The Smithsonian Institute is a grouping of 19 museums and galleries, a garden, and even a zoo, located in Washington D.C. It features more than 154 million artifacts, worth more than $1 billion USD, earning it the affectionate nickname of “the nation’s attic.” A number of the museums were featured in the 2006 film starring Robin Williams and Ben Stiller.
The total number of visitors/tourists to these sites per year are over 22 million, with the most popular being the National Museum of Natural History. With 4.2 million visitors in 2019, the Natural History museum alone is one of the top-ten visited museums in the entire world.
While you could easily spend days (or even weeks!) exploring the museums and galleries scattered around Washington, if you only have one day to visit the Institute, the most popular museums are: Natural History, American History, African American, Air and Space, and the American Indian. Because you cannot possibly see all of the artifacts, do your research in advance to make sure you see the items that are of most significance to your interests.
Some of the more famous artifacts on the must-see list might include George Washington’s 1789 uniform, the Hope Diamond, the Wright Flyer, Julia Child’s kitchen, a moon rock, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat (the one he wore when assassinated), and Judy Garland’s slippers from the Wizard of Oz.
If you are interested in gardens, the Botanic Garden, a conservatory from the 1930s, features a tropical escape from the busy capital. The Gallery of Art houses famous artists ranging from Leonardo da Vinci, Vermeer, and Picasso.
All of the Smithsonian’s sites in D.C. are completely free to visit, and some even offer free tours – be sure to check out the one at the Air and Space museum – though you can schedule a private tour for a cost. Visiting the museums on week-days in the mid-afternoon is the best way to avoid lineups.