Visiting the Smithsonian Institution—the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex—is one of the top things to do while in Washington DC. It is estimated that the Institution holds around 155 million objects, works of art, and specimens throughout its facilities. However, with such an expansive collection of museums and other sites of interest, it can be difficult to know where to start. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the different Smithsonian Museums in Washington DC.
In 1826, a British scientist named James Smithson drew up his will that named his nephew—Henry James Hungerford—as beneficiary. Smithson stated that if his nephew died without any heirs—as he did shortly after in 1835—the estate would go to the United States to found “at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” After several years of court dealings, President James K. Polk established the Smithsonian Institution by signing an Act of Congress on August 10th, 1846.
How Many Smithsonian Museums Are There?
There are technically 19 museums and the National Zoological Park that make up the Smithsonian Institution. Nearly all of these are located in Washington DC, save for 3 of the museums—2 that are in New York City, and 1 in Virginia. Most of the museums in DC are located around the National Mall.
Here is a list of all the Smithsonian museums located in Washington DC:
- Anacostia Community Museum
- Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
- Arts and Industries Building
- Freer Gallery of Art
- Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
- National Air and Space Museum
- National Museum of African American History and Culture
- National Museum of African Art
- National Museum of American History
- National Museum of the American Indian
- National Museum of Natural History
- National Portrait Gallery
- National Postal Museum
- Renwick Gallery
- Smithsonian American Art Museum
- Smithsonian Institution Building (“Castle”)
The 2 Smithsonian museums in New York City include:
- Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
- National Museum of the American Indian’s George Gustav Heye Center
And the final museum located in Virginia:
- National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (Chantilly, Virginia)
What Are the Hours and Admission Like?
Admission is free for all museums and the National Zoo, except for the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York. The hours vary based on the specific museum, so it is best to check the Smithsonian’s website for the most up-to-date information. This is especially true as hours are frequently changing as the museums continue their reopening process after closing earlier in the pandemic.
What Other Facilities Are There?
The Smithsonian Institution is not just made up of museums, but also consists of many different research facilities located all around the United States, and even in other countries. These facilities are reserved for scientists and researchers, and are not open to the public. They include
- Archives of American Art
- The Museum Conservation Institute in Suitland, Maryland
- The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in the Blue Ridge Mountains (Front Royal, Virginia)
- The Smithsonian Marine Station in Fort Pierce, Florida
- The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and partnered with the Harvard College Observatory in the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. There are also field facilities in Arizona and Hawaii for ground-based astronomy.
- Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland
- Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute includes various facilities in the Republic of Panama.
- The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives
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