After the awful events of 9/11 I always assumed that The Pentagon was a no go area so I was really pleased when I searched for free tours in Washington DC that a tour is possible. There are plenty of hoops to jump through to be accepted on to a tour of the Pentagon.
Note: Due to Covid-19 restrictions all tours are currently suspended until further notice
This link will explain how to request a place on a tour, what you can take in there (virtually nothing) and what information is required to be accepted on the tour.
It sounds like a headache in the making doesn’t it? If you follow the rules and answer the questions eventually, nearer your requested time your application status will update with acceptance or otherwise.
The Pentagon is the headquarters of the American Military Forces and the US Department of Defence. It is built as a five sided web with five inner pentagons joined by hallways and junction. On any one day there are approximately 27,000 people in the building. There are 17 miles of corridors. It is 77 feet above ground with 5 stories and each of its five sides are 921 feet long. You will walk a mile to do a lap of the building. Apparently you are no longer than 6 minutes from any two spots in the building due to its efficient design.
I arrived via the Pentagon Metro Station and walked around the perimeter to the 9/11 Memorial Garden. The photo on my front page is of the memorial and it is one of the most thoughtful and reflective monuments to 9/11. The direction of the seating with names indicating if victims were in the Pentagon or on the doomed American Airlines flight 77. All have the names at one end or other and all pointing to where the impact happened.
Signs on every lamppost forbid photography and the use of drones. Surrounding the Pentagon building is a massive car park and bus stops. There are so many different military uniforms to see and funny to think that they are all working in the largest low level office complex in the world.
After negotiating security and checking in for your allotted tour time you enter a waiting area which photography is allowed. There is a lectern with the Pentagon seal on the wall behind you that you can pose for photos and of course a shop.
Tip: If you are tempted to buy souvenirs this will be your only opportunity to do so. They will accept all forms of payment. Also this is your last chance to make yourself comfortable, even though there are more toilets than any other building you have no access to them as you are not allowed to leave or deviate from the group.
The tour is led by two members of the forces in perfectly presented uniform and unbelievably shiny shoes. Different units do different tours and mine was led by Marines. In all you walk about 1 mile but you don’t see a whole lot to be honest.
There is also one guide who walks backwards the whole time, even up and down the escalators and his colleague takes up the rear. They have eyes on you the whole time. The first thing you realise is that this is a city in a block. There are shops, restaurants, take outs, fast food, coffee shops. Downstairs, although you don’t see it is a gym that houses full sized basketball courts, an Olympic sized swimming pool, apparently if you play it they have it.
There is an un-decorated portion to show the tour what the interior looked like after it was built and because they had surplus army green paint that was what used. The corridors are really wide and at each junction they are decorated in different designs. There are works on the walls from schools across the States to the victims of 9/11.
The guides point out where the American Airlines plane stuck and the death toll could have been much worse as this area was being restructured so there was only a skeleton staff working. The plane punched through to part of the C block which meant D and E were untouched. Nearby you are taken to the Chapel to sign a book of condolence (if you want to). I think this is the only place that directly has windows to allow the sun to enter the chapel.
The tour lasts near enough an hour and exit does not get you back into the waiting area but straight out of the building.
There isn’t anything to see outside of the Pentagon building. If you get back on the Metro there is a mall at Pentagon City that is worth a mooch around.