www.washington.org file
Capitol Building by Day
Special to msnbc.com
updated 12/14/2006 11:10:24 AM ET 2006-12-14T16:10:24

Washington, D.C. is infuriating! No, not the politics ... well, that too ... but the vast scope of the place. Truth be told, it would take several weeks of devoted gawking to take in all of the famous monuments, museums, and governmental institutions here. And you’d still miss a couple. And a new monument or two would be erected while you were checking off your list, forcing you to start again at the beginning. But isn’t that just the way it always goes in D.C.? So much to be accomplished here in too little time, with the ground shifting every minute. Resign yourself to the fact that you won’t be able to see it all, and simply enjoy the following history - (and politics)-rich itinerary:

7 a.m. - 8 a.m.: Though it may seem odd to have breakfast in a Tavern, Tunnicliff’s is where Capitol Hill insiders go for their power breakfasts. Keep your ears open and you may hear discussions about the latest lobbying scandals, the fate of important bills or juicy gossip about the foibles of your congressperson. You’ll want to keep your mouth open too, the better to inhale the hearty, simple but well-prepared breakfast standards that the friendly folks here dish out daily.

8 a.m. - noon: Head to the Capitol as early in the day as possible, to snag a coveted (and often scarce) ticket for a tour. Beyond its law-making function, the capital has transformed into a museum of sorts over the years, and on the tour you’ll see the grandly patriotic murals that adorn its walls; the statues of great Americans (perhaps put here in the hopes that gazing upon Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Ethan Allen and others every day will help keep our legislators minds on patriotism and off pork); and the historic rooms of the building itself, including the Old Supreme Court Chamber. That latter space has been returned to the look it had in the 19th century when John Marshall, John Jay and others held the gavel. What the tour doesn’t cover are the galleries of the House and Senate, so you’ll want to scurry over to the office of your Representative once you get your tour ticket (it’ll be closer to the ticket kiosk than the Senate office buildings) to get gallery passes allowing you to hear the debate in both the House and Senate (you’ll need one pass for each). Flags will be flying over the Senate Wing and the House Wing when those two bodies are in session; glance up to see if you’re in luck, or pick up a copy of the Washington Post which lists session dates and times. If Congress is not in session, combine your tour of the Capitol with a visit to the nearby Supreme Court . Again, it’s much more interesting to visit when arguments are being heard, but displays on the court’s history and importance should keep you occupied even if the court is not in session.

Morning Alternative
Soar above all the politicking with a visit to the National Air and Space Museum . Exhilarating is the word that best describes this Smithsonian Institution dedicated to the history of flight, both inside and outside of our ozone layer. Overwhelming might be another good word for it, as you could literally spend a week touring this densely packed museum and not see all its wonders. So choose carefully: are you more interested in space exploration? Then make your way to the Skylab Orbital Station, the Albert Einstein Planetarium and the Explore the Universe gallery. If engineering’s more your thing, take a gander at the How thing Fly Exhibit which explores wind tunnels, issues of propulsion and aerodynamics.

Noon - 1 p.m.: It’s hard to swallow (sometimes literally), but true: there are no great or even very good restaurants on the Mall. Since you’ll be sightseeing here and have a limited amount of time to get everything in, bite the bullet, er the hot dog, and simply head to either the nearest cafeteria in the building you’re visiting (ask a guard for directions), or out onto the mall to buy your lunch from one of the food vendors there.

1 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Stroll the mall, the nation’s extremely formal and impressive “back yard”. A logical route might start at the relatively new Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial , (which is not on the mall proper but nearby), after which you’ll hit the Korean War Veterans Memorial , the Lincoln Memorial , Maya Lin’s celebrated Vietnam War Veterans Memorial and the controversial World War II Memorial (many critics think this new memorial is old-fashioned and just plain ugly; decide for yourself). Next will be the Washington Monument , but don’t spend the time to ascend to the top (you get a better Mall view from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial). If you’re not too pooped—this will be a long walk, finish your hike at the Jefferson Memorial. Rangers are on duty at each, and give periodic talks; if you miss the formal tours, you can usually coral one of these friendly, extremely knowledgeable fellows to toss a few facts your way.

Afternoon Alternative
Pay your respects at Arlington National Cemetery , the nation’s most important cemetery and a quick half-day trip from Washington, D.C. John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame is here, as is the Tomb of the Unkown soldier which is patrolled by an honor guard (a ceremonial changing of the guard takes place every hour from October to March and every half hour from April to September). In addition, you’ll find the graves of a number of famous generals, presidents, Supreme Court justices, and others. Notable sights include Arlington House, the Greek Revival Mansion that Confederate General Robert E. Lee called home until the Civil War; and the fairly new (1997) Women in Military Service for America Memorial.

