Religious Sites and Tours in Washington D.C.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic church in North America, has incredible Byzantine-Romanesque architecture, the world’s largest collection of contemporary ecclesiastical art, and Catholic and American heritage and history. Referred to as “America’s Catholic Church,” it houses over 70 chapels and oratories. The basilica welcomes about one million people a year, and past visitors have included Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II and Mother Theresa. Pilgrimages and tours are available.
At the National Cathedral, religious travel groups can climb 333 steps to the 300-foot-tall bell tower. The guided climb features a demonstration of the bells, information regarding the cathedral’s architecture and a view of Washington from one of the highest places in the city. From the Pilgrim Observation Gallery, see flying buttresses and other architectural features. Take the “Highlights Tour” and spend 30 minutes observing the cathedral’s art and Gothic architecture.
Take a picture in the pew used by most U.S. presidents since James Madison at
St. John’s Episcopal Church, known as “The Church of Presidents.” Located across from the White House, the church has the pew at the back of the church where Abraham Lincoln sat during the Civil War. Lincoln would come in before the service started and leave before the service was over. He also helped keep the church open during the Civil War. The church opened in 1816. Guided tours are available on Sundays, self-guided tours are available with a church brochure.
St. Matthew’s Cathedral, established 1840, offers guided tours by appointment and is known for its exceptionally beautiful interior. The mother church of the Roman Catholic archdiocese in the city, also served as the location of President John F. Kennedy’s funeral Mass. Pope John Paul II has visited St. Matthew’s in 1979 when he held Mass here.
The Islamic Center in Washington D.C., finished in 1957 and dedicated by former President Dwight Eisenhower, strives for a better understanding of Islam in the U.S. The center offers guidance for Muslims, officiates marriage ceremonies, and has the Qu’ran and Islamic literature, language and religious classes, counseling services, and a research center and library.
The Islamic Center also assists the poor, especially families in need. Visitors are welcome to come and learn more about Islam. The mosque has verses from the Qu’ran on its walls and ceiling, a bronze chandelier and Persian rugs.
B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum, established in 1957, is open only by appointment and guided tours are available. Groups are asked to e-mail the museum in advance with two or more possible visit times. The museum has about 1,800 artifacts depicting Jewish life and culture. It has artwork such as ceremonial and folk art, paintings, sculpture, drawings and graphics from such artists as Malcah Zeldis, Edna Hibel, Art Spiegelman, Philip Ratner, Marc Chagall, Ben Zion and Malcah Zeldis.
See Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, a meeting place for the community that offers Shabbat services and is a part of Washington D.C.’s Jewish heritage.
Tours and Attractions in Washington D.C.
Old Town Trolley and Open Top Sightseeing have narrated hop on/hop off sightseeing tours featuring such stops as Washington National Cathedral and the National Zoo. Nighttime tours of memorials and monuments are also available.
Take a 45-minute Potomac River tour featuring historical narration with Capitol River Cruises. Learn about Georgetown’s history from costumed guides on the mule-driven C&O Canal Boat Rides. The boat seats 85 people.Take a walking tour of the Georgetown or Adams Morgan neighborhoods, or National Mall, Lincoln Memorial or FDR Memorial through Washington Walks.
Visit the White House, where every U.S. president lived besides
George Washington. Tour requests should be made at least six months in advance through the groups’ member of Congress. The White House Visitor Center offers videos and exhibits showing the home’s architecture, furnishings, social events and First Families. Tours of the Pentagon are available by reservation. At the Library of Congress, visit the Thomas Jefferson Building for its 19th century architecture, decoration and historical exhibitions. Visit the U.S. Supreme Court and attend a lecture in the courtroom when court is out of session.
Notable memorials to visit include: African American Civil War Memorial, Air Force Memorial, FDR Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Korean Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Marine Corps Memorial Iwo Jima Statue, National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, National World War II Memorial, Pentagon Memorial, Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, Vietnam Women’s Memorial and Women in Military Service For America Memorial. Also visit the Washington Monument and Mary McLeod Bethune Statue, which honors her and the National Council of Negro Women. Bethune Council House served as her last residence in D.C. and was the council’s first headquarters.
Visit Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate and gardens. The Virginia property features the iconic mansion, tomb, outbuildings, farm and working blacksmith shop. Interactive exhibits and more than 700 artifacts are available at the Orientation Center and Museum and Education Center.
Tours are given at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, which features the last home of Douglass, one of the most influential African-American leaders during 19th century.
See famous flight icons such as original Wright Flyer, SpaceShipOne, the Apollo 11 command module, the Spirit of St. Louis and a touchable lunar rock at the National Air and Space Museum. The museum, one of several Smithsonian museums on the National Mall, also features IMAX movies, flight simulators and planetarium shows. Other popular Smithsonian museums include the National Museum of American History, National Museum of the American Indian and National Museum of Natural History.
Another must-see attraction is Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River in Virginia.
“DC’s selection of free and low-cost attractions, as well as active and inviting churches, makes it an inspiring destination for religious travel planners. We enjoy working with religious conference planners because they are often very flexible and willing to work with us to choose dates where they’ll find better rates and availability.” A treasure house of American history, Washington offers religious travel groups a long list of nationally prominent sights as well as places of spiritual significance”.
Ronnie Burt, vice president, convention sales and services, Destination DC