The National Cathedral in Washington, DC is the sixth largest cathedral in the world. Although it is the home of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and it has a local congregation of more than 1,200 members, it is also considered to be a national house of prayer for all people. The Cathedral is known as Washington National Cathedral, though its official name is the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul.
The National Cathedral is an impressive structure and if you like to see amazing architecture, taking a tour should be at the top of your "to do" list when visiting the nation's capital. The Cathedral is English Gothic in style with exquisite sculpture, wood carving, gargoyles, mosaics, and more than 200 stained glass windows. The top of the Gloria in Excelsis Tower is the highest point in Washington, DC, while the Pilgrim Observation Gallery in the Cathedral's two west towers offer dramatic views of the city.
Over the years, the National Cathedral has been the host of many national memorial services and celebrations. Services were held here to rejoice the end of World Wars I and II. The Cathedral was the setting for State funerals for four presidents: Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, and George H. W. Bush. Following the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks, George W. Bush honored the victims of that day with a special prayer service here. Other events held here have included a National Day of Prayer for Victims of Hurricane Katrina, funeral services for civil rights leader Dorothy Irene Height, memorial services for the victims of the school shooting in Newtown, CT, and former South African President Nelson Mandela.
Tours of the National Cathedral
You can take a guided or self-paced tour of the National Cathedral and explore its dramatic art and Gothic architecture. Guided tours last approximately 30 minutes and are offered on an ongoing basis throughout the day (check the "Plan Your Visit" calendar on the Cathedral's website for tour availability on the day you're hoping to visit). No reservations are required. Be sure to take some time to walk the grounds as well. The 59-acre property includes gardens, three schools, a gift shop, and a cafe. The following tours are a unique way to visit the National Cathedral:
- Tour and Tea Program: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. (with some exceptions for holidays). Cost: $40 per person. A guided tour highlights the cathedral’s art, architecture, and history. Afterward, enjoy tea and scones in the beautiful St. Paul Room, complete with panoramic views of Washington, DC. Reservations are required. Make a reservation online.
- Gargoyle Tours: Available April through October. Take a tour with a gargoyle expert and learn the history of these fascinating creatures. The tour includes a slideshow followed by a guided outdoor tour, providing guests a chance to spot many of the whimsical gargoyles and grotesques, including monsters, dogs, cats, birds, horses—and even Darth Vader. Reservations are recommended. Admission is $22 per adult or $18 per child (12 and under), student or senior. Recommended for ages 10 and older. See an updated schedule and make a reservation.
- Tower Climbs: The climb takes between 75 and 90 minutes. You can climb the 333 stairs of the bell tower or explore the Western towers. The towers climb includes a close-up look at many gargoyles and grotesques while visiting the open-air walkway wrapping around two towers that are about 125 feet above the ground. The climb offers the best views of the Cathedral itself and 360-degree views of the surrounding area. Can't choose? Combine the two for a 2.5-hour grand tour. Make a reservation online and avoid the line. Private tours for groups of 5 to 10 people are also available.
- Garden Tours, Volunteer Work Days, Woods Walks, and Bird Walks: These special events are a part of the All Hallow Guild’s Olmsted Woods Restoration and Stewardship Project. No reservations are required and the tours are free of charge. Call (202) 537-2319 or visit allhallowsguild.org for dates and times.
The Cathedral Grounds - Bishop's Garden and Olmsted Woods
All Hallows Guild was founded in 1916 to maintain the 59 acres of the Cathedral. The landscape was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. who created a park-like setting with open spaces and plants of historic interest that were native to America. Bishop's Garden was named for the Cathedral's first Bishop, Henry Yates Satterlee. The 5-acre Olmsted Woods include a stone footpath, the Pilgrim Way, a contemplative circle, native wildflowers and shrubs, and a host of migratory birds. An outdoor amphitheater serves as a place for outdoor services.
Throughout the Christmas holiday season, you can take a guided tour, hear festive music, make Christmas decorations, or attend a religious service. See the calendar of holiday events if you intend to join.
3101 Wisconsin Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20016. (202) 537-6200. The nearest metro station is Tenleytown-AU. The entrance to the parking garage is at Wisconsin Avenue and Hearst Circle.
$12: Adults (17 and up)
$8: Youth (5 – 17), Senior (65 and older), Students and Teachers (with ID), Military (current & retired) No admission is charged for tours on Sunday.
All groups with 15+ people must make a reservation to visit the Cathedral or its grounds at all times. For more information on group visits, visit the group website.
The National Cathedral offers daily services available to the public. Special events are held throughout the year, including organ recitals, choir performances, the annual Flower Mart Festival, jazz, folk and classical concerts and more. For a weekly listing of special events, visit the official website.
- Monday–Friday: 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
- Saturday: 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.; Sunday: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
- Tours: Monday – Saturday 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m.; Sunday as available.
- Gardens: Open daily until dusk.