Complete Travel Guide to Washington DC National Mall
Exploring the Rich History and Iconic Landmarks of the National Mall
Welcome to the National Mall, the heart and soul of Washington, D.C. This historic and monumental stretch is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in the United States. From the grand monuments and memorials to the world-class museums, the National Mall offers a captivating blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. Let’s embark on a virtual journey to explore the must-see attractions, parking options, recommended time to spend, fees (if any), essential items to bring, travel tips, and frequently asked questions.
Attractions to See:
Marvel at the towering 555-foot marble obelisk, offering breathtaking views of the city from its observation deck.
Pay homage to Abraham Lincoln and stand in awe of his majestic statue overlooking the Reflecting Pool.
Take a guided tour of the seat of the United States Congress and witness the architectural grandeur.
National Air and Space Museum: Discover the wonders of flight and space exploration through interactive exhibits, including the iconic Apollo 11 Command Module.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History: Explore fascinating displays, including dinosaur fossils, the Hope Diamond, and the Hall of Human Origins.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Reflect at this poignant memorial, honoring the brave soldiers who served during the Vietnam War.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial: Commemorate the civil rights leader and be inspired by his powerful words etched in stone.
Tidal Basin: Stroll along the serene waterfront, especially during the cherry blossom season, when the trees burst into vibrant hues.
Parking: Parking in the vicinity of the National Mall can be challenging. However, several options are available:
- Metered Street Parking: Limited metered parking is available on the streets surrounding the National Mall. Be sure to check the signage for time restrictions and fees.
- Parking Garages: There are parking garages located in nearby areas, such as Union Station and L’Enfant Plaza, which offer convenient access to the Mall. Expect parking fees.
Recommended Time to Spend: To fully experience the National Mall, plan to spend at least a full day exploring its various attractions. However, if time permits, two to three days would allow you to delve deeper into the museums and soak in the atmosphere.
Fees: Entrance to the National Mall and most of its attractions is free of charge. However, some museums may have admission fees for special exhibits or shows. It’s advisable to check the official websites of individual museums for up-to-date information.
What to Bring and Wear:
- Comfortable Shoes: The National Mall is vast, and you’ll be doing a lot of walking, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes.
- Weather-Appropriate Clothing: Dress in layers and check the weather forecast, as it can be hot and humid during summer and chilly in winter.
- Sun Protection: Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses, especially during the summer months.
- Water and Snacks: Stay hydrated by carrying a reusable water bottle and pack some snacks to keep your energy levels up.
- Plan Your Itinerary: Prioritize the attractions you want to visit and create a rough itinerary to make the most of your time.
- Early Morning or Late Evening Visits: To avoid crowds, consider visiting early in the morning or later in the evening when the monuments are beautifully illuminated.
- Utilize Public Transportation: Taking the Metro to the Smithsonian or Federal Triangle stations is a convenient option to access the National Mall without worrying about parking.
- Museum Security Check: Note that all visitors to the museums are subject to security screenings, so factor in additional time for this process.
Q: Are pets allowed on the National Mall? A: Pets are allowed on the National Mall, but they must be leashed at all times.
Q: Can I have a picnic on the National Mall? A: Yes, picnicking is allowed on the National Mall. However, be mindful of the designated areas and clean up after yourself.
Q: Are there guided tours available? A: Yes, guided tours are available for specific attractions like the U.S. Capitol and some museums. Check their respective websites for more information.
Q: Can I ride a bike on the National Mall? A: Biking is permitted on the National Mall’s designated paths. Several bike rental companies offer hourly rentals nearby.
Here are a few excellent restaurants near the National Mall where you can enjoy a delicious meal after exploring:
- The Capital Grille: Located just a short distance from the National Mall, The Capital Grille offers a sophisticated dining experience with a menu featuring dry-aged steaks, fresh seafood, and an extensive wine selection.
- Fiola Mare: Situated along the Georgetown waterfront, Fiola Mare is renowned for its upscale Italian seafood dishes and breathtaking views. Enjoy fresh seafood, handmade pasta, and a refined dining atmosphere.
- Old Ebbitt Grill: Established in 1856, Old Ebbitt Grill is a historic landmark and a popular choice among locals and tourists. This classic American tavern serves a diverse menu that includes seafood, steaks, and traditional favorites.
