Washington D.C. offers an array of memorials, museums, andÂ attractions to explore for those wanting toÂ learn more aboutÂ the history and workingsÂ of the United States. Many government offices are open to the public and available for tours, free of charge.
Prior to visiting, I strongly recommended that you contact your local congressman or senatorÂ to secure tour tickets to some of the Districts popular attractionsÂ including The White House and Capitol Building. Complimentary tour tickets toÂ the White House should be requested a minimum ofÂ 21 daysÂ in advance. Tickets are available on a limited, first come, first serve basis. All persons over the age of 18 must provide photo identification.Â NOTE: The identification used to request the tickets mustÂ match theÂ one presented for admission.Â The White House provides a list of items not allowedÂ on the tour, including purses, backpacks, strollers and certain types of cameras. Be sure to check the list in advance as there are no lockers or placesÂ to store restricted items.
The Capitol Visitors Center provides exhibits and public tours of the Capitol Building. Some Congressional officesÂ will assistÂ their constituentsÂ in securingÂ tour tickets,Â while others host staff-led tours. Both tours view relatively the same areas, the staff-led tours, howeverÂ are more direct, avoidingÂ lines and are generally private. Security screenings are conducted prior to entering the building. Ticketed guests visiting the House and Senate Chambers are subject to additional screenings and all electronic devices are held until the tour ends. On the day of our visit, the House Chamber was being rearranged for the upcoming session. Each Representative maintains their same desk and chair throughout the course of their term, but the position within the room can be altered based on seniority.
DuringÂ the Capitol tour, guests viewÂ the original, four-man, Supreme Court Chamber. Today, however, the Supreme Court is in a separate building nearby.Â Visit online to learn more about the tours offered and to see a calendarÂ of dates the Court is in session and hearing oral arguments.
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world and serves as the research arm of Congress.Â Known as theÂ United StatesÂ library, itÂ holds the largest collection of printed materials, includingÂ films, maps, photographs, sheet music, sound recordingsÂ andÂ one of three existing Gutenberg Bibles. Free public tours are given daily, or guests may choose the self-guided option to wander at their leisure. The Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building is worth the tour alone.Â ConsideredÂ “one of theÂ most beautiful public buildings inÂ America,” no doubt due to its marble floors and columns, mosaic tiles and stained glass windows. The general public is restricted from entering the Reading Room except for two dates, President’s Day (February) and Columbus Day (October). If your visit coincides with these dates, be sure to take advantage of this amazing opportunity.
Most visitors tour the National Archives to view the original Declaration of IndependenceÂ and the Constitution and Bill of Rights on display in the Rotunda.Â But don’t miss the other exhibits within the Archives Museum highlighting moments in history,Â presidential addresses, radioÂ and television interviews, even letters received by theÂ presidents with some very humorous requests.Â Â Over three billion records are kept within the archives providing the ultimate source for researching everything from military records toÂ family histories.
Along the National Mall, beginningÂ with the Washington Monument and spreading out toward The Lincoln Memorial, areÂ additional monuments and memorials that mark historical events and heroes in United States history. Most of the monuments are open 24 hours a day and Park Rangers are available to answer questions 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Paid tours are available to explore these structures and hear details from knowledgeable guides.Â FreeÂ downloadable maps and walking tours areÂ available online. Be advised, however, everything in D.C. is a little further apart than it appears on a map and to see all the monuments involves a great deal of walking.
Capital Bikeshare is a great option to cover the distance between the memorials. As a bike sharing service, users purchase a membership or short term agreement allowing for the usage of nearly 4,000Â bicycles from 440 stations throughout Washington, D.C. and surrounding areas. Riders must be 16 years of age and can choose from a minimum of 30 minutes to a full 24-hour rental.
One ofÂ the best ways to view the monuments isÂ at night. Seeing the monuments illuminated in the darkness creates a calmness that allows you to focus on the true meaning and purpose of the memorials. I was stunned to find that even the dark gabbro walls ofÂ the Vietnam MemorialÂ were more moving with lights shining up from the bottom onto the names etched upon the walls. Even if you haveÂ explored the monuments in the daylight hours, be sure to visit the Lincoln Memorial after dark and sit upon the steps facing out toward the Washington Monument for a majestic view. The White House is likewise beautifully lit up at night.
Some question if now is theÂ best time to visit the nation’s capital. Touring the buildings that house documents, artifacts and the political institutions that shaped our nation is an honor not granted in all countries.Â ExploringÂ our politicalÂ past helps understand theÂ politics ofÂ today. So now, more than ever, is the perfect time toÂ visit Washington.
Photo credits: J. Ingersoll
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Jenni Ingersoll | Having been transplanted numerous times, I have learned to explore the sites around our new found hometown, uncovering hidden gems and attractions. When vacation time rolls around, I enjoy traveling with my family and the occasional weekend escape with my husband, coming home to share our travel experiences with others. You can follow me on Twitter @JAIngersoll. My top three destinations are Walt Disney World Resort, the Midwest and any beach I can walk along.