Things aren’t looking up for the Washington Monument. The 555-foot-tall obelisk, which boasts a beautiful view for anyone willing to brave the excruciating elevator ride or the 896 steps to the top, was damaged in this past year’s earthquake. This week the Washington Post reported that the $15 million repair job is now expected to continue through 2014, leaving view seekers down on their luck for at least another year.
Luckily, the Washington Monument isn’t the only breathtaking vantage point. The lack of building height restrictions in Virginia allows for an onslaught of fantastic views from across both rivers, but there are a few great aerial views to be seen right here in DC.
We spoke with National Building Museum senior vice president and curator Martin Moeller about the best alternative places to see the city from up high.
The Old Post Office Pavilion Clock Tower: Built in 1899, the Old Post Office Pavilion offers both history and a great view. It was the first government building to have its own electric power plant, and it shoots skyward with a 315-foot-tall clock tower presenting panoramic views of DC. The tower is open seven days a week, and free tours are available.
The National Cathedral: How about a 300-foot climb up 333 steps that takes approximately 45 minutes? The National Cathedral’s tower climb seems designed for those with an almost inhuman dedication to nice views and/or nice calves. As a bonus, the scenery comes with a demonstration of the bells housed in the tower.
The Hay-Adams Hotel: Though the W Hotel’s Point of View Lounge is often touted as the best hotel rooftop in the city (a viciously competitive category, really), Moeller advises not overlooking the Hay-Adams Hotel. It’s got a roof deck that overlooks Lafayette Square and, of course, the White House. Moeller says this is why “often, you’ll see newscasts being made up there.”
The Newseum: It’s not free, but the view is worth it. The Newseum—specifically the Hank Greenspun Terrace on Pennsylvania Avenue—offers a view up and down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the monument that inspired this list. On the railing along the terrace are informational panels offering the history of the celebrated street. This view might cost about $20, but it also comes with a two-day pass to one of the largest and most interactive museums in the world.
The Cairo Hotel: Now a condominium building simply known as the Cairo, this 14-story, 160-foot-high Dupont landmark was built in 1894, five years prior to the Heights of Buildings Act, which outlawed building anything taller than the Capitol. The view is spectacular, but non-Cairo residents might have a smidge of trouble reaching it, since it’s a private building. “You can get up there if you have a friend, but otherwise, they don’t take kindly to people traipsing up there,” says Moeller.