Folger Shakespeare Library

Library in Capitol Hill & South DC

Bard-o-philes will be all aflutter here, as the library holds the world's largest collection of old Billy’s works. Stroll through the Great Hall to see a changing exhibit of Elizabethan artifacts, paintings, etchings and manuscripts. The highlight is the chance to peek at one of the library's First Folios, the first printed collection of Shakespeare's plays, published in 1623. Pop into the on-site Elizabethan-inspired theater; it’s worth returning in the evening to catch a show.

The centerpiece, however, is the library’s reading rooms, closed to all but scholars and registered readers with a specific project, except on Shakespeare’s birthday (April 23) and during weekend tours (noon to 1pm Saturday and 1pm to 2pm Sunday; book online in advance). Here you’ll find most of the library’s most valued Elizabethan artifacts, paintings, etchings and manuscripts. The Shakespeare bust on the east end wall is a copy of one of only two approved likenesses.

Docents also give hour-long tours (11am, 1pm and 3pm Monday through Saturday, noon and 3pm Sunday) of the building and exhibitions; no reservations are required for those. An Elizabethan garden, full of flowers and herbs cultivated during Shakespeare’s time, blooms on the building's eastern end.

The Folger building itself is notable for being the most prominent example of the modernist-classical hybrid movement that swept Washington, DC, during the Great Depression. Jokingly referred to as ‘Stark Deco,’ it tends to inspire strong feelings: lovers say it elegantly pays homage to Greek classicism and 20th-century modernism, while haters say it ruins both styles.