6 p.m. - 7:45 p.m.: Make a reservation (far in advance) at CityZen , D.C.’s premiere see and be seen scene. Helmed by Eric Ziebold, formerly Chef de Cuisine at the famed French Laundry (considered the best restaurant in America), it’s a bold, adventurous, ultra-gourmet eating experience where you’re likely to be challenged by such dishes as liver “sashimi” and olive oil “custard”. Don’t worry, it’s all delicious, including the more standard fare on the tasting menu.

8 p.m. - 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.: Hightail it to the theater. Washington, D.C. has had a love affair with live performances since, well, long before Lincoln’s death made the Ford’s Theater a landmark of infamy. Quirky, off-beat and often highly intellectual, the smaller theaters of Washington in particular are setting a national standard. When you arrive, find out what’s on at either Wooly Mammoth Theater Company , Arena Stage or the Studio Theater .

11 p.m. - on: Washington no longer rolls up the sidewalks when the clock strikes midnight. You can bar hop or dance the night away in dozens of joints across town. Hottest right now is an aviation-themed club called the Fly Lounge (the cocktail waitresses dress like stewardesses), which gets a beautiful people crowd who come for the first-rate DJ’s and ... well, each other. Dress up: the bouncers here take their jobs seriously and the place is quite small.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.

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Tunnicliffs, 222 7th Street, SE, phone 202/544-5680.

You’ll pick up your tickets for a free tour of the Capitol at the ticket kiosk on southwest corner of the Capitol grounds, near the intersection of 1st Street and Independence Avenue SW. Tickets are free. Tours begin at 9:30 and leave every half hour until 3:30. Tour tickets are given out beginning at 9am, but the line often starts much earlier than that (as early as 7:30 am during the Cherry Blossom Festival).  Security is tight, so be sure to go to www.aoc.gov/ to find out what you can and can’t bring with you on the tour. 

To find out the address of your Representative, go to www.house.gov/. Visitors who are not citizens should go to the Senate or House appointments desk, located on the first floor of the Capitol. There you’ll be asked to show your passport before being presented with a gallery pass, so be sure to bring it along. There’s no admission charge.

The Supreme Court of the United States, One 1st St. NE  between E. Capitol St. and Maryland Ave. NE,  phone 202/479-3000; www.supremecourtus.gov/. Admission is free and the Court is open to visitors Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

National Air and Space Museum is on Independence Ave. SW, between 4th and 7th sts., on the south side of the Mall, with entrances on Jefferson Dr. or Independence Ave, phone 202/357-2700; www.nasm.si.edu/. Open daily from 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., admission is free.

Though you can visit the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorialany time, Rangers are only on duty from 8:30 a.m. - 11:30 p.m., daily. It’s located on West Basin Drive, alongside the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, across Independence Avenue SW from the Mall. Admission is free, go to www.nps.gov/frde for more information.

Korean War Veterans Memorial is also free to view and has Rangers on duty from Korean War Veterans Memorial  8:30 a.m. - 11:30 p.m. daily. It’s located southeast of the Lincoln Memorial, on the Independence Avenue SW side of the Mall. Go to www.nps.gov/kowa to learn more.

The Lincoln Memorial also has a Ranger on duty daily from 8:30 a.m. - 11:30 p.m. It’s located on the western end of the Mall, at 23rd St. NW, between Constitution and Independence aves.  Its web address is www.nps.gov/linc.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial has the same hours as the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the FDR Memorial and Lincoln Memorial (see above) and is located northeast of the Lincoln Memorial, east of Henry Bacon Dr. between 21st and 22nd sts. NW, on the Constitution Avenue NW side of the Mall.  Its web address is www.nps.gov/vive.

Keeping the same hours as the other memorials, the National World War II Memorial is located at 17th Street and Consitution Ave NW, www.wwiimemorial.com/.

The Washington Monument is open daily from 9 a.m. - 4:45 p.m.. The last elevators depart 15 min. before closing. It’s located  directly south of the White House, on 15th St., between Madison Dr. and Constitution Ave. NW, phone 202/426-6841; www.nps.gov/wash. Free admission.

To get to Arlington National Cemetery, take the Metro to the Arlington National Cemetery stop. It’s open from 8am to 7pm from April through September, closing at 5pm the rest of the year. There is no entrance fee, but visitors are asked to behave in a respectful manner as there may be funerals taking place when you visit.

CityZen, 1330 Maryland Ave. SW at 12th Street, phone 202/787-6868; www.cityzen.com/. Closed Sundays.

