Smithsonian Castle pulls double duty

Washington, D.C., is home to the largest museum complex in the world. As GW students, we have at our fingertips what others travel hundreds of miles to see.

While the museums can provide hours of enjoyment, the sheer number of them can be overwhelming. Getting started is often the hardest part. Luckily there is a little known resource that can be of some help.

A great way to get started and to make the most of what the Smithsonian museums have to offer is to visit the Smithsonian Castle. Located on Jefferson Drive, right on the Mall, the Castle is hard to miss. The red-sandstone, Norman-style building houses the Smithsonian information center. Inside the Castle, you will find computer kiosks, lighted and relief maps of the Mall and a 15-minute film designed to help you get acquainted with what the museum system has to offer. The Castle also contains the Smithsonian crypt and some brief information on how the Smithsonian Institution was founded.

The information center is only one of the Castle’s draws. The Smithsonian Castle itself is also an attraction. Built in l855 by the New York architect James Renwick Jr., the Smithsonian Castle was the first Smithsonian museum in D.C. The architecture of the Castle is charming and a refreshing contrast to all the neoclassical architecture in the city. You can catch a glimpse of the inside of the building while gathering information on the other museums, but, unfortunately, tours of the Castle are only offered to members of the Smithsonian Institution.

Just outside the castle is a Victorian style garden that offers an exhibition of its own. “Under the Sun: An Outdoor Exhibition of Light” continues through Sept. 6. The small but interesting exhibit on solar energy is scattered throughout the garden. As you stroll through the garden, you will be walking between two intriguing Smithsonians – The Sackler Gallery of Art and the National Gallery of African-American Art.

From the Castle, you easily can walk to 10 of the 13 Smithsonian museums. The whole visit to the Castle will take less than half an hour, but it will put you in a good position to start navigating the rest of the Smithsonian museums.

Although you could find the information about the Smithsonians on the Internet, taking the time to stop by the Castle offers many advantages. It is a nice experience and literally brings you one step closer to actually doing and seeing the things that are usually just talked about.

Whether you discover museums you never knew existed, new exhibits at the museums you love or simply narrow down your choices, a visit to the Smithsonian Castle is the perfect way to start your travels through the maze of Smithsonians.

The Smithsonian Castle is located at 1100 Jefferson Dr., SW. It is open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.

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