How to Tackle the National Mall in a Day - Poplar Travels
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Sep 08 2014

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.

8:30 a.m.

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.

10:00 a.m.

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.

11:00 a.m.

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.

11:45 a.m.

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.)

12:45 p.m.

Hungry yet? Head across the mall to the National Museum of the American Indian and eat lunch in their award-winning café featuring native dishes like grilled bison and cedar planked salmon.

1:45 p.m. 

Now that you’re incredibly full, waddle over to the National Air and Space Museum and marvel at all the rockets in the Space Race gallery.

2:45 p.m.

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.

4:00 p.m.

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!

4:20 p.m.

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.

5:00 p.m.

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.



We’re linking up with some fantastic bloggers this week on #WeekendWanderlust! Check them out:

 A Southern Gypsy | A Brit and A Southerner  | Carmen’s Travel Tips | Justin Plus Lauren | Outbound Adventurer


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Evanne Allen

Evanne co-founded Poplar Travels after quitting her job in Washington, D.C. She got itchy feet at a young age and has never lost the urge to explore the planet. A previous museum employee, she is apt to drag travel partners into several cultural institutions anywhere she goes. She wishes she could speak every language and loves meeting new people.

  • This sounds super interesting, I only heard of the National Mall (I knew some of the sights along it, but not the name of it) when a friend got married there. Your itinerary sounds wonderful, full of great information for someone planning a trip there 🙂

    September 28, 2014 at 5:45 pm
    • Eric and Evanne

      Thanks, I always forget that “the mall” isn’t a common phrase for people outside D.C.! What an awesome place for a wedding!

      September 29, 2014 at 9:46 am
  • Haven’t been, but sure looks interesting 🙂

    September 29, 2014 at 9:29 am
  • Wow, this is an ambitious itinerary! Next time I’m in DC, I might give it a whirl. 😉 My favorite part of DC is the Vietnam War Memorial. It brings me to tears every time, but I keep coming back.

    (Found you on the #WeekendWanderlust link-up.)

    September 29, 2014 at 8:31 pm
    • It’s definitely ambitious – you’ll have to start early if you want to make it through!

      September 30, 2014 at 3:37 am
  • Wow – I can’t believe you did all of that in a day! Very ambitious! I think I’d like to spend a couple of days taking in all the sights, but sometimes you just don’t have the chance and need to see as much as you can! I’d love to go to Washington someday. Thanks for linking up with #WeekendWanderlust!

    October 1, 2014 at 4:26 am
  • Those are great tips! Finding parking around DC is impossible. There is so much to see and most of us don’t have the time to get around to see it all. That’s a lot of walking you did, but a great itinerary to follow. Thanks for linking up to #WeekendWanderlust this week.

    October 1, 2014 at 4:53 pm

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