- Founding Farmers: A short distance from the National Mall, Founding Farmers offers farm-to-table American cuisine with a focus on sustainability. Indulge in comfort food classics like chicken and waffles or enjoy their renowned brunch options.
- Oyamel Cocina Mexicana: If you’re in the mood for Mexican cuisine, head to Oyamel Cocina Mexicana. This vibrant and lively restaurant serves an array of flavorful Mexican dishes, including tacos, ceviche, and mole.
- The Source by Wolfgang Puck: Located near the Newseum, The Source is a contemporary Asian restaurant offering a blend of Chinese and Japanese flavors. Experience creative and beautifully presented dishes in an elegant setting.
- Rasika: For those craving Indian cuisine, Rasika is a must-visit. This critically acclaimed restaurant showcases modern Indian flavors with dishes like butter chicken, crispy spinach, and flavorful curries.
- Zaytinya: Situated in the Penn Quarter, Zaytinya serves a fusion of Mediterranean flavors inspired by Turkish, Greek, and Lebanese cuisines. Explore a variety of small plates, mezze, and delicious vegetarian options.
These are just a few options, and Washington, D.C. offers a diverse culinary scene to cater to various tastes and preferences. Be sure to check availability and make reservations in advance, especially for popular restaurants. Enjoy your dining experience near the National Mall!
When visiting the National Mall with your family, here are some family-friendly restaurants in the area that offer a welcoming atmosphere and a range of options to suit different tastes:
- Hard Rock Cafe: Located near the National Mall, Hard Rock Cafe is known for its rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia and American cuisine. Enjoy classic burgers, sandwiches, and salads while enjoying the vibrant atmosphere.
- Matchbox: A short distance from the Mall, Matchbox is a popular choice for families. They specialize in wood-fired pizzas, sliders, and other American comfort foods. The casual and lively ambiance appeals to all ages.
- Shake Shack: Offering a diverse menu of burgers, hot dogs, milkshakes, and frozen custard, Shake Shack is a great spot for a quick and satisfying meal. The location near the Mall makes it convenient for families on the go.
- Carmine’s: Located in the Penn Quarter, Carmine’s is a family-style Italian restaurant that serves generous portions of classic Italian dishes meant for sharing. The warm and lively atmosphere is perfect for a fun family gathering.
- Busboys and Poets: A unique combination of a bookstore, restaurant, and gathering space, Busboys and Poets offers a diverse menu with options for all dietary preferences. They also host cultural events and poetry readings, creating a vibrant and inclusive atmosphere.
- The American Grill: Situated inside the National Museum of American History, The American Grill is a convenient choice for families exploring the museum. They offer a variety of American favorites, including burgers, sandwiches, and salads.
- Clyde’s of Gallery Place: Located near the National Mall, Clyde’s of Gallery Place is a spacious restaurant offering a diverse menu of American cuisine. They have a kids’ menu and accommodate families with highchairs and booster seats.
- Johnny Rockets: Situated in Union Station, Johnny Rockets is a classic 1950s-style diner known for its burgers, shakes, and nostalgic atmosphere. It’s a fun spot for families to enjoy a meal together.
These family-friendly restaurants provide a range of options to satisfy everyone’s taste buds while ensuring a comfortable and welcoming environment for families.
In addition to exploring the attractions of the National Mall, there are several entertainment options near the area that can add to your overall experience. Here are some entertainment options you can consider:
- Ford’s Theatre: Visit Ford’s Theatre, located just a short walk from the National Mall, to catch a captivating performance or learn about the history of the theater and Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. They offer a variety of theatrical productions and historical exhibits.
- Warner Theatre: Located in the Penn Quarter, Warner Theatre hosts a wide range of live performances, including Broadway shows, concerts, and comedy acts. Check their schedule for upcoming events during your visit.
- Smithsonian National Zoo: If you’re looking for a family-friendly entertainment option, head to the Smithsonian National Zoo. It houses a diverse range of animals from around the world and offers educational exhibits, animal demonstrations, and special events.
- Madame Tussauds: Just a short distance from the National Mall, Madame Tussauds allows you to get up close and personal with lifelike wax figures of famous celebrities, historical figures, and political leaders. It’s a fun and interactive attraction for all ages.
- The Anthem: Situated at The Wharf, The Anthem is a popular concert venue that hosts a variety of live performances, including music concerts, comedy shows, and cultural events. Check their schedule for upcoming performances during your visit.
