Monday, January 14, 2013

Top 10 Freebies in Washington, DC

The spotlight swings to DC on January 21 for President Obama's inauguration. Just so happens I co-wrote Lonely Planet's new DC guidebook, so for the next week I'm going to post stories about the city. First up: my favorite freebies in town.

1. Smithsonian Institution - It's actually a collection of 19 museums, all gratis thanks to an eccentric Englishman named James Smithson (more on him later). Top draws are the rocket-fueled National Air and Space Museum and the dinosaur-and-diamond-stuffed National Museum of Natural History.

2. National Gallery of Art - It takes two massive buildings to hold the trove of paintings, and sculptures. Monet? da Vinci? Pollock? All here, plus a trippy tunnel connecting the two sections.

3. Lincoln Memorial - Massive Abe sits and gazes from his neoclassical temple. And you can stand spot-on where Martin Luther King Jr gave his 'I have a dream' speech.

4. National Archives - Gawp at John Hancock's, er, John Hancock scrawled across the real-deal Declaration of Independence. The Constitution and Bill of Rights unfurl alongside it.

5. Ford's Theatre - See where John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln that fateful night in April 1865. The basement museum shows artifacts such as the murder weapon.

6. Capitol - Button-down guides take you through the mighty, white-domed sanctum of Congress, cluttered with busts, statues, frescoes and people in power suits.

7. Bureau of Engraving and Printing - Though the Treasury tour is about money, it won't be taking any of yours. Watch millions of dollars as they're printed, cut and inspected.

8. Library of Congress - The world's largest library is more than a stack of books. It's a museum with 500-year-old world maps, historic photographs, concerts and film screenings.

9. Kennedy Center - No dough for a big-ticket show? Fear not. The Millennium Stage hosts a free performance each evening at 6pm. Could be anyone from the National Symphony to a gospel group or Indian dance troupe.

10. Cultural Tourism DC - It provides free maps, apps and audio for DIY tours around the city that uncover civil rights sites, espionage hot spots and other historic places.

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