The National Mall is the largest attraction in Washington DC. The National Mall covers over 1,000 acres of attractions including the U.S. Capitol, Washington Monument, free museums, and the Lincoln Memorial.
Table of contents
Here’s everything you need to know before going to the National Mall:
National Mall Map
Before we get started here is an interactive map of all locations referenced in this post. This is helpful if you’re on the ground and trying to plan where you’d like to spend your day. Likely you’ll want to spend a day on the east side exploring the Capitol and museums. Then spend another day on the west side at the Lincoln Memorial and other monuments.
Map of the National Mall museums & monuments:
I recommend orienting the sights you want to see based on the Washington Monument when visiting. Typically you can see the Monument anywhere on the National Mall making it easier to navigate.
Things to See on the National Mall
While the National Mall is huge and there is plenty to do to fill a week. Here are the main points of interest on the mall including photos. While everything I included isn’t specifically on the National Mall they are at most a couple of blocks away.
United States Capitol
One of my favorite buildings on the National Mall is the United States Capitol building. Home of the senate and house many policy makers work in the U.S. Capitol making it a hub for the United States government.
I highly recommend taking the time to walk all the way around the Capitol to see it from all of its angles. The Capitol Reflecting Pool on the west side of the building is stunning as well as you can see the Capitol reflected in it.
You can get pretty close to the Capitol surprisingly, if you want to go inside though you’ll need to schedule a tour.
National Gallery of Art
Directly on the National Mall you’ll find the National Gallery of Art which is home to plenty of special exhibitions and must-see permanent collections.
The National Gallery of Art consists of an east building, west building, and sculpture garden. The west building was originally built in 1941. While the east building was built in 1978 and is designed by I. M. Pei. Both buildings are connected underground with an incredible light exhibit called Multiverse.
US Botanic Garden
Located near the U.S. Capitol the US Botanic Garden is stunning. The United States Botanic Garden has over 28,000 square feet of gardens and plants. Best of all the US Botanic Garden is free, just be sure to check their hours on their website.
National Museum of the American Indian
Filled with Native American artifacts and exhibits the National Museum of the American Indian is a unique stop on the mall. You’ll find the National Museum of the American Indian near the U.S. Capitol on the east side of the mall. The grounds of the museum also has a few sights including the National Native American Veterans Memorial.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is one of the most popular museums on the National Mall. The Air and Space museum is also popular for kids with its large display of aviation and space exhibitions.
Between the Air and Space Museum and Smithsonian Castle is the Hirshhorn. This uniquely round museum is often known for their 2017 Kusama display which they have a permanent Kusama exhibit now as of 2022.
Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Near the Washington Monument you’ll find the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The National Museum of American History features collections centered around the heritage of the United States including cultural, scientific, military, and political. One of the stand out items on display includes the original Star-Spangled Banner.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is incredibly popular with its large amount of displays near the middle of the National Mall. The Natural History museum is known for its dinosaur exhibits and rare gems (like the hope diamond).
One of the largest buildings that will catch your eye between the Capitol and Washington Monument is the Smithsonian Castle. It’s free to enter the Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle) and hosts many art exhibits. Connected to the Smithsonian Castle is the Enid A. Haupt garden which is stunning for magnolia blooms.
Smithsonian Arts + Industries Building
Opened in 2022 the Smithsonian Arts + Industries Building is one of the newer museums on the National Mall with the “Futures” exhibit.
Located on the west side of the Smithsonian Castle is the Freer/Sackler Gallery. The gallery features Asian and American works of art hence why it’s also referred to as the National Museum of Asian Art.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Regarded as one of the best museums about the Holocaust the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is located near the Washington Monument.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Opened in 2016 the National Museum of African American History and Culture is one of the newest additions to the National Mall. With over 300,000 square feet of exhibits and African American history the museum can easily take hours to go through.
The Washington Monument is the largest building in all of Washington DC so it’s hard to miss. Built to honor George Washington the monument stands at about 555 feet high. If you have time I highly recommend trying to get tickets to go to the top. The Washington Monument is still stunning from the ground and its grounds are open day and night. Since the base of the Washington Monument is elevated you can see the U.S. Capitol, Jefferson Memorial, White House and Lincoln Memorial from the base.
Read more about the Washington Monument: Washington Monument Facts
World War II Memorial
To the west of the Washington Monument you’ll find the World War II Memorial. Built to honor WWII veterans the memorial is open 24/7 and includes a large fountain, 56 pillars representing all US states and territories and two arches.
