The Smithsonian Visitor Guide 2021: Everything you need to know

25 March, 2021by Bounce

The Smithsonian in Washington DC is less a single museum than a sprawling complex of cultural and scientific institutions. The Smithsonian was founded all the way back in 1846 and is named after its founding donor, British scientist James Smithson. It was originally known as the United States National Museum, but has since come to bear the name of its founder.

With 19 museums, 21 libraries, multiple research centers, and a zoo, the Smithsonian is one of the world’s great cultural institutions. A highlight of any trip to Washington DC, the Smithsonian receives around 30 million visitors each year, and not one of them pays a penny to be admitted to this treasure trove of scientific knowledge. You could spend days in the many different facilities of this institution and still never see everything it has to offer. Drop off your bags at a luggage storage locker near the Smithsonian and treat yourself to a day of mind-expanding exploration.

Smithsonian bag policy

The Smithsonian’s bag policy varies according to which institution you’re visiting. You’ll find the most stringent rules at the Air and Space Museum, the African American History and Culture Museum, the American History Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the American Indian Museums. At these museums, all bags are subject to search by security staff. Additionally, while there is no definite limit on the size of bags you’re allowed to bring, visitors are strongly discouraged from bringing anything they don’t need. 

To stay on the safe side, it’s best to leave your bags with a luggage storage service near the Smithsonian so you don’t have to worry about carrying too much. The Smithsonian itself offers no bag storage.

Smithsonian food policy

There is no rule against bringing food to the Smithsonian. However, you should be aware that there is nowhere where you are allowed to sit down and eat the lunch you brought with you. You should also be aware that many of the exhibits in the museums are extremely sensitive, and so food and drink are often not permitted in individual halls and galleries. For an easy visit, it’s best not to bring any food with you.

The individual institutions that make up the Smithsonian often have their own restaurants. The African American History and Culture Museum is home to the Sweet Home Cafe, which offers dishes inspired by African-American cuisine. The American History Museum has the Jazz Café and Eat At America’s Table. The zoo has three different restaurants. With the variety of food each institution offers, it might be a good idea to plan your visit depending on where you want to be at lunchtime!

Smithsonian camera policy

Photography is permitted inside the Smithsonian so long as it’s for noncommercial use. However, to protect the objects in the museums as well as the people who visit them, tripods, monopods, and selfie sticks are prohibited. If you have this kind of camera equipment with you, the best thing to do is drop it off at a suitcase storage near the Smithsonian in Washington DC so that you don’t have to surrender it to security staff. With all the Smithsonian has to offer, you’ll do plenty of walking, so it’s probably a good idea not to bring more than you need to.

Smithsonian rules

  • Smoking is not permitted anywhere on the grounds of the Smithsonian.

  • No pets are permitted, but service animals are allowed.

  • Weapons are not permitted, even to those who have valid permits. The only exception to this rule is for active law enforcement personnel.

  • Pay attention to the signs in the different museums and institutions. Often, flash photography is prohibited to protect valuable and fragile items from damage. Many items cannot be touched, so be aware of any signage around you and follow it.

Smithsonian lockers

The Smithsonian has a valid claim to being the greatest collection of museums in the entire United States and one of the best in the world. For that reason, it’s almost a must-visit when you’re in the nation’s capital. But before you go, it’s important to be aware of the rules around bags. The Smithsonian does not offer bag storage, so anything you bring will have to be carried around with you while you explore the exhibits. 

The best thing to do is travel light by dropping off your bags at a bag storage near the Smithsonian so you can travel light. Nothing ruins a trip faster than carrying more than you need to, so travel light and see more of what this wonderful institution has to offer.

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