Climbing the Tower at the National Cathedral

The National Cathedral in Washington, DC is a grand, beautiful building. It has a lot of cool features, too, like a gargoyle in the shape of Darth Vader. There are tours you can do at the building, and they also have events there. Someday I’ll take the gargoyle tour.

 

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Parts of the cathedral were damaged in the 2011 earthquake, which is why you’ll see scaffolding in my pictures.

 

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Normally, tickets to climb the bell tower cost $40 each. However, we went this May during the annual Flower Mart, when the prices were reduced to $20 per person.

 

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It was a great experience. The confines are narrow, and there is a lot of climbing. Surprisingly, the tour starts underground. You go all the way to the base of the bell tower and then climb up (it’s not too far underground). There is a lot of cool art down there.

 

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At one point, there are two separate staircases that are metal spirals in the open air (pictured above). So not only is this tour problematic if you’re claustrophobic, it could also be an issue if you have a fear of heights.

 

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Eventually, we reached the carillon bells. These are a series of at least 23 cast bronze bells played with a keyboard. Happily, the bell player was there and we got to experience the bells, which was really neat.

 

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Another terrifying staircase took us above the carillons to where the cathedral’s change bells are located. At the cathedral, they have 10 peal bells which are rung by a group of ringers, one to each bell. The bell is rung by pulling on a long cord, and different series of patterns are memorized by the players. We got a demonstration with 6 of the bells – it was very cool.

 

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After watching those bells and going back down both sets of death spiral stairs (way scarier going down!), we went into a part of the building that was still being worked on. It was very cool to see.

 

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The tour ended on one of the balconies in the cathedral. For the Flower Mart, there were several performances going on, so we watched for a while and then went down to see the interior of the cathedral and look at the flower displays put together by the embassies of various countries (which was part of the Mart).

 

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Below is the Japanese flower display, which I enjoyed.

 

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It is just such a beautiful building. Be sure to look at as many details as you can, because there are a lot of pieces of art and intricate carvings that would be easy to miss.

 

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If you’re eager to climb the bell tower, you should plan well in advance as each tour on a normal day only takes 10 people and they are not held extremely often. You will climb 333 steps over the course of 75-90 minutes. It is somewhat strenuous and not for those with severe claustrophobia or fear of heights. There is also a combination climb where you can do both the bell tower and the gargoyle tower, which sounds fairly intense. The normal bell tower climb is $40 per person.

More information can be found on the cathedral’s website, and you can book your tour there. There are several other types of tours you can take if climbing the bell tower is not for you.

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