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2 THE BEST SPECIAL-INTEREST TOURS: Political Washington, D.C. for Architecture Lovers, Washington for Kids, Historic Washington

Meredith Pratt FrommerMedia ePub

View of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the Capitol Building.Political Washington

O
h, the intrigue . . . the drama . . . the repressed yawns
among members of Congress as they fight to stay awake during marathon legislative sessions on Capitol Hill. Exciting or not, Washington is pure politics, 24/7. If you live here, there’s no escape from the maneuverings of our elected officials, and the (sometimes biting, sometimes toothless) press corps that hounds them. If you’re visiting, spend a few days catching a glimpse of the capital’s complex, consequential, and at times truly captivating political scene, from past to present, with this tour.
START:
Metro to Capitol South or Union Station.
❶ ★★★ The U.S. Capitol Building. Viewed from the wide avenues that radiate toward and away from it, the Capitol is almost palatial in its grandeur, crowning the highest pont between the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. Connected to the White House by a grand diagonal avenue (Pennsylvania Ave.), the Capitol was part of architect Pierre L’Enfant’s plan to embody the separation of powers in the capital grid and architecture when he laid out the city in 1791. The Capitol complex includes the Capitol, the House and Senate Office buildings, the U.S. Botanic Garden, the Capitol Grounds, the Library of Congress buildings, and the Supreme Court building. Among the Capitol’s most impressive features are the cast-iron dome, the rotunda, the old Senate and Supreme Court chambers, the Brumidi Corridors, and the National Statuary Hall. When you tour the building, you’ll see interior embellishments that include richly patterned and colored floor tiles, the vaulted and ornately decorated corridors on the first floor of the Senate wing, and the fluted white marble pillars lining the Hall of Columns, plus hundreds of paintings, sculptures, and other artworks, including the 4,664-square-foot (433-sq.-m) fresco The Apotheosis of Washington. In late 2008, visiting the Capitol changed monumentally with the opening of the Capitol Visitor Center. This half billion–dollar complex, located beneath the Capitol itself, has an exhibition hall featuring the Statue of Freedom, amendments to the Constitution, and an 11-foot (3.4m) model of the Capitol Dome. Hands-on exhibits include virtual tours of the building and touchable reproductions of famous Capitol artworks. Food, beverages, large bags, and pointed objects are prohibited on these tours.  2 hr. East end of The Mall (entrance on E. Capitol and 1st sts. NW). ☎ 202/226-8000. www.aoc.gov, www.house.gov, www.visitthecapitol.gov, or www.senate.gov. Free admission. Advance reservations required for tours beyond the Visitor Center. Mon–Sat, 1st tour at 8:50am and last at 3:20pm. Closed Jan 1, Thanksgiving, and Dec 25. Metro: Capitol South or Union Station.

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6 THE BEST OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES

Meredith Pratt FrommerMedia ePub

The Smithsonian Castle.

Rock Creek Park

How many other major American urban areas have 3,000 acres (1,214 hectares) of natural woodlands smack dab in the middle of the city? Established in 1890 by the Rock Creek Park Historic District and protected by the U.S. Congress, this green resource is to Washingtonians what Central Park is to New Yorkers—except New Yorkers can’t camp, canoe, or lose themselves for miles on trails that wind beneath canopies of lush-leaved trees, so thick in spots that civilization seems a distant memory. Accessible through numerous entrance points throughout northwest Washington, this urban oasis offers shade and cooler temperatures on hot days; historic parks; great golf, horseback riding, and bird watching; a refuge for deer and raccoons; and even a 1-mile (1.6km) stretch of rapids. It also borders the National Zoo. It does have isolated areas, however, so avoid visiting early in the morning or past dusk. Remain alert, and avoid going alone if you can. START: Metro to Friendship Heights or Fort Trotten, then the E2 bus to Glover (also called Oregon) and Military roads; walk 300 feet (30m) south on the trail to the planetarium.

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3 THE BEST MUSEUMS

Meredith Pratt FrommerMedia ePub

Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall at the National Air & Space Museum.

National Air & Space Museum

Maybe you fantasize about soaring high above the clouds, visiting galaxies far, far away, or traveling in spaceships to distant planets. Since it opened in 1976, the National Air and Space Museum has been one of the most visited museums on the National Mall. It’s also one of the largest, holding some 30,000 aviation artifacts and 9,000 space artifacts ranging from the Wright Brothers’ 1903 Flyer to passenger jetliners, rockets, lunar rocks, and spacesuits. It also houses the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater, where you can tour the galaxies from the safety of your seat. The following itinerary features hallmarks of the collection. Plan to spend a couple of hours here; avionics lovers may want to linger an afternoon or a day. START: Metro to L’Enfant Plaza.

❶ Wright Brother’s Flyer (1903). Wilbur and Orville Wright pioneered early flight after building and testing several piloted gliders and kites. Then, on Dec. 17, 1903, this aircraft—the first powered airplane with a propulsion system—took off in Kitty Hawk, N.C., for a 12-second flight, traveling 120 ft. The brothers made three more flights with the plane that day, until a large gust of wind overturned the plane. It was never flown again, but on that day, modern aviation was born. Early Flight, first floor.

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12 FAVORITE MOMENTS

Meredith Pratt FrommerMedia ePub

The Jefferson Memorial during cherry blossom season.

12 Favorite Moments

President Harry Truman famously once said: “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” While it’s true that the city is known for its passionate politics, presidential scandals, spies, and more, American politics, with its Hollywood-like allure, is not the only attraction drawing a never-ending stream of visitors to the nation’s capital. It’s a city of stunning architecture. World-class museums. Zeitgeist-changing theater. Cherry trees and great green spaces. Historic neighborhoods. Super shopping. An international pool of locals who call this place home. And, of course, the monuments that honor the brave, the fallen, and the founders of this fine country. Washington is inevitably targeted for laughs; but once you arrive in D.C., you’ll be smiling, too.

❶ Stand at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial and gaze across the National Mall. The view—of the Reflecting Pool, the Vietnam and World War II memorials, the Washington Monument, and, in the distance, the Capitol Building—is monumental. See p 9.

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THE SAVVY TRAVELER

Meredith Pratt FrommerMedia ePub

Ronald Reagan International Airport.

Before You Go

Government Tourist Offices

Destination D.C., 901 7th St. NW, 4th Floor, Washington, DC 20001-3719 (☎ 800/422-8644 or 202/789-7000; www.washington.org) provides information on hotels, restaurants, sights, shops, and more.

Also take a look at the D.C. government’s website, www.dc.gov, and Cultural Tourism D.C., www.culturaltourismdc.org, for more information about the city.

For additional information about Washington’s most popular tourist spots, access the National Park Service website, www.nps.gov/nacc and the Smithsonian Institution’s www.si.edu.

The Best Times to Go

The city’s peak seasons generally coincide with the sessions of Congress and springtime. When Congress is “in,” from about the second week in September until Thanksgiving, and again from about mid-January through June, hotels are full with guests on business.

Mid-March through June traditionally is the most frenzied season, when families and school groups descend to see the cherry blossoms. It’s also a popular season for protest marches.

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