If you are cheap travelers like Chris
|Times Square and Bryant Park from the Empire State Building.|
But again, the cost of seeing the spectacular views of some of the best cities around the world is pricey. Boo. Did you know though that you have two opportunities to catch close-to-bird's eye views of DC for free? Yup, free, $0. (That's why DC is pretty awesome for tourist-y stuff. Or, at least one reason.)
First, there is the obvious Washington Monument.
The Washington Monument stands over 555 feet tall, and supposedly offers views of thirty miles (if you are fortunate to visit when we do not have any humidity. fat chance.). Visitors to the Washington Monument have been going to its top since 1885. Pretty cool, no? Those peeps back then walked up the almost 900 steps to get there, but today, you take a short elevator ride up. Whew. And I will admit, while you aren't as high up as you would be in the St. Louis Arch or other structures, the views are pretty awesome. It's a good way to "see" all the tourist-y stops in one place. Take a look....
|WWII Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and VA|
|The White House|
|The Capitol and RFK Stadium (see what I mean about the humidity?)|
|Thomas Jefferson Memorial|
Anywho, like I said, going up to the top of the Washington Monument is free, however, there is a catch - you still need a ticket and those go fast! North of the Monument there is a little gift shop building where they hand out the tickets to the top for the day. It is on a first come first serve basis, so the line starts forming before the building even opens on even moderately busy days. If you are lucky enough to get a ticket to the top, your ticket will tell you at what time you will go up. You might get your ticket at 9am, but you won't be able to visit the top until 1pm. Get it? It kinda sucks just a little, but at least there is other stuff to do around the Monument, ever heard of the Mall or Smithsonian? (Bring your walking shoes!) If you are a "planner"-type of person though, you can reserve a ticket to the top ahead of time for a $1.50 service charge. While that is technically not free, $1.50 is a pri-tty good deal (unless you really are a tight-wad. no offense.).
Now, the Washington Monument is a very obvious choice for panoramic views of DC, but if you want to get off the beaten path (by just a few blocks) and avoid the crowds, I would suggest visiting the Old Post Office Tower. See, it is literally 2-3 blocks from the Washington Monument and the Mall...
The Old Post Office Tower is located in the Post Office Pavilion, or the Nancy Hanks Center technically. Once the old center of the Postal Service, it is now a hodge-podge of offices, shops, a food court, and National Park Service museum and site. While it has a turbulent past and was hated by DC for a long long time, it has been revitalized and is really really cool. Trump Hotels is even considering converting it for their chain of hotels. It is one of my favorite buildings in DC (I am a sucker for Richardsonian Romanesque) and a place I love taking visitors (the food court has a Ben & Jerry's, nuff said).
Anyway, you can go up the Old Post Office Tower, for free, and, I will bet you, with no waiting in line. Plus, the elevator going up is glass.Sweet.
|My parents in the glass elevator.|
And, even though your view won't be as high as the Washington Monument's, it's still a good one!
|Pennsylvania Ave. and the Capitol|
|I think the EPA roof & the Washington Monument|
So, there's my summary of the bird's eye views of DC that you can get for FREE. I love visiting these places and definitely suggest you do the same when you come out to visit (us).
Here's more info on both places:
Washington Monument history here and here (Wikipedia, duh) and ticket reservations here.
Old Post Office Tower info here and here (NPS). And of course, Wikipedia info here.