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Government Shutdown? Still Plenty To Do!

As is the rest of DC. Photo by Maria Helena CareyIf you've got plans to visit Washington in the coming weeks, and are concerned about the possibility of a Federal government shutdown, don't change them, just have a backup plan.

While a lot of the big ticket items will be closed, there's still plenty to do and see in DC. Frankly, some of these less visited venues are more interesting that the high-draw options, and you could plan a perfectly good trip around them alone. So let's take a look at a few:

  1. Other "National" options:  Just because it has National in the title, doesn't mean it is operated by US government. The National Cathedral, while it was given a charter by Congress over a century ago, was entirely privately built and recieves no government funds. The National Building Museum, which I maintain is the best children's museum in DC, will be unaffected by the shutdown. The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is well off the beaten path for most people, but gets good reviews when I take visitors there, especially Catholic ones. And, of course, the National Geographic is hosting the excellent America I AM exhibit. Don't be fooled by the word "National", take a look to see if it's still open.
  2. Historic Congressional Cemetery: Bummed by missing Arlington National Cemetery? Well you should be, but all is not lost. I've already suggested Congressional as an alternative, and its a wonderful place to pick up many threads of American history. Big ticket names such as J. Edgar Hoover and John Phillip Sousa are at rest there, but there's really a lot more to talk about than this brief segment can go into. 
  3. Other art museums: Sure, you may have had your heart set on the Da Vinci at the National Gallery of Art, but they're not the only show in town. In the last government shutdown, many of Washington's private art museums experienced a mini-boom. The Corcoran tippled their weekly attendance rate with offers of free coffee and donuts, the Phillips Collection more than doubled their visitors, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts found that they were full up not just with tourists, but with furloughed government workers as well. These people were all on to something. Go find out what is was.
  4. Pay Museums: In the 16 years since the last shutdown, Washington, DC has seen quite a few new for-profit (or non-profit but pay museums) open up. While the free museums are one of the nation's best deals, these guys offer a good time for your money. If you're not very careful, you just might learn something too. The Newseum has been my favorite, but that's no reflection on the ever-popular International Spy Museum or the relatively new National Museum of Crime and Punishment. And Madame Tussauds has opened a new Presidential Gallery with all 44 Presidents, which I'm looking forward to seeing. I hear the Warren G. Harding is so realistic it actually tries to hit on young women.
  5. Neighborhoods: Why do you want to be so cooped up on a glorious spring day! Get out and check out all that the real DC has to offer. Wander down U Street and get a half-smoke at Ben's. Go to Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle, put your name in for a table for brunch, and enjoy checking out the books for the hour or so until its ready (not being sarcastic!). Wander around historic Eastern Market and do a little shopping. If you don't need inch thick pork chops or thirty differnt kids of sausage, swing by nearby Labyrinth Game Shop and Hill's Kitchen and get a DC puzzle or a Washington Monument cookie cutter for the folks back home.

Honestly, the more I go into this, the less I think you're going to be missing during a government shut down. If I had to pick an itinerary between the things that I mentioned yesterday the items above, I'd go with today's list.

And hey, local folks, let's help our visitors out. Leave some suggestions in the comments of your favorite non-Federal DC attractions.

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Reader Comments (16)

We're planning a Spring Break trip beginning on March 12th. This helps ease some of the worry. What about Mount Vernon? Since there's an admission fee does that mean they are private and will remain open in the event of a shut down?

February 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

Good point. Mt. Vernon is entirely privately owned and operated and will operate like normal.

February 28, 2011 | Registered CommenterTim Krepp

How is The National Building Museum managing to stay open? Isn't it funded with federal money?

Also, I called the National Museum of the Marine Corps today and they are run by a foundation and should be unaffected.

You might want to mention some of the museums in Baltimore as well.

February 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLauren Kahn

It's a good question, Lauren, and I'm not familiar enough with their governing structure to comment. But I did contact them and they verified they would remain open.

Thanks for the Marine Corps tip.

And wow, Baltimore has a ton of stuff. Enough for it's own post, or for that matter, it's own website. Baltimore Like a Local, anyone?

February 28, 2011 | Registered CommenterTim Krepp

WIll the Supreme Court be open to visitors during a government shutdown? What about the battlefield at Gettysburg?

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Good question about Supreme Court. I don't know, let me see what I can find.

Gettysburg will be closed, as it is National Park Service. However, some public roads cross the Battlefield, and it probably won't be off limits. Just no rangers, visitor center, etc.

March 3, 2011 | Registered CommenterTim Krepp

Museum of the Marine Corps is now saying they do not know what they will be doing (It does depend on the person you converse with). Obviously, contact before you go over there.

Many of the venues I have contacted do not know for sure what they will be doing. Everyone should call anywhere they are thinking of going if they are uncertain about its status.

For the weekend of April 9-10 the Newseum is having a 2 for 1 special.

April 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLauren Kahn

I just spoke with Pam Dotson of the Press Office at the National Museum of the Marine Corps and she says that they will be open. She will call me if that changes. OK, folks, the rule is still call first before you go.

April 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLauren Kahn

Here we are again, about to go through another "will they or won't they" shutdown dance. Thank you for the nice comments about the Newseum. I want to let you and your readers know that the Newseum receives no federal funds and WILL BE OPEN regular hours (9 a.m.-5 p.m.) if the government closes on April 8. In fact, this weekend the Newseum will be celebrating its third birthday and Saturday, April 9 - through Monday, April 11, we will be running a special "buy one, get one free" (BOGO) discount. You must present the BOGO coupon to take advantage of this great offer. You can find it in the Friday, April 8, "Weekend" section of The Washington Post, or you can download a coupon at

April 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Hey, thanks for letting everyone know, Mike! Great offer.

April 5, 2011 | Registered CommenterTim Krepp

Lauren brought it up in an earlier post, and I just wanted to give additional details. There will be special activities on Saturday only, including free caricatures (four artists, on the ground level near the 4-D Theater, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), a free mini-cupcake with every Food Section purchase, appearances by the Newseum's NewsHound mascot, and an "Inside Media" program at 2:30 p.m. in the Knight TV Studio with Diane Rehm.

Also, Lauren WAS correct that the original plan was to offer the BOGO on Saturday and Sunday only, but Monday is the actual birthday, and - with a possible shutdown - folks might be looking for stuff to do on Monday, too.

April 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Gettysburg will be open. The Visitor's Center is a privately owned building. I called and that's what I was told. Thank you for the other suggestions!

April 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen

How about the Holocaust Museum? Does anyone know if it will be open? I'm supposed to bring a group of students up on Sat.

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie

The Holocaust Museum will not be open. I called today and they said they will definitely be closed if there is a shutdown. Also - update on my note about Gettysburg. I called again to double check and they said they really don't know if they'll be open or not. Won't know until midnight tomorrow.

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Thanks, Jen. Guess I'll have to reschedule. I'll have lots of disappointed studens.

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie

students....delayed keyboard....I hate it

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie

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