Washington National Cathedral (3101 Wisconsin Ave., NW), officially the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, is both a cathedral of the Episcopal Church and a spiritual home for the nation. The Gothic-style structure stands on one of the city’s highest points and took more than eight decades to construct—the cornerstone was laid in 1907, and the west towers were completed in 1990. A (very rare) earthquake in 2011 caused damage to some of the pinnacles, buttresses, and gargoyles, so parts of the cathedral are again covered in scaffolding and netting at present.
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In many ways the National Cathedral, though constructed in the 20th century, was built much like European cathedrals in the past. Stained glass windows, limestone gargoyles, and other elements throughout the cathedral were hand-fashioned using centuries-old techniques. Still, visitors will find some modern touches around the building, such as a stained glass window that includes a small piece of lunar rock brought back by the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, and a carving of Darth Vader’s mask on the northwest tower.
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The National Cathedral often hosts events of national import, such as funerals and memorial services for U.S. presidents and other notable Americans. Its “Great Organ” is well named, with over 10,000 pipes. Check the event calendar for the worship schedule and for recitals and concerts for a chance to hear its power for yourself.
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The 59-acre Cathedral Close surrounding the cathedral itself was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. One of its most delightful spots is the Bishop’s Garden, a medieval-style walled garden with pathways, rosebushes, and herb beds. The grounds also contain the Olmsted Woods, a 5-acre oak and beech forest with winding pathways through it.
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Pictured: Uptown Theater
The Uptown Theater (3426 Connecticut Ave., NW) is one of the country’s few movie palaces to have been operating continuously since Hollywood’s Golden Age. First opened in 1936, its projection and sound systems are fully up to date, and its 70-by-40-foot screen is still one of the best places in town to see the latest blockbuster film.- Photo by MV Jantzen
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The National Zoo (3001 Connecticut Ave, NW), part of the Smithsonian Institution, is one of the city’s most popular attractions for tourists and locals alike. About 2,000 animals of 400 different species from all over the world live on the grounds. It is, of course, a wonderful place to spend the day looking at animals big and small, but the zoo also provides important opportunities for scientists to learn about protecting endangered species and other topics related to the care and breeding of animals.
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Pictured: Mei Xiang and Tian Tian at the National Zoo
A pair of giant pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, are the National Zoo’s most popular attraction. They have been at the zoo by special arrangement with the government of China since December, 2000. Their habitat, designed after their native, mountainous terrain, offers them options to climb, sit and eat bamboo, or dip into pools and mists on hot summer days. They are the second pair of pandas to have lived at the National Zoo—the first, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, were given by the Chinese as a gift during President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972.
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The giant pandas may be the headliners, but all of the zoo’s species get custom-designed habitats and special attention from zookeepers and the public alike. In recent years, cheetah cubs have won the hearts of not only in-person visitors, but also virtual visitors who’ve logged on to the online “Cheetah Cam” (the zoo’s website offers over a dozen live streams where viewers can see animals in action).
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Check the events calendar for special after-hours opportunities to visit, such as ZooLights each November and December, which has the zoo all decked out in holiday decorations.
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Marilyn Monroe gazes over Woodley Park—the mural of one of Hollywood’s all-time favorite blondes was painted in 1981 by artist John Bailey at the request of Roi Barnard, seeking to make the blank wall above his hair salon a little more glamorous.
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The Hillwood Estate (4155 Linnean Ave. NW) is a little off the beaten path, but a must-see for garden lovers. The home of Post Cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post from 1955 until her death in 1973, the estate is now a lovely museum where visitors may view Ms. Post’s extensive collections of French decorative art and Russian imperial art, and tour 13 acres of formal gardens, including the hilly Japanese-style garden.
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Marjorie Merriweather Post traveled widely during her life, including to the Soviet Union, where her third husband, Joseph E. Davies, served as U.S. Ambassador in the 1930s. Her favorite countries are represented not only in her art collections but also on the grounds of the estate, such as in this symmetrical French-style parterre.