American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
Seeking the Lost Symbol in D.C.
For years, popular books have inspired thematic tours all around the world. Fans of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series can visit key locales throughout historic England, while devotees of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy can do the same in breathtaking New Zealand. Lovers of Dan Brown’s bestselling novels have even trekked through Europe to experience the sites featured in his stories, from the churches of Rome (as explored in Angels & Demons) to the Louvre in Paris (as highlighted in The Da Vinci Code).
In celebration of Brown’s latest novel, The Lost Symbol, which was released last month, travelers can now see some of America’s greatest landmarks in a whole new light. In this third thriller featuring Harvard professor Robert Langdon, the expert symbolist must travel to Washington, D.C., to solve an age-old mystery in less than a day, in order to save the life of a longtime friend. During the course of this curious tale, Langdon explores the Masonic and religious symbolism of places like the U.S. Capitol, the Rotunda of which, he says, “was designed as a tribute to one of Rome’s most venerated mystical shrines. The Temple of Vesta.”
When Langdon first appears in the novel, he’s flying over the nation’s capital. His initial glimpse of the city is the impressive Washington Monument, about which Brown writes: The 555-foot marble-faced obelisk marked this nation’s heart. All around the spire, the meticulous geometry of streets and monuments radiated outward. Even from the air, Washington, D.C., exuded an almost mystical power. Langdon loved this city, and as the jet touched down, he felt a rising excitement about what lay ahead.
Like Langdon, you, too, can appreciate the symbolism, mystery, and thrill of D.C.’s historic landmarks, including those mentioned in my previous post about D.C.’s budget-friendly delights – most notably, the National Mall (202/426-6841), which contains the Washington Monument, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian Institution (202/633-1000, hours vary daily), the National Gallery of Art (202/737-4215, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun.), and “America’s living museum,” the United States Botanic Garden (202/225-8333, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily) – all of which are free to visit. While the public isn’t allowed in certain cited locales, such as the Smithsonian Museum Support Center, there are plenty of welcoming stops along the way. Without revealing the twists and turns of this latest Brown thriller (which I thoroughly enjoyed, by the way), consider the following itinerary:
After touring the monuments, museums, and gardens of the National Mall – which will admittedly require a few days – descend to the relatively new Capitol Visitor Center (8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat., free) beneath the U.S. Capitol. From here, you can enter the Capitol building, where you’ll be able to view the Rotunda, the National Statuary Hall, and other impressive chambers. From March to November, consider taking a two-hour walking tour of the Capitol exterior via the United States Capitol Historical Society (202/543-8919, 10 a.m. Mon., $10 adults, $5 children under 11).
From the Capitol building, follow the underground tunnel to the Library of Congress (202/707-8000, hours vary Mon.-Sat., free), which, according to Brown, was erected “as a symbol of America’s commitment to the dissemination of knowledge.” Composed of three impressive buildings – named after John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison – the Library of Congress is the oldest federal cultural institution in the nation and the largest library in the world. Today, visitors can enjoy interactive displays, special exhibitions, docent-led tours, concerts, lectures, and other events.
Your next stop should be Freedom Plaza, a popular location for civic events and political protests, the site of a large-scale city map, and a convenient place from which to hop the Red, Blue, and Orange Metro Lines. From here, take the Metro Red Line to the Dupont Circle Station, near which lies the House of the Temple (1733 16th St. NW, 202/232-3579, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., free), the headquarters of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, which houses the oldest public library in D.C. and currently offers public tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Thursday. Farther along the Metro Red Line lies the Tenleytown/AU Station, from which you can hop a bus to the Washington National Cathedral (3101 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202/537-6200, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun., donation suggested $5 adults, $3 students, seniors, and military), where visitors are welcome to join guided tours of the on-site art and architecture, including the Cathedral’s creepy gargoyles. Specialty tours are also available, such as “Tour and Tea” (1:30 p.m. Tues. and Wed., $25 per person), which includes an in-depth Cathedral tour and a traditional English tea in the Pilgrim Observation Gallery.
If you’re willing to venture a little farther, consider taking the Metro Blue Line across the Potomac River to the King Street Station, not far from the George Washington Masonic Memorial (101 Callahan Dr., Alexandria, 703/683-2007, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily Apr.-Sept., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily Oct.-Mar., free). Built in the 1920s by the Freemasons, this remarkable, privately funded structure houses a museum, a research center and library, a community center, and a performing arts venue. Visitors can participate in daily guided tower tours; in addition, special Masonic tours are available on the first and third Wednesday of each month.
For details about other Masonic-influenced attractions in America’s capital city, consult Destination DC (202/789-7000), the city’s official convention and tourism corporation. Click here for more information about the relationship between Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol and Freemasonry.
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me at laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.