Wooly Mammoth Theater Company, 641 D Street NW, phone 202/393-3939; www.woolymammoth.net

Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW, phone 202/488-3300; www.arena-stage.org/

Studio Theatre, 1501 15th St. NW, phone 202/332-3300;www.studiotheatre.org/.

Fly Lounge, 1802 Jefferson Place NW, phone 202/828-4433

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Photos: Dreaming of D.C.

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  1. A view from the top

    The Washington Monument sits on one end of the National Mall, with the Capitol on the other end in Washington D.C. The monument, one of the city's earliest attractions, was built to honor George Washington, the first U.S. president, and was finished in 1884. (Andy Dunaway / USAF via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A model of Freedom

    The plaster model of the Statue of Freedom, which was used to cast the statue atop the U.S. Capitol Dome, and other statues are on display in the Emancipation Hall of the Capitol Visitor Center, which opened in 2008.

    American sculptor Thomas Crawford created the model in 1858. It was shipped in five separate pieces from Crawford's Rome studio. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A contemporary canopy

    The Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard, with its elegant glass canopy designed by world renowned architect Norman Foster, is at the historic Patent Office Building that houses the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.

    Foster worked with the Smithsonian to create an innovative enclosure for the 28,000-square-foot space at the center of the building that is sensitive to the historic structure. The "floating" roof does not rest on the original building, which was built in phases between 1836 and 1868. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Monumental blossoms

    In the spring, blooming cherry trees frame the front of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. The memorial is modeled after the Pantheon in Rome. (Karen Bleier / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. United in honor

    The pillars that represent different states of the U.S. lie at the World War II Memorial. The memorial, which commemorates the sacrifice and celebrates the victory of "the greatest generation," was designed by Friedrich St.Florian and opened to the public in 2004. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Honoring FDR

    The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial near the National Mall traces 12 years of U.S. history with four outdoor rooms, each one devoted to one of FDR's terms of office and feature a sculpture inspired by him. Here, at the beginning of the memorial, is a statue showing Roosevelt seated in a wheelchair like the one he used. (Destination D.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A spirtual power house

    The National Cathedral is the sixth largest cathedral in the world. It was designed in an English Gothic style and features gargoyles, angels, mosaics and more than 200 stained glass windows. There is even a sculpture of Darth Vader on top of the cathedral's west tower.

    Officially named the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, it's a cathedral of the Episcopal Church, but it honors all faiths. (Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Strolling by the tulips

    Tourists walk among the blooming tulips in Lafayette Park across from the White House. Mild temperatures in the spring often bring tourists out in great numbers. (Karen Bleier / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Just like old times

    U.S. park rangers dressed in period costumes guide "The Georgetown" up the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal using mules for power during the first canal tour of the season in the Georgetown section of D.C. The Georgetown is an 1870s-period replica used by the park service for tours that depict the history of the canal and the families who lived and worked on it. (Karen Bleier / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Hustle and bustle

    When Union Station was completed in 1908, it was one of the largest train stations in the world -- if put on its side, the Washington Monument could lay within the station's concourse. It is considered one of the best examples of Beaux-Arts architecture.

    In the 1980s, the building was redeveloped as a bustling retail center and intermodal transportation facility. It currently houses Amtrak headquarters and more than 130 shops and restaurants. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Taking flight

    Aircraft are displayed in the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. The hangar features hundreds of artifacts installed illustrating its four main themes: rocketry and missiles; human spaceflight; application satellites and space science. The centerpiece of the hangar is the Space Shuttle Enterprise. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Museum of remembrance

    A railcar is part of the permanent exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The exhibit features more than 900 artifacts, 70 video monitors and four theaters, and includes eyewitness testimonies and historic film footage. (Holocaust Museum) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Carved in stone

    Some of the more than 53,000 names of U.S. casualities carved into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are shown here. The memorial is made up of two black granite walls that are almost 247 feet long; each wall consists of 72 panels. The design by Maya Lin initially sparked controversy but is now recognized for its simple and reflective beauty. (Win McNamee / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. A somber watch

    A sentinel from the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry marches as the sun rises above the Tomb of the Unknowns on Aug. 26, 2009, at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. More than 300,000 veterans from all of the nation's wars are buried on the grounds.

