|Capitol Hill |
Capitol Hill plays a central role in the country's political life, as two of the three branches of the federal government - the legislative and the judicial - are located here. Washington D.C.'s layout centers on Capitol Hill, with the city's four quadrants starting at the Capitol Building.
• Capitol Building. (202) 225-6827. Metro: Union Station on the Red Line; Capitol South on the Blue or Orange Lines. The Capitol Building is filled with impressive paintings, statues and historical exhibits. The Capitol is open to guided tours only, M-Sa 9am-4:30pm. Tours can be joined by getting a free, first-come, first-served ticket from the Capitol Guide Service Kiosk located near First St SE, across from the United States Botanic Garden. Ticket distribution begins at 9am. Generally you will have to pick up a ticket and come back at a later time. It is quite a rigmaroles getting in but at least the staff are helpful at the many steps along the way. Things may be more efficient when the new visitor center is completed in late 2006. This is one place very strict about what you can and can't take in (prohibited items ). At the museums you can get away with food in your bags (despite what the signs say) but not here. If you have food it will have to be dumped. If that's a problem, nip over to a place such as the Library of Congress where you can deposit your bag and come back.
• Supreme Court. First St & Maryland Ave NE. Metro: Union Station on the Red Line; Capitol South on the Blue or Orange Lines. M-F 9am-4:30pm.
• Library of Congress - Jefferson Building. 10 First St SE, (202) 707-8000. Metro: Capitol South on the Blue or Orange Lines. It is worth a visit just to see the very elaborate and beautiful interior decoration. There are a number of rotating exhibitions from the Library's vast collection on display at any one time, as is a Gutenberg Bible. Free admission.
• Folger Shakespeare Library. M-Sa 10am-4pm. Houses the world's largest Shakespeare collection and has a replica of Shakespeare's Globe theatre.
• Union Station. Metro: Union Station on the Red Line. Not just a train station or metro stop, the Beaux Arts architecture of the 1908 building makes it worth a look. Contains shops, restaurants and a cinema. A large monument to Christopher Columbus stands outside the building.
• National Postal Museum. 2 Massachusetts Ave NE (just west of Union Station), (202) 357-2700. Metro: Union Station on the Red Line. Every day except 25 Dec 10am-5:30pm. Exhibitions of how mail has been delivered throughout history, rare stamps, and other ways that the mail shapes culture. Free admission.
The National Mall is not a shopping center but rather a long grassy expanse stretching from Capitol Hill westward to the Potomac River. The Mall's central location and the many famous museums and monuments which surround it make the Mall a popular destination. If you want an "only in Washington" moment, take the Metro to the Smithsonian stop and walk out of the National Mall exit. The view is memorable.
"The Smithsonian" is not a single museum; there are 18 Smithsonian museums, many of which are located on the Mall. Museums run by the Smithsonian Institution are free of charge and their gift shops do not have the 6.5% DC tax levied on items sold.
From east to west along Constitution Avenue (the north side of the Mall)
• National Gallery of Art. M-Sa 10am-5pm, Su 11am-6pm. The east building of this museum focuses on modern art, while the west building showcases more traditional, mostly European, paintings and sculptures. The two buildings are connected by an underground walkway which has a store and a restaurant. Free admission, and unlike most art museums, flash photography is allowed.
• National Archives. Metro: Archives-Navy Memorial via the Green and Yellow Lines. Rotunda and exhibit hall open every day except 25 December; 10am-5:30pm (day after Labor Day through March 31), 10am-7pm (April 1 through the Friday before Memorial Day weekend), 10am-9pm (Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day). In summer you can go in the evening and avoid the long queue (everything else in town is closed then anyway). See the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and other displays. Gift shop. Free admission.
• National Museum of Natural History. Open every day except 25 Dec. Regular hours 10am-5:30pm, summer (May 26 to Sept 4) 10am-7:30pm. This Smithsonian museum presents a variety of displays including world cultures, meteorites and mineral samples. It traces the evolution of life from its beginnings through fossil plants, dinosaurs and mammals. Be sure to see the Hope Diamond, the largest blue diamond in the world.
• National Museum of American History. Open every day except 25 Dec. Regular hours 10am-5:30pm, summer 10am-6:30pm. A Smithsonian museum, it covers topics ranging from technology to social and political history.
• Washington Monument. 9am-4:45pm. The view from the 550 foot Washington Monument is great on a clear day, allowing you to see up and down the Mall, and out as far as the Shenandoah Mountains. Entrance is by timed ticket, which are distributed on a first come first served basis, and are available free from a National Park Service booth on 15th Street near the monument. It's worth stopping off early in the day (opens at 8:30am) and collecting your tickets before visiting a museum or three, and then coming back later. Better still, book your ticket online in advance at the NPS Reservation Center . If you can't get tickets or don't want to spend the time, you can get a similar panoramic view of DC with no wait at the Old Post Office Tower (see below), just a block from the Mall.
• Corcoran Museum of Art. W, F-M 10am-5pm, Th 10am-9pm. The oldest art gallery in the American capital. $6.75 individual admission, $4.75 seniors, $3 students with ID, $12 families with young children (donation on M and Th after 5pm).
• National World War II Memorial. Opened in 2004.
• Reflecting Pool. The view from the Lincoln Memorial, with the Reflecting Pool in the foreground and the Washington Memorial just behind, is famous and not to be missed.
• Vietnam Veterans Memorial. There are three sections to this memorial, all in close proximity: a black marble wall engraved with the names of the deceased and missing of the Vietnam War; a statue of a trio of soldiers; the Vietnam Women's Memorial.
• Lincoln Memorial. This is an impressive monument in a commanding location at the end of the Mall.
