The 11-ton African Bush Elephant rears its trunk in the beaux-arts building’s magnificent three-story Rotunda.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., maintains an astonishing collection of more than 145 million specimens — ranging from hundreds of butterflies flitting around their tropical Pavilion to the brilliant blue Hope Diamond, rotating behind three inches of bullet-proof glass in the Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals.
Its building features one of the city’s most elegant museum interiors, with marble floors and columns, balustraded balconies, and semi-circular clerestory windows. Lining the Museum’s perimeter are an Urban Bird Habitat and a Pollinator Garden, which feature trees, flowers, and a sculpture of the head of a triceratops.
More than 4 million people visited the Museum in 2019, the last calendar year before lockdown. I’ve been many times over the years, with friends and family, and I could still explore more.
Like most Smithsonian venues, the National Museum of Natural History is located on the National Mall. There are lots of suitable hotels within walking distance:
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This luxury Hilton property took over the Old Post Office Pavilion building that once housed the Trump International Hotel. It boasts spacious rooms, excellent service, and a spectacular lobby bar displaying an enviable collection of crystal decanters. The closest Metro stop is Federal Triangle on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. The hotel is a four- to five-minute walk from the National Museum of Natural History. It is also within a mile of eight other open Smithsonian museums on the Mall.
This Preferred boutique hotel occupies one of the few remaining Romanesque Revival buildings in Washington. Its Café Riggs is a Michelin restaurant. The hotel used to house a leading bank, and 23 presidents are known to have conducted business there. The closest Metro stop is Gallery Place on the Red, Yellow, and Green lines. The hotel is a five- to ten-minute walk from the National Museum of Natural History. It is also close to Ford’s Theater, where you can see a show, take a guided tour, and view the flag-draped (no-longer-used) Presidential Box.
This historic IHG property occupies a 19th-century building that once housed the General Post Office. It features high ceilings, grand hallways, and a stunning lobby with complementary coffee in the morning and wine in the evening. The closest Metro station is Gallery Place. It is a five- to ten-minute walk to the National Museum of Natural History. It is also catty-cornered from the Capital One Arena.
This business hotel boasts spacious rooms and several restaurants. The closest Metro stop is Metro Center. The hotel is a 10- to 15-minute walk from the National Museum of Natural History. It is also within a mile of several art museums, including the National Gallery of Art.
This upscale hotel sits in L’Enfant Plaza, midway between the National Mall and the Wharf, a vibrant waterfront strip teeming with lots of restaurants and shops. The building formerly housed the Loews L’Enfant Plaza Hotel (where my parents used to stay when they came to visit me in college). The closest Metro station is L’Enfant Plaza on the Yellow, Blue, Orange, Green, and Silver lines. It is a five- to ten-minute walk to the National Museum of Natural History. It is also steps away from the International Spy Museum.
This midscale IHG property has two restaurants, a spacious lobby, and a roof-top pool and bar. The closest Metro stop is L’Enfant Plaza. It is a five- to ten-minute walk to the National Museum of Natural History.
This extended-stay hotel offers spacious rooms with full kitchens, a comfortable lobby with a gas fireplace, and complementary breakfast buffet daily and social receptions three nights a week. The closest Metro station is Federal Center SW on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. The hotel is about a 15-minute walk to the National Museum of Natural History.
This select-service hotel offers spacious rooms, complementary breakfast, and a roof-top bar. The closest Metro station is Federal Center. It is a 10- to 15-minute walk to the National Museum of Natural History.
What to Know before You Go
to the Smithsonian’s
National Museum of Natural History
The National Museum of Natural History is located at 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., midway between the U.S. Capitol building and the Washington Monument. The closest Metro stops are Smithsonian and Federal Triangle on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. Parking on the National Mall is limited, and I don’t recommend trying. I usually ride-share.
As a Smithsonian venue, the Museum is free of charge to explore, but tickets are required for the Butterfly Pavilion.
There are four gift shops selling everything from stuffed sloths to genuine jewelry. The large Atrium Café offers an over-priced buffet of mediocre, lukewarm dishes like burgers and barbecue, as well as wine, beer, and whiskey. The smaller cafeteria-style Ocean Terrace Café offers more suitably room-temperature sandwiches and grain bowls.
The Museum can be very crowded, especially during spring and summer. Unfortunately, the beautiful building’s acoustics are terrible, magnifying the enthusiasm of spirited young naturalists on field trips or school breaks. Fortunately, if the crowds and their cacophony become unbearable, there are plenty of other sites to see within walking distance.
Wear loose layers and comfortable walking shoes. Limited locker storage is available on the ground floor. Allow two to four hours.
I fell in love with travel on a trip to Mexico when I was nine years old. Since then, I’ve travelled the globe from Israel to El Salvador. I’ve skied the Swiss Alps and hiked national parks like Acadia, Zion, Shenandoah, and Virgin Islands. I’ve marvelled at masterpieces in the Prado, the Uffizi, the Huntington, and the National Gallery of Art. I’ve stayed in a cabin on a mountaintop in Norway and on a kibbutz along the Sea of Galilee, and been kicked out of the Ritz at the Place Vendôme. I’ve taken cooking classes from New England to the Caribbean, and watched a chef prepare traditional shakshuka in the kitchen of his restaurant in Tel Aviv. I weave historical research and my personal experiences together in writing this blog. I hope you find it helpful. Read more …