Make the Smithsonian Visitor Center your first stop when visiting Washington, D.C. Located in our signature building, the Smithsonian Castle; the Center opens daily at 8:30 a.m., before our other museums open. View highlights from all of our museums and the zoo, learn some Smithsonian history, enjoy the Castle Café, and consult with our in-house experts about what to see and do.
Know Before You Go: Guidelines for Visiting
The safety of the Smithsonian's visitors, volunteers, staff, and collections is of the highest importance. As the nation's most beloved collection of museums and galleries, we work hard every day to ensure the preservation of our country's treasures for the enjoyment of generations to come.
The following safety measures are in place to protect the health of our visitors, staff, and volunteers based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local governments. We ask that all visitors, including those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, follow these safety measures to protect everyone’s health.
Please note that we may adjust our safety guidelines based on changing CDC COVID-19 Community Levels. We encourage visitors to regularly check our website before their visit for the latest guidelines. During this time, we are implementing the following safety measures:
If Sick, Stay Home
We are asking all visitors who are sick or feel unwell to please stay home.
Visitors are encouraged to wash and sanitize hands frequently during their visit. Hand-sanitizing stations will be available throughout our facilities.
As of March 11, masks are not required to visit Smithsonian museums or the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and Virginia.
While it will not be required, all visitors who feel more comfortable wearing a face mask during their visit are encouraged to do so.
The Smithsonian welcomes millions of visitors each year. We encourage visitors to maintain a safe social distance of six feet or more between households and groups when possible, but our museums get crowded, especially during peak visitation times. Visitors who wish to avoid crowds are encouraged to plan their visit during weekdays.
New York City
As of July 15, visitors ages 2 and older are required to wear a mask to visit the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City.
Proof of Vaccination
Visitors are not required* to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to visit.
*Special events and some after-hours programming may require guests to provide proof of vaccination. Visit the hosting museum’s website for details.
When you visit any of the Smithsonian's buildings you will discover that we have security measures to ensure your safety and the safety of the objects contained within. At many of our museums, you'll be greeted upon entry by one of our security personnel who will conduct a thorough hand-check of all bags, briefcases, purses, and containers.
Visitors are required to walk through a metal detector at the following museums:
- Air and Space Museum and its Udvar-Hazy Center (DC and VA)
- African American History and Culture Museum
- American History Museum
- Natural History Museum
- National Postal Museum
- American Indian Museums (DC and NY)
Those who are unable to go through the metal detector will be hand-screened with an electronic wand by security personnel. Bag checks will be conducted by hand or via an X-ray machine.
We ask for your patience, cooperation, and assistance in keeping America's treasures safe.
We encourage you to limit the number of personal belongings and bags you bring into our facilities as they will be subject to a thorough search. Limiting the items you bring will increase your speed through security checkpoints, helping us all maintain a safe social distance. Please note that we do not offer coat or bag storage. Visitors should not leave personal belongings unattended.
No accommodations are available for eating bag lunches within the museums.
Many items are prohibited at all Smithsonian museums. Do not bring sharp items into the museums such as knives (including pocket or "Swiss Army" style knives), screwdrivers, scissors, etc. Other items not permitted include firearms, pepper spray, and Mace.
The Smithsonian permits still and video photography for noncommercial use only in its museums and exhibitions, unless otherwise posted.
For the safety of our visitors and collections, the Smithsonian prohibits the use of tripods, monopods, selfie sticks or similar devices in our museums and gardens. This is a preventive measure to protect visitors and objects, especially during crowded conditions. We encourage museum visitors to take selfies and share their experiences—and leave the selfie sticks in their bags.
Working members of the media who need to use a tripod or monopod must obtain permission from the museum's Public Affairs Office and must be escorted by a museum staff member while in the building or garden.
Smoking is prohibited in all Smithsonian facilities.
Service animals are welcome in the museums and the National Zoo. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. Pets are not permitted.
Visitation policies at the Smithsonian Institution are designed to protect visitors and staff as well as secure and preserve the collections, facilities, and historic buildings entrusted to the Smithsonian's care.
While on Smithsonian premises NO VISITOR SHALL:
- Carry firearms, other dangerous or deadly weapons, or explosives, either openly or concealed on the premises. The prohibition on firearms applies to all visitors, including those with firearm permits, but not to active law enforcement personnel authorized to carry firearms.
- Display or carry placards, signs, or banners
- Destroy, damage, or remove property
- Climb upon any part of a building
- Use loud, abusive, or otherwise improper language
- Loiter, sleep, or participate in unwarranted assemblies
- Create any hazard to persons or things
- Perform obscene or indecent acts
- Engage in disorderly conduct
- Use, possess, or sell illegal drugs
- Bring dogs or other animals, other than service animals
- Take photographs for advertising or any other commercial purpose
- Solicit for commercial or charitable purposes or distribute advertisements, pamphlets, handbills, and flyers
In addition to the above, while on Zoo premises, NO VISITOR SHALL:
- Kill, injure, or disturb any exhibit or research animal by any means except to secure personal safety
- Pet, attempt to pet, handle, move, or remove exhibit or research animals
- Feed exhibit or research animals, except in strict accordance with authorized signs
- Catch, attempt to catch, trap, remove, or kill any free roaming animals inhabiting the premises
- Go over, under, between, or otherwise cross any guardrail, fence, moat, wall, or any other safety barrier
- Seat, stand, or hold children over any safety barrier
- Throw or toss rocks, or any other missiles into, from, or while on premises
- Bring strollers, baby carriages, or other conveyances, except wheel chairs, into exhibit buildings and public restrooms
- Engage in ball games, or any athletic activity, except in places as may be officially designated for such purposes
- Smoke or carry lighted cigarettes, cigars, or pipes into exhibit buildings, or to have a fire of any kind on the premises
- Damage, deface, pick, or remove any herb, shrub, bush, tree, or turf, or portion thereof
Visitors who violate these rules may be subject to fine or imprisonment. The complete Smithsonian buildings and grounds regulations can be found in Title 36 of Code of Federal Regulations, parts 504 and 520 (National Zoo).