From east to west along Independence Avenue (the south side of the Mall)
• US Botanic Garden. Conservatory open 10am-5pm. Bartholdi Park, south of the conservatory, is open dawn to dusk.
• National Museum of the American Indian. The newest of the Smithsonian museums displays the cultural traditions of the Native peoples of North, Central and South America. It focuses on 20th century and present day culture much more than pre-European and colonial periods. Free admission, but visitors who don't want to wait in line can obtain a free same-day timed entry pass at the museum's east entrance, or they can purchase a pass in advance by calling 1-866-400-NMAI.
• National Air & Space Museum. Every day except 25 Dec 10am-5:30pm. The most-visited museum in the world, this impressive repository covers the history of human flight, rocketry and space flight. It contains thousands of impressive artifacts, including the Wrights' 1903 Flyer, Apollo 11's command module Columbia and the simulated bridge of an aircraft carrier. Free.
There is also a huge companion museum to the Air & Space Museum called the The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center which is located near Dulles Airport. It houses the Enola Gay and the Enterprise space shuttle, among other planes and vehicles. There is a frequent shuttle bus between the main Air & Space Museum and the Udvar-Hazy Center.
• Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden. Museum 10am-5:30pm; Sculpture garden 7:30am-dusk. International modern and contemporary art.
• Smithsonian Castle. 8:30am-5:30pm. This distinctive brick-red structure was the original Smithsonian museum. The building now presents an overview of the Smithsonian system as well as occasional exhibitions.
• National Museum of African Art. Presents the diversity of African art. The Freer and Sackler Galleries can also be accessed through this museum.
• Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Every day except 25 Dec 10am-5:30pm. These linked Smithsonian museums feature Asian art. There is also an underground passage to the National Museum of African Art.
• United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Metro: Smithsonian via the Blue and Orange Lines. Every day except 13 Oct and 25 Dec 10am-5:30pm. Entrance is by free timed ticket on a first come, first served basis. Films, audio testimonies and historical exhibits tell about the Holocaust.
• Bureau of Engraving and Printing. 14th St and C St. Not a museum, this is where the Treasury prints money.
• Jefferson Memorial. On the Tidal Basin. Metro: Smithsonian is the nearest station, but it's not close by. A larger than life statue of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, stands in the center of this open-air marble structure. Quotes from Jefferson's writings, including the Declaration of Independence, are reproduced on the walls.
• FDR Memorial.
Make the effort to see the monuments at night when they are all lit up. If you can catch the Capitol as the sun is setting on a clear day, the colors as the building gets lit up are wonderful.
• White House. 1600 Pennsylvania Ave - north of the Washington Monument. The residence and office of the President of the US. Tours are available only for groups of 10 or more and must be requested up to six months in advance through your member of Congress. Note that the standard tours focus on the social/residential part of the White House -- the East Wing. You don't get to see the working West Wing. The front door can be viewed from Lafayette Square on the north side and the back from the Ellipse on the south side. Political demonstrations take place at the front. Worth visiting even if you can only see the exterior, but you cannot drive any closer than two blocks away.
• Old Post Office Tower. Pennsylvania Avenue and 12th St NW. Summer (1st weekend in June through Labor Day) M-W, F 9am-7:45pm, Th 9am-6:30pm, winter (Labor Day through Memorial Day) 9am-4:45pm, Sa-Su and holidays 10am-5:45pm (all year). At 315 feet this is one of the tallest buildings in DC. Enter through the food court and take the elevators to the 270-foot observation deck for excellent views of DC. Bell-ringing practice is held on Thursday evenings from 7-8pm. Free.
• International Spy Museum. 800 F St NW. $13/adult, $12/seniors, $11/children (5-11).
• Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences. Corner of 6th & E St NW. $5/adult, $3/seniors, children, students, active duty military.
• National Building Museum. 401 F St NW. M-Sa 10am-5pm, Su 11am-5pm. Highly Recommended. Free, suggested donation $5.
• National Museum of Women in the Arts. 1250 New York Ave NW. $8/adult, $6/student, free/children (18 and younger).
Within the city limits
• National Zoo 3001 Connecticut Avenue NW. Metro: Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams-Morgan or Cleveland Park via the Red Line. Note that the zoo entrance is about 1/2 mile from the metro. See the pandas, lions and many more at this branch of the Smithsonian. Free admission.
• National Cathedral Metro: Woodley-Park-Zoo/Adams-Morgan or Cleveland Park via the Red Line. This impressive example of Gothic architecture is the sixth largest cathedral in the world. One of its stained glass windows has a moon rock embedded within. Keep an eye out for the gargoyles around the edge of the exterior -- see if you can spot Darth Vader.
• National Geographic Society - Explorers Hall Metro: Farragut North via the Red Line. This 3-building complex, headquarters for National Geographic Magazine and National Geographic Channel, shows exhibitions on art, culture, science, photography, geography, and technology. Free admission. Open every day except Dec. 25 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Also features a National Geographic Store. See also
• Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception 400 Michigan Avenue NE. Metro: Brookland-CUA via the Red Line. The second largest Catholic church in the United States. There are numerous chapels, as well as two gift shops and a restaurant.
• Anacostia Museum 1901 Fort Place SE. Metro: Anacostia, but check website for important details. This is the Smithsonian's center for African-American history and culture. Free admission.
• Theodore Roosevelt Memorial - Theodore Roosevelt Island. This is in a nature preserve on the Potomac River. You can either park off of GW Parkway, or walk in from the Rosslyn Metro station.
• MCI Center - Home to the NBA's Wizards, the NHL's Capitals and the WNBA's Mystics.
• 'RFK Stadium - Home to the MLB Nationals and the MLS DC United.