One of the most visible landmarks in Washington DC, the Washington National Cathedral evokes admiration for its breathtaking architecture. First conceptualized in 1791-though it was more than a century before construction actually began-the National Cathedral took an astounding 83 years to complete. With 231 stained glass windows, 112 gargoyles, a central tower 30 stories high, and a total weight of 150,000 tons, it is a building to be reckoned with. For a spectacular view of the city, climb to the top of the gallery that spans the two west towers.
The cathedral building itself isn’t the only attraction of note on the adjacent 59 acres of land. Included on cathedral property are two outdoor sanctuaries—the Bishop’s Garden and the Olmstead Woods. Inside the Bishop’s Garden’s stone walls are two herb gardens, a rose garden, two perennial borders, a Shadow House and winding stone paths. Olmstead Woods is bisected by the picturesque Pilgrim Path toward the cathedral itself.
Keep your ears open for Carillon recitals (Saturdays at 12:30 p.m. except the holy Saturday before Easter) and the cathedral’s peal bells (Sundays at 12:30 p.m. and Tuesdays at 7 p.m.) rung by bands from the National Cathedral School for Girls and the Washington ringing society. Both sets of bells are best heard from the Bishop’s Garden.
Music lovers should visit on Mondays and Wednesdays from 12:30 to 1 p.m. (except holidays), when a Cathedral organist gives a short talk about the Cathedral’s 10,650-pipe organ and plays a short recital. No reservations necessary for individuals and small groups.
The National Cathedral offers guided tours of many varieties. First-time visitors are encouraged to take the Highlights tour, which shows you 30 minutes worth of basic cathedral art and architecture. Other tours focus on the gargoyles, the gardens, and depictions of patriotism in the cathedral. The Tour and Tea tours are specialty, in-depth tours that include a full English tea afterwards. Tour and Tea is offered every Tuesday and Wednesday at 1:30 pm, with the occasional holiday exception, and reservations can be made online. The cathedral also offers 1 hour and 15 minute-long audio tours so visitors can move at their own pace. Audio tours are generally available Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. unless there are special services or events taking place in the nave. They cost $16.
Those who prefer to explore the cathedral on their own are welcome and encouraged to do so, and can print a general brochure and guides to finding interesting features of the cathedral beforehand. Families with children are invited to tour the cathedral with the help of a scavenger hunt and children’s guide, found in the “Explore the Cathedral with Children” brochure. Tour brochures are available inside the main entrance of the cathedral at the Information Table.
Visitors wishing to worship at the National Cathedral are encouraged to do so. A list of services can be found on the web site.
For more information, visit www.nationalcathedral.org.
Photos of the Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
Hours: Monday through Friday, open from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm, with tours available from 10:00 am to 11:15 am and 1:00 pm to 3:30 pm.
Saturdays, open from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm, with tours available from 10:00 am to 11:15 am and 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm.
Sundays, open for services from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, with tours available from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm.
Admission: Fees for sightseeing at the Cathedral apply to tours or building admission Monday to Saturday. Sundays are free. Worshiping, prayer, and other spiritual visits are free.
Parking: The garage entrance is located on Wisconsin Avenue, just south of Woodley Road. The garage is open from 6 am to 11 pm. Parking costs vary by day and time.
Metrorail: Not accessible by Metro. If you would like to take public transportation, you can take the Metro Red Line to the Tenleytown/AU station. Exit on the west side of Wisconsin Avenue. Take any 30 series bus (31, 32, 36, or 37) going south on Wisconsin Avenue. Ride approximately 1 1/2 miles until you reach Woodley Avenue; the Cathedral is on your left.
Old Town Trolley Tour