Folger Shakespeare Library

Washington, 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.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Washington, DC attractions

1. Adams Building

0.07 MILES

One of the Library of Congress' three buildings, this holds 180 miles of shelving and is used mostly by researchers.

2. Library of Congress

0.13 MILES

The world's largest library – with 164 million books, manuscripts, maps, photos, films and other items – awes in both scope and design. The centerpiece is…

3. Supreme Court

0.14 MILES

The highest court in the USA occupies a pseudo-Greek temple protected by 13,000lb bronze doors. Arrive early to watch arguments (periodic Monday through…

5. Madison Building

0.22 MILES

One of the Library of Congress' three buildings. This has the Madison Cafe (open 8:30am to 3:30pm weekdays) on the 6th floor, a fine spot to refresh and…

6. US Capitol

0.35 MILES

Since 1800, this is where the legislative branch of American government (ie Congress) has met to write the country's laws.

7. Summerhouse

0.45 MILES

Northwest of the Capitol is the charming 1879 Summerhouse, a redbrick hexagon with black-iron gates and an interior well. This is where women in the late…

8. Taft Memorial Carillon

0.51 MILES

What is that chiming you hear every hour and quarter-hour? It's the 27 bells of the Taft Memorial Carillon, built to honor Senator Robert A Taft from Ohio…