    The Tomb of the Unknowns, where three unknown servicemen are buried, is one of the most visited sites at the cemetery. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. National art display

    An untitled aluminum-and-steel mobile by Alexander Calder hangs in the National Gallery of Art. The gallery got its start when industrialist and philanthropist Andrew W. Mellon donated his vast art collection to the nation upon his death in 1937. Mellon's gift also attracted others to donate art to the museum, whose mission is to serve the United States by preserving, collecting, exhibiting and fostering an understanding of art. (Lee Ewing / National Gallery of Art) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Spy this

    The International Spy Museum is the only public museum in the U.S. dedicated to espionage. It includes the work of famous spies and pivotal espionage actions that shaped history.

    At left is a glove shapeed pistol. On the right, is a replica of Cher Ami, the U.S. Signal Corps photo pigeon that was awarded the "Croix de Guerre" by the French government in World War I for heroic service after flying wounded over France for 25 miles in 25 minutes. Cher Ami was equipped with an automatic camera that was taking battlefield photos. (Mark Wilson, Paul J. Richards / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Reflections of the Americas

    The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian is the first national museum dedicated to the perservation, study, culture and history of Native Americans. The museum's massive collections include more than 800,000 works of aesthetic, religious and historical significance and span all major culture areas of the Americas. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. History in print

    Visitors tour the 9/11 Gallery, which includes a piece of the radio tower from the top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center and front pages of newspapers from around the world, at the Newseum, a 250,000 square-foot museum dedicated to news. The gallery also includes first-person accounts from reporters and photographers who covered the story. (Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A symbol of democracy

    People look at the U.S. Capitol at sunset. Around the world, the building, which houses the U.S. Congress, is a symbol of America's democracy. It also includes an important collection of American art and has important architectural significance. (Karen Bleier / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. A eye for art

    Sunlight illiminates the dome of the U.S. Capitol. In the eye of the dome is a fresco by Constantino Brumidi called "Apotheosis of Washington," which sits 180 feet above the Rotunda floor. (Karen Bleier / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Retelling history

    Park ranger Jeff Leary tells the story of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln at the Ford's Theatre. President Lincoln, who ended slavery in the U.S., was assassinated in the box, seen in the background, by John Wilkes Booth at the theatre on April 14, 1865, while he was watching the play, "Our American Cousin." (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. This American life

    The Smithsonian Museum of American History is a treasure trove of artifacts from American life, history and pop culture. The ruby slippers worn by Dorothy in the 1939 movie "The Wizard of Oz," left, and President Lincoln's top hat he was wearing when he was shot are included in the display. (Smithsonian Institution) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. It came from outer space

    People walk around the Apollo 11 Command Module "Columbia" on display at the National Air and Space Museum on July 16, 2009. The museum has the world's largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft among some 50,000 artifacts, ranging from Saturn V rockets to jetliners to gliders to space helmets to microchips. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A display of freshness

    A vendor puts out fruit samples on Aug 1, 2009, at Eastern Market, where consumers can find a large variety of fresh local fruits and vegetables, flowers, delicatessen, meat, cheese, poultry, bakery and dairy products. Eastern Market, established in 1873, is one of the few public markets left in Washington and the only one retaining its original public market function. (Karen Bleier / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. 'We the people ...'

    A middle-school student views the original U.S. Constitution at the National Archives, billed as the "nation's record keeper." The archives not only house the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, but it also includes military records and naturalization papers. (Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Fit for a president

    Thousands of tourists visit the Lincoln Memorial each year. The memorial, which honors President Abraham Lincoln, sits prominently on the western part of the National Mall and offers great views of the other presidential sites. It includes a large sculpture of Lincoln and inscriptions of two of his speeches, "The Gettysburg Address" and his "Second Inaugural Address." (Mark Wilson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Play ball!

    Nationals Park is home field for the Washington Nationals major leauge baseball team. The park, which opened in 2008, is the first major U.S. stadium that is certified "green." It also has 4,500-square-foot high-def scoreboard and more than 600 linear feet of LED ribbon board along the inner bowl fascia. (Joe Robbins / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Lighting the way

    A candle sits in a lamp lighting the way for guests arriving to George Washington's Mount Vernon estate as Ben Schulz, left, and Steve Stuart wait for the gates to open Dec. 4, 2004, in Mount Vernon, Va.

    The estate, Washington's former home, is 16 miles south of D.C. on the banks of the Potomac River. Visitors can see 20 structures and 50 acres of gardens as they existed in 1799, a museum, the tombs of George and Martha Washington, and his greenhouse. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. The rise of America

    The U.S. Marine Memorial, left, and the Washington Monument, center, are silhouetted against the sky as the sun rises over D.C. (Karen Bleier / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Happy 4th of July

    Fireworks explode over Washington as the United States celebrates its 234th birthday, July 4, 2010. Seen from left is the U.S. Capitol, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. (Cliff Owen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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