[Note: The write-up below reflects our experience before the building became a hotel, i.e. some things pictured are no longer there, and the entrance has moved, but the tower info is still accurate.]
I can’t reiterate enough how much I love all the deal sites. And it’s not just about scoring a discount. Through them, I often learn about new places and adventures, and am motivated to try ones I just haven’t gotten to yet.
That’s exactly what inspired a recent outing with the kids to The Old Post Office Tower. And while it wasn’t a deal that sparked the trip — it’s free to tour — we do have a deal site to thank for it. Scoutmob not only helps you save on all kinds of food, wares, clothes, and more good stuff from local businesses, they also have a groovy website with a whole section of articles about places, events, and ideas — all with a local bent. [Update: Scoutmob is no longer running.]
And that is where I found out about the Clock Tower tours. A couple of weeks ago, I read DC’s Most Underrated Tourist Attractions (That Tourists Don’t Go to) Part Deux on their site, and guess what was included on the list? Yep, the Old Post Office Tower. At 315 feet in height, it’s the third tallest building in Washington, DC (after the Washington Monument and Basilica at Catholic University), and I wanted to go check it out.
The kids didn’t have any plans after school that day, so when I picked them up, I asked them if they wanted to see DC from really high up, and immediately got an enthusiastic, “Yeah!” So, even though it was a gray and rainy day, we made our way down to 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. I pointed out the clock on the way there from several blocks away, and the kids were excited to know they’d soon be up there looking down on the city.
We parked fairly easily across the street, which was probably dumb luck at 3:45pm mid-week. Inside the building, we went through security then followed the “Tower Tour” signs around the west side of the building then downstairs. There are a food court and shops on the lower level, as well as a small area operated by the National Park Service, where tours of the tower begin.
We rode up to the tower in a glass elevator that faced the open space in the middle of the building, which the kids loved, but I have to admit gave me that rubber-knee feeling. It let us out on the 10th floor where we could view displays about the history of the tower, mostly how it was saved from demolition, and the Bells of Congress, a bicentennial gift from England which are replicas of the bells in London’s Westminster Abbey.
From there, we took another elevator up a couple of floors to the observation deck at 270 feet. That’s where you can see 360-degree vistas of DC and surrounding areas. And it is amazing. Even on a gray, rainy day. And when you consider there’s really no other place to get that perspective of the city now that the Monument is closed, it makes the experience even better.
We pointed out DC landmarks, tried to find our house (but couldn’t see that far), watched airplanes fly in to DCA, and looked down at all the little cars and people scurrying below. And in the center of the observation deck, encased in glass, are the inner-workings of the big ticker, so you can see its operations up close.
The deck is not completely enclosed, there are plexiglass windows in some areas, but just metal slats in most. Needless to say, it was a chilly venture, so we made our way back downstairs after about 15 minutes. Another jaunt in the glass elevator followed by a treat in the food court.
This one is already on my “Go-Back” list. If the views were that cool on a dreary day, I can’t wait to see them on nice one.
The Old Post Office Clock Tower is open from 9am – 4pm daily, except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Tours are self-guided, and admission is free. 2017 Update: The Old Post Office has been converted into a hotel, but the Clock Tower is still part of the National Park Service and open to tour. Enter at 12th & C Streets NW (on 12th between Pennsylvania & Constitution Ave. NW).