Opened in 1971, the Kennedy Center is both the national performing arts center and a memorial to John F. Kennedy. Set on 17 acres overlooking the Potomac and designed by noted architect Edward Durell Stone, the striking facility encompasses an opera house, a concert hall, two stage theaters, a theater lab, and a theater devoted exclusively to family productions.
The best way to experience the Kennedy Center is to attend a performance. Check the website or call the toll-free number below for information about Kennedy Center happenings and prices. The Center also offers free 50-minute guided tours, which include some restricted areas.
Tours depart from the parking plaza, Level A, at the Tour desk, located across from the lower-level gift shops. You tour the Hall of Nations, which displays the flags of all nations diplomatically recognized by the United States. Throughout the center you'll see gifts from more than 40 nations, including all the marble used in the building (3,700 tons), which Italy donated. First stop is the Grand Foyer, scene of many free concerts and programs and the reception area for all three theaters on the main level; the 18 crystal chandeliers are a gift from Sweden. You'll also visit the Israeli Lounge (where 40 painted and gilded panels depict musical scenes from the Old Testament); the Concert Hall, home of the National Symphony Orchestra; the Opera House; the African Lounge (decorated with beautiful tapestries and other artwork from African nations); the Eisenhower Theater; the Hall of States, where flags of the 50 states and four territories are hung in the order in which they joined the Union; the Performing Arts Library; and the Terrace Theater, a bicentennial gift from Japan. If there's a rehearsal going on, the tour skips the visits to the theaters.
Tours are offered in English, French, German, Spanish, and Japanese. You can beat the crowds by writing in advance to a senator or congressperson for passes for a free congressional ("VIP") tour, given year-round Monday through Friday at 9:30am and 4:30pm and at 9:30am on Saturday and Sunday. Call tel. 202/416-8340 for details.
Add another 15 minutes after the tour to walk around the building's terrace for a panoramic view of Washington.
- © Frommer's 2013
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- Recommended 2009