This post shows you Washington DC and a National Mall walking itinerary that takes you to all famous Washington museums and monuments. So why not park your car and explore the famous Washington DC National Mall by foot?
The National Mall is a 2,5 miles long green area between Capitol Hill in the east and the Lincoln Memorial in the west. There is the Washington Monument in the middle, the White House in the north and the Tidal Basin in the south.
Lincoln Memorial, National Mall, Washington DC
In addition to the famous memorials of American history and US government buildings the stretch contains a huge amount of world-class museums for you to visit – for free!
So find parking somewhere off the National Mall and follow my walking-itinerary. Take good shoes and walk up and down the Mall and stop at as many attractions you like, and everything is free!
National Mall Walking Itinerary on the Map
The map shows my National Mall walking itinerary. Follow my route or make your own, to see the best National Mall museums and attractions.
We will start from the east end of the Mall, from the Capitol Hill and proceed westwards.
This is the US Capitol on the Capitol Hill. In fact Capitol Hill is not covered by this post. I wrote about Capitol Hill, US Capitol and Library of Congress in my previous blog post Washington DC: Capitol Hill Walk so you can read about those attractions behind the link.
Capitol Hill is a sight in itself and preferably needs a full day, while his blog post on the rest of the National Mall shows how you can spend your second (and third, fourth…) day in Washington DC. And don’t be afraid of bringing your kids here, the National Mall is a perfect destination for school kids in all ages.
Museum of the American Indian
The National Museum of the American Indian is the first museum in the east. It is a limestone building in a man-made landscape of flowing water. In the Museum of the American Indian you will learn a lot about native Americans, their values, culture and how their lives have changed during centuries. You learn a lot about different Indian tribes, how they have moved across the country and how important nature still is to them.
The cafe downstairs serves very good meals that are based on Indian food heritage.
Another attraction close to the Museum of the American Indian is the US Botanic Gardens. You can read about the Botanic Cardens in my previous blog post A Day on Capitol Hill.
Sculpture Garden and National Archives
After the Museum of the American Indian walk further along the Mall and look at the well-known buildings on both sides.
These pictures are from the Sculpture Garden. Sculpture Garden belongs to the National Gallery and has an exhibition on modern art. In the middle of the park they make an an ice-skating rink for the winter period.
Behind the rink are the US National Archives where you can view such things as the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.
Some more photos of the Sculpture Garden:
National Gallery of Art
The huge National Gallery of Art is in two buildings, the old West Building and the East Building built in the 1970s. The West Building has European and American paintings, sculptures and objects and the East Building shows modern art.
On the days I was visiting Washington DC there were many school groups from all parts of the country visiting the National Gallery and the Museum of Natural History.
There are many museums on both sides of the Mall. You would really need a week to visit all of them so you have to pick the ones you like most:
- National Museum of Natural History
- National Air and Space Museum
- Hirshorn Museum
- Arts and Industries Building
- African Art Museum
- Smithsonian Castle
- Freer Gallery of Art
- Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
- American History Museum
I only spent two days on the National Mall and decided to walk into the American History Museum.
National Museum of American History
Since I’m from Europe I wanted to learn about American history and that’s what I really did in this museum.
There was an interesting exhibition of former American presidents and a First Ladies exhibition, and there was an exhibition on American food habits from 1950 to 2000. Now I understand how much all the immigrants from different continents, the new technologies and the general wish to eat and drink on the move have affected American food culture.
After learning so much I felt like shopping a bit in the museum store. The store was full of American Christmas decoration with flags and other objects in national colors red, blue and white, and it was only the beginning of November!
This is the Washington Monument, a tower that you can see from all over the city. Washington Monument was built to honor George Washington and the construction was completed in 1884. It was and still is the highest freestanding stone monument in the world.
White marble from Maryland was used to begin with, and different marble was added as the construction work proceeded. All this makes the color change in the middle.
There are 50 flags around the monument, one for each state.
You can take an elevator ride to the top, it’s free but you have to get a ticket at the ticket kiosk, a small house to the east of the monument. In November there was no waiting time, but it probably is a different thing in the summer.
The White House
The White House in a short way north of the National Mall. If you want to visit the White House interiors you have to arrange it in advance. I didn’t but it was also great to see it at a distance.
World War II Memorial
West of the Washington Monument stands the next US national monument, the National World War II Memorial. The memorial has as many as 4 048 gold stars on the wall, each of which represents 100 soldiers that died in the war.
There is a granite pillar for each state, a pool and words by presidents in stone walls around the fountain.
The day I was visiting there was a Veterans Day event. There was a parade and veterans from all over US were brought to Washington DC by non-profit organizations to watch to parade. They make it so well here!
There are many reflecting pools in Washington DC but the one between the National World War Memorial and Lincoln Memorial is the largest. This is the view you can see in all postcards and it is just amazing!
And last but not least on the National Mall walking itineray, the Lincoln Memorial celebrates Abraham Lincoln. It is the symbol of freedom and equality. Inside is a Lincoln statue and Lincoln’s most famous speeches can be read on the stone wall.
In the basement there is a small museum where you can learn about the Lincoln Memorial’s history. And did you know that Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech in this place?
South of the Lincoln Memorial is a little lake, called the Tidal Basin. The basin is lined by cherry trees that are a present from the Japanese. And you can rent a paddle boat here in the summer. In winter there are no paddle boats but there are bike rentals.
If you have time, rent a bike, make a bike tour around the Tidal Basin and visit the monuments on the other side of the Basin.
I end my National Mall walking itinerary here. We have seen the Mall from east to west. We have seen a lot but I hope you can return to the National Mall the day after and see more of this splendid area of American national museums and monuments.
More on Washington DC
If you are planning a trip to Washington DC these posts might interest you too: