Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Touring the monuments on the National Mall by foot

A trip to Washington D.C. isn't complete without a tour of the monuments and memorials located on the National Mall and along the Potomac River. One of the great things about D.C. is the National Park Service doesn't charge entry fees for the monuments – so much to see, for free! In my opinion, the best way to navigate the National Mall is on foot and by using public transportation.

Take advantage of public transportation

You don't want to spend your time tied up in traffic or searching for a parking space. If you take the Metro and walk, you avoid wasting time with the parking hassles. You see much more if you are on foot anyway.

The Smithsonian Metro station (on the Orange Line) is the most convenient Metro stop because it is located right in the midst of the National Mall. It is center to the museums, monuments, Capitol building and other federal buildings. There are also some buses which I noticed recently – most notably the DC Circulator. They’ve added a route that takes you around the National Mall – I haven’t tried it yet but sounds like a great way to save some time and still see everything on foot. You can either get to the Capitol side of the Mall or to the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorial sides.

If you do want to drive...

If you do prefer to drive, there is some free parking
by the monuments. But unless you're a real early bird, these lots fill up pretty quickly and some stipulate limited parking hours which puts you back in the find a parking spot loop. On the plus side, if you drive downtown on the weekends and are early enough, you can typically grab some free parking along Constitution Avenue. Paid parking is also available but it is not cheap. If we do paid parking, we’ve used Panda Parking but primarily park at Union Station and start at the Capitol and walk down or just hop the Metro’s Red line and transfer to other ones to get us where we want to go.

Start at the Washington Memorial and loop around

Since the memorials are laid out symmetrically, it is
easy to make the most of your time and see it all. The best place to start is the Washington Monument because this is the only monument where you need tickets if you want to go inside and ride to the top.
Tickets tend to go quickly, so you will want to secure these as early as possible. Tickets are free and distributed on a first-come, first-served basis; you can get these at the 15th Street and Jefferson Drive kiosk. If you wait too long to get them, there may be no availability or a wait of several hours to get inside the memorial, taking away time from seeing everything else or, alternatively, you can pay a small fee and reserve your place online. (Just to note, the elevator is temporarily closed for repairs until 2019).

After seeing the Washington Monument, it’s a

relatively short distance to the World War II Memorial. Afterward, you can stroll along the reflecting pool to get to the other side where the Lincoln, Vietnam Veterans and Korea War Memorials are located. This is a nice walk, and you can often spot a lot of wildlife along the way.

Want to see it all? Just keep walking

WWII Memorial, Reflecting Pool and Lincoln Memorial
