D.C. for free

D.C. for free – Travel Views

John Handley

UNCLE SAM OWES YOU A FREE The only catch is you’ll have to travel to Washington, D.C., to collect it.

Actually, it’s not a total freebie. But our Nation’s Capital is loaded with so many free attractions that it’s possible to go there and never pay an admission fee.

With such a wealth of no-cost things to do, it’s just a question of where to begin. Here’s a list of top sights to include in a fast-paced two- or three-day visit.

The White House is No. 1 for many visitors. The good news is that limited group tours have resumed after being halted during the Iraq war. Even without going inside, it’s awe-inspiring to view the Executive Mansion from outside the fence and imagine the world-shaking decisions made there.

At the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue is the U.S. Capitol, another instantly recognizable landmark. You may even spot some famous movers and shakers in the halls of Congress.

Public tours also have resumed at the Capitol. But visitors still are not able to stroll the magnificent halls without an official guide, as they did before September 11, 2001. Free tours are offered daily except Sundays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

A must stop between the White House and the Capitol is the National Archives, which will reopen September 17 after extensive renovation. See our nation’s most famous documents–the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

A short walk from the Capitol is the U.S. Supreme Court, which is in session from October to June. You may be lucky enough to hear some oral arguments in important cases.

Near the Supreme Court is the Library of Congress, the world’s largest library, where you can see everything from the Gutenberg Bible to Audubon’s Birds of America.

A convenient lunch choice for Capitol Hill visitors is the food court at Union Station, the rail terminal that has been restored to its former grandeur. Washington is a scenic city for walking. But to save time take the Metro, the subway system that will whisk you from one sight to another.

West of the Capitol, stretching for two miles, is the National Mall, a grassy strip that is lined with the world’s largest museum complex–the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian museums are free and offer something for everyone.

Plan to spend a long time at the Mall-without spending a dime. At the center of the Mall is the Smithsonian Castle, which contains a visitor center. Start early to beat the crowds.

Kids especially like the National Ak and Space Museum, which houses the Apollo .11 command module, Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, and the Wright Brothers’ Kitty Hawk Flyer. This year marks the 100th anniversary of their historic flight and a special exhibit, “The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age,” will open October 11. The centennial also will be marked by the unveiling of a new annex of the National Air and Space Museum at Dulles International Airport on December 15.

For a cultural change of pace, check out the two wings of the National Gallery of Art. The west building displays the works of European masters, including Rembrandt, Rubens, and Rodin; the east building has 20th Century art, from Picasso to Andy Warhol. More art can be viewed at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Freer Gallery.

History buffs will want to head over to the National Museum of Natural History. Exhibits range from the infamous Hope Diamond to dinosaur skeletons.

Highlights at the Museum of Natural History include the inaugural gowns of the First Ladies and the flag that inspired “The Star Spangled Banner.”

All the grand monuments give the capital its larger-than-life majesty. Towering over the west end of the Mall is the Washington Monument, the 555-foot obelisk that reopened in 2002 after a major renovation. The Reflecting Pool shimmers between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Nearby is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

South of the Mall is the Tidal Basin, tinged by its celebrated cherry trees that bloom in late March or early April. The stately Jefferson Memorial stands beside the water.

If you have more time, there are many other free attractions. One of the most popular is the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Since it is undergoing renovation, check about tour availability by calling (202) 324-3447.

You can see money and stamps being made at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Sorry, no free samples are given out. But that’s okay because you’ve already cashed in on so many free attractions.

For a planning guide, call the Washington, D.C., Convention and Tourism Corp. at (800) 422-8644. Travel information also is available online at www.washington.org.

COPYRIGHT 2003 World Publishing, Co. (Illinois)

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group