In Washington DC (District of Columbia), things to do almost always include touring any of the Smithsonian Museums. Consisting of 19 museums and galleries, a National Zoological Park, and 9 research facilities, the Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum and research complex. Most museums and the National Zoo are free and open every day of the year except December 25.
Not sure where to start? The Information Center inside the Smithsonian Institution Building, also known as the Castle, offers free orientation videos and friendly guides to point you in the right direction. By attendance, the most popular Smithsonian museums are the Air and Space Museum, Natural History Museum, American History Museum and the National Zoo.
Smithsonian Natural History Museum: Explore the natural world through the museum’s extensive collection of plants, animals, photographs, videos and documents. This family favorite museum has a variety of artifacts including an 80-foot dinosaur skeleton, a life size model of a blue whale, an enormous prehistoric white shark, and a 45-and-a-half carat jewel a known as the Hope Diamond.
The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum displays the largest collection of historic planes and spacecraft, including the original plane built by the Wright brothers. Check out the Apollo 11 command module or touch a piece of moon rock. Learn about the history, science, and technology of aviation and space flight. IMAX films and planetarium shows are offered several times a day.
The Smithsonian Museums are located in the National Mall. For highlights of the National Mall’s monuments and memorials (Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson memorial), see my original post
Getting to the Smithsonian
Washington, DC has three airports for major commercial airlines: Reagan National (DCA), Dulles (IAD), and Baltimore Washington International (BWI). Reagan National (DCA) is the most convenient airport to DC.
Renting a car isn’t advised, as D.C. is regularly ranked as one of America’s worst cities for driving. Cabs are also not recommended, because traffic sucks so much.
On a positive note, Washington, DC has one of the safest and cleanest subways in the world! (Take my word for it. It’s 1st-class public transit compared to the Boston MBTA Subway – don’t do that one alone late at night.) The easiest way to get to the National Mall is by taking Metro to the Federal Triangle or Smithsonian station. Keep in mind that you’ll have to swipe your ticket at a turnstile before you enter onto the metro platform and after you leave it, so hold on to it.
An alternative to getting around on foot: bike rentals. Capital Bikeshare puts over 2500 bicycles at 300 stations across Washington, D.C., Arlington and Alexandria, VA and Montgomery County, MD. Check out a bike for the day and return it any station along your route. The first 30 minutes of each trip are free; each additional 30 minutes incurs an additional fee.
Where to Stay: Washington DC Hotels
Looking for hotels near the Smithsonian? Look no further than the George. The Hotel George is a stylish, contemporary boutique hotel in the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood, just one block from Union Station, less than a half mile from the United States Capitol and easily accessible to Washington’s leading attractions.
Possibly Washington DC’s second most prestigious address. Thomas Jefferson – epicurean, intellectual, farmer and inventor – has inspired every aspect of The Jefferson, Washington, DC. The best of Jefferson is showcased throughout the hotel, in original documents and Jeffersonian motifs showcased throughout.