With a second day added on, you can get to Capitol Hill’s capital attractions, tour the Penn Quarter neighborhood, and cap off the day with a presidential flourish. Start: Metro on the Blue Line to Capitol South, or on the Red Line to Union Station.
7 The Capitol
This is Congress’s “House,” whose cornerstone was laid in 1793 by President George Washington. Seventy years later, the Capitol was completed when the 19-foot, 6-inch Statue of Freedom was placed atop the dome in December 1863, at the height of the Civil War—the same year that Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. Head inside the Capitol Visitor Center to take the hour-long guided Capitol tour (highly recommended), armed with the timed passes you’ve ordered in advance online. If you’ve neglected to order these, you may still be in luck: Go to the “public walk up” line to see if any same-day passes are available. The Visitor Center is itself worth checking out.
Not everyone knows it, but there’s a tunnel that runs between the Capitol Visitor Center and the Library of Congress. If you’re inside the Capitol Visitor Center, find it and follow it to the:
8 Library of Congress
The world’s largest library is not only a keeper of books: Ongoing exhibits show off other precious objects, such as an “original Rough Draught” of Thomas Jefferson’s much marked-up Declaration of Independence and a 1797 manuscript in George Washington’s hand, outlining a plan of government for Virginia.
Exit and head south on First Street to hop the Metro at the Capitol South station, catching a Blue Line train to the Metro Center stop, to reach:
9 Penn Quarter
This lively neighborhood just off the National Mall is full of restaurants, bars, and assorted sightseeing attractions, all within a short walk of each other. Wander down to Pennsylvania Avenue and up 7th Street, the main arteries, and explore side streets; you’re sure to come upon something that strikes your fancy. Some suggestions: Sign up for a Ford’s Theatre “History on Foot” walking tour that brings Civil War Washington to life. Go on a self-guided scavenger hunt or a guided highlights tour at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. (Good to know: The American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery stay open until 7pm nightly, which is later than other museums.) Test your sleuthing skills during the International Spy Museum’s hour-long Operation Spy experience. But first, fortify yourself at one of the Quarter’s excellent eateries. Here’s one that comes with a view:
10 Paul Bakery Café
Sit at a sidewalk table overlooking the Navy Memorial and Pennsylvania Avenue, or inside the charming French café (tel 202/524-4500), and treat yourself to a delicious smoked salmon and lemon cream sandwich, or an almond croissant, or a baguette layered with thinly sliced ham and brie, or a chocolate éclair, or . . . all of the above.
Whether you finish your Penn Quarter activities before dinner or aft, hop on the Metro at Gallery Place and take a Red Line train to Metro Center (13th and G St. exit), or walk or cab it, to reach the:
11 White House
Whether or not you’re able to tour the interior of the executive mansion, you can admire its exterior view and consider the facts: Its cornerstone was laid in 1792, making the White House the capital’s oldest federal building. It’s been the residence of every president but George Washington (although the nation’s second president, John Adams, only lived here for 4 months). The British torched the mansion in 1814, so what you see is the house rebuilt in 1817, using the original sandstone walls and interior brickwork. Be sure to walk past the house before 11pm, when the White House dims its exterior lights (“This is a residence, remember,” notes a National Park Service ranger.)
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.