Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tourist Tuesday: Bird's Eye Views

One thing I think everyone likes to do when they visit a new city is to check it out from a different perspective. A bird's eye view, the skyline, whatever, let's face it, we are not content with viewing things from the ground-up. In St. Louis you can "journey to the top" of the Gateway Arch for roughly $10. You can make your way up to the Chicago Skydeck in the Sears Willis Tower for about $17. Seattle has the famous Space Needle, whose views can be attained for $18. And, in the Big Apple you can choose from the Empire State Building Observatory, and possibly reenact Sleepless in Seattle or An Affair to Remember, for $20+, or the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center for around $23. Oh, and let's not forget the Eiffel Tower, where you'll pay 13 euros, or almost $19 with our current exchange rate, to take in the skyline of Paris. (swoon.)

If you are cheap travelers like Chris and I though, it's hard to swallow the cost of some of those views. (Although, Danielle and I did buck up last summer and visit the Empire State Building. Which was pretty awesome...)

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).

Wikimedia Commons

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.


  1. Love this! Question though.... is there anywhere near DC that you can hike up and see the city from? Like a mountain that overlooks a metro area or something? We obviously have nothing like that in STL, and I think it would be cool to do something like that.

  2. There is actually a look-out point from an old mental hospital (St. Elizabeth's) that is in DC. I toured it with DC's Historic Preservation Assoc., but they converting it to house Homeland Security so the look-out may not be available anymore. Other than that, I can't think of any where that would be high enough and close to the city. That'd be cool though!


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