National Mall Travel Guide (31 Things to See + Map)

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. Now let’s take a ride on the Metro down to the National Mall and Memorial Parks as I walk you things you can expect to see when visiting.

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

The United States Capitol at Sunrise
East Side of The 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. On the east side of the Capitol you’ll find Capitol Hill and plenty of Congressional office buildings used by Congress.

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

National Gallery Of Art
National Gallery of Art east building

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.

U.S. Botanic Garden

Located near the U.S. Capitol the U.S. 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

Entrance of the National Museum of the American Indian
Exterior of the 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

Main hall of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Air and Space Museum by @adam_brockett

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.

Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial

Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial at night

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial honors the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The memorial features a series of large stone pillars and a metal tapestry depicting the beaches of Normandy, representing Eisenhower’s leadership during World War II. The memorial also includes sculptures and quotations highlighting his accomplishments as both a military leader and a statesman. It serves as a tribute to his legacy and contributions to the nation.

Hirshhorn Museum

Hirshhorn Museum At Night
Hirshhorn Atrium at night

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 now have a permanent Kusama exhibit now as of 2022.

Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Fountain in front of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History
North entrance to the American history museum

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

Main hall of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History atrium

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).

Smithsonian Castle

Enid Haupt Garden DC Smithsonian
Smithsonian Castle from the Enid A. Haupt garden

One of the largest buildings that will catch your eye between the Capitol and Washington Monument is the Smithsonian Castle. Like all Smithsonian Museums 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

Smithsonian Arts + Industries Building Mall Entrance
Mall entrance to the Smithsonian Arts + Industries Building

Opened in 2022, the Smithsonian Arts + Industries Building is one of the newer additions to the iconic National Mall in Washington, D.C. You can view their latest exhibitions on the Smithsonian website (you’ll have to filter by the Arts + Industries Building) if you want to know what to expect for your visit. The unique layout of the museum is worth a visit since it’s basically a large X shape once you’re inside.

Freer/Sackler Gallery

Exterior of the Freer/Sackler Gallery
Extieror of the Freer/Sackler Gallery by @adam_brockett

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

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Holocaust Memorial Museum by @abpanphoto

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

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.

Washington Monument

Washington Monument Night Light Trails
The Washington Monument

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

World War II Memorial at night with Washington Memorial in the background
WWII Memorial at night facing the Washington Monument

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.

Constitution Gardens

View of the Washington Monument from Constitution Gardens

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. There is plenty of greenery around Constitution Gardens if you are visiting DC on a fall day.

Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

Lincoln Memorial Sunset On 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.

Floral Library

Floral Library in Washington DC

There are typically seasons flowers blooming in the Floral Library. With over 90 flower beds the Floral Library’s close proximity to the Washington Monument makes it a great spot to quickly snap a photo of a flower filled picture. The Floral Library is also a popular destination during DC’s spring tulip bloom.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

MLK Jr. Memorial overlooking the Tidal Basin

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.”.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial at night

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, situated near the MLK Jr. Memorial on the Tidal Basin, honors the 32nd President of the United States. The memorial is accessible around the clock, offering visitors the opportunity to pay their respects at any time. I love to stop by the FDR memorial when I am walking around the Tidal Basin during Cherry Blossom Festival.

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial Sunburst
Interior of the Jefferson Memorial

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

Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington DC

The memorial honoring the veterans who served in the Korean War is situated in the southwest of the Lincoln Memorial. The Korean War Veterans Memorial was constructed with the precise intention of commemorating the bravery and valor of those who fought in the Korean War.

U.S. Park Police Horse Stables and Education Center

U.S. Park Police Horse Stables and Education Center exterior

Established in 2023, the National Park Service Stables are a new hidden gem near the Korean War Memorial. These stables are home to the beautiful horses you might see in ceremonies around town. When you visit, you can get up close to these amazing animals and watch the rangers take care of them. It’s a cool place to check out if you want to see a different side of the National Mall.

District of Columbia War Memorial

The District of Columbia War Memorial is a touching homage to the 499 local heroes who died in World War I and the 26,000 D.C. residents who served. This unique memorial, built in 1931, stands out as a circular, domed temple on the National Mall, traditionally home to national monuments. It’s both a symbol of local pride and a historic bandstand, a rare local tribute in a space of national significance.

Old Post Office Museum & Tower

Views from the Old Post Office tower
Views from the Old Post Office tower

The Old Post Office Museum & Tower at the Waldorf Astoria on the Mall offers 360-degree views of DC, and it’s free with no ticket requirements. It’s a fantastic stop for anyone wanting to take in the city from a unique vantage point.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Sunrise DC
Vietnam War Memorial at sunrise

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 Three Servicemen Statue

The Three Servicemen Statue, also known as the “Three Soldiers,” is a bronze statue that is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and depicts three young men, representing the diverse group of soldiers who served in the Vietnam War. The statue was unveiled in 1984 and is a prominent feature of the memorial, serving as a powerful symbol of the sacrifice and service of those who fought in the war. The statue was created by artist Frederick Hart and is positioned near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, adding to the overall impact and significance of the memorial site

Vietnam Women’s Memorial

The Vietnam Women’s Memorial is dedicated to the women who served in the Vietnam War. It depicts three women caring for a wounded soldier, and was unveiled in 1993. The memorial is intended to honor the women who served as nurses, aid workers, and in other capacities during the war. It serves as a reminder of the important contributions made by women in the conflict, and provides a place for reflection and remembrance.

Lincoln Memorial

Sunrise Inside The Lincoln Memorial
Sunrise from inside the Lincoln Memorial

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. West of the Lincoln Memorial you’ll find a set of stairs that lead to the Potomac River which offers views of the Arlington Memorial Bridge.

The White House

Close up view of the White House
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?

African American History And Culture Museum
View of the Washington Monument from National Museum of African American History and Culture

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.
  • Teaism: Casual spot to grab a tea and bento box, you can’t leave without trying their salty oat cookie.

If you don’t want to leave the Mall, the cafeterias in both the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of the American Indian are great spots for unique, award-winning options.

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 D.C. lined with iconic monuments, memorials, and world class museums. The National Mall, also referred to as America’s front yard, is a symbolic and iconic space in the United States.

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.

Can I bring my pet to the National Mall?

Yes, you are allowed to bring your pet to the National Mall. However, they must be on a leash at all times and you are responsible for cleaning up after them.

Is it free to go to the National Mall?

The National Mall is free and open all day and all night.

What is the best time to visit the National Mall?

The National Mall is busiest during the summer months and on weekends. The best time to visit is early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid crowds. Of course the winter months in DC leaves the National Mall quiet empty as well.

Are there restrooms on the National Mall?

Yes, there are public restrooms located throughout the National Mall that are maintained National Park Service (NPS).

Hopefully this National Mall guide has covered all of the questions you had about this area of the District of Columbia. 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! I hope you get to explore this beautiful city for everything I love it for.

Planning a trip to Washington DC?
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If I missed anything or if you have questions about the mall let me know in the comments below!

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