By Fritz Hahn
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Monday, October 27, 2008; 12:00 AM
While you can just wander in to any Smithsonian museum without tickets or reservations, other attractions require a decent amount of advance planning.
The U.S. Capitol
Guided tours are available from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Free tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the Capitol Guide Service Kiosk near First Street SW and Independence Avenue, beginning at 9. (They must be used at the time they are picked up. You cannot receive tickets for a later time, leave and come back.) Early morning is the best time to beat the crowds. Make sure you check the Web site's list of prohibited items before venturing out for a tour. If you would like to see Congress in action, you must apply in advance for a gallery pass from your senator or representative.
The Washington Monument
The Washington Monument provides one of the better aerial views of downtown, and the free tickets can be hard to come by. The National Park Service advises that same-day admission passes are often snatched up early in the morning. If you know the date you're traveling, you can make advance reservations (with a $1.50 service charge) through www.recreation.gov, although only half the tickets on any given day can be reserved -- one third are for saved for same-day distribution at the monument, and the rest are for group tours. The monument opens daily at 9, and tours commence every half hour until 4:30.
The White House
This is the tricky one. In order to access the self-guided tour of the White House's formal rooms, visitors must (a) be part of a group of 10 or more and (b) request the tour through their member of Congress. The tours can only be taken between 7:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. You can submit a request up to six months in advance, though you only learn your date and time "approximately one month in advance of the requested date." At least it's free.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Anyone can visit the rotating exhibitions in the Holocaust Museum's exhibition gallery and education center, but visiting the harrowing permanent exhibit, The Holocaust, requires a free timed-entry ticket from March through August. These are available six months in advance from tickets.com. (Note that a $1.75 service charge applies.) A limited number of same-day advance tickets are given away at the museum on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Supreme Court of the United States
When the court is in session (the first Monday in October through late April), visitors are welcome to attend the oral arguments, which are 30-minute presentations by each side's attorneys, followed by a 30-minute question-and-answer session with the justices. These are held at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Monday through Wednesday, with afternoon sessions scheduled as needed. There are two lines outside the court: one for those who want to sit through a full oral argument (at least an hour), and one for visitors who just want a quick three-minute glimpse of justice in action. A limited number of seats are available for the full argument, and lines begin forming well before 9:30, when the first individuals are admitted. Entrance for the three-minute visits begins at 10, though lines often form earlier. Allow time to get through the security screenings. If you have a question about how long it will take, police are available to answer questions. Tours of the building are only given when the court is not sitting, and begin on the half-hour from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Advance reservations are not necessary.