Unique Washington, D.C. tours
Special to the Daily
Rich Smithsonian museums, moving memorials in the National Mall and the lavish Capitol: All of these are obvious tourist landmarks in Washington. But D.C. holds plenty of sights less traveled. Here are just a few:
Know before you go
First, to tour the White House, submit a request to your Congress member 21-90 days in advance.
The White House also offers a free garden tour, featuring a live band and a self-guided walk (albeit, heavily armed with Secret Service) around the gardens and fountain, one weekend in spring and one weekend in fall. The exact date in October will be posted in the fall at whitehouse.gov1.info.
Photograph with the finest
Ensure crisp shots of D.C. by joining a Washington photo safari. Photographer David Luria was trained in Paris and shoots architecture for a Washington Post publication. He customizes his safaris for anyone, from point-and-shoot cellphoners to advanced photographers.
His Monuments & Memorials workshop offers the perfect overview of Washington, D.C., as he coaches participants on proper exposure, composition and tricks such as making pedestrians and vehicles “disappear” from a photograph for clean architectural shots. The tour stops at the Mall, the often-missed Albert Einstein bronze, Lafayette Park and Union Station.
Nighttime safaris begin at a gorgeous park filled with hundreds of flowers, which, at dusk, act as the forefront of photos capturing the lit capital with the Lincoln and Washington monuments. In this safari, you’ll learn how to “move” the moon so it glows over the monuments.
Specialty workshops focus on specific techniques for just about everything you want to know about outdoor and indoor photography (macro to massive), photojournalism, Photoshop, photo editing components.
Luria’s humor, knowledge, patience and friendly personality make for truly fun expeditions, which he’s been leading for 25 years.
Feel the news
Unless you’re a news junkie or a journalist, you might miss out on the Newseum, which is a shame, because it’s one of the most emotionally moving and interactive museums in the world. Laughter, tears and awe are the predominant reactions as you walk through the museum’s seven levels, 15 galleries and 15 theaters.
If you don’t feel any emotion in the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery, then you might want to check your pulse. Walls exhibit every winning photograph from 1942 to now, while the theater runs short clips of photographers telling stories of their winning shots, such as the naked children running from death in Vietnam.
Eight concrete, graffiti-covered sections of the Berlin Wall stand on one level, along with an authentic Checkpoint Charlie. The massive scale allows you to imagine futile attempts at escape.
The broadcast antenna from the World Trade Center stands on another floor, along with an ash-covered camera and pack from a photojournalist blown up while covering the scene. Yet another level honors every journalist who has died covering war and other news, and two cars drive home the devastation: a driver’s side floorboard blown away by a car bomb and another truck riddled with gunshots.
Another level features a floor-to-ceiling map of the world’s regions who freely allow news, restrict it or ban true journalism. Again, if you don’t walk away with gratitude for free press and the First Amendment — however flawed it may be these days — you might want to move to, say, North Korea or Eritrea.
The Newseum isn’t all sorrow; the display of front pages (updated daily) throughout the nation is fascinating, and the news studios, where you attempt to keep up with the teleprompter without stumbling on words, is a crack-up (particularly when you watch the replay). While there, pull up the Vail Daily’s front page on one of the interactive machines.
And, if you hear people laughing in bathroom stalls, fear not: It’s just their reaction to real headlines gone wrong, printed on the tiles (like “Baby is what the mother eats” or “Drunk gets nine months in violin case”).
If at all possible, visit the Newseum before Dec. 31, when it closes in its current location. The reason: Seven stories of glass windows provide an open, airy feeling, unlike other museums, and the upper wraparound deck offers dramatic views of Washington, D.C. There’s also no absolute guarantee the Newseum will reopen soon, as its still looking for a new site.
Peer into the exotic
National Geographic Museum is a bit off the beaten path, but it’s worth the ride. It features rotating exhibitions, such as its current display of some of the most complete, and mind-blowing, artifacts in Queens of Egypt (through Sept. 2).
The exhibit travels through 1,400 years of history with more than 300 artifacts dating back as early as 1539 B.C. Sandals, jewelry, scrolls filled with hieroglyphs and items like a pink granite sarcophagus lid provide intimate glimpses into the lives of the queens, while informative boards tell stories of life in a harem, mummification and each queen’s personality and traits.
One of the most captivating parts of the Queens exhibit displays mummification tools, like an iron hook that extracted the brain through the nostrils. Another showcases elaborately painted inner coffins of the queens.
The museum merges the ancient world with modern technology through a 3D theater experience, which takes you on a virtual walk through Queen Nefertari’s tomb — one of the most extravagant tombs ever discovered in Egypt. Virtual columns seem within easy reach as they pass your peripheral vision, and descending into the depths of the tomb can catch your breath for a split second.
After touring Queens of Egypt, walk to the next building, which houses a small, yet intriguing, collection of stories about National Geographic explorers, and the equipment they used, such as antiquated scuba gear.
Cruise through D.C.
Entertainment Cruises offers several ways to see D.C.’s monuments, whether it’s a bottomless mimosa brunch cruise, gourmet dinner or lunch buffet cruise, a water taxi or simply a scenic ride. Boats range from large, enclosed ships and yachts to open-air vessels and riverboats.
The company runs Potomac Riverboat Co., which offers a water taxi from D.C.’s wharf (if you’re there, check out the open-air fish markets) to Georgetown, Alexandria and National Harbor.
The popular hour-long Monuments Tour provides waterfront perspectives and narration on sites like Fort McNair and National War College, Jefferson Memorial and the airport (where planes land every 30 seconds) as it passes under bridges along the Potomac.
The Mount Vernon Cruise takes 90 minutes to reach George Washington’s home and allows four hours for visitors to mill through the property. The tour also offers a biking option. And, the Canine Cruise is dog friendly, from Alexandria City Marina.
Artechouse is small, but it packs a punch with its ever-changing, interactive exhibits. It is the first innovative space in D.C. dedicated to experiential and technology driven works. Its digital art forms morph from one season to the next, be it an emphasis on cherry blossoms or its current “Infinite Space” theme, running through Sept. 2.
“Infinite Space” encourages visitors to open their senses to infinite possibilities and the incessant transformation of man and machine. Through it, artist Refik Anadol hopes to expand “the possibilities of architecture, narrative and the body in motion, as well as a dramatic rethinking of the physical world, our relationship to time and space and the creative potential of machines to enhance our cognitive capacities.”
In other words, Artechouse can get a little trippy, which is perhaps why its augmented reality bar, which serves drinks activated with a free AR mobile app, is so popular, as are its special late-night openings.
So, whether you’re into art, nature, technology, history or pure sight seeing, D.C.’s tours and landmarks — large and small — offers it all.