10 Spots to See on the Tour of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

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One of the premier performing arts centers in the world, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts was the vision of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was originally going to be named the National Cultural Center, but after John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1965, the center was named in Kennedy’s honor as a living memorial to the former president. Over 30 countries donated various gifts (mostly art work) which are on display throughout the Kennedy Center and over a dozen reception rooms.  The Kennedy Center has three instinct performing centers: The Concert Hall, the Opera House, and the Eisenhower Theater. The Kennedy Center is also home to the National Symphony Orchestra and the National Washington Opera.

Today, the Kennedy offers daily programs and events that range from theater, dance, and music to comedy, film, and exhibitions. Many events are free and open to the public, and there are tons of children focused programs.

Travel Tips:

  • The Kennedy Center offers FREE, guided tours from 10am-4:30 pm during the weekend and from 10am-12:30pm on the weekends. Visitors do not need to make reservations ahead of time, unless in groups of 15+ visitors.
  • There are also guided tours of REACH, KC Campus Highlights, and exhibit highlights- check here for more information.
  • Note: The Kennedy Center doesn’t open to the public until 10am, so don’t get there super early unless it is a warm weathered day and you can walk the grounds. Also, the website states tours start at 10am, but it’s really closer to 10:15am.
  • Visitors must check in for tours are on level A, accessible via the parking garage (take the elevator up to level A to the tour desk) or through the main entrance (then take the elevator down to level A to the tour desk).
  • There is a large parking garage underneath the Kennedy Center; there is a slight discount for reserving your parking spot online ahead of time. Check here for information about public transportation and driving directions. 
  • Restrooms are only available before the tour starts and are located near the tour desk.
  • There are two gift shops selling a wide variety of souvenirs, apparel, and gifts; located across from the Tour Desk and in the Hall of Nations.
  • No dining options on site during tours, but the Tazza Cafe is located across the street (New Hampshire Avenue NW). Other dining options can be found here
  • Plan on 75 minutes for a guided tour. Here is a good map of the complex.

Ten Stops on the Kennedy Center Tour:

  1. The Hall of Nations displays a flag for every state and territory country which is considered a diplomatic “friend” of the United States. The Hall includes over 3,700 tons of carrara marble for the floors and walls, donated by Italy as a gift.
  2. The Grand Foyer has 16 chandeliers, each weighing over one ton, donated by Sweden. The room is 3460 feet long, feet wide, and feet tall. Either end of the Grand Foyer has a small stage, where free, or low cost, performances are offered several days a week. 
  3. Some of the lounges used for cocktail receptions, intermission gatherings, and press conferences. Most tours visit two or three lounges, including the Israeli Lounge (with the massive art installation made of walnut  depicting instruments with the Israeli name and ceiling panels painted with scenes from the Old Testament), the Opera House Circus Lounge (the most recently renovated and modern lounge with a three painting linen panels, a gift from Russia), and the African Lounge (which has no 90 degree angles with any wall or ceiling, and has a pair of carved wooden panels from a 700 year old tree), and the Chinese Lounge (donated by the People’s Republic of China and displays a large piece of calligraphy art). 
  4. The Presidential Box in each of the three theaters. Controlled by the White House (and therefore, tickets must be arranged through the White House), each Presidential Box has the seal of the White House and decor decided by the First Lady (or Second Gentleman).  The Presidential Box has seating for 8-12 people depending on the theater.
  5. The Concert Hall is home to the National Symphony Orchestra. The theater has 3,465 seats and seven crystal chandeliers, a gift from Norway, that can be lowered by hydraulics to be cleaned every few years.

  1. The Opera House is the home of the Kennedy Center Honors performance every December. Sit in the Presidential box and see the view of the stage, four levels and balconies, and the 2,340 seats. Austria gifted the Center the chandelier, which is 50 feet wide and has over two thousand bulbs.
  2. The Eisenhower Theater, named after Presidential Eisenhower, was most recently renovated in 2014 and has about 1,110 seats. This theater has a portrait of Eisenhower instead of the Presidential Seal above the Presidential Box door. 
  3. The bust of JFK, which weighs three thousand pounds even though the inside of the bust is hollow, on display in the Grand Foyer.
  4. The Top of the Center (during warmer months). The panoramic views afford visitors the chance to see the Washington Monument, Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, Arlington Cemetery, and the National Cathedral.   
  5. The Terrace Theater is sometimes available for tours to take a peek. It was closed for cleaning on the date of our tour. Visitors are also welcome to explore the JFK Gallery on the Terrace Level, which hosts the Art and Ideals: President John F. Kennedy exhibit.

Bonus: If you have time, check out REACH, a 4.6 acre park next to the Kennedy Center, that opened in 2019 and includes several indoor and outdoor pavilions and spaces for studios and classrooms for rehearsals, small concerts, and receptions. 

Looking for other tours of performing arts center? Check our our posts featuring Carnegie Hall (NY), Radio City Music Hall (NY), the Met Opera House (NY) The Bushnell Performing Arts Center (CT), the Wang Theatre at the Boch Center (MA), and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (MA).

Looking for other adventures in Washington D.C.? Check out our feature of FREE things to do, and our posts featuring the National Zoo, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of African American History & Culture, the National Museum of the American Indian, the International Spy Museum, the National Building Museum, the National Postal Museum, and Mount Vernon. And follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and X.

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  1. The Kennedy Center is on my list of places to visit. It’s so cool that gifts were given to the US from other countries and I love the display of flags which represents our friends/allies. Great photos taken of your time there!

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