Washington, DC: Exploring Hidden Gems on Capitol Hill

The Capitol Building is the centerpiece of Capitol Hill, the place that gives the Washington, DC neighborhood its name. There’s more to this historic area, though. There are places to learn all about postage stamps, to get great pizza, and to catch a play by one of the greatest playwrights in the world in a theater resembling those from centuries ago.

Create your own tour of the Hill, easily accessible by Uber; these three stops will get you started.

At the National Postal Museum you’ll see freight trucks, airplanes, and a hickory dogsled—all of which have been used at one time to deliver mail. There are exhibits that invite you to consider how delivering letters and packages helped bind a new nation together, as you walk a forest path like the one mail carriers walked between Boston and New York in 1763. You will learn about Pony Express riders in the wilderness of the west, and how mail traveled by ship and boat. You can trace the route a letter takes today from mailing to delivery, learn about the post office as a rural community center, and see ways postal inspectors have been keeping the mail safe since 1776.

And then there are the stamps—a whole floor devoted to these mini artwork masterpieces, where you may explore stamp designs from the US and around the world. Be sure to check out the Postmaster’s Suite, a space for special exhibits such as one featuring stamps and stories connected with the national parks. The museum is closed at night, but you can enjoy illuminated windows featuring artwork from historic stamps.

Capitol Hill is a neighborhood made up of 19th century row houses and Federal style townhouses, small shops, and intimate places to eat set along tree-lined streets. Join neighborhood residents at Seventh Hill Pizza, where the crusts are thin and crispy and the pies are named after local streets and landmarks. French wines from nearby restaurant Montmartre also show up on the menu. At Armand’s Pizzeria, pies come deep-dish style or thin crust, and there is a pizza and salad lunch buffet, too.

At the Folger Shakespeare Library in the Great Hall, you can learn about Tudor England, explore Shakespeare’s life story, and see a rare First Folio of the bard’s plays (and leaf through a digital version). See if you can identify scenes from Shakespeare’s plays carved on the building’s front, and check schedules to take in a play or a talk in the theater. The theater is designed to mimic the yard of an Elizabethan inn, which is where plays were often performed in Shakespeare’s day.

The Folger, begun as a private collection and given to the nation by Henry Clay Folger and his family, houses the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s work. Scholars may apply to use the reference library and reading room, which only open to the public by guided tour on Saturdays. Scholars and visitors can also enjoy the garden, which is filled with herbs and flowers like those of Elizabethan England.

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