- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2003

New York has the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Florida has the sunshine and the theme parks. But truth be told, when it comes to a December vacation, the nation’s capital is not high on many people’s list.

Maybe it ought to be.

“This may be the best time of all to visit the city, because you don’t see the crowds, you get to see the monuments and you get to have the good times without having to push your way through,” said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative to Congress.

The period from Thanksgiving week through Martin Luther King’s birthday traditionally marks the slow season for hotels, restaurants and other firms dependent upon travelers drawn to the area for government business.

According to Mrs. Norton, D.C. Democrat, this might be the best holiday tourism season for visitors to Washington since 2000. Many of the attractions that have been closed since the September 11 terrorist attacks now are open, although visitation policies have been modified for security reasons.

“We’ve got the White House to open up some of the tours, and we’ve gotten the Capitol completely opened up, so there’s really nothing you can’t see if you come to Washington now,” Mrs. Norton said.

White House tours for groups of 10 or more can be arranged through the offices of members of Congress up to six months in advance. Visits should be scheduled at least one month in advance. Tour hours are between 7:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Guided tours of the U.S. Capitol are available between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Both the Capitol and the White House are closed on Christmas.

The 80th lighting of the National Christmas Tree will be Dec. 4 on the Ellipse, near the White House. Entertainers taking part include Shirley Jones and the cast of the musical “Mamma Mia.” The U.S. Capitol tree lighting is one week later.

“You not only have the experience of a beautiful city, but an incredible array of art and performance arts,” said Dorothy McSweeny, chairwoman of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

The National Theatre, Ford’s Theatre, Kennedy Center and other venues are offering special holiday presentations. In addition to their collections, many of the Smithsonian Institution’s museums offer special exhibits during the winter months.

“We have more free things to do in Washington than in any other city in the world.” said William A. Hanbury, chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C. Convention and Tourism Corp. There are a total of 650 memorials and national historic sites in the District, most located away from the National Mall.

“You could spend weeks going to each one of them, and they are all for free,” Mr. Hanbury said.

In recent months, the tourism and hospitality industry in the national capital region has recovered to activity levels prior to the terrorist attacks.

Mr. Hanbury’s group is spending $500,000 to promote its third annual “Holiday Homecoming” tourism campaign. Much of the money will be used to purchase ads in major newspapers within driving distance of the District. Hotels are offering special discount rates, and tickets to some holiday events are being offered at discount as part of the package, Mr. Hanbury said.


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