The word “castle” really is the right appellation for the Smithsonian Institution’s Visitor Center. Built in 1855, the Norman-style red sandstone structure features 9 towers and many double-pointed arch windows. It is the oldest building on the National Mall and its medieval architecture mimics that of English colleges. The castle has served a number of functions since its debut, but today operates primarily as the Smithsonian Institution’s information center and administration building.
Set off by the beautifully landscaped Enid Haupt Garden, the castle is eye-catching, and that’s a good thing, since you may want to stop here first in preparation for a day of touring on the Mall. The Center opens at 8:30am, before the museums, and so does its cafe, so you can sip on a cup of coffee and nibble on a breakfast pastry as you plot your itinerary. Then stop by the information desk where staff can answer your questions and provide brochures. The castle is equipped with Wi-Fi.
Metro: Smithsonian on the Silver, Blue and Orange Lines. Mall exit.