Washington National Cathedral

Top choice church in Upper Northwest DC

Image by unknown Robert Murray

Constructed between 1907 and 1990, this huge neo-Gothic cathedral blends the spiritual with the profane in its architecture. Most of its richly colored stained-glass windows celebrate religious themes, although the 'Scientists and Technicians' window with its embedded lunar rock is an exception. The famed exterior gargoyles depict everything from Darth Vader to a Missouri bear. Specialty tours are available so check online for details. The excellent Open City cafe is in the cathedral's grounds.

The Episcopal diocese runs this house of worship, but it’s open to all faiths. Presidents attend multi-faith services following their inauguration, state funerals are hosted inside and this was where Martin Luther King Jr gave his last Sunday sermon. Teddy Roosevelt witnessed the cornerstone being laid by workers in 1907 and construction stopped in 1990 when the west towers were completed.

In the main sanctuary, chapels honor Martin Luther King Jr and Abe Lincoln. Helen Keller and Woodrow Wilson, among others, are buried in the crypt. A guided highlights tour is included in the ticket price; these are held every hour from Monday to Saturday. Specialty tours, priced at $22 to $27 including admission, concentrate on the gargoyles, photographic opportunities and 'behind the scenes' access. Opening hours are extended to 8pm on Tuesday and Thursday from mid-June to August.

Take the elevator to the 7th floor observation gallery for expansive city views or meander outside through the peaceful winding paths in the Bishop’s Garden. The 11:15am Sunday service features choral music and a 10-bell peal of the carillon afterwards. Choristers sing Evensong at 5:30pm Mondays to Fridays and 4pm on Sundays during the school year.

The 2011 earthquake took a heavy toll on the cathedral. Repairs are underway, but visitors still have full access to the key areas of interest inside the cathedral.