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The Ultimate Guide to the National Mall in Washington, DC

The Ultimate Guide to the National Mall in Washington, DC

The National Mall is an open space located between the Capitol Building and Washington Monument. It is bordered by Independence Avenue to the north, Constitution Avenue to the south, 7th Street NW to the west, and 3rd Street NW to the east.

It is the largest park in the United States, covering 2.5 miles (4 km) along the Potomac River. Its central axis runs roughly northwest-to-southeast for 1 mile (1.6 km).

The Mall is home to numerous monuments and memorials, including the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, George Mason Memorial, and the Smithsonian Institution museums.

The Mall also contains sports facilities such as the U.S. Botanic Garden, the International Spy Museum, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Zoological Park, the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, the National Archives, the National Cathedral, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The Mall is often used for parades, festivals, concerts, protests, demonstrations, sporting events, and public gatherings. In addition, the Mall is the site of major annual celebrations, including the Fourth of July celebration, Christmas tree lighting ceremony, Easter sunrise service, and the Presidential Inauguration.

The Mall is managed by the National Park Service, which acquired the land for $25 million in 1916.

 Features within the National Mall

The national mall comprises five major components: the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian museums, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson memorial, and the United States Capitol.

The National Mall also includes a number of smaller parks, including the National Zoo, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Purposes

  1. The National Mall is used for various events such as concerts, parades, and rallies.
  2. It is also used for protests and demonstrations.
  3. The National Mall is a place where history is made. It is a place where we celebrate our country and its ideals.
  4. The National Mall represents freedom and democracy. It is a symbol of hope and opportunity.
  5. The National Mall serves as a reminder of how far America has come since its founding.
  6. The National Mall reminds us of the sacrifices that were made to create a more perfect union.
  7. The National Mall shows us that we are united as Americans.
  8. The National Mall inspires us to continue striving toward a better future.

History of the National Mall

Inaugurated in 1856, the National Mall is the oldest national park in the world.

The National Mall was originally named "L'Enfant Promenade" after Pierre L'Enfant, the designer of the city plan. In 1791, Congress renamed it "Mall Way," which became "Pennsylvania Avenue." In 1846, President James K. Polk changed the name again to "National Mall."

The first president to visit the National Mall was John Adams. He visited on March 4, 1800.

During the Civil War, the National Mall served as an encampment for Union troops.

On September 11, 2001, the National Mall was closed to vehicular traffic due to security concerns following the attacks on New York City and Washington D.C.

Downing Plan

In 1851, Andrew J. Downing proposed a landscaping scheme for the National Mall. His vision included connecting the Capitol building to the White House via a large open space. To create this space, he divided the Mall into six sections, each one named after an important tree species. These sections were connected by pathways, allowing visitors to walk between them. As he explained in a later report, he envisioned the mall as a place where people could "walk among the beautiful trees and shrubs" and enjoy nature. Although his idea was never fully realized, today we can see how much of his original concept remains intact. 

McMillan Plan

The McMillan plan would eliminate the Victorian landscaping of Washington D.C.'s National Mall and replace it with an uncomplicate expanse of grass, narrow the Mall, and permit the building of low neoclassical buildings along the Mall's east-west line.

Temporary war buildings

Most people don't know that during both the world wars the government constructed temporary structures along the national mall. They were designed to be quickly built and easily dismantled.

World War I temporary buildings

When the U.S. entered World War I, the government began constructing temporary structures along the Mall. These structures were built to house soldiers during the war. They include the Army-Navy game stadium, the Navy Memorial, the Marine Corps War Memorial, the Air Force Memorial, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

World War II temporary buildings

During World War II, the government constructed temporary structures at the foot of the Washington Monument to provide shelter for military personnel. These buildings were called "Pentagon East".

After the war ended in 1945, these temporary buildings were demolished. Today you can still find some evidence of their existence along the Mall. You'll notice old brick walls near the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial.

Later history

On October 15, 1966, under the direction of Chief Architect Mies van der Rohe, the National Park Service listed the National Mall on its National Register of Historic Places. In 1981, the National Park Service prepared a National Register nomination document that documented the Mall's boundary lines, features, and historical significance.

From the 1970s to 1994 a fiberglass model of the Triceratops dinosaur named Uncle Beazly stood on the Mall in the center of Constitution Avenue near the Lincoln Memorial. Its height varied between 4.5 and 5 feet (1.4 and 1.5 m). The sculpture was removed during the Clinton administration.

Since the 1980s, the National Mall has been home to several large temporary art installations, including "Mural Wall", a mural painted on the exterior wall of the Smithsonian Institution Building; "Tapestry of Hope", a tapestry depicting scenes from the civil rights movement hung outside the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library; and "Rites of Spring", a sound installation featuring music composed by Philip Glass that played continuously for 10 days in May 2002.

In October 2013, a two-week federal government shutdown closed the national mall and its museums and monuments.

