Best Places to Enjoy Sunrise in Washington D.C. (Photo Guide)

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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 around the city.

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. Perfect for planning your sunrise photoshoot. If you are planning to travel to Washington DC the timezone is Eastern Standard Time.

Tomorrow's Sunrise
Sunrise time:
5:46 AM EDT

Tomorrow's Sunrise in Washington DC is at 5:46am. While first light in DC will be at 5:15am. The length of daylight tomorrow in DC will be 14 hours, 40 minutes.

Sunset in DC

Here are the best places for Sunrise in Washington DC:

1. Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool at sunrise
Sunrise at the 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.

Close up of the Lincoln Memorial statue at sunrise
Morning sun hitting the Lincoln Memorial

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

DC skyline at sunrise from Netherlands Carillon
Sunrise from Netherlands Carillon with a 300mm lens

The Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, Virginia offers one of the few vantage points to view the Washington, D.C. skyline. From this location, visitors can perfectly align and observe all three of the District’s iconic monuments.

The best way to capture this view is to use a long telephoto 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.

Iwo Jima Sunrise in Washington DC
Iwo Jima Memorial at 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. U.S. Capitol Reflecting Pool

United States Capitol at sunrise
Sunrise on the west side of the 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
Sunrise at the Navy - Merchant Marine Memorial in Washington DC with Washington Monument in the background
Sunrise at the Navy Merchant Marine Memorial in Washington DC

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

Tidal Basin Sunrise Cherry Blossoms
Sunrise at the Tidal Basin during Cherry Blossom Festival.

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.

Jefferson Memorial Peak Bloom Cherry Blossoms

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

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Sunrise DC
Sunrise at the 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

Sunrise from Freedom Plaza in DC
Looking down Pennsylvania Avenue at sunrise from Freedom Plaza in DC

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. If you are shooting more wide from this location you’ll also be able to capture the Old Post Office Tower.

Freedom Plaza on Google Maps

8. Air Force Memorial

Air Force Memorial sunrise
Air Force Memorial at sunrise (shot on iPhone)

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.

Panoramic view of DC from the Air Force Memorial
DC skyline at sunrise from the Air Force Memorial

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

Washington D.C. Sunrise Spots Map

Here’s a map of all of the locations mentioned in this post. This is a great way to figure out which location you are close to when planning your morning.

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. This is helpful for finding sunrise & sunset times, first light, civil twilight, nautical twilight and even day length far in advance.

Washington D.C. offers a plethora of stunning locations to witness the beauty of a sunrise. From the iconic Lincoln Memorial to the tranquil Tidal Basin, each spot presents a unique experience. By planning your visit ahead, bringing your camera, and arriving early, you can capture breathtaking shots of the sun rising over the nation’s capital.

To fill the rest of your day I recommend grabbing a bagel at Bullfrog Bagels or shopping by a coffeeshop. Looking for more to photograph in the District of Columbia? check out my full list of DC photo spots.

Of course if you’re not an early bird you can also read my guide to Sunset in DC.

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2 comments on “Best Places to Enjoy Sunrise in Washington D.C. (Photo Guide)”

  1. Hi Andy…
    Beautiful pics. Is it possible for you to share the camera and lens settings for the images? Also, how long was the exposure for the capital hill? I am interested to understand how you create the moving sky art?