Date published: Wednesday, July 01, 2009
NEA Member Benefits
One of the top tourist destinations in the country, Washington DC is packed with national treasures—and most of them can be seen for free! So, enjoy the benefits of your tax dollars at work and enjoy endless hours of free entertainment and education in our nation’s capital.
Do as the natives do, and work your contacts to get you into the seats of power. Well in advance of your trip, contact your local Senator or Representative and ask them to arrange tours to the White House and Capitol.
White House: Self-guided tours are first-come, first-served for groups of up to 10 people. Reservations must be made through your Member of Congress as early as 6 months in advance. 7:30-11:00, Tuesday-Thursday; 7:30-12:00, Friday; 7:30-1:00, Saturday. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.
US Capitol: To enter the Senate and House Galleries, contact your Senator or Representative for a gallery pass. The galleries are open when lawmakers are in session, and the House Gallery is open 9:00-4:30, Monday-Friday when the House is not in session. 1 First Street NE/SE between Constitution Avenue NE and Independence Avenue SE.
Senate and House Office Buildings: Surrounding the Capitol are the office buildings for US Congressional members. Contact your state politician to ask if you can visit his or her office. Some may take the time to say hello to you, and most will be able to have one of their staff give you a quick tour down the halls of power. You may do better going through your Representative, as their constituencies are typically smaller than Senators’.
White House Visitor Center: You do not need to contact your government representative to drop into this informative and interesting exhibition, open 7:30-4:00 daily. 1450 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.
US Capitol Visitor Center: Newly opened, this center includes a multimedia presentation on the history of the building and those who have walked its hallowed halls, followed by a guided tour of selected areas inside the Capitol, including the Rotunda and the Crypt. Advance reservations are not needed for the visitor center but are required for the Capitol tour. Either contact your Congressperson or book online. 8:30-4:30, Monday-Saturday. First Street and East Capitol Street NE.
The Supreme Court: Complete your tour of the three branches of government. When the court is not in session, courtroom lectures are held hourly on the half-hour. If the court is in session, oral arguments are open to the public on a first-come, first served basis. 9:00-4:30, Monday-Friday. First Street NE between Maryland Avenue NE and E Capitol Street NE.
The Library of Congress: The research library for Congress, this is the largest library in the world. With a Gutenburg Bible and a reconstruction of Thomas Jefferson’s library, it is a must-see for bibliophiles. Additionally, the Library hosts a wide variety of events, most of them free. 8:30-4:30, Monday-Saturday. First Street SE between Independence Avenue SE and E Capitol Street NE.
This collection of museums comprises the world’s largest museum complex, and most of them line the National Mall for easy access. From the most-visited, the National Air and Space Museum and the National Zoo, to the more obscure Postal Museum and Anacostia Community Museum, the institution collects national and international treasures which are displayed in fascinating and educational exhibitions curated by some of America’s top researchers. Days can be spent wandering the exhibition halls of art, culture, scientific achievement and natural phenomena. All the museums have permanent and temporary exhibits and offer free lectures and events. Locations and opening hours vary. On the National Mall are American History, Natural History, American Indian, Air and Space, Hirshorn, Freer and Sackler, African Art, and the Smithsonian Institution Building or the Castle, which houses the Institution’s visitor center. Within walking distance of the National Mall are the American Art Museum, Portrait Gallery, Renwick Gallery and Postal Museum. The National Zoo and the Anacostia Community Museum are a short Metro ride away from the Mall.
Monuments and Memorials
Put on your walking shoes and explore the dozens of outdoor shrines to all things American. From Washington to FDR, from the Signers of the Declaration of Independence to the Vietnam War, these memorials big and small are dotted around the green spaces west of the National Mall.
Anderson House: On the National Register of Historic Places, this house was once the winter residence of Larz Anderson III, a US Ambassador in the early 20th century. The palatial residence houses an important collection of documents from the American Revolutionary period. Guided tours do not require reservations and begin at 1:15, 2:15 and 3:15 Tuesday-Saturday. 2118 Massachusetts Avenue NW.
Art Museum of the Americas: Established by the Organization of American States, the museum showcases the contemporary art and cultural traditions of the 34 OAS members. Check the website before going, as the museum is sometimes closed to change exhibits. 10:00-5:00, Tuesday-Sunday. 201 18th Street NW.
DAR Museum: Delving into early Americana, the museum features a permanent collection of artifacts displayed in period rooms, as well as temporary exhibitions. 9:30-4:00, Monday-Friday; 9:00-5:00, Saturday. 1776 D Street NW.
Dumbarton Oaks Museum: Located in a stately Federal-style house in Georgetown, the museum houses impressive collections of Byzantine and pre-Columbian art as well as European art and interior furnishings. The adjoining gardens are free in the winter, but admission is charged from March 15-October 31. 2:00-5:00, Tuesday-Sunday. 1703 32nd Street NW.