Demolished or moved structures

The following is a list of the structures that have been demolished or relocated since the creation of the National Mall:

1892–1901: Old Post Office Pavilion

1902–1903: United States Capitol dome

1904–1905: United States Supreme Court building

1906–1909: White House

1911–1912: Treasury Department Building

The following buildings are no longer standing:

  1. Washington City Canals, covered over by Constitution Avenue NW, 3rd Street NW and SW, and Canal StreetSW (now Washington Street SW).
  2. Baltimore and Potawatomi Railroad Station, closed in1907 when UnionStation opened.
  3. United States Department of Agriculture Building, demolished in 1930.
  4. Center Market, was replaced in 1931 by the National Air and Space Museum.
  5. Army Medical Museum and Library, demolished in 1968; replaced by the Hirshhorns Museum. The National Zoological Park, now part of the Smithsonian Institution, was also originally located here.

Protests and rallies

The most famous protest rally at the National Mall was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28th, 1963. This event was organized by Martin Luther King Jr., A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Whitney Young, James Farmer, and others.

It was held to protest against racial segregation and discrimination in employment.

In his speech, Dr. Martin Luther King said "I had hoped that the white moderate would see the necessity for change and act to meet the challenge of our time."

He also said, "Our goal is full freedom now!"

This march led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Other notable events include the Million Man March (October 16-17, 1995) and the March Against Fear (March 24, 1999).

Presidential inaugurations

The presidential inauguration is an event that marks the transition between two terms of office for the president of the United States. Inauguration ceremonies occur at the national mall and typically include the swearing-in of the president, inaugural address, parade, balls, and fireworks display.

Inauguration day is also known as the "Day of Jubilee" because it is believed that God forgives all debts and restores justice to those who have been oppressed during the previous administration.

It is also called "the most important single day in American history." 

Other events and recreational activities at the National Mall

There are many other events and recreational activities that take place on the National Mall. These include concerts, festivals, parades, sporting events, and demonstrations.

National Cherry Blossom Festival

Independence Day Parade

Aquarium of the Pacific Independence Day Celebration

Cherry Blossom Festival

Festival of Lights

Holiday Light Show

Jazz in the Park

 and much more!

Annual events

The annual events that take place on the Mall include:

  1. White House Easter Egg Roll
  2. Easter Sunrise Service
  3. Million Veteran March
  4. Mother's Day Tea
  5. Veterans Day Ceremony
  6. and Christmas Tree Lighting

Other events

Many other events take place on the National mall including:

  1. Concerts
  2. Parade
  3. Festivals
  4. Sports Events
  5. and Demonstrations

Improvements and future plans for the Mall

From 2006 through 2010 the National Park Service (NPS) held a public process that created an overall vision for the future of the national mall.

On November 9, 2011, the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior released a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS summarizes the selected plan, which is the basis of the Plan, together with mitigating measures designed to avoid adverse impacts; other alternatives evaluated; the basis for the selection of the preferred option; a determination of no significant impact on park resource values and uses; an analysis of the effects of the proposed action on park natural, cultural, recreational, scenic, historic, scientific, educational, and wilderness values; and the public and government involvement.

The plan proposes several changes to the mall including paving an entire section of the mall for use by demonstrators and other events. It also includes replacing the Capitol reflecting pool with a fountain or similar feature. Other proposed changes include replacing the Sylvan theater on the Washington monument with a facility that contains offices, restaurants, and restroom facilities, and replacing open space near the east side of Constitution gardens with a multi-purpose visitor facility that contains office, restaurant, and restroom facilities.

On December 2, 2011, the National Capital Planning Committee (NCPC) unanimously voted to approve the final National Mall plan at a public meeting. The NCPC's decision allows the NPS to proceed with implementing the plan's recommendations.

Source: en.wikipedia.org

Reconstruction and restoration

In 2013, the National Park Service began reconstruction of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. This project was completed in 2015.

In 2014, the National Park Service announced its intention to replace the existing water features in the National Mall. The new features will be located between the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial. Construction started in 2016 and was completed in 2019.

Transportation to, from, and around the National Mall

The National Mall is accessible via public transport, with the Smithsonian station being located on the south side, next to the Smithsonian Institution building, between the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol. The nearest metro stations are Federal Triangle/Penn Quarter, Gallery Place–Chinatown, Union Station, L'Enfant Plaza, and Judiciary Square.

Metrobus is the local bus system serving the District of Columbia. In addition to regular routes, there are special bus lines to carry tourists around the city. There are several tourist attractions along the route, such as the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the Holocaust Museum.

A taxi ride from downtown DC costs about $15-$20 one way; metered taxis accept credit cards and cash. Taxis do not charge extra for airport trips unless specified. A trip from Dulles Airport to Downtown DC takes approximately 30 minutes. Taxis are readily available outside terminals and most airports. Taxi fares vary depending on location, time of day, and traffic conditions. Fares start at $4.50 per mile during off hours and peak hours and increase to $6.00 per mile during rush hour and late night.

