Happy Travel Tuesday on a Wednesday my sweet friends! I’m so sorry this didn’t go up yesterday like I had planned. My Tuesday was kind of crazy. While we were up finishing up errands before we picked Trev’s car up from the shop (they ended up having to keep it overnight because they didn’t have the right kind of tire) we noticed my car start shaking. UGH. When it rains it pours am I right? Thank goodness I’m home and it’s going to a shop that we trust to get fixed! Then I had a 4 hour drive North which I was so worried the entire time my car was going to just completely fall apart. (Which I’m probably be overdramatic.) By the time I got home and settled in, I was exhausted and passed out. Anyways….
We’re back in DC today, talking about arguably one of the most famous sights to see… The Smithsonian! For 165 years, The Smithsonian has been a favorite amongst the tourists in DC. From dinosaurs and Dorthy’s ruby slippers, to Abe Lincoln’s hat and the Wright Brother’s plane, this place will leave you absolutely awe struck. Or breathless. Depending on if you follow these tips or not. 😉
Take from someone who learned the hard way… you should absolutely, positively NOT try to see the Smithsonian in one day. Because you won’t be able to enjoy it and you’ll literally look like this when you finally hop back on the Metro that night…
You know how you go up into your grandparent’s attic to grab them their Christmas lights, and end up spending 5 hours looking through all their cool, old, stuff? Well… the Smithsonian isn’t called America’s Attic for nothin’. It’s comprised of 19 museums (10 on the national mall in DC) and galleries and even a zoo. It’s filled with over 137 million artifacts, objects and animals. It’s the biggest, best version of an attic that you could ever imagine.
So… you can see why I’m telling you, don’t try to see it all in a day. I know. You’re on vacation, and you only have a limited amount of time in the area. So how exactly do you tackle The Smithsonian? Grab your coffee… this post is about to be hella long!
First things first. Learn about each museum. (For the purpose of this post, we’re only going to be covering the museums along the national mall, except for the National Zoo, of course! Cuz everyone needs some pandas in their life.)
Ready for this? This list is HUGE.
The Castle… or The Smithsonian Institution Building. The very first building in the Smithsonian, The Castle serves at the visitor’s center. This is where you go if you have zero idea about what you want to see, you should go. They have people and interactive displays there to help you maximize your time at The Smithsonian.
National Museum of American History. Americana at it’s finest. See the flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner, Dorthy’s Ruby Slippers, George Washington’s Uniform, Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves, and the first Apple computer.
National Museum of Natural History. Dinosaurs and The Hope Diamond. ‘Nuff said. Want to feel like you’re in Night at the Museum?! This is the place to do it. (Pretty positive I said “ME NO DUM DUM GIVE ME GUM GUM ” to Trev at least 40 times while we were here! HAHA)
National Museum of African American History and Culture. Devoted exclusively to African American history, culture, life and art. I didn’t have a chance to see this one, but I hear it’s incredible!!
National Museum of The American Indian. The home of the most diverse collection of Native American art and historical objects. I’d have loved to visit this one (I’m part Native American if you didn’t know!) but we simply didn’t have time. However, I saw the outside of it, and this building is STUNNING.
National Portrait Gallery. See portraits of America’s heroes, villains, actors, visionaries, and of course our presidents, whose lives tell our story as Americans.
National Museum of African Art. Filled with traditional and contemporary art from the entire continent of Africa.
Freer / Sackler, The Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art. These are two separate museums showcasing the art of Asia.
National Postal Museum. Bet you can’t guess what you’ll find here! This one is devoted to the history of the Postal Service and Stamp Collecting. So, if you collect stamps, you’ll love this one!
National Air and Space Museum. Planes? Check. Spaceships? Check. Missiles? Check. Rockets? Check. Everything a 27 year old man who went to space camp as a child (*cough*Trevor*cough) could ever dream of? Check. This place is cool. And you really shouldn’t miss it!
Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Here you’ll find a gallery devoted to showing the public the craft behind contemporary art, and a celebration of artists exploring traditional and innovative approaches to their materials
Smithsonian American Art Museum. The very first collection celebrating great works of American Art.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. International and com temporary art highlighting major artists and trends.
Smithsonian Gardens. Big and beautiful.
National Zoo. The best zoo I’ve ever been to. No joke. The layout is awesome. It’s easy to navigate. And… THEY HAVE PANDAS.
Dang. That took for freakin’ ever. There’s so many places to visit! Now that you know a little bit about each, I’d pick your top four or five that you want to see. It will be hard… I know!
My choices? The National Zoo, The National Museum of American History, The National Museum of Natural History and The National Air and Space Museum.
These four are the most popular choices by most tourists for a reason. They’re all really, really, really great.
The National Zoo sits on 163 acres in the heart of Washington DC’s Rock Creek Park. More than 1,500 animals (300 species) call this place home. The Zoo effortlessly instills each visitor with a passion for a lifelong commitment to conservation through engaging experiences not only with the animals but the people working to save them. It is a truly unique experience, and you will smile the entire time. You know how sometimes at zoos, you feel sad for the animals because they’re stuck there? That isn’t how you feel here. Here, the animals seem happy. They’re taken care of, loved, and saved.
