Basilica of the National Shrine & A Monastery

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The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception sits on the campus of the Catholic University of America, in Washington, DC. The dome, which reaches a height of 237 feet and boasts spectacular shades of blue and gold, can be seen far and wide.

The Best Laid Plans

You know what they say, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. Our visit to the Basilica of the National Shrine, as well as our visit to the nearby Franciscan Monastery did not go according to plan. Not at all.

Both destinations offer free guided tours, so we booked a tour for each. In my research I found information that described the two locations as being just a 5-minute walk apart. Um… no. I suspect when I typed in the distance between the two, the website was set to driving, not walking. Oh well. It all worked out for the best.

Walking in Circles

We arrived, by Metro, (Red Line Brookland Station) at the campus of the Catholic University of America. Using GPS we walked in circles until we realized the Franciscan Monastery was actually on the other side of the Metro Station. It was a 25-minute walk, not a 5-minute walk, walking away from the Basilica of the National Shrine.

Having booked a 1:00 tour we arrived with zero minutes to spare. We opted not to catch up with the tour because we very much wanted to make our 2:00 tour at the Basilica. That, and we quickly learned we didn’t need to be on a guided tour, we could visit on our own.

Mount Saint Sepulchre

The church, Mount Saint Sepulchre, has a footprint of a Jerusalem Cross. I should note here that we are not Catholic. We know very little about the Catholic Church, only what we’ve experienced while traveling the world. As such, we tend to appreciate the art, architecture and history of the churches, cathedrals, basilicas and mosques we’ve visited, rather than the faith represented.

With that being said, as we understand it the Franciscans are dedicated to preserving holy sites and caring for the people of the Holy Land. The Franciscans extended their work to the United States in 1898.

The Gardens

Sitting adjacent to the monastery are the gardens where guests are welcome to stroll at their own pace along paved paths. There are various places where one can sit and reflect, and just embrace the moment. Isn’t that the whole point of a garden?

Since our visit did not go according to plan, our visit was brief. We hope to return sooner than later.

If You Go
  • Franciscan Monastery 1400 Quincy St. NE Washington, DC 20017
  • 202-526-6800
  • Parking available
  • Closet Metro Station: Red line Brookland Station How to Ride the DC Metro
  • Church hours: 9:00 – 4:00
  • Garden hours: 9:00 – 4:45
  • Guided tours (free) are 50 minutes, reservations necessary
  • Self-guided tours are welcome
  • Restrooms available
  • Walkable to local shops and eateries
The Basilica of the National Shrine

As a retired teacher I’m usually tuned in to thinking about kids. I was off my game though because it never dawned on me that the monastery and the basilica would be a spring field trip destination for Catholic School students. They are.

Upon arrival at the visitors desk at the basilica, we saw the number of students and realized our upcoming tour would include a significant number of them, which was confirmed by the lovely ladies at the visitors desk. Once again, as at the monastery, we learned we could take a self-guided tour. The best laid plans were put aside yet again.

Aerial View
Aerial view (taken from the Washington Monument) of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Photo credit: @eVanNicole 2016

As you can see by the photo above, the Basilica of the National Shrine is mammoth in size. The photo (see photo credit) was taken from the Washington Monument, a driving distance of approximately 4 1/2 miles. It’s appropriate the photo was taken from the Washington Monument. The monument is the only tower taller than the basilica tower, which is 329 feet, in Washington, DC. Sadly, we haven’t heard the bells toll, but we look forward to the day when we get to hear all 56 bells ring. Imagine the sound!

Where’s the Dome?

The visitors desk is on the lower level of the basilica which is where we started our self-guided tour. While the memorial hall and prayer chapels were impressive and serene, we were somewhat underwhelmed. Where’s the dome we thought. We found the stairwell to the upstairs, walked around the corner and simultaneously stopped in awe at what lay before us. Breathtaking doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Mammoth in Size

The first thing that strikes the senses is the immense size of the church. The Basilica, in total, has a floor area of over 200,000 sq. feet. Take that in for a minute. 200,000 sq. feet. It’s overwhelming and absolutely stunning. It’s also the largest Catholic Church in North America. We’ve toured a lot of churches in our travels, and we usually say something along the lines of oh this one is extra special. The same applies to the Basilica of the National Shrine. It is indeed extra special and as Abi succinctly put it… it’s all done so tastefully.

Don’t Forget to Look Up

I say it all the time. Don’t forget to look up. It’s the best piece of advice I can give when visiting the Basilica. The inner dome is extraordinary. It’s known as the Trinity Dome and it’s made of 14 million pieces of glass. Each piece was cut precisely for it’s place in the design. I can only imagine what it took for the artisans to craft such an exquisite mosaic.

The Trinity Dome
Guided or Self-Guided

While we chose to take a self-guided tour at the Basilica, as well as the Monastery, from what I overhead from nearby tour groups, I believe the guided tours are faith-based. Makes sense, of course. So, depending on what you’re looking for by visiting the two sites, guided or self-guided should fill the need.

With over one million visitors each year, the Basilica of the National Shrine is an absolute must-see destination for any visitor to Washington, DC.

To see more of our visit to the Basilica and the Monastery, click over to our Youtube Channel, and don’t forget to subscribe!

If You Go
  • Basilica of the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception
  • 400 Michigan Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20017
  • 202-526-8300
  • Closest Metro Station: Red line Brookland Station How to Ride the DC Metro
  • Parking available, but may be limited depending on day
  • Closet Metro Station: Red line Brookland Station
  • Guided tours (free) are 60 minutes, reservations necessary
  • Hours: 6:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
  • Self-guided tours are welcome
  • Restrooms available
  • Cafe, bookshop & gift shop
  • Walkable to local shops and eateries
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