- National Theatre: Located near the National Mall, the National Theatre offers a diverse lineup of Broadway shows, musicals, and theatrical performances. Catch a captivating performance in this historic venue.
- Navy Memorial Plaza: Explore the Navy Memorial Plaza, situated near the National Mall, where you can admire the stunning architecture, pay tribute to the U.S. Navy, and enjoy occasional live performances and events.
- IMAX Theaters: If you’re a fan of immersive movie experiences, consider catching a film at the IMAX theaters in the area. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History both offer IMAX screenings.
These entertainment options near the National Mall provide a variety of experiences, from live performances to interactive exhibits, ensuring there’s something to suit different interests and age groups. Be sure to check their schedules and availability before your visit.
While the National Mall itself is more of an urban park, there are several nearby green spaces and nature walks where you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy some outdoor tranquility.
Here are a few options for nature walks around the National Mall area:
- The National Arboretum: Located northeast of the National Mall, the U.S. National Arboretum offers 446 acres of serene landscapes, including gardens, forests, and open meadows. Explore the various walking trails, such as the Azalea Collection, Fern Valley, and the picturesque Capitol Columns.
- Rock Creek Park: Situated northwest of the National Mall, Rock Creek Park is a vast urban park offering over 1,700 acres of green space. Enjoy peaceful walking trails, such as the Valley Trail and the Western Ridge Trail, which meander through wooded areas, alongside streams, and past historic sites.
- Constitution Gardens: Adjacent to the Reflecting Pool, Constitution Gardens provides a tranquil oasis within the National Mall. Stroll along the walking paths that wind around a lake, enjoy the lush greenery, and spot various waterfowl and wildlife.
- Theodore Roosevelt Island: Located in the Potomac River, just west of the National Mall, Theodore Roosevelt Island offers a unique nature experience. Accessible via footbridge, the island features trails that lead you through wooded areas, marshes, and along the Potomac River shoreline.
- Hains Point and East Potomac Park: Located south of the National Mall, Hains Point and East Potomac Park provide a peaceful waterfront retreat. Enjoy a leisurely walk or bike ride along the park’s paths, take in the scenic views of the river, and visit the beautiful floral displays at the nearby Tidal Basin.
- Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens: Situated northeast of the National Mall, Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens is a hidden gem featuring serene ponds, wetlands, and the stunning beauty of lotus and water lily blooms. Explore the park’s trails and boardwalks, and don’t miss the chance to see the colorful flowers during their peak season.
These nature walks near the National Mall offer opportunities to reconnect with nature, enjoy scenic views, and engage in outdoor activities amidst the bustling city. Remember to dress appropriately, bring water, and respect the park rules and regulations while exploring these natural areas.
The Hop-On Hop-Off bus is a popular and convenient way to explore Washington, D.C., including the National Mall area.
Here’s some information to help you plan your Hop-On Hop-Off bus experience:
- Operators: There are several companies that operate Hop-On Hop-Off bus tours in Washington, D.C., including Big Bus Tours, Old Town Trolley Tours, and DC Trails. Each company offers its own routes, schedules, and ticket options. It’s recommended to check their websites or visit their ticket offices for the most up-to-date information.
- Routes and Stops: The Hop-On Hop-Off bus routes typically cover major attractions, monuments, and landmarks in Washington, D.C., including the National Mall. They often include stops at popular locations such as the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, U.S. Capitol, Smithsonian museums, and more. The routes are designed to provide easy access to key points of interest, allowing you to hop on and off as you please.
- Frequency: The buses generally operate on a regular schedule, with departures every 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the company and time of year. This frequent service ensures that you have flexibility in exploring the National Mall area and its surroundings.
- Tickets and Passes: Hop-On Hop-Off bus tickets are typically available for purchase online, at ticket offices, or directly from the bus operators. Companies often offer various ticket options, including single-day passes, multi-day passes, and combination packages that include additional attractions or activities. Prices vary depending on the company and ticket type.
- Audio Commentary: Hop-On Hop-Off buses usually provide informative audio commentary available in multiple languages. This commentary offers interesting facts, historical context, and stories about the attractions and landmarks along the route, enhancing your sightseeing experience.