The National Museum of American History was one of my favorite things I saw while I was in DC. The history surrounding you is absolutely surreal. I mean, standing in front of the flag (which is gigantic by the way) that inspired the national anthem?! Try not feeling more patriotic than someone dressed as Uncle Sam watching the fireworks on the 4th of July while eating apple pie and listening to the baseball game. Yeah. It’s THAT American. In fact, the entire museum makes you feel this way. One of my favorite exhibits? The First Ladies… where you’ll more than two dozen dresses worn by your favorite first ladies. I mean… Jackie O’s dress right in front of me? You KNOW I started at it for a solid 5 minutes before Trev made me move on. (He didn’t love the dresses as much as I did! HAHA) The coolest thing about this museum is The American Stories exhibit, where you’ll find everything from Apolo Ohno’s speed skates from the 2002 Winter Olympics to a signed baseball from the 1937 All-Star Game. This is also where you find Dorthy’s Ruby Slippers! (PS… they are going off display on the 23rd of this month for a significant period of time. So if you want to see them, get there ASAP!)
The National Museum of Natural History. I think that this may have been my favorite of the Smithsonian museums! I mean… DINOSAURS! Need I say more? Actually, I better because The National Fossil Hall is actually closed for renovations until 2019. However, you can still see the dinosaurs… just in a temporary exhibit on the second floor. Other exhibits I loved here? The Hope Diamond and all the other gems in the Harry Winston Gallery. My goodness. That is the second most beautiful diamond I’ve ever seen! (The first has a permanent home on my left finger!) You seriously won’t believe just how massive this diamond is until you see it in person. I could have spent hours in this exhibit, choosing exactly what set of jewelry I’d insist on buying when I became super super rich, but it was packed and there was so much else to see! The Human Origins hall is crazy cool, and anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for anything from Ancient Egypt… so I of course loved the mummies! The ocean exhibit is also really neat. I mean honestly, this whole place is amazing!
And last, but certainly not least…
The National Air and Space Museum. Okay guys… this place is cool. But, it’s not as cool as the Natural History Museum, IMO. It’s neat because there is some seriously cool history in his place (Like the Spirit of St. Louis and the The Wright Brother’s Flyer). I really love all things space, and wish there had been a bigger “space” exhibit while we were there. Well my wish came true! A brand new exhibit is coming this year called Destination Moon and y’all. It looks freakin’ cool.
Now that we’ve covered that, I’m going to give you my top 10 tips for visiting the Smithsonian.
10 Tips for Visiting The Smithsonian
- Choose Your Museums. I mentioned this above, but it’s my number one tip. Decide what you want to learn about most, and plan to see those 4 or 5 museums throughout your trip.
- Come up with a plan. After you choose your museums. You need to come up with a plan on how you’re going to see them. Then you need to stick to it… especially if you’re planning to see the four I mentioned. I mean, approximately 5.6 million have visited the various museums of The Smithsonian since January. The best plan I can give you? Set two days aside for the Smithsonian, and spend half a day at each. This still won’t seem like enough time, but it should give you plenty of time to see most of what you wanted to see at each place.
- Arrive Early. Lines start forming outside each museum before they open. Remember, they are completely free… so get up early, grab some coffee, and spend a morning on the National Mall near your first choice of museum. This way, as soon as you see a line start forming, you can head over and hop in it.
- Bring your walking shoes. Be prepared to walk. A lot. You walk a lot in general in DC, however, you’re going to walk a lot between museums, and also while you walk through them.
- Download the App. It’s full of information and maps that will help you navigate your way through the museums.
- Don’t try to drive. Driving/parking in DC is an actual nightmare. Save yourself some stress and take the metro. Check each website for your museum of choice for the recommend Metro stop, however, in general, The Federal Triangle, Smithsonian, Foggy Bottom (near the Lincoln Memorial) and Capitol South (next to the Capitol) stations will probably be your best bet! If you’re going to the Zoo, you’ll want to get off at Woodley Park or Cleveland South. Either way, you’re going to have to walk a little bit to get there. And it’s kind of a long walk.
- Check the hours. Museums open at 10 am every day of the year (except for Christmas). But, some of the more popular museums have extended hours at different times during the year. Sometimes going later to the museums helps to avoid the crowds.
- Be ready for Security Checks. All the museums have airport style security checks. If you’re traveling with little ones that have never been through this before, make sure you let them know ahead of time what to expect so they aren’t afraid.
- Bring Cash. While the entrance to the museum is free, you will find things inside that you may want to try that have a small fee. The gift shops are also really great! Also, know that you can’t bring your own food into the museums to eat, and while there are seriously amazing lunch spots across DC, while you’re seeing the museums, the food courts will probably be the easiest. (For example, the Air and Space foodcourt is home to McDons, Boston Market, and Donato’s Pizza.)
- Don’t try to do too much. Seriously, this is the best piece of advice I can give you. Go in knowing you probably won’t see everything you were hoping to. Make sure you chose the things that you want to see most, and see those first, before exploring the rest of the museum. And when you’re tired, take a seat and rest. The last thing you need (especially in the summertime DC heat) is ending up with Heat Exhaustion.
My goodness you guys. This is me after writing all that…
I really hope this guide helps you. Honestly, these are all things that I would have loved to know before we headed out to visit the museums. For more information on all the museums click here.
What are your must sees at The Smithsonian? Did I miss any of your favorites?
Have a fantastic Wednesday loves!
PS… I can’t NOT share this photo of Trev and I as early humans! One of the interactive exhibits at the Natural History Museum was to get your picture taken and it would transform you! Hahahahaha
*Feature photo from The Smithsonian’s Website.
7 thoughts on “Guide to The Smithsonian: Tips and Tricks for making the most of your time at these amazing museums!”
All of the museums have a street side entrance as well as a mall side entrance. Lines can be hundreds deep on the mall side and if you walk around to the street side you can usually walk right in and get through the security checks. Then you can be touring while everybody is still in line on the mall!
Oh wow! This is SUCH a great tip!! Thank you for sharing. I’ll have to remember this next time I am in DC!