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, occupying the historic baptistery building.

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, with George HW Bush looking on.

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 at 10:15am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm 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. Choristers sing Evensong at 5:30pm Monday to Friday and 4pm on Sunday 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.