Tour American History For Free

'Arctic Monkeys' band
CBS/The Early Show
What do the Uffizi in Florence, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Prado in Madrid, and The Louvre in Paris have in common? They all charge you for the privilege of viewing their treasures. And what do the White House, the Capitol Building, the Air and Space Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of American History, and the National Archives in Washington, D.C., all have in common? They are free. Absolutely free.

Of course, a visitor may feel compelled to buy something in one of the gift or souvenir shops or to offer a gratuity to one of the White House or Capitol Building tour guides.

But to walk by John Glenn's tiny Mercury Space Capsule or The Spirit of St. Louis, to see the inaugural gowns of all the First Ladies of the United States, to view the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson's original script, or to gaze up at the Capitol Dome from The Rotunda far below won't cost you a cent.

None of the Smithsonian museums charge an entrance fee. There's no charge to visit the major monuments: the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial, the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials, and Arlington National Cemetery. (The Washington Monument's free too, except that it's currently closed for renovations.)

In fact, it is possible to spend a week in Washington and pay only for food, lodging and transportation, and visit most of the major tourist sites for nothing. Zip. Zero. Nada.

Not a bad deal.

Rob Armstrong is the author of the travel guide Golfing in Ireland, published by Pelican. His next book Golfing The Virginias will be published in 1999.

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