Located north of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool you’ll find Constitution Gardens. This area includes a large pond, and small island you can walk on.
Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
Between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument lies the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. This 2,000 feet long body of water reflects the Lincoln Memorial or Washington Monument depending on what side you stand on. Many gather around the Reflecting Pool during events at the Lincoln Memorial, for example for MLK Jr’s I have a dream speech.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
The MLK Jr Memorial was built to pay tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. On the side of the memorial you’ll see a quote from his famous I have a dream speech “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”.
You’ll find the Jefferson Memorial on the south side of the Tidal Basin overlooking the Washington Monument. The Jefferson Memorial was completed in 1943 and was built to honor Thomas Jefferson. In the center of the memorial you’ll see a giant bronze statue of Jefferson.
Korean War Veterans Memorial
The Korean War Veterans Memorial is located south west of the Lincoln Memorial and was built to commemorating those who served in the Korean War.
Old Post Office Museum & Tower
The Old Post Office Museum & Tower located at the Waldorf Astoria on the Mall is a fantastic stop to see 360 views of DC. Best of all it’s free and tickets aren’t required.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
The Vietnam War Memorial was built to honor the victims of the Vietnam war. Included in the memorial is a wall inscribed with 58,318 names of the dead and missing soldiers from the Vietnam war. You’ll often see flowers and other respectful things left at the memorial. You can find the Vietnam War Memorial north east of the Lincoln Memorial on the west side of the mall.
The Lincoln Memorial tail ends the west side of the National Mall and is incredibly beautiful. Built to honor president Abraham Lincoln the memorial includes massive columns, a large Lincoln statue, and stunning views of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
The White House
The official residence of the president of the United States most Americans are familiar with the White House. The White House is located about 1/2 a mile north of the Washington Monument. While you need tickets to go into the White House it still can be viewed from the north or south side.
When is the Best Time to Visit The National Mall?
By far the most popular time to visit the National Mall is summer. You’ll see large crowds and mostly everything will be open. I’d say the best time to visit the National Mall is spring or fall to avoid crowds while the weather will still be great. In spring you’ll have a chance to catch peak bloom cherry blossoms and the weather starts to warm up. While in the fall foliage is stunning in fall and won’t have the crowds and high heat of the summer.
If you’d like to know more about timing a trip to Washington DC you can read my article about the best time to visit Washington DC.
National Mall Pictures
I’ve spent years visiting the National Mall, here are some of my favorite photos over the years.
Recommended photography gear: Having a telephoto lens is useful when you’re on one end of the National Mall since you can get a photo of the monuments compressed. While having a wide lens is great for capturing the grand nature of the monuments and memorials.
Where to Eat on the National Mall
If you need a quick snack there are plenty of food trucks on the mall. They have a variety of food, ice cream, and drinks. That being said if you want the best DC experience you’ll probably want to avoid food trucks on the mall. You’ll probably have the best luck finding something good to eat near Chinatown.
Here are a few places that I recommend around the National Mall to eat:
- Oyamel: Great spot for tacos and Mexican food just a few blocks away from the National Mall in Chinatown.
- Rasika: More of an upscale option Rasika has some of the best Indian food in the city.
- Immigrant Food: Fast casual spot swerving bowls and sandwiches near the White House.
- Old Ebbitt Grill: Touristy restaurant near the White House that has been a staple in DC for years.
National Mall Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most popular questions asked about the National Mall. If you have a question I missed let me know in the comments below.
What is the National Mall?
The National Mall is a large grassy area in the middle of Washington DC lined with iconic monuments and world class museums.
How long is National Mall?
The National Mall is about 2 miles long and 0.3 miles wide making it the centerpiece of the Nation’s Capital.
Who designed the National Mall?
The National Mall was designed by French engineer Pierre L’Enfant. L’Enfant designed Washington DC and he imagined this area as a grand avenue lined with trees and gardens.
Why do they call it the National Mall?
The term mall was used in the 1800s to describe a grassy area for activity, this is how the National Mall go its name.
Is it free to go to the National Mall?
The National Mall is free and open all day and all night.
Hopefully this National Mall guide has covered all of the questions you had about the area. I’ve spent years visiting the National Mall and can’t recommend it enough. From sunrise to sunset the entire area is magical and can entertain just about anyone.
Remember that there is more to Washington DC than just the National Mall as well. There are tons of museums in Washington DC that aren’t located on the mall. There are also plenty of great restaurants, bars, and people!
Planning a trip to Washington DC?
Read: Best DC Instagram Spots
If I missed anything or if you have questions about the mall let me know in the comments below!
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