PHOTO: Cherry blossoms and the Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC. (photo via Flickr/Ron Cogswell)
Few cities deliver comparable complimentary access to distinguished events, spectacular museums and incredible memorials as does our nation’s capitol of Washington, D.C.
Even if you’re not visiting during the U.S. Presidential Inauguration, you’ll be exposed to all things POTUS in this powerful destination that thrives with patriotic-themed activities and attractions 365 days of the year.
Here are seven top ways to plug into the rich history of the red, white and blue flag waving U.S.A in our nation’s capitol.
1) U.S. Capitol
One of the first agenda items typically on the newly sworn-in President’s calendar is the traditional luncheon hosted at the U.S. Capitol. Hosted in the National Statuary Hall, the event finds the President and his guests dining amid statues of prominent citizens from each state.
The iconic domed building is where America’s congressmen and congresswomen debate laws, pass bills and conduct business on behalf of the American people.
While you won’t have easy access from Jan. 18-21 due to preparation for the Presidential Inauguration festivities, complimentary 90-minute tours of the U.S. Capitol – including the National Statuary Hall – are available Monday through Saturday from 8:50 a.m.-3:20 p.m.
To secure a required tour pass, book reservations in advance online at the U.S. Capitol website, through the offices of your state’s senators or representatives, or by calling the Office of Visitor Services from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. EST at (202) 226-8000. A limited number of same-day passes are also available daily.
The website also features an Inaugural Challenge quiz to test knowledge on the history of this monumental event.
2) Library of Congress
The largest library in the world, Washington, D.C.’s Library of Congress brims with resources dedicated to the 57 previous U.S. Presidential Inaugurations. In addition to the 164 million items lining some 838 miles of bookshelves, its collection also includes other printed materials, 3.6 million recordings, 14 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 8.1 million pieces of sheet music and 70 million manuscripts.
Before visiting, check the Library’s calendar of events that will showcase free concerts, lectures, poetry readings and exhibits held on a regular basis. Since days and hours of operation vary depending on the building, be sure to visit the website for specifics.
3) National Portrait Gallery
With faces adorning monuments, school walls and currency, the 44 U.S. Presidents’ official presidential portraits are viewable at only one place outside of the White House – the National Portrait Gallery. The tradition dates back to George Washington, whose official portrait still exists because it was fortunately removed from the White House before the President’s official home was torched during the War of 1812.
Visitors have access to an extended display including whimsical sculptures of Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush created by noted caricaturist Pat Oliphant. Presidents from FDR to Bill Clinton are also featured in a video component of the exhibit.
Check out the 2017 calendar for a slew of exhibitions highlight American legends ranging from baseball’s Babe Ruth to Abraham Lincoln’s contemporaries. Admission is free from 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. daily except Christmas.
4) Presidential Memorials & Monuments
Nothing salutes the history our country quite like the presidential memorials and monuments that help to define the landscape of Washington, D.C. Located around the National Mall are memorials honoring George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
While the 555-foot marble obelisk Washington Monument is currently closed to visitors during a program to modernize its elevator, the other three are good to go. Garnering extreme interest during 2016 was FDR’s memorial, as our country recognized the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor with its 75th anniversary commemoration on Dec. 7, 2016.
5) National World War II Memorial
Honoring the 16 million serving as part of the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II – including more than 400,000 who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country – the National World War II War Memorial rests at the east end of the Reflecting Pools along the central part of the National Mall.
One of the memorial’s most striking features is the Freedom Wall, with 4,048 gold stars paying tribute to U.S. lives lost at war. Each star represents 100 Americans. Fronting the wall, a stone fittingly reads, “Here we mark the price of freedom.”
Open to the public 24 hours a day on a complimentary basis, this poignant memorial features park rangers on duty from 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily to provide details and answer questions. Interpretive programs are provided throughout the day and upon request.
6) Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Paying tribute to the brave members of the U.S. Armed Forces who fought in the Vietnam War and were killed or missing in action, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial consists of three separate parts – The Three Soldiers statue, Vietnam Women’s Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
The wall actually consists of two identical walls that each stretch 246 feet and 9 inches. The pair contains more than 58,307 names of those who died or were lost, all appearing in chronological order. This memorial is further enhanced by the visitor’s ability to see his or her reflection while viewing the engraved names.
As with the National World War II Memorial, this Vietnam tribute is free and open to the public 24 hours a day, with rangers on duty from 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
7) Arlington National Cemetery
The country’s largest military cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery serves as the final resting place for more than 400,000 military veterans and their immediate family from the fronts of Iraq and Afghanistan, World Wars I and II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, the Cold War and America’s Civil War.
Among its historic sites, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a fitting tribute to unidentified fallen soldiers fighting in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. This large, white sarcophagus that is watched around the clock by Tomb Guard sentinels from the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. Its Changing of the Guard ritual showcases a sentinel seamlessly taking over guard duty for the previous sentinel every hour on the hour from Oct. 1-March 31 and every half hour from April 1-Sept. 30.
Another somber highlight is the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy. At his funeral on Nov. 25, 1963, Jacqueline and Robert Kennedy lit an eternal flame that remains alight today. Two of Kennedy’s children and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis are also buried alongside the 35th U.S. President.
With free admission, Arlington is open to the public 365 days from 8 a.m. -7 p.m. April through September and to 5 p.m. October through March.