Washington, D.C.

DC building

About Washington

Welcome to our Washington tourism page. This page is a work in progress with more content and links to come. Please check back later for more information.

The District of Columbia is a beautiful place, designed to capture the spirit of a country in colonnaded architecture, domes, and obelisks. The city includes world-famous museums and breathtaking monuments, as well as charming neighborhoods and parks. Washington is also a company town for the U.S. government. Put this all together, and you have one of the best tourist destinations in the world.

Washington's broad avenues and circles were designed by Pierre-Charles L'Enfant, whose vision included two focal points: the Capitol and the President's Mansion. These two buildings are placed within view of each other, but far enough apart to signify the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government.

Many of the other well-known sites are part of (or close to) the National Mall, an open area with the Capitol at the east end, the Lincoln Memorial at the west end, and the Washington Monument roughly in the middle.

Spring is the perfect time to visit Washington, with mild temperatures and lots of sunny days with low humidity.

Getting There and Getting Around

metro

  • The Metro: The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority includes Metrorail and Metrobus. Either will get you just about anywhere you want to go in and around the District. Metrorail is an efficient, economical, safe, and architecturally interesting subway. The Metrobus system connects to the DC Circulator bus system. Consider buying a SmarTrip pass; it's the best deal when transferring among the different systems and eliminates the need to buy separate tickets and use exact change on buses. SmarTrip passes are sold at the Connector Store at the Reston Town Center Transit Station, 2051 Bluemont Way.
  • From Reston to the District: Reston is 22 miles from the District, a 30-minute drive in light traffic (~$50 taxi fare). The Metro station closest to Reston is West Falls Church (a station will open in Reston proper in 2013). The best option for getting to the West Falls Church station by bus is the Fairfax Connector, route 505, which leaves Reston Town Center every 30 minutes ($1.70). The bus stop is one block south of the Hyatt on Bluemont Way, the street on the east side of the Hyatt Garage.
  • Travel within the District: The Metro subway travels between major sites, as does the Metrobus and the DC Circulator. A fun way to see the sites located on or near the National Mall is the Hop-On, Hop-Off Double-Decker Bus.

Washington Sites

Many Washington sites are part of the U.S. National Park Service, which maintains this meta-list of DC site web pages.

Sightseeing Podcasts

Segway Tours

Seeing Washington by Segway is very popular; try Bike and Roll (bikes and Segways), Capital Segway, City Segway, or Segs in the City.

Government Buildings

United States Capitol

Capitol Hill between Independence and Constitution Avenues
8:30am - 4:30pm, Monday through Saturday
Free
Metro: Capitol South or Union Station

The white marble Capitol building rises from the east end of the National Mall and defines the geographic center of Washington. Streets radiate out from the Capitol, dividing the city into quadrants.

Although the tour is free and fairly good, it's short, and you don't see a lot: just the Crypt of the Capitol, the Rotunda, and the National Statuary Hall. If your time is limited and lines are long, consider a quick look at the exhibits in the Visitor Center and a nice long gaze at the building from a good vantage point on the Mall. No pass is needed for the Visitor Center or restaurant.

You can book a tour in advance through the visitors website or by phone (202-226-8000). A limited number of same-day passes are available at the information desk on the lower level of the Visitor Center.

The regular tour does not include a visit to the Senate or House of Representatives galleries. Passes are required to enter either gallery. US citizens may obtain gallery passes from the offices of their Senators or Representative. International visitors may inquire about gallery passes at the House and Senate Appointment Desks on the upper level of the Visitor Center.

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Free
Metro: Federal Triangle, McPherson Square, or Metro Center

The presidential residence is definitely a landmark best admired from a distance, since access to the inside is very limited. US citizens can arrange to be part of a group tour by contacting their members of Congress well in advance (six months or more).

Library of Congress

1st Street and Independence Avenue, S.E.
8:30am - 4:30pm, closed Sunday (Jefferson Building)
Free
Metro: Capitol South

library of congress

The Library of Congress is a must-see for visitors, but not because it's the world's largest library. The Thomas Jefferson building is a breathtakingly beautiful space! The Great Hall is in Italian Renaissance style, full of mosaics, murals, and sculpture. The Vistors Gallery overlooks the Main Reading Room, with its circles of polished wood desks – another splendid view.

Organized tours of the Thomas Jefferson building are offered, or you can take a self-guided tour. There are several galleries featuring excellent exhibits of American culture and history, including the famous 1507 Waldseem├╝ller World Map.

Supreme Court

1st and E. Capitol Streets, N.E.
Closed Saturday and Sunday
Free
Metro: Capitol South or Union Station

There is no guided tour of the Supreme Court, though visitors may tour the building on their own. Court Lectures presented by docents are offered throughout the day, and include information on judicial functions and the history and architecture of the building. Court sessions are open to the public – first-come, first-served.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing

14th and C Streets, S.W.
Same-day tickets only; call 877-874-4114 for tour hours
Monday through Friday
Free
Metro: Smithsonian

Apparently people really like to see money being made – as in printed. It's a very popular attraction, especially during the spring. The ticket booth on 15th Street opens at 8am, and sometimes tickets are gone by 8:30.

