If you have limited time in Washington, D.C., and would like to have a full-fun experience of several landmark attractions (rather than a rushed experience of many), then this is the itinerary for you. Start: Metro on the Blue, Orange, or Silver Line to the Capitol South stop on Capitol Hill or on the Red Line to Union Station.
1. The Capitol
This is Congress’s “House,” its cornerstone laid in 1793 by President George Washington. 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 “visitors without reservations” walk up line to see if any same-day passes are available. The Visitor Center is itself worth checking out.
Exit the Capitol and head south on First St. SE to return to the Capitol South Metro station, where you take a Blue, Orange or Silver Line train to the L’Enfant Plaza stop. Exit at Maryland Ave. and 7th St. SW, walk down 7th St. SW to cross Independence Ave, and continue along 7th St., stopping midway to take in the:
Stroll the green promenade, glancing eastward to spy the Capitol, where you started, and westward to spot the Lincoln Memorial in the distance, where you’ll end up later today. Once you’ve had a chance to catch your breath, it’s time to resume touring.
Continue across the Mall and cross Madison Dr. to enter the West Building of the:
I believe this to be the capital’s best museum. The renovated East Building showcases modern and contemporary art, while the West Building’s galleries display European paintings and sculptures spanning the 13th to 19th centuries and American art. Don’t leave without checking out the gallery’s special exhibits, which are always superb.
Exit the Gallery’s West Building and cross 7th St. NW to the:
4. Pavilion Café at the National Gallery Sculpture Garden
Order a roasted turkey BLT sandwich or an Asian chicken salad and maybe some sangria, and if the weather’s pleasant, try to snag a seat at one of the outside tables. Be sure to wander through the entire garden to admire all 20 sculptures and a delightful mosaic by Chagall, the garden’s newest piece.
Exit the Sculpture Garden and proceed westward down the Mall, or hop a DC Circulator bus at Madison Dr. and 7th St. to reach the:
This Smithsonian museum has upped its game in a most timely way. Beyond its signature exhibitions of the Star Spangled Banner, the First Ladies' gowns, and Julia Child’s home kitchen, all of which you should certainly see, is an entire wing newly devoted to the theme, “The Nation We Build Together.” Through displays of objects precious to people who emigrated here and the telling of their individual stories, these informative and moving permanent exhibits trace America’s 500-year journey of many voices forming one nation.
Exit the museum to Madison Dr., cross 14th and 15th streets to reach the grounds of the:
6. Washington Monument
People often ask: Which is taller, the Washington Monument or the Capitol? The answer is the Washington Monument. The monument was scheduled to reopen in August 2019, newly equipped with a fully functioning elevator that delivers you to the observation tower and its panoramic views stretching for miles (20 miles on a clear day!). As noted earlier in this section, a ticket to enter the monument can be elusive in peak season. If tickets are gone for the day or the monument isn’t open, you can still stand back and consider the fact that this 555-foot, 5 1/8-inches-high obelisk, D.C.’s version of a skyscraper, is one of the world’s tallest freestanding works of masonry.
Walk the rest of the way or hop the DC Circulator bus at the 15th St. and Madison Dr. stop to arrive at the:
Visit this temple-like memorial to contemplate the inspiring life and spirit of the nation’s 16th president. Citizens of the world surround you, reading aloud the words inscribed on its walls: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal . . ." Stand at the top of the memorial’s steps and face away from Lincoln to take in the sweeping view across the green sweep of the Mall.
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