I was just in the nation’s capital gathering audio for our daily broadcasts. For tourists, the government shutdown means many of the sites they planned to see are now closed. However, there is still plenty to see and do in the D.C. area. Here are my ideas for a great visit to the city.
Arlington National Cemetery, which is operated by the military, remains open. That means a visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns should be on any visitor’s list of planned activities in Washington. The Changing of the Guard ceremony is held every hour on the hour at this time of year. You can get more information about a visit to the cemetery at its website. And the cemetery even has a mobile app that allows visitors to locate specific grave sites on the grounds during their visit.
Two Executive Mansions. Let’s face it, the chances of you getting inside the White House were slim anyway, so go to Lafayette Park (on the north side of the White House) and enjoy the view. The last time I was there, I watched the arrival of a visiting head of state. Just a couple of blocks to the southwest, you can visit the Octagon House, the executive mansion used by President Madison after the British burned Washington in 1814. The American Institute of Architects owns the building, but call ahead and they can usually give you a tour. And for an added bonus, the Octagon House is supposedly one of the most haunted in the Washington DC area.
Mt. Vernon is privately owned and still open. When I spent more time in D.C., I actually had an annual pass to Washington’s home. I loved to go there and simply walk the grounds. The home on the Potomac and its museum are great to see anytime of the year.
You might have seen that the parking lots at Mt. Vernon were briefly barricaded by overzealous federal employees, even though the site isn’t owned by the federal government. Mt. Vernon has gone to great pains to make sure everyone knows that was just a fluke — updating their website to include the words “We’re Open!” right on the front of the page.
The International Spy Museum provides a glimpse at the secret world of espionage. There are lots of artifacts, hand-on displays and you can even play the role of a spy and compete against others in your group to successfully complete your mission.
The museum isn’t just about real-life spies, either. Right now, they have an exhibit called Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains, where you can learn more about the bad guys who’ve squared off against James Bond on the Silver Screen.
Alexandria, Virginia is an easy metro ride from the city. Get off at King Street station and walk around Old Town. Many sites in this city are still open. Log on to get maps for walking tours and hours of these sites. It’s also a great place to catch lunch or enjoy a nice dinner along the Potomac. The local tourism bureau even has a list of free things to do in Alexandria.
The main sites are closed but…remember places like the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials and the Washington Monument are, after all, outdoors. So while there are fences keeping people from going “inside” the site, you can still get a great view, albeit from a bit farther back. It’s also a great time to take a bus tour of the city, or a boat tour on the Potomac. The guides will help fill in the pieces you can’t currently see.
Remember, some of these sites do charge admission, others are free, but ALL are open and are worth a visit, even when the government eventually does reopen for business.