AAA Walking Tours in Washington, D.C.A walk among Washington's monuments and monumental buildings is sure to leave a lasting impression on all but the most jaded traveler. These imposing, white-columned facades have come to symbolize the United States, its government and its principles. America's founding fathers chose this classical motif as befitting a young republic committed to the ancient Greek ideal of democracy.
The following three tours focus on the United States Capitol and vicinity, the museums on the Mall, and the White House and vicinity. Each tour will take approximately 3-4 hours, depending on your pace and the points of interest you choose to stop and visit along the way.
Because parking in the District is difficult even on a good day, avoid driving whenever possible. The easiest way to get around is to use Washington Metrorail..
Dramatic spotlighting illuminates many public buildings after dusk, although most of them aren't open at this time. In good weather early evening is a pleasant time to stroll around the Capitol, the Mall museums or the White House, when otherwise stark white or gray edifices are bathed in a mellow glow.
Note: Although restrooms can be found within most public buildings around Capitol Hill and on the Mall, they may not always be convenient. It's a good idea to take advantage of the facilities whenever you get a chance.
From the Capitol South Metro station at 1st Street S.E. between C and D streets S.E., go north up the hill on 1st Street and cross C Street. The austere marble facade on your right belongs to the James Madison Memorial Building of the Library of Congress, which comprises three buildings (named for Presidents Adams, Jefferson and Madison).
By far the most elaborate of the three is the Italian Renaissance-style Jefferson Building, which will be on your right after you cross Independence Avenue. Completed in 1897 and renovated for its centennial, the building features an ornate exterior that hints at the splendor inside.
The golden Torch of Learning atop a central cupola indicates the building's purpose. A beautiful fountain along 1st Street features the Roman god Neptune and his court. As you approach the main entrance, notice the faces set in the keystones above several first-floor windows. There are 33 in all, and each represents a different ethnic group. A little higher up, framed by circular windows, are the busts of nine important authors: Dante, Demosthenes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Benjamin Franklin, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, Thomas Babington Macaulay and Sir Walter Scott.
Three pairs of decorative bronze doors originally served as the building's main entrance, but now these are opened only for special occasions. Visitors must enter via the ground-floor doorway below, where stairs lead back up to the first floor's Great Hall vestibule.
Constructed of white Italian marble, this vast room features stained-glass skylights 75 feet above the brass-inlaid marble floor. Ornamental touches include stucco ceilings accented with gold leaf, murals, mosaics, Corinthian columns, sweeping arches and classical statues. The hall's East Corridor contains two of the library's most precious items: the Giant Bible of Mainz and the Gutenberg Bible, one of only three vellum copies in existence.
Beyond the Great Hall is the Main Reading Room, which is accessible only during free public tours. Even then you're limited to seeing the room from behind the Visitors Gallery's transparent, sound-dampening walls. The view, however, is worth it.
From the base of its massive columns to the domed ceiling 160 feet above, the Main Reading Room is richly detailed. Octagonal in shape, it has walls and columns made of brown, red and cream-colored marble. Semicircular stained-glass windows bear the seals of the 48 contiguous states. Between these windows stand eight larger than life-size statues of female allegorical figures representing religion, commerce, history, art, philosophy, poetry, law and science.
A few feet below and on either side of the figures stand 16 bronze statues of men who have distinguished themselves in those eight fields, including Moses, Christopher Columbus, Ludwig van Beethoven, William Shakespeare and Sir Isaac Newton. Murals, bas-reliefs, plaster rosettes, balustrades and baroque molding complete the impressive picture.
The other two buildings look much more utilitarian. The Adams Building was completed in 1939, the Madison Building in 1981. Together the three contain more than 155 million items, making the Library of Congress the world's largest.
From the library's main exit on 1st Street, go right around the corner onto E. Capitol Street and cross 2nd Street S.E. Just south is the Folger Shakespeare Library, which houses rare books and manuscripts, paintings, engravings, costumes and musical instruments. Henry Clay Folger, who founded the library with his wife, Emily, was a president of Standard Oil Co. and a devotee of all things Shakespearean for most of his life. The neoclassic building was completed in 1932 to house the Folgers' collection; it is adorned with nine bas-reliefs showing scenes from Shakespeare's plays.
