who was Smithsonian Institute’s benefactor or founding donor. Although he passed away in Genoa and was buried in that Italian region during early 1900’s, his mortal remains got reinterred inside a marble crypt in a room of the Castle that resembles a chapel. The visitors can pay a tribute to him there, or by paying a trip to the Smithsonian museums donated by him when on Washington DC tours.