May 26, 2006

2006 Vacation/Travel Supplement

A Capital vacation: Monuments, memorials and museums
are free in D.C.

By Mary Ann Wyand

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Put on your walking shoes and enjoy scenic urban hikes in the nation’s capital, which is home to many free monuments, memorials, museums and even a zoo.

Start your Capital vacation at the historic U.S. Capitol, where you can get a free ticket for a tour of the Rotunda and other public areas. Then stand on the circular stone in the basement that marks the geographic center of Washington, D.C. So many people have stood there over the years that there’s a noticeable indentation.

Post-Sept. 11 security precautions on Capitol Hill require guards to search purses, camera bags and backpacks before admission. They confiscate contraband items and throw away all food or drink items.

After you pass through a metal detector, a friendly tour guide offers an entertaining commentary about Capitol trivia while escorting your group past beautiful murals, paintings and statues.

Also on Capitol Hill, the U.S. Supreme Court building has similar strict security guidelines for entrance.

West of the Capitol is the awe-inspiring National Mall, the site of a variety of historical, educational and recreational attractions for tourists of all ages.

If it’s a sunny day, postpone your tours of the fascinating Smithsonian Institution museums and walk west toward the commanding Washington Monument, an elegant obelisk that rises 555 feet. Free tickets are required for admission and the elevator ride to the top so stop there early in the day to acquire your timed pass.

The National Park Service operates an information stand and concession booth near the monument, and the hot dogs and bratwurst are tasty, especially when you have walked all the way from the Metro stop at Union Station south to Capitol Hill then west along the huge mall. Pick up free tourism brochures about many attractions there.

From the obelisk, it’s a short hike to the new World War II Memorial and fountain then along the north side of the reflecting pond to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a mirror-like stone wall jutting from the earth near a statue dedicated to women who served our country during wartimes and the compelling Lincoln Memorial.

Catch your breath by sitting on the steps beneath President Abraham Lincoln’s statue. Then head south toward the Tidal Basin to the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the interactive President Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and on to the beautiful architectural tribute to Thomas Jefferson’s presidency.

Get a good night’s sleep before you return to the mall to tour the Smithsonian museums’ amazing collections of priceless artwork, space technology, Indian artifacts, dinosaur skeletons and more. Look for the moon rock and Hope Diamond at the Museum of Natural History.

Make time to visit Arlington National Cemetery, which is just across the Potomac River in Virginia near the Pentagon, to view the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and see the eternal flame burning at President John F. Kennedy’s grave. Please be quiet there.

And don’t forget to spend a day at the free Washington Zoo to see the panda bears—free timed admission tickets are available online—as well as the Komodo dragon, the largest living lizard, and scores of other exotic animals. †


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