Leaving the library, return to E. Capitol Street and turn left, following it 2 blocks to the entrance of the United States Capitol. George Washington laid the cornerstone of this familiar landmark in 1793, but most of what is visible was built in the next century, including the Capitol's north and south wings and the distinctive 287-foot-tall cast-iron dome, all of which were added between 1855 and 1870.
The rotunda is a grand circular space beneath the dome that connects the north and south wings. From the statues and large, historically themed paintings on the lower walls, look upward to the canopy over the inner dome, 180 feet above. “The Apotheosis of Washington,” a fresco by Constantino Brumidi, depicts George Washington ascending to the heavens flanked by 15 female figures—two symbolizing Liberty and Victory, the others representing the 13 original states. A painted frieze designed to look like a bas-relief forms a band beneath the rotunda's windows and illustrates scenes from American history.
Other sights include the Hall of Columns; National Statuary Hall (formerly the Old Hall of the House of Representatives); the Old Supreme Court Chamber; the Old Senate Chamber; the Crypt, located beneath the rotunda; and the ornate Brumidi Corridors. Guided tours of the Capitol are given regularly; however, to gain access to the congressional chambers you must first obtain a pass from your representative or one of your senators.
The Capitol is the point from which the city's streets are numbered and lettered; therefore, note the quadrant (N.E., N.W., S.E. or S.W.) of any street or address you wish to find.
From the Capitol, cross 1st Street N.E. on the north side of E. Capitol Street. The imposing white building in front of you is the Supreme Court Building, where the creed “Equal Justice Under Law” is inscribed on the facade. The seated female figure to the left is titled “Contemplation of Justice,” while the male counterpart opposite her is called “Guardian of Law.”
The building has many noteworthy features, including a Great Hall lined with the busts of every chief justice who has presided over the court since it was established. The hall leads to the marble-trimmed Court Chamber, which looks like a theater thanks to the plush red curtain suspended behind the bench.
To learn more about the court and what cases are currently being argued, stop by the information desk beneath the statue of Chief Justice John Marshall on the ground floor. Here there are exhibits, portraits of justices and a film. You'll also be able to see one of the building's five-story-tall marble staircases that creates a striking vista as it spirals upward without a central column for support.
Turn north after leaving the Supreme Court and follow Maryland Avenue northeast to 2nd Street N.E., where Maryland and Constitution avenues meet, and go north across Constitution. On the corner of 2nd and Constitution is the Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument, headquarters of the National Woman's Party since 1929. Within the red-brick house, built about 1700, are displays relating to the women's suffrage and equal rights movements.
From there head west on Constitution Avenue and turn right on 1st Street N.E. To either side are the Dirksen and Russell Senate office buildings. Cross C and D streets N.E. and Massachusetts Avenue. Ahead of you is Union Station. In front of this massive Beaux Arts-style building stands a 1912 monument to Christopher Columbus made up of three flagpoles, a semicircular fountain and a 15-foot statue of the explorer, who faces the Capitol.
Built in 1907 during the heyday of railway travel, Union Station served as the gateway to Washington. Inspired by ancient Roman baths and triumphal arches, architect Daniel Burnham designed the station's main hall, distinguished by a 96-foot-tall barrel-vaulted ceiling made up of recessed, gilded panels. Statues adorn both the exterior and interior; a few of the 46 Roman legionnaires encircling the main hall were redesigned due to concern that their skimpy uniforms might scandalize passengers.
In addition to being Amtrak's hub and headquarters, Union Station has shops, casual restaurants and a movie multiplex. There's also a Metrorail station here.
From Union Station, walk back toward the Capitol via Delaware Avenue N.E. Once you cross D Street N.E., Capitol Plaza will be on your right. This spacious park's reflecting pool and fountain make an especially picturesque foreground for photos of the Capitol.
Just west of the plaza across New Jersey Avenue is The Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon. This 100-foot bell tower, dedicated in 1959, honors the influential Ohio senator who became known as “Mr. Republican” for his outspoken opposition to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal policies. A statue of Taft, the son of President William Howard Taft, stands at the base of the tower.