- Flexibility: The main advantage of the Hop-On Hop-Off bus is the flexibility it offers. You can disembark at any stop to explore an attraction at your own pace and then hop back on the next bus to continue your journey. This allows you to spend more time at the National Mall or any other site that captures your interest.
- Additional Services: Some Hop-On Hop-Off bus operators may provide extra services, such as guided walking tours, boat cruises, or admission to specific attractions as part of their ticket packages. Check with the company to see if any additional services are included or available for an additional fee.
Before boarding the Hop-On Hop-Off bus, it’s advisable to review the routes, schedules, and ticket options of the different companies to choose the one that best suits your needs and preferences. This convenient mode of transportation allows you to maximize your time exploring the National Mall and its surroundings while enjoying informative commentary along the way.
There are several recommended ways to get around the National Mall area and its surroundings in Washington, D.C. Here are some options:
- Walking: The National Mall itself is a pedestrian-friendly area, and many attractions, monuments, and museums are within walking distance of each other. Walking allows you to enjoy the scenery, take in the landmarks up close, and explore at your own pace. It’s a great way to fully immerse yourself in the area’s rich history and vibrant atmosphere.
- Biking: Washington, D.C. has a well-developed bike infrastructure, making cycling a popular and efficient way to get around. There are bike lanes and trails throughout the city, including the National Mall area. You can rent bikes from various bike-sharing services, such as Capital Bikeshare or private bike rental shops, and easily navigate the streets and paths.
- Metro: Washington, D.C. has a reliable and extensive Metrorail and Metrobus system that serves the city and surrounding areas. The Metro can be a convenient option for getting to and from the National Mall. The closest Metro stations to the Mall are Smithsonian (Orange, Blue, and Silver lines) and Federal Triangle (Orange, Blue, and Silver lines). From these stations, it’s a short walk to the Mall.
- Circulator Bus: The DC Circulator is a bus service that operates various routes throughout the city, including a route that goes through the National Mall area. The National Mall route, known as the National Mall Circulator, provides easy access to major attractions and has frequent service. The Circulator offers an affordable flat fare and is a convenient option for getting around the area.
- Taxis and Ride-Sharing Services: Taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are widely available in Washington, D.C. They provide a convenient and comfortable way to travel around the city, including the National Mall area. You can easily request a ride using a smartphone app or hail a taxi from designated stands.
- Tour Buses: As mentioned earlier, Hop-On Hop-Off tour buses are a popular option for sightseeing in the National Mall area. These buses follow designated routes and make stops at major attractions, providing an informative and flexible way to explore the area.
When choosing the best way to get around the National Mall area, consider factors such as your preferences, time constraints, budget, and the specific attractions you plan to visit. Combining different modes of transportation can also be a convenient approach, depending on your needs.
Finding affordable hotels around the National Mall area in Washington, D.C. can be challenging as it is a popular tourist destination.
However, here are a few options to consider that offer relatively affordable rates:
- Capitol Skyline Hotel: Located within walking distance of the National Mall, the Capitol Skyline Hotel offers comfortable rooms at a reasonable price. It features an outdoor pool, fitness center, and a restaurant.
- Hotel Harrington: Situated just a few blocks from the National Mall, Hotel Harrington is a historic hotel with affordable rates. While the rooms are basic, it provides a convenient location and easy access to the city’s attractions.
- HI Washington, D.C. Hostel: If you’re open to a more budget-friendly option, the HI Washington, D.C. Hostel offers dormitory-style accommodations with shared facilities. It’s centrally located near the White House and offers a friendly and social atmosphere.
- Hampton Inn Washington, D.C./White House: While it may not be the cheapest option, the Hampton Inn Washington, D.C./White House offers competitive rates and is within walking distance of the National Mall. It provides comfortable rooms, complimentary breakfast, and a fitness center.
- POD DC Hotel: Located in the vibrant Chinatown neighborhood, the POD DC Hotel offers compact, modern rooms at affordable prices. It provides a convenient location near restaurants, shops, and public transportation options.
- Holiday Inn Washington-Capitol: Situated near the National Mall, the Holiday Inn Washington-Capitol offers comfortable rooms and a range of amenities, including a fitness center and an outdoor pool. It’s worth checking for competitive rates and special offers.
Keep in mind that rates can vary depending on the time of year, availability, and special events taking place in Washington, D.C. It’s advisable to plan and book your accommodations well in advance to secure the best possible rates.