Department of State

23rd and C Street, N.W.
Closed Saturday and Sunday
Free
Metro: Farragut West

The thing to see here is on the eighth floor – the suite of Diplomatic Reception Rooms, one of the best collections of early American furnishings and decorative arts in existence. Reservations are required for this fine-arts tour and should be made 90 days in advance.


lincoln memorial

Monuments

The monuments listed below are at the west end of the National Mall (Metro: Smithsonian) and are open 24 hours a day. National Park rangers are available to answer questions and provide interpretive programs from 10am until 11pm. Note: the Washington Monument is closed to visitors due to earthquake damage.


Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian includes 18 museums and galleries; the most popular are listed below. We recommend that you read these tips before going.

National Air and Space Museum

Independence Avenue and 7th Street, S.W. (on the National Mall)
Daily 10am - 5:30pm
Free
Metro: L'Enfant Plaza

A favorite with tourists, this is the most-visited museum in the world, with lots to see (and lots of other people), so plan to spend at least a half-day exploring it. While the museum is free, tickets must be purchased for the planetarium and movie theaters.

National Museum of American History

14th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W. (on the National Mall)
Daily 10am - 5:30pm
Free
Metro: Federal Triangle or Smithsonian

The American History museum has been called "the nation's attic" with a permanent collection of over 3 million American artifacts (Dorothy's ruby slippers, Julia Child's kitchen, the orignal Star-Spangled Banner).

National Museum of Natural History

10th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W. (on the National Mall)
Daily 10am - 5:30pm
Free
Metro: Federal Triangle or Smithsonian

elephant

The Museum of Natural History was one of the earliest Smithsonian museums to open; the impressive building with its grand rotunda (and impressive elephant) dates from 1910. Highlights include the new Hall of Mammals and the Sant Ocean Hall, and there are hidden treasures as well, such as the Birds of D.C. exhibit (taxidermied specimens that have been on display since the 1920s), the National Gem Collection (with the Hope Diamond), and the Hall of Bones and Reptiles (lots of skeletons).

National Museum of the American Indian

4th Street and Independence Avenue, S.W. (on the National Mall)
Daily 10am - 5:30pm
Free
Metro: L'Enfant Plaza

This beautiful new museum holds a collection that includes all major culture areas of the Western Hemisphere, representing virtually all tribes in the United States, most of those in Canada, and a significant number of cultures from Middle and South America and the Caribbean. But insiders say the best reason to visit is the wonderful and inexpensive food in the Mitsitam Cafe. Seasonally changing menus feature the indigenous cuisines of the Americas, both traditional foods and contemporary items with a Native American twist.

Smithsonian American Art Museum

8th and F Streets, N.W.
Daily 11:30am - 7pm
Free
Metro: Gallery Place-Chinatown

All the items here are by American artists, and the collection and exhibits feature works in every medium over a span of three hundred years.

National Portrait Gallery

8th and F Streets, N.W.
Daily 11:30am - 7pm
Free
Metro: Gallery Place-Chinatown

portrait

The National Portrait Gallery is adjacent to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and contains the only complete collection of presidential portraits outside the White House.

National Postal Museum

2 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E.
Daily 10am - 5:30pm
Free
Metro: Union Station

The exhibits here are about the history of mail delivery, postage stamps, and the art of correspondence.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Independence Avenues and 7th Street, S.W. (on the National Mall)
Daily 10am - 5:30pm
Free
Metro: Union Station

The Hirshhorn houses the Smithsonian's collection of international modern and contemporary art, and includes the two-level sculpture garden and plaza. The most recognizable piece is Roy Lichtenstein's "Brushstroke" on the plaza.

Freer Gallery of Art / Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Jefferson Drive and 12th Street, N.W. (on the National Mall)
Daily 10am - 5:30pm
Free
Metro: Smithsonian

The Freer and the Sackler are in adjacent and connected buildings. The Freer collection (donated by businessman Charles Freer in 1923) is a comprehensive view of Asian art, while the Sackler collection (donated by physician Arthur Sackler) features Chinese bronzes and jades, Persian manuscripts, and Iranian silver, among other items.

National Museum of African Art

950 Independence Avenue, S.W. (on the National Mall)
Daily 10am - 5:30pm
Free
Metro: Smithsonian or L'Enfant Plaza

The collection represents 900 cultures in textiles, sculpture, pottery, paintings, jewelry, masks, musical instruments, furniture, etc.


