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8 AM: The Early Bird Catches the Worm
On such a short visit, you don’t have time to waste, so set out early for a breakfast to remember. Head to DC’s Capitol Hill neighborhood for a taste of Washington politicos hard at work—yes, even at 8 in the morning. Bistro Bis in the Hotel George (15 E St., NW; 202-347-4200), in view of the Capitol’s big white dome, is a power-breakfast spot where you’re likely to see Hill honchos meeting over perfect plates of eggs Benedict. Even better? The restaurant is just a hop, skip, and a jump from Union Station (on Metro’s Red Line), so it’s easy to get to practically anywhere in the city.
9 AM: Hit the Hill
Now that you’ve seem ’em eat, head to the Hill to watch ’em work. Take a tour of the US Capitol and learn about the history of the building while you see it for yourself. After walking through the Hall of Columns, the rotunda, and the old Supreme Court chambers, it’s upstairs to where the action is: the House and Senate chambers. From the visitors’ gallery, you can watch history as it happens—see bills being debated, votes being counted, and speeches being given. But a word to the wise: Congress is on recess for the month of August, so if watching a bill become a law is important to you, don’t plan a visit that month.
Tickets are free but available only on a first-come, first-served basis at the Capitol Guide Service kiosk on the sidewalk on the Capitol’s southwest side (near the intersection of First Street and Independence Avenue, Southwest). Ticket distribution starts at 9.
• Insider tip: Lines for the ticket kiosk can be long, especially in the summer. If you’re a US citizen, you might try to arrange a tour with someone from your Congress member’s or senators’ office. It’s recommended that you call in advance of your trip to secure a tour time, but even if you don’t, it’s a worth a try just popping in and seeing if they’ll give you a tour on the spot. Often, they’re more than willing to accommodate—you are a voter, after all.
Who says you need money to have fun? The ten museums along the one-mile span of the National Mall are all free. You’ll have time for only two at the most, so we recommend the National Gallery of Art—the 76-foot-long Alexander Calder mobile in the East Building is especially breathtaking—and the Natural History Museum, with its dinosaur bones, insect zoo, Hope Diamond, and more. Go to the National Gallery first (it comprises the two easternmost buildings on the north side of the Mall, along Madison Drive). On your way to the Natural History Museum (the third building on the same side, moving west), take a few minutes to wander through the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden, which sits between the two museums.