From the Taft memorial, cross Constitution Avenue and then go immediately right across 1st Street N.W. Continue south down 1st Street toward the Reflecting Pool in front of the Capitol. The first memorial you'll pass is the Peace Monument, at Pennsylvania Avenue and 1st Street N.W. Dedicated to those who served at sea during the Civil War, it depicts two female figures representing Grief weeping on the shoulder of History.
The next memorial honors Union general and President Ulysses S. Grant. A statue of Grant on horseback faces westward, contrasting sharply with the artillery and cavalry statuary groups frozen in action to either side. Dedicated in 1922, the memorial took sculptor Henry Merwin Shrady 2 decades to complete.
The James A. Garfield Monument stands at 1st Street and Maryland Avenue S.W. and honors the 20th president, who was assassinated in 1881 after serving only 4 months in office. Garfield was a brigadier general during the Civil War and held public office as both a U.S. senator and representative before being elected president. His statue stands atop a cylindrical pedestal. The three figures around the base represent different phases of his career: student, officer and statesman.
Just south of the Garfield Monument across Maryland Avenue S.W. is the United States Botanic Garden. The indoor conservatory has Victorian-style glass walls. Also part of the Botanic Garden is Bartholdi Park, across Independence Avenue. The centerpiece of this seasonal flower and plant garden is a fanciful cast-iron fountain complete with sea nymphs and tritons; it was designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, sculptor of the Statue of Liberty.
After leaving the Botanic Garden, turn right on 1st Street S.W. to Independence Avenue. Cross Independence and turn left, following it east across 1st Street, S. Capitol Street and New Jersey Avenue S.E. Turn right onto 1st Street S.E.; the Capitol South Metro station is 1 block south across C Street S.E. on the right.
The National MallFrom the Smithsonian Metro station, on the Mall opposite where 12th Street S.W. meets Jefferson Drive S.W., follow the short gravel path to the sidewalk, cross Jefferson Drive and turn left. Just ahead on the right is the Freer Gallery of Art, one half of Freer/Sackler: The Smithsonian's Museums of Asian Art. It contains Chinese paintings, Islamic metalwork, Indian sculpture, Korean ceramics and Japanese lacquer.
Although primarily dedicated to Asian art, the Freer also exhibits American paintings and prints from the late 19th century and is noted for The Peacock Room. This finely detailed interior space, designed by James McNeill Whistler, was a dining room in a London mansion before being relocated to the museum.
Leaving the Freer, turn right and continue east on Jefferson Drive. Next door is the Smithsonian Institution Building. Nicknamed The Castle for its red sandstone walls, towers and mullioned windows, it was designed in 1855 by James Renwick Jr., who also was responsible for the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery, near the White House, and St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. The Castle houses a visitor center and the tomb of James Smithson, the institution's benefactor. A domed entry pavilion between the Castle and the Freer leads to the underground S. Dillon Ripley Center.
On either side of the building are the entrances to the underground Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the National Museum of African Art. The Sackler continues the Smithsonian's Asian art collection, with a focus on changing exhibitions. Inside the National Museum of African Art you'll find traditional objects from the sub-Saharan continent, including sculptures, carvings and masks.
Continue east to the Arts and Industries Building, which was built in 1881 to house items from the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Above the entrance is a sculpture of Columbia shielding seated figures representing Science and Industry.
What appears to be an alien spaceship next door is the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, an architecturally appropriate space for an outstanding collection of modern art. Name a 20th-century artistic movement and it is likely represented in the collection: Pop Art, Abstract Expressionism, Cubism, Minimalism, Surrealism and several other “isms.” Unusual figure studies fill the sunken outdoor sculpture garden, across the sidewalk on the museum's Mall side.
Just east of the Hirshhorn across 7th Street S.W. is the National Air and Space Museum. The west wing of the museum reopened in 2022 with eight engaging new galleries and public spaces that highlight the history of aviation, humanity's passion for flight, curiosity to explore and innovations of the past, present and future.
