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Where to Chill on Capitol Hill (Before Things Get Weird Again)

As Washington braces for the return of Congress and debate on Syria, another deranged debt ceiling fight and the fun of the appropriations process, it’s worth checking out a few places one can retreat to, relax and allow some tiny bubble thoughts to flit about before the maelstrom begins in earnest.

As a bonus, all these places are free, so even if you only have a few minutes, a quick head-clearing getaway is gratis.

Botanic Garden — Just steps from the Capitol, this garden spot has several distinct ecosystems and a calm environment that is custom-made for anxiety decompression. Benches that line each habitat’s walking path make it easy to pull up a seat and watch the grass — or orchids or palm trees or banana trees — grow. 100 Maryland Ave. SW.

National Postal Museum — The Smithsonian Institution’s perhaps most obscure museum hides in plain sight across the street from Union Station. The grandness of the surrounding structure, the City Post Office Building, with its high ceilings and 90-foot-high atrium, belies a quiet laying out of some pretty cool stuff: air mail planes, mail rail cars, stamp-collecting exhibits. It’s a place to walk around and absorb at your leisure. 2 Massachusetts Ave. NE.

Folger Shakespeare Library — A couple of blocks down East Capitol Street from the Capitol, the Folger is undergoing renovations to its Great Hall that has spread the exhibits into all manner of nook and cranny in the library, as my colleague Hannah Hess reports. As a result, you can browse the Bard’s great works while collecting your thoughts in the Founder’s Room. 201 East Capitol St. SE.

The Great Hall, Jefferson Building, Library of Congress — Located across the street from the Capitol, the LOC’s Great Hall is quite a drawing room for the country’s book collection. It’s hosted everything from Russian figure skaters to the Telephone Pioneers of America. But in the course of a normal day, it’s a majestic place to simply walk around and allow a couple of hundred years of American history to surround you. First Street Southeast, between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street.

Embassy of Canada in Washington — What better place to chill than the Great White North’s local address? Just down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Senate side, the embassy courtyard, lobby and art gallery are open to the public. The embassy grounds are enormous and palatial, yet the inside areas are positively meditative. Just don’t joke around too much about Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Canada’s newest native son celebrity. It’s too soon. 501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.