Museums

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

100 Raoul Wallenberg Place (15th Street), S.W., just south of Independence Avenue
Daily 10am - 6:20pm
Free
Metro: Smithsonian

holocaust

The building serves as a memorial to the millions of people murdered during Nazi rule, with the architecture suggesting some of the themes and images documented in the exhibits. Visiting this museum can be emotionally wrenching, yet most visitors agree it is a stunning experience. Timed passes (required for the Permanent Exhibition) are available at the Museum, or may be reserved online.

International Spy Museum

800 F Street, N.W.
Daily 10am - 6pm (9am - 8pm beginning March 26)
$19.95
Metro: Gallery Place-Chinatown

Fun for fans of espionage; the tagline for the museum is "where nothing is as it seems."

National Museum of Crime & Punishment

575 7th Street, N.W.
Daily 10am - 8pm
$19.95
Metro: Gallery Place-Chinatown

If you never miss an episode of CSI or American's Most Wanted, you won't want to miss visiting here.

Newseum

555 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Daily 9am - 5pm
$21.95
Metro: Archives-Navy Memorial

The Newseum, a project from the Freedom Forum, is an interactive museum about modern journalism. The terrace has a great view of the Capitol and Mall.


Galleries

National Gallery of Art

Constitution Avenue between 3rd and Ninth Streets, N.W. (on the National Mall)
Monday - Saturday 10am - 5pm; Sunday 11am - 6pm
Free
Metro: Archives or Smithsonian

The National Gallery holds a comprehensive collection, including European paintings and sculpture from the 13th to 19th centuries, American art, prints, drawings, photographs, and decorative arts in the West Building, and contemporary and modern art in the East Building. The cafeteria (West Building) has themed menus from local chefs that complement the exhibits.

The Phillips Collection

Constitution Avenue between 3rd and Ninth Streets, N.W. (on the National Mall)
Hours and admission price vary by day and exhibit so check the website
Metro: Dupont Circle

The Phillips is a small but exquisite museum, featuring Impressionist works as well as American and European modern art. Touring the museum is like visiting a private home, since the collection is still located at Duncan Phillips's Georgian Revival brownstone.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art

500 17th Street, N.W.
Open Wednesday - Sunday; hours vary by day so check the website
$10
Metro: Farragut West

The Corcoran collection was begun in the 19th century by the banker William Corcoran, and the gallery now includes American works from colonial times through the 1980s, as well as special exhibitions from well-known artists and photographers.


Other Interesting Sites

Ford's Theatre National Historic Site

511 10th Street, N.W.
Hours vary by day and activity; the March schedule is on the website
Cost varies; see the website
Metro: Metro Center

The Ford's Theatre site includes a working theater and a museum dedicated to one of the country's most tragic dramas, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865.

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

2700 F Street, N.W.
For tours:
Monday - Friday 10am - 5pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am - 1pm
Free
For performances: see the website
Metro: Foggy Bottom

The Kennedy Center looks best at night when floodlit, but Sunday morning is also an excellent time to visit; the Roof Terrace Restaurant offers Sunday brunch along with amazing views of the Potomac River. There are free performances on every day at 6pm in the Millennium Stage's Grand Foyer; check the website for details.

Hillwood Estate, Museums, & Gardens

4155 Linnean Avenue, N.W.
Tuesday - Saturday 10am - 5pm
$15 suggested donation
Metro: Van Ness-UDC

Hillwood was the final home of cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. Ms. Post furnished the house with the idea that it would be a museum after her death. The collection includes imperial Russian and 18th-century French decorative arts, and the residence sits among thirteen acres of formal gardens. The caf├ę serves lunch and afternoon tea.

United States Botanic Garden

100 Maryland Avenue, S.W.
Daily 10am - 5pm
Free
Metro: Federal Center

The garden includes a glass-paneled conservatory with eight garden rooms, and a three-acre outdoor garden. Just across the street is the beautiful Bartholdi Park with its cast-iron fountain from the first world's fair in 1876.

Washington National Cathedral

Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenues, N.W.
Schedule of Worship Services
Cathedral Touring Options
$5 suggested donation for tours
Bus: 31-36, D32,96

A national church was included in Charles L'Enfant's original plans for Washington, but it took nearly a century for an Episcopal cathedral to be established. It is now the sixth-largest in the world, and was built by artisans using 14th-century skills to create more than 200 stained-glass windows and thousands of stone sculptures.

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Michigan Avenue and 4th Street, N.E.
Schedule of Masses
Tours 7am - 6pm
Free
Metro: Brookland-CUA

This magnificent basilica is located on the campus of the Catholic University of America. It contains the world's largest collection of contemporary sacred art.


National Cherry Blossom Festival

The 2012 festival runs from March 20 to April 27, so the days before and after EclipseCon will be good times to admire the area's famous flowering cherry trees. The main activities of the festival are on the National Mall, and include free performances on April 1, the Sunday after EclipseCon.