Ford’s Theatre and Ford’s Theatre Museum: After an extensive$50 million renovation, Ford’s Theatre and its museum are once again open to the public. Artifacts are on display from Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, as well as from that fateful night when he visited the theatre to see “Our American Cousin,” including the derringer that John Wilkes Booth used and the door to Lincoln’s box that Booth burst through. Tours are free, but do require advanced ticketing. The Theatre Box Office opens at 8:30 to distribute same-day, timed tickets on a first-come, first-served basis, with a limit of 6 tickets per person. If you would rather not chance it, you may reserve advanced tickets for a fee of $2.50 ($1.00 Ticketmaster fee and $1.50 “convenience charge”) per ticket; there is also a $1.00 per order fee. 9:00-5:00, daily. 511 Tenth Street, NW.
National Archives: Get here early to avoid the long lines that form to view the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. There are many other treasures housed in the Archives, as well as temporary exhibitions. 10:00-7:00, daily summer hours; 10:00-5:30, daily winter hours. Constitution Avenue and 7th Street NW.
National Building Museum: Created by Congress in 1980, this museum is dedicated to the built environment and how it shapes lives. From architecture to construction and engineering to interior design, it endeavors to be a forum for the exchange of ideas on the world humans create for themselves. Though they suggest a $5 contribution, the museum may be entered for free. 10:00-5:00, Monday-Saturday; 11:00-5:00, Sunday. 401 F Street, NW.
National Gallery of Art: Often mistaken as a member of the Smithsonian, this art museum’s original collection and West Building were gifts of Andrew W. Mellon. Since then, other important art collectors have donated works to make this one of the premiere art museums of the world. The Gallery offers a comprehensive program of free events, from curator lectures on a single painting to concerts by world class musicians. The Sculpture Garden has a lovely cafeteria that is a perfect spot to grab lunch. Open 10:00-5:00, Monday-Saturday; 11:00-6:00, Sunday. Constitution Avenue NW between 3rd and 7th Streets.
National Geographic Museum: Changing and permanent exhibitions highlight the expeditions and scientific research of one of the world’s greatest anthropological and scientific societies. Some exhibitions require an entrance fee. 9:00-5:00, Monday-Saturday; 10:00-5:00, Sunday. 1145 17th Street NW.
National Museum of Health and Medicine: Located at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, this eclectic museum showcases preserved medical oddities, microscopes and other pathology related curios. Some of the displays are not for the squeamish. 10:00-5:30, daily. 6900 Georgia Avenue NW, Building 54.
Textile Museum: If you love the richness and diversity of textiles, then this museum is for you. With both permanent and temporary exhibitions and a varied calendar of events, this is one of the world’s foremost museums of cloth, rugs, weavings, tapestries and all things related to woven materials. Though they suggest a $5 contribution, the museum may be entered for free. 10:00-5:00, Tuesday-Saturday; 1:00-5:00, Sunday. 2320 S Street, NW.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: A powerful testament to the fragility of freedom and equality, this museum confronts one of the darkest chapters of human history. It features both permanent and temporary exhibitions, including “Daniel’s Story” which is tailored for children. Free passes are required to see “The Holocaust” exhibition and can be obtained on a first-come, first-served basis or online through tickets.com for a service charge of $1.75/ticket. Open 10:00-5:20, daily. 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW.
Rock Creek Park: This ribbon of green that threads for approximately 15 miles through the District of Columbia and into Maryland is where Washingtonians go to jog, hike, picnic and even ride horses. There is a lot of history in the park, including a Civil War Cemetery, the Old Stone House—one of the oldest structures in DC—and the only planetarium in the National Park System. Check their calendar of Ranger Led Programs.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Rock Creek Cemetery: Founded in 1712, the church has been built and rebuilt through the years. It is, however, perhaps most famous for its cemetery, and in particular, for the Saint-Gaudens statue commissioned by Henry Adams for his wife’s grave, located near the church in Section E of the graveyard. Many other prominent figures from Washington’s history are also buried in the cemetery. 8:00-dusk, daily. Rock Creek Church Road and Webster Street, NW.
US Botanic Garden: Hidden in the shadow of the Capitol, the US Botanic Garden is a refreshing stop after all that marble and limestone. The conservatory features various habitats from desert to jungle, and there are 2 outdoor gardens. The conservatory is open 10:00-5:00, daily; the National Garden’s summer hours are 10:00-7:00, daily, winter hours 10:00-5:00, daily. Bartholdi Park is open dawn to dusk, daily.
US National Arboretum: Set on 446 acres, the arboretum offers everything from a Chinese garden to the National Grove of State Trees, representing all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. There are 9 miles of paved road on which you can bike or drive. Check the schedule of special programs. 8:00-5:00, daily. Entrances are at 3501 New York Avenue, NE and 24th and R Streets, NE.
Photo courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol