The National Mall in Washington DC (What to See and Do)

A Visitor’s Guide to the Major Attractions in the Nation's Capital

The United States Capitol is the meeting place of the United States Congress, the legislature of the U.S. federal government. Located in Washington, D.C., it sits atop Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall. Though it has never been the geographic center of the federal district, the Capitol is the origin by which the quadrants of the District are divided and the city was planned. The National Mall is a national park in downtown Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States. The National Park Service (NPS) administers the National Mall, which is part of its National Mall and Memorial Parks unit.
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The National Mall is the central point of most sightseeing visits to Washington, DC. The tree-lined open space between Constitution and Independence Avenues extends from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol Building. Ten of the museums of the Smithsonian Institution are located within the heart of the nation's capital, offering a variety of exhibits ranging from art to space exploration. West Potomac Park and the Tidal Basin are adjacent to the National Mall and home to the national monuments and memorials.

The National Mall is not just a great place to visit our world class museums and national landmarks, but also a gathering place to picnic and attend outdoor festivals. Americans and visitors from all over the world have used the expansive lawn as a site for protests and rallies. The impressive architecture and natural beauty of the Mall make it a unique place that celebrates and preserves our nation’s history and democracy.

See Photos of the National Mall

Interesting Facts About the National Mall

  • 25 million people visit the National Mall each year.
  • More than 3,000 annual events are held on the National Mall.
  • Every weekday, more than 440,000 vehicles travel along the National Mall.
  • The National Mall has more than 26 miles of pedestrian sidewalks and 8 miles of bike trails.
  • 10 tons of grass seed and nearly 3,000 yards of sod and turf are installed and planted on over 300 acres on the National Mall.
  • Over 9,000 trees are located on the National Mall; nearly 2,300 are American elm trees.
  • More than 25,000 local sports enthusiasts use the 15 softball fields, eight volleyball courts, two rugby fields, two multi-purpose fields and the Washington Monument grounds for a variety of different recreation activities.
  • Three to four tons of trash are collected and removed from the National Mall each day.

Major Attractions on the National Mall

The Washington Monument - The monument honoring our first president, George Washington, is the tallest structure in the nation's capital and towers 555 feet above the National Mall. Ride the elevator to the top to see a spectacular view of the city. The monument is open from 8 a.m. until midnight, seven days a week, April through Labor Day. The remainder of the year, the hours are from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

The U.S. Capitol Building - Because of increased security the Capitol Dome is open to the public for guided tours only.

Tours are conducted from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Visitors must obtain free tickets and begin their tour at the Capitol Visitor Center. Free passes are required to see Congress in action at the Senate and House Galleries.

Smithsonian Museums - The federal institution has multiple museums scattered throughout Washington, DC. Ten of the buildings are located on the National Mall from 3rd to 14th Streets between Constitution and Independence Avenues, within a radius of about one mile. There is so much to see at the Smithsonian that you can not see it all in one day. IMAX movies are especially popular, so it is a good idea to plan ahead and buy your tickets a few hours in advance. For a complete list of the museums, see A Guide to All of the Smithsonian Museums.

National Monuments and Memorials - These historic landmarks honor our presidents, founding fathers and war veterans. They are wonderful to visit in nice weather and the views from each of them are unique and special. The easiest way to visit the monuments is on a sightseeing tour. The memorials are very spread out and to see all of them on foot involves a lot of walking. The monuments are also spectacular to visit at night when they are illuminated. See a Map of the National Memorials.

National Gallery of Art - The world-class art museum displays one of the largest collections of masterpieces in the world including paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 13th century to the present. Because of its prime location on the National Mall, many people think the National Gallery is a part of the Smithsonian. The museum was created in 1937 by funds donated by art collector Andrew W. Mellon.

U.S. Botanic Garden – The state-of-the-art indoor garden showcases approximately 4,000 seasonal, tropical and subtropical plants. The property is administered by the Architect of the Capitol and offers special exhibits and educational programs throughout the year.

Restaurants and Dining

The museum cafe's are expensive and often crowded, but are the most convenient places to dine on the National Mall. There are a variety of restaurants and eateries within walking distance to the museums. See a guide to restaurants and dining near the National Mall.


All of the museums and most of the memorials on the National Mall have public restrooms. The National Park Service also maintains a few public facilities. During major events, hundreds of porta potties are set up to accommodate the crowds. 

Transportation and Parking

The National Mall area is the busiest part of Washington DC. The best way to get around the city is to use public transportation. Several Metro stations are within walking distance so it is important to plan ahead and know where you are going. See a guide to the Best 5 Metro Stations for Sightseeing in Washington DC to see the entrance and exit locations, to learn about the attractions near each station and to find additional sightseeing and transit tips.

Parking is very limited near the National Mall. For suggestions of places to park, see a guide to parking near the National Mall.

See a map and directions to the National Mall.

Hotels and Accommodations

Although a variety of hotels are located near the National Mall, the distance between the Capitol, at one end to the Lincoln Memorial at the other, is about 2 miles. To reach some popular attractions from anywhere in Washington DC, you may have to walk a great distance or take public transportation. See a guide to hotels near the National Mall.

Other Attractions Near the National Mall

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum - 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl. SW, Washington, DC
National Archives - 700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Washington, DC
Bureau of Engraving and Printing - 14th and C Streets, SW, Washington, DC
Newseum - 6th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. NW Washington, DC
The White House – 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW Washington, DC
The Supreme Court - One 1st St., NE Washington DC
Library of Congress - 101 Independence Ave, SE, Washington, DC
Union Station - 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE Washington, DC

Planning to visit Washington DC for a few days? See a Washington DC Travel Planner for information on the best time to visit, how long to stay, where to stay, what to do, how to get around and more.