The National Mall is one of the easiest ways to cover a lot of ground in Washington DC at one time. Many museums, monuments and historical sites are along the mall making it easy to get around and create a plan. Free Tours By Foot explains it best, “the National Mall is a long, rectangular public park stretching from the U.S. Capitol Building on its east end to the Lincoln Memorial on its west end.” With that said, it’s almost two miles long which may not seem like a lot but feels like ten times its length. This is most likely because there are so many things packed throughout the park from museums to memorials and even the White House. Today, we’re breaking it down for you and sharing our list of must-dos so that you can cut through the clutter and get to exploring.
History and art lovers are in luck because there are several fantastic history and art museums to explore. The American History Museum is a personal favorite. It includes the First Ladies’ Exhibit, Julia Child’s Cambridge home kitchen, a fantastic pop culture exhibit, and more. There’s also the National Museum of Natural History which is where kids will get to walk among giant Woolly Mammoths and dinosaur bones. For a more somber history lesson, visit the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to get an inside look at what it was like for people surviving the Holocaust during the Nazi regime. Dive into specific cultures at the National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Art lovers can view priceless masterpieces by classic and modern artists at the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden. Get a taste of African culture at the National Museum of African Art. The National Mall also has an interactive museum for science buffs at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. Kids and adults can take part in simulations and see technology through the years with their own eyes.
There are hundreds of memorials in Washington DC, many of them along the National Mall. It might be easier to narrow down the memorials to visit by personal interest. For example, if you love presidential history, you can find the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Ulysses S. Grant Memorial and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. To pay respect to veterans, the Vietnam, World War I & II, and Korean Veteran and War Memorials are also throughout the park. If you’re interested in other political and well-known figures, there is a memorial for Martin Luther King, Jr. and Albert Einstein too.
ATTRACTIONS & SITES
The National Mall is home to a few pretty significant DC attractions as well. The Capitol Building flanks the mall on the East end facing the Lincoln Memorial which borders the West end. The White House is also along the Mall towards the center on the North side of the Washington Monument. For a taste of history and breathtaking architecture, stop by the Smithsonian Castle which acts as a visitor’s center. Go for a paddle boat ride on the Tidal Basin which also includes the Jefferson, MLK, and Roosevelt Memorials. The US Botanic Gardens are also located right off the mall, West of the Capitol Building.
TOP 5 RECOMMENDATIONS
1 - Visit the Sculpture Gardens behind the National Gallery of Art. They’re stunning and there’s a little cafe that reminds me of a small one I found in the Tuileries Gardens back in Paris. It even has a decorative Metro stop.
2 - The Jefferson Memorial & Lincoln Memorial. These are two of the most beautiful memorials in the park. Each memorial is magnificent and breathtaking. I haven’t had the chance to see the Lincoln Memorial at sunrise but I’ve been told it’s an experience worth rising early for. The Jefferson Memorial, located along the Tidal Basin, provides an almost calm and serene experience. There are no words to truly capture it. You must experience it for yourself.
3 - The National Museum of American History has a lot of fantastic exhibits and collections. It’s my personal favorite with Julia Child’s actual kitchen, not a replica - the actual thing, from Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was a dream being able to see it as a foodie. The First Ladies’ exhibit has dresses from inaugural balls and significant events from the likes of Michelle Obama and Jackie Kennedy Onassis . Don’t forget the pop culture exhibit! See everything from a Muppet to the famous red slippers Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz.
4 - Visit the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. It may leave you feeling sad and you might even shed a few tears while walking through - but it is worth every second. I don’t know that I could visit every time I go to DC but it’s definitely an experience all people, regardless of nationality, should have at least once. It’s sobering to see the cruelty and hatred that was present during the time and it’s even more harrowing to know that it still exists today. This was a disappointing era for humanity but if we can learn from it, hopefully we can stop similar acts of cruelty and hate and work towards a world where kindness and acceptance are the norm.
5 - Take a photo near the Carousel. It’s not something that I included earlier in the post but it’s definitely a great photo opportunity. I saw this exact carousel several times in Bones and I was pretty excited to be able to snap my own photo of the attraction. There aren’t many traditional kid activities I genuinely enjoy but carousels are still one of them!