From the Air and Space Museum, continue down Jefferson Drive. Across 4th Street S.W. is the National Museum of the American Indian, distinguished by undulating walls of buff-colored limestone. Inside this cultural resource center are permanent exhibitions as well as rotating exhibits and performance spaces.
Turn right at 4th Street and cross the Mall to the East Building of the National Gallery of Art. The permanent and changing exhibits here focus on 20th and 21st-century art. A brand-new, sky-lit fourth level linked to an outdoor sculpture terrace overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue opened Sept. 30, 2016.
A paved plaza and an underground concourse link the East Building to the adjacent West Building, which contains a world-class collection of European and American paintings and sculpture. From the West Building's Mall exit, walk down the steps and turn right. Turn right again at 7th Street N.W.; the park-like green space to your left is the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden. Works by Claes Oldenburg, Joan Miró and Isamu Noguchi are on display here year-round. A jazz concert series takes place in summer, and during the winter months an ice-skating rink is installed.
Across Constitution Avenue between 7th and 9th streets N.W. is the massive, neoclassic National Archives building. It contains the nation's triumvirate of governmental blueprints: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. At Pennsylvania Avenue and 7th Street N.W. is the United States Navy Memorial, where there's a ground-level granite map of the world some 100 feet in diameter.
From the National Archives, cross Constitution Avenue via 7th Street N.W. and turn right at Madison Drive on the Mall. One block ahead on the right is the National Museum of Natural History, with treasures ranging from the Hope Diamond to a giant squid. Enter the rotunda and prepare to be greeted by an African elephant with raised trunk and lengthy tusks.
Continue along Madison Drive to the National Museum of American History. Here are venerable historic items like the Star-Spangled Banner, a compass used by explorers Lewis and Clark and Cold War-era submarines, as well as pop culture mementos like Dorothy's ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz.” Another highlight is the collection of first ladies' gowns.
Continue on Madison Drive to 14th Street N.W. Turn left and cross the Mall, stopping en route to take in the view of the Washington Monument. Turn left at Jefferson Drive; the Smithsonian Metro station, where you began, is on the left.
Beginning at the McPherson Square Metro station's White House/Vermont Avenue exit at the corner of Vermont Avenue and I Street N.W., go 1 block west on I Street to 16th Street N.W. Turn left and go south on 16th to the end of the block. On your left is St. John's Church. Painted yellow and white with a distinctive golden-roofed steeple, St. John's is known as the Church of the Presidents due to the number of commanders-in-chief who have worshipped here over the years.
Cross H Street N.W. to Lafayette Park, opposite the main entrance to the White House. An equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson stands in the middle of this leafy green space. Statues at each of the park's corners honor foreign-born Revolutionary War heroes: Baron von Steuben of Prussia, Brig. Gen. Thaddeus Kosciusko of Poland, Maj. Gen. Comte de Rochambeau of France and Maj. Gen. Marquis de Lafayette, the Frenchman for whom the park is named.
Go right and walk west through the park along H Street, crossing Jackson Place N.W. On the corner is Decatur House, one of Washington's first private homes.
Farther south on Jackson Place and around the corner to the right on Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. is Blair House. It was named for its original owner, Francis Preston Blair, one of the founders of the Republican Party and also the founder of The Washington Globe newspaper during President Andrew Jackson's term of office. It was at Blair House that Robert E. Lee—at President Abraham Lincoln's insistence—was offered the command of the Union army, which he declined. Harry S. Truman lived at Blair House while the White House was being renovated during his presidency.
Next door is the Lee House, the former home of Blair's daughter and son-in-law. The Blair and Lee houses have been combined and serve as guest quarters for visiting dignitaries; both are closed to the public.
Next to Lee House is the Renwick Gallery, a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The first home of the Corcoran Gallery of Art is such a splendid example of the Second Empire architectural style that its name was changed in the 1960s to honor its designer, architect James Renwick Jr.
Walk south across Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. and down 17th Street N.W. to the stately Old Executive Office Building, now called the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Another example of Second Empire architecture, it was built over a 17-year period beginning in 1871 to house the State, War and Navy Departments.
Cross 17th Street to the right and proceed down New York Avenue N.W. 1 block to The Octagon House. This architecturally distinctive red-brick building, actually more of a hexagon than an octagon, was built at the turn of the 19th century and was a temporary home for President James Madison and his wife after the White House was burned during the War of 1812.
