Guided Spotlights Tour

Close-up of the Space WindowUpgrade your sightseeing experience with a Guided Spotlights Tour! This regularly-offered option features an hour-long tour with an expert guide and features the stories behind must-see Cathedral favorites on the main and lower levels such as the Space Window and the Canterbury Pulpit. Learn about the artists behind the new Now and Forever Windows and the famous West Rose Window. Explore some of the oldest parts of the Cathedral in the crypt. Hear the stories of the craftspeople who built this gothic masterpiece, and more!

Behind the Scenes Tour

Take your sightseeing to the next level with a Behind the Scenes Tour, where you’ll travel hidden staircases during a one-of-a-kind experience. Discover the Cathedral’s hidden stories as you marvel at the building’s artistry and engineering. Journey through passageways to see stained glass windows up close. Step out secret doors to witness magnificent views from the heights.

Please review the following information before purchasing tickets:

  • Not for those with fear of heights or those with limited mobility. Be prepared for close quarters, stair climbing, and heights.
  • Must be at least 11 years old; those aged 11-17 must be accompanied by an adult. Infants cannot be carried this tour.
  • Tours are scheduled according to docent availability; check upcoming availability below.


Tower Climbs

Visitors on a spiral staircase during a tour sightseeing tour at the CathedralExperience Washington, DC like never before and experience panoramic vistas from the highest geographical point in the nation’s capital. These adventurous climbs take you through hidden stairwells and past stunning stained glass and charming gargoyles for a unique experience that will take your breath away. Three options are available:

Bell Tower Climb

The ultimate destination of this climb is the ringing chamber, 333 steps high in the Cathedral’s central tower. From here, visitors will find the best possible view of Washington, DC. The climb includes multiple views inside the Cathedral itself, up-close views of stained glass, and access to some of the Cathedral’s oldest stairs. Duration: 70-90 min

Angels & Monsters Tower Climb

Climb the Cathedral’s two western towers! Enjoy an unprecedented close-up look at many gargoyles and grotesques while navigating the open-air walkway wrapping around these two towers—about 125 feet above the ground. The climb ends on the very top of the northwest tower, which provides the best views of the Cathedral itself, as well as 360-degree views of the surrounding area—over 200 feet above the ground! Duration: 70-90 min

Combination Tower Climb

For the ultimate climbing event! This extended experience goes back-to-back to combine all the highlights of the Bell Tower and Angels & Monsters climbs. Duration: around 2.5 hours

Please review the following information before purchasing tickets.

  • Prepare for rigorous activity. Not for those with a fear of heights or enclosed spaces, or for those with limited mobility – stairs include both enclosed stone staircases and also open metal, spiral stairs.
  • Must be at least 11 years old and meet minimum height requirement of 48 inches (4 feet). Those aged 11-17 must be accompanied by an adult. Infants cannot be carried on Tower Climbs.
  • Dress appropriately for the weather, as conditions are more extreme than at ground level.
  • Tower Climbs are scheduled according to docent availability; not all options may be available at a given time.


Thematic Tours

Ironwork and cast shadows in the CathedralTake a deep dive in specific Cathedral topics with a Thematic Tour! These small-group tours focus on themes or specific areas of the Cathedral, including voices of history, sacred art and architectural topics.

Tap the rows below to learn more about topics and themes.

Celebrate notable African Americans who have made significant contributions in theology, human rights, social justice, civil rights, education, and the welfare of other human beings as depicted in the sculptures, stained glass windows, and needlepoint throughout the Cathedral. See where Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and former President Barack Obama became part of Cathedral history.

Explore the magic of wrought iron in the Cathedral—from fantastic creatures to stunning flowers, all unique and made by skilled hands. Learn about the artisan blacksmiths and how they created such stunning work. This experience includes a walking tour of both the main level and the lower level to see a variety of wrought iron created over the last near-hundred years.

What are the basic elements shared by any Gothic building? Why is Gothic so well suited to religious structures? Through the Cathedral’s soaring walls and exquisite carvings, explore the Gothic style and its unique characteristics, purposes, and building methods.

Amid the majesty and grandeur of gothic architecture are examples of amusing architectural details, puns, lighthearted carvings, and stained-glass cartoons. Discover a doctor in an old-time buggy racing after a stork, a story in stone about a Nantucket sleigh ride, a wrought iron gate that unexpectedly wiggles, a dentist drilling a cavity in the tusk of his walrus patient, and so much more! Please note, this tour spends time both outside and inside.

In this introduction to the stained-glass windows, learn about the tales they tell, from God’s creation of the universe to stories from American history to the Last Judgment. Witness the stylistic evolution of Cathedral windows from 1911 to the 2000s and learn about the creation process, which combines artistry and technical skill. Discover how to “read” a window, decoding symbols that add meaning and depth to each lancet.

Discover symbolism in the Cathedral’s stone, stained glass, and fabric art which, like those crafted by medieval cathedral artisans, illustrate the “…Divine purpose which animates human endeavor…” Learn to read the art’s unfolding stories by decoding the symbols’ meanings within artistic elements of the Cathedral.

Please Note: Thematic Tours are best suited for ages 10+. Tours are scheduled according to docent availability; not all options may be available at a given time.