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The Need-to-Know Guide to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
See a show or take a tour of Washington, DC's legendary performing arts venue on the Potomac River.
President John F. Kennedy famously loved and promoted the arts, inviting authors and musicians to the White House and laying the groundwork for the the National Endowment for the Arts. The Kennedy Center, the performing arts powerhouse and living memorial in Foggy Bottom that bears his name, pays glorious tribute to his passion for all things creative. Lyndon Johnson laid its cornerstone shortly after Kennedy was assassinated in 1964; the center opened 1971.
The best way to experience Ken Cen (as the locals call it) is, of course, to see a show. This busiest of all U.S. performing arts centers hosts 3,000 events a year, drawing two million people annually. The cheapest seats are at Millennium Stage in the Grand Foyer, where free concerts, dance performances and other shows take place at 6 p.m. every night of the year.
The Kennedy Center serves as the official home for the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington National Opera. It also plays host to a range of ticketed events include plays, dance performances, comedy shows and a range of concerts, which come from internationally known groups.
Don’t miss out on catching a production from The Washington Ballet. Julie Kent, artistic director for the dance company, calls the Kennedy Center her “second home.” Go behind the scenes with the ballet in the video below, and learn what Julie hopes you’ll take away from seeing a performance.
The Spaces and Stages
The jumbo white marble edifice boasts dazzling, outsized interior and exterior spaces including the central, 630-foot-long, 63-foot-high Grand Foyer with its crystal chandeliers and distinctive red carpet plus a riverside terrace with fountains, spectacular views of Georgetown and walls inscribed with Kennedy’s words.
The center shelters seven theaters, including the Concert Hall, known for its impressive acoustics and symphonic performances, and the Opera House, with its luxe red decor and massive, 50-foot-wide, starburst-like crystal chandelier, a gift from Sweden. Artwork given by other countries can be found both in and outside the center, including a statue of Don Quixote (a gift from Spain) and Henri Matisse tapestries in the Opera House lobby (a gift from France). You can see nearly all of these treasures on free guided tours, which happen every 10 minutes, every day, on a walk-in basis.
You can also eat and drink at Kennedy Center, a particularly good idea before a show. Venues include the informal KC Cafe and the fancier Roof Terrace Restaurant and Bar, for spins on classic American fare with terrific river vistas. The Roof Terrace Restaurant also offers a popular Sunday buffet brunch. Also on site: two gift shops loaded with art- and Kennedy-themed souvenirs.