Bicycles

There are many places where bicycles can be rented. Bikes can be found at the following locations:

National Mall - west end of Independence Avenue SW

White House Visitor Center - East Executive Avenue NW

United States Botanic Garden - 15th Street NW & Pennsylvania Ave NW

Washington Convention Center - 7th Street NW

Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool - West Basin Drive SW

Electric scooters and Segways

Electric scooters and segways are available for rent at the following locations:

Lincoln Memorial Reflective Pool - West Basin Drive S.W.

Jefferson Memorial - East Basin Drive S.E.

World War II Memorial - East Basin Drive E.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial - East Basin Drive W.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial - East Basin Drive N

Pedicabs

Pedicabs are available for hire at the following locations:

Lincoln Memorial Reflector Pool - West Basin Drive South

Jefferson Memorial - North Basin Drive

Vietnam Veterans Memorial - East Basin Dr.

Holocaust Memorial - East Basin Dr

Korean War Veterans Memorial - East Basin Drives

Washington Monument - East Basin Dr

Union Station - East Basin Dr

Gallery Place

Motor vehicle parking

Parking is free at all federal buildings, except the Supreme Court Building (where a fee is charged). Parking lots near the monuments are open 24 hours a day. Metered parking spaces are also available throughout the area.

Van Tours

Van tours of the national mall are offered by companies like See DC Tours. These vans often offer transportation to and from your hotel or other destination in the area. They will pick you up at your hotel or wherever you wish to begin your tour. You can choose to have them drop you off anywhere within the city limits.

Weather and climate

The District of Columbia has four distinct seasons, although some parts experience less extreme weather than others. The summer months generally see temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit with frequent thunderstorms. During the winter months, the average temperature hovers between 40°F-60°F with periods of rain and snow. Spring and fall produce moderate temperatures that range between 70°F–80°F, with clear blue skies.

Things to See at the National Mall

The National Mall is home to numerous memorials and museums, including:

  1. The Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum
  2. The National Gallery of Art
  3. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
  4. The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial
  5. The Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial
  6. The World War II Memorial
  7. The Korean War Veterans Memorial
  8. The Vietnam Women's Memorial
  9. The Holocaust Memorial
  10. The Thomas Jefferson Memorial
  11. The Theodore Roosevelt Memorial
  12. The FDR Memorial
  13. The George Mason Memorial
  14. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
  15. The National Archives
  16. The National Zoological Park
  17. The National Cathedral
  18. The U.S. Botanic Garden
  19. The National Cherry Blossom Festival Gardens
  20. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum
  21. the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial
  22. The National WWII Memorial, the National Peace Cemetery
  23. The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
  24. The National Statuary Hall Collection
  25. The National Postal Museum
  26. The National Portrait Gallery
  27. The National Geographic Society
  28. The National Museum of African American History and Culture
  29. The National Museum of Crime and Punishment
  30. The National Museum of Natural History
  31. The National Museum of Women in the Arts
  32. The White House Visitor Center, the National Museum of American History
  33. The National Museum for Youth
  34. The National Museum of the American Indian
  35. The National Museum of Anthropology
  36. The National Museum
  37. and more.

Plan Your Visit

Need help planning your visit to the National Mall in Washington, DC? We can help you get there and move around with ease!

By car

From I-95 take exit #1A onto Constitution Ave., N.W. Follow Constitution Ave. until it ends at 14th St. NW. Turn right on 14th St. NW and follow it until it becomes Independence Ave. SW. Continue following Independence Ave. until it ends and turns into E Street SW. Make a left turn onto E Street SW and continue until you reach the Capitol grounds.

From the Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI): Take BWI Express Bus Route 1 to Union Station. Exit the station and walk north along Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol building. Once you reach the Capitol Building, make a left turn onto East Capitol Street. Walk east until you reach Independence Avenue. Turn left onto Independence Avenue and follow it until it ends at 14 th Street NW. Turn right onto 14th Street NW and follow it until you reach Constitution Avenue. Turn right onto Constitution Avenue and follow it until you arrive at the Capitol grounds.

By Metro

Take the Red Line or Orange Line to Federal Triangle stop. Exit the train station and cross the street. Walk west on 7th Street NW until you reach Constitution Avenue NW. Turn left onto Constitution Avenue and follow this road until you reach the Capitol Building.

By Bus

From downtown Washington: Take the Capital Beltway (I-495) southbound to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Cross over the bridge and take the C&O Canal towpath to the Anacostia River. At the end of the path, board the free Circulator buses that run between the Smithsonian museums and other points in the city. Get off at the Smithsonian stop near the Air and Space Museum.

From Georgetown: Take the Blue Line subway to Foggy Bottom. Exit the station and head west on Massachusetts Avenue NW. When you reach the intersection with 17th Street NW, turn right and follow 17th Street NW until you see the entrance to the National Mall.

By Plane

National Airport is located about 15 miles from the center of Washington, D.C. It’s served by several airlines including United Airlines, Delta Airlines, Continental Airlines, US Airways, Alaska Airlines, Virgin America, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Allegiant Air, Spirit Airlines, and others.

Getting Around

When visiting the National Mall, be sure to have enough time. Our guided national mall day and night tours are by far the most efficient way to get around the city! Hop on and hop off our comfortable air-conditioned vans at your leisure.