What to See and Do on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

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 center of most sightseeing visits to Washington, D.C. 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 also a gathering place where people picnic and attend outdoor festivals. The expansive lawn has served as a site for protests and rallies. The impressive architecture and natural beauty of the Mall make it a unique place that celebrates our nation’s history and democracy.

These National Mall facts may surprise you:

  • 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 buildings and monuments of the National Mall can keep the visitor busy for a lengthy vacation. There are museums to visit and places to wander. These are the top places to visit.

  • 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. Visitors ride the elevator to the top to see a spectacular view of the city. However, the monument is closed until spring of 2019 for renovations. Watch the monument website for news of the re-opening.
  • 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 - This federal institution has multiple museums scattered throughout Washington, D.C. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 cafes 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.

    Restrooms

    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 portable restrooms are set up to accommodate the crowds. 

    Transportation and Parking

    The National Mall area is the busiest part of Washington, D.C. 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 to be visiting. The most convenient metro station will depend on which line you are traveling on and what attraction you'll want to see first.

    Parking is very limited near the National Mall. On-street parking in the busiest areas of the city is restricted during morning and evening rush hours (7:00-9:30 a.m. and 4:00-6:30 p.m.). There are many metered parking spaces on the National Mall along Madison and Jefferson Drives in front of the Smithsonian museums, but they usually fill quickly and on-street parking is restricted to two hours.

    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 D.C., you may have to walk a great distance or take public transportation.

    Attractions Near the National Mall

    • U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum - The Holocaust Memorial Museum is a memorial to the millions who died during the Nazi regime in Germany. The museum offers a very moving and educational experience and reminds visitors of this horrific time in our world's history. Address: 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl. SW, Washington, D.C.
    • National Archives - The National Archives and Records Administration stores and provides public access to the original documents that set up the American government as a democracy in 1774. You can view the United States Government's Charters of Freedom, the U. S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence. Address: 700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Washington, D.C.
    • Bureau of Engraving and Printing - On the tour (get your free ticket ahead to reserve a spot) you'll see real money being printed, stacked, cut and examined for defects. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing also prints White House invitations, Treasury securities, identification cards, naturalization certificates, and other special security documents. Address: 14th and C Streets, SW, Washington, D.C.
    • Newseum - The museum, devoted to news, is a high-tech, interactive museum that both promotes and explains, as well as defends free expression. Focusing on the five freedoms of the First Amendment—religion, speech, press, assembly, and petitions—the museum's seven levels of interactive exhibits include 15 galleries and 15 theaters. Address: 6th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. NW Washington, D.C.
    • The White House – Visitors from around the world come to Washington, D.C. to tour the White House, the home and office of the U.S. President. Built between 1792 and 1800, the White House is one of the oldest public buildings in the nation's capital and serves as a museum of American history. Address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW Washington, D.C.
    • The Supreme Court - The U.S. Supreme Court is an interesting place to visit and many people do not realize that it is open to the public. The Chief Justice and 8 associate justices make up the Supreme Court, the highest judicial authority in the United States. Address: One 1st St., NE Washington, D.C.
    • Library of Congress - The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library containing more than 128 million items including books, manuscripts, films, photographs, sheet music, and maps. The Library of Congress is open to the public and offers exhibitions, interactive displays, concerts, films, lectures, and special events. Address: 101 Independence Ave, SE, Washington, D.C.
    • Union Station - Union Station is Washington D.C.'s train station and premier shopping mall, which also serves as a venue for world-class exhibitions and international cultural events. The historic building was built in 1907 and is considered to be one of the finest examples of the Beaux-Arts style of architecture. Address: 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE Washington, D.C.

      Planning to visit Washington DC for a few days? See a Washington, D.C. 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.