Head 2 blocks south on 18th Street. Between C and D streets N.W. is Constitution Hall, where concerts are presented throughout the year. On the same block is the DAR Museum and the national headquarters of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
One block south of Constitution Hall across C Street, at the corner of 18th Street and Virginia Avenue N.W., is the Art Museum of the Americas. This small gallery displays works by Latin American artists. Across 18th Street stands a regal equestrian statue of South American revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar; the monument was a gift from Venezuela.
The art museum is a part of the Organization of American States (OAS) complex. The main building is entered around the corner from the museum on 17th Street N.W. Inside is a lush atrium filled with tropical foliage and an Aztec-themed fountain. Busts of Latin American heroes line the walls.
Continue up 17th Street two blocks to E Street N.W. and the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design, its entrance flanked by two lounging lions. The school is part of George Washington University.
From the Corcoran's main entrance turn right, cross 17th Street at the corner and walk east along E Street N.W. Opposite the south lawn of the White House is The Ellipse, where the Zero Milestone, an unobtrusive stone marker, denotes the original center of the city.
Originally called the President's House, the White House got its current name after it was painted white to cover scorch marks left by a British burning in 1814. The White House Visitor Center, at the southeast corner of 15th and E streets N.W., has an interactive touchscreen that enables you to take a virtual tour of the Executive Mansion.
Nearby is Freedom Plaza , bounded north and south by E Street and Pennsylvania Avenue and east and west by 13th and 14th streets. Inlaid designs on the paved surface depict portions of Pierre-Charles L'Enfant's original plan for the federal city of Washington.
Head west on E Street N.W. and cross 15th Street N.W. for a view of the William Tecumseh Sherman Monument. An equestrian statue of the Civil War general, remembered for his march through Georgia and capture of Savannah, stands in the center of a small park.
Walk up 15th Street toward the Treasury Building, pictured on the back of the $10 bill. Construction of the Treasury Department headquarters began in 1836 and was completed 33 years later. Inside, the Andrew Johnson Suite is where President Johnson conducted business after Lincoln's assassination.
Other rooms open to the public include the Salmon P. Chase Suite; the Cash Room, where President Ulysses S. Grant's inaugural reception was held; and a burglar-proof vault. Guided tours are available on Saturday mornings by advance reservation made through one of your senator's or representative's offices; phone (202) 224-3121 for the congressional main switchboard.
Continue north on 15th Street N.W. and turn left onto H Street N.W. Turn right to proceed north up Vermont Avenue; the McPherson Square Metro station entrance is at the end of the block on the left.
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999 9th St NW. Washington, DC 20001
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The District of Columbia's sales tax is 6 percent. Additional increments are attached when purchasing alcohol, restaurant meals, rental cars, commercial parking and hotel rooms. The higher tax rates range from 10 to 18 percent. The sales tax in neighboring Maryland is 6 percent and Virginia taxes range from 4.3 to 7 percent.
311 in Washington, D.C., or (202) 727-9099
MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, (202) 444-2000; The George Washington University Hospital, (202) 715-4000; Howard University Hospital, (202) 865-6100; Sibley Memorial Hospital, (202) 537-4000; MedStar Washington Hospital Center, (202) 877-7000.
1133 21st St. N.W. Suite M200 Washington, DC 20036. Phone:(202)347-7201
Visitors arriving by plane can land at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) or Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI).
Rental car agencies in Washington are numerous; most have conveniently located offices in the city and nearby Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Arrangements should be made before you leave on your trip. Your local AAA club can provide this service or additional information. Hertz offers discounts to AAA members; phone (800) 654-3080.
Trains pull into the
The Greyhound Lines Inc. bus terminal is at 50 Massachusetts Ave. N.E.; phone (202) 289-5141.
Taxicabs in Washington are metered.
Transportation by bus or subway is available in Washington.
As a AAA member, you'll save even more. Your AAA Travel Agent will check to see if AAA Vacations is combinable with other AAA member benefits, plus cruise and tour past passenger discounts and benefits.