Sunrise is a magical time in Washington DC. The feeling of sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial watching sunrise with no one around is very calming. After living in DC for years I have enjoyed sunrise in many locations.
Here’s my list of the best sunrise spots in DC, if you’re visiting Washington DC or a local I highly recommend waking up early for sunrise.
When is Sunrise in DC?
Use this handy clock below for the exact sunrise DC time for tomorrow.
Tomorrow's Sunrise in Washington DC is at 7:12am. While first light in DC will be at 6:42am. The length of daylight tomorrow in DC will be 9 hours, 35 minutes.
Here are the best places for Sunrise in DC:
1. Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
There is something magical about sitting on the edge of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool at sunrise. The sun cascading over the water with the United States Capitol and Washington Monument in the distance is a classic DC view.
The Reflecting Pool sits at the base of the Lincoln Memorial’s steps. There are plenty of angles you can photograph with the columns of the Memorial. Depending on the day you’ll also see the morning light fill the Lincoln Memorial with light. You also might see running groups jogging up and down the steps.
If it’s a cold weekday there won’t be many people at the Lincoln Memorial making it even more magical since you’ll be one of the few people there.
After enjoying sunrise you can also walk around the Lincoln Memorial and take photos of Lincoln on his chair.
What tips for photographing sunrise?
Read: Sunrise Photography Tips
Typically when going to sunrise I park on Rock Creek Potomac Parkway NW near the Arts of Peace Sculpture or on Ohio Dr. SW. I’ve never had an issue parking in the morning plus it’s about a 0.3-mile walk from these spots.
A 200mm lens will get you great photos of the Capitol, but I also enjoy shooting on a wide-angle lens (16mm) right on the water.Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool on Google Maps
2. DC Skyline from Netherlands Carillon
One of the few places to see DC’s skyline is from the Netherlands Carillon in Virginia. This is the best place to see all 3 of the DC monuments lined up perfectly.
The best way to capture this view is to use a long lens (100mm+). You can get a view of the entire skyline of Washington DC. Best of all the view faces east to fully capture the sunrise.
While up here you can also capture a photo of the Iwo Jima Memorial which is only a few minutes walk from the Netherlands Carillon. The Memorial frames perfectly with the city in the background.
There is a parking lot at the Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima) but if that is closed you can typically find street parking for this location on N Meade Street.Netherlands Carillon on Google Maps
3. US Capitol Reflecting Pool
The United States Capitol Reflecting Pool gives you an unbelievable view of sunrise on the National Mall. With the Capitol building lining up with the sunrise and water at all angles you can easily capture the pure beauty of a sunrise.
Sometimes the Capitol reflecting pool will be drained. I recommend checking recent Instagram photos if you plan on going to see if water is in the pool.
I typically Park on Madison Dr. NW or on 3rd St SW when visiting the Capitol Reflecting Pool. There are typically plenty of parking spots fairly close to the pool. There is a parking meter which can be paid with a credit card or the ParkMobile app.US Capitol Reflecting Pool on Google Maps
4. Navy – Merchant Marine Memorial
With the Navy – Merchant Marine Memorial facing toward the Potomac river and Washington monument it makes it a great spot to watch sunrise from in DC. When visiting in the morning you can park at the marina across the street and it’s just a short walk from the parking lot. The memorial is also surrounded by tulips that typically bloom in the spring and are worth a visit.Navy – Merchant Marine Memorial on Google Maps
5. Tidal Basin
Most of the Tidal Basin is beautiful during sunrise. I especially love being at the MLK Memorial since you can see the sunrise over the water, plus see the Jefferson Memorial in the distance.
The Tidal Basin becomes incredibly popular when the cherry blossoms are in peak bloom. With trees lining the entire area it’s easy to get a great shot without anyone in it since the main focal points are the monuments over water.
Planning a trip to DC during peak cherry blossom bloom can be difficult since the date can change just a couple weeks before they bloom.
Granted it doesn’t matter what season it is; visiting the Tidal Basin for sunrise is an incredible DC experience.MLK Memorial on Google Maps
6. Vietnam Veterans Memorial
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors troops who died in service during the Vietnam war. Thousands of names are engraved in a large black granite wall that lines the memorial. Remember to be respectful when visiting.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is only a 5 minute walk from the Lincoln Memorial so you typically can shoot both in the same morning.Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Google Maps
7. The US Capitol from Freedom Plaza
Pennsylvania Avenue connects Freedom Plaza to the US Capitol making it a great place to view sunrise if you have a long lens. This spot can vary depending on the conditions but earlier in the year sunrise will be stunning from this location since it slightly faces southeast.
It is quite some distance to the Capitol from here so I recommend at least shooting with a 100mm lens here.Freedom Plaza on Google Maps
8. Air Force Memorial
The Air Force Memorial in Virginia is a fantastic vantage point for watching sunrise in DC. Whether you want to shoot a panoramic skyline of DC or the memorial you’ll be able to get some interesting photos here.
The US Capitol, Jefferson, and Washington Monument are all visible in the skyline from the Air Force Memorial.
One important thing to know is that the parking lot at the Air Force Memorial isn’t open at sunrise so you’ll need to park in the nearby neighborhood. You typically can find a parking spot on S Oak St. It’s about a 5 minute walk with a sidewalk from S Oak St to the Memorial.Air Force Memorial on Google Maps
And that is it for the best places for sunrise in Washington DC! I hope you have the opportunity to get out and explore this beautiful city at sunrise.
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If you’re planning your shoot far in advance here’s a Washington DC sunrise calendar.
Of course if you’re not an early bird you can also read my guide to Sunset in DC.