Things to Do

The 5 Best Places to See Views of DC While the Washington Monument Is Under Construction

Last year’s earthquake shuttered our number-one scenic spot—but there are a few alternatives.

The Old Post Office Building’s clock tower offers free tours. Photograph by Chris Leaman.

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
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,
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.