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Of the many tours and attractions available in Washington DC, the White House and Pentagon are two of many that require advanced scheduling. And even though we put our request in for both around 3 months in advance, we did not hear back from the Pentagon until the day before our tour. We did some last minute re-arranging of our plans to make way for the Pentagon.
Travel to the Pentagon is much easier than I expected. Given it is the United States headquarters for defense, I was surprised that there was a Metro station right near the entrance of the Pentagon (between the main parking lot around the Pentagon and the Pentagon itself). What I always imagined was the tourist stop to be outside the official boundaries of the Pentagon with a bus for visitors. The moment you exit the Metro Train into the Pentagon Metro stop, there are signs signaling no photography allowed. I found the only places photos are allowed are in the outside 9/11 Memorial and inside the visitor area by the podium. But from the Pentagon Metro station, you can head toward you Pentagon Tour or the outdoor 9/11 Memorial.
Pentagon Tour (Advanced Reservation Required, no walk-ins)
As for the security check, it was as simple as passing by a couple of guards (we did have to show proof we had a visitor tour) and a metal detector and bag check. This is very similar to an airport, except the there are fewer guests and less checking. To be fair, I'd assume that a big background check was done to verify my identity. According to the Pentagon, it says to get there 60 minutes early, so we spent a fair amount of time waiting sitting around the visitor center without much to do (small gift shop).
As for the tour itself, it was about a mile long of walking over the course of an hour. The tour group was supposed to be around 60 people large, but we got lucky and a group of 55 did not make it. Sounds like a tour bus of people. So our tour size was only 5 people! There was an introduction video, followed by a short discussion talk and the do's and don't while inside the Pentagon. The tour guide walked backwards the entire time around the inner loop of the Pentagon, all while providing facts about the Pentagon. All throughout the walk, there were posters, aircraft models, and photos. Unfortunately, the pace of the tour was too brisk to allow any chance to read it. Overall, we did learn many facts from the tour. To be fair, much of the information on the tour is probably available online.
Since this was post 9/11, part of the tour included a visit to the 9/11 Memorial inside the Pentagon which honors the lives lost both inside the Pentagon and aboard the plane. The 9/11 Memorial inside the Pentagon was part of the location that was destroyed. From the 9/11 Memorial inside the Pentagon, there was a view of the publicly accessible (no appointment necessary) outdoor 9/11 Memorial. Still, no photos allowed.
All in all, the total time for security check and our tour was a bit over 2 hours. However, just being given the opportunity to step foot in the Pentagon makes this an opportunity I would not pass up.
Outdoor 9/11 Memorial
9/11 was such a recent and tragic event that I'd say everyone should visit. However, the weather was nice (a bit cold) and there were not many visitors to the Memorial. There were far more people visiting Arlington Cemetery, our next stop. That being said, there is a phone number you can call to get a self-guided tour. Other than that, there are many others there, including guards of any sort.
The 9/11 Memorial itself was quite nice. With a diving board like structure representing one life, the memorial is arranged in chronological order by age. The direction of the diving board indicates whether the life was in the plane or Pentagon. With pictures, we probably spent about 30 minutes wander the site.