The Time Out Smithsonian museums guide

Get thoroughly institutionalized—with our guide to the free Washington, DC museums on offer from the Smithsonian smorgasbord



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National Museum of Natural History

The gem at the heart of the Museum of Natural History is a state-of-the-art IMAX cinema and an 80,000sq ft brushed steel and granite Discovery Center housing a cafeteria and exhibition space. The rotunda, too, is an impressive structure, dominated by an eight-ton


National Museum of the American Indian

Dedicated to America’s colonised and historically abused indigenous people, the National Museum of the American Indian is the most recent addition to the Mall’s museum ring—a status it will lose once the National Museum of African American History Culture opens.


National Museum of American History

The continuing transformation of the National Museum of American History led to the closing of the west wing for renovation in 2012—it’s scheduled to reopen in 2015. A first-stage renovation (completed 2008) created a central atrium, a grand staircase, ten-foot


National Air & Space Museum

Air & Space tops visitors’ to-do list, year in, year out. The imposing Tennessee marble modernist block, by Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, incorporates three skylit, double-height galleries, which house missiles, aircraft and space stations. In the central Milestones


Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center (National Air & Space Museum annex)

The impressive annex to the National Air and Space Museum is home to hordes of space and aviation artifacts, including a shrine to the space shuttle Discovery, which has a hangar just about all to itself—alongside a Concorde supersonic passenger jet and the restored


National Postal Museum

Audio-visual and interactive presentations in this family-friendly museum detail the invention and history of stamps, the postal service, the role of letters as a means of communication (including letters to and from soldiers during wartime), and stamp collecting. The


National Museum of African Art

This museum’s entrance pavilion, designed by Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott, lies across the amazing Enid Haupt Garden from its twin, the Sackler. The primary focus of the collection, which opened in 1987, is ancient and contemporary work from sub-Saharan


Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden

This spectacular, aggressively modern cylindrical building by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill enlivens the predominantly neoclassical architecture lining the Mall. The purpose of the structure, which was completed in 1974, was to house self-made Wall Street millionaire


Anacostia Community Museum

Housed in an unprepossessing red-brick building at the top of a hill in the District’s historically black Anacostia neighborhood, this modest museum hosts changing thematic exhibitions spotlighting history, culture and creative expression from an African-American


Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle)

Founded by wealthy British chemist and mineralogist James Smithson (1765-1829), who—bizarrely, as he never visited the US—conferred his fortune on the United States government, the Smithsonian Institution was created by an act of Congress in 1846. Smithson

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