How to Tackle the National Mall in a Day
In a city full of must-see attractions and historically significant monuments, museums, parks and government buildings, how do you decide what to see? Washington, D.C. has so much to offer for people with all sorts of interests, but there are certainly a few spots that immediately come to mind for tourists, many of which are on the National Mall.
The narrow stretch of the Mall extends just more than 2 miles from the Capitol to the Lincoln memorial and is lined by eight Smithsonian museums, the National Gallery of Art, the White House and more. If you only have one day, how do you make the most of it? You could spend days there, but here’s our plan for how to tackle the National Mall in 24 hours.
Start at the Capitol Building. Book a tour in advance through the visitor’s desk to see the entirety of the most important government building in the United States. Limited same-day passes are given for visitors who didn’t book in advance. If you show up right when it opens at 8:30 a.m., you’ll have a better chance to get one, but you don’t need a tour reservation to go inside.
Exit through the back of the Capitol and go straight into the Library of Congress. Yes, it’s worth it. It is my personal favorite building in the entire district and well worth taking some time to walk through. Don’t forget to look up! Check out their app for a self-guided tour.
Circle back around the Capitol along the south side. Stop on the far side of the pool and turn around for a picturesque view of the place you just visited! Then turn around and look straight down the mall to the Washington Monument.
Next stop, the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden. This is a great place to stop for a mid-morning coffee. Grab one in the Pavilion Café on the west edge of the garden and take a walk around to check out the dynamic sculptures and the circular fountain in the center.
Tear yourself away (you’ve got so much more to see) and head down to the National Museum of American History. Every time you head into a museum, it’s going to be a struggle to leave, but bear with me – you’ve only got 24 hours! Head straight back to the Star-Spangled Banner. Don’t get distracted by the Muppets. Take your time absorbing that majesty and then head right back out! (Remember, all Smithsonian museums are free.)
This is the hard part. Walk back outside and turn to face the Washington Monument. That’s your next stop. Do not get distracted by the amazing museums on either side of you. Don’t even think about looking at that carousel.
If you want to go to the top, you can book tickets in advance and your visit will take about an hour.
From the ground, stare up at the massive monument to our first president and then turn right to see where the current one lives. Head over to the gate for a White House photo op. Don’t stay too long!
Leave the crowds, go back to the Mall, and turn right to continue your journey. You’ll run right into the World War II Memorial. Walk the perimeter and take your time here – it really is a beauty. Once you’ve taken sufficient photos, keep on going in the same direction.
Walk along the infamous reflecting pool until you get to the Lincoln Memorial. Don’t forget to turn around and look back the way you came! Climb the steps, say hey to Lincoln and then head around to the back for a view of the river.
If you aren’t tuckered out, go for a stroll around the tidal basin. Otherwise, reward your long day with a nice dinner. Take a cab over to the Georgetown Harbor to squeeze in another D.C. must-see and enjoy a meal with a view of the Potomac.
Of course, there are thousands of things to see on the National Mall and you could live in Washington for years and not get to see them all.
What are your highlights? Tell us your favorite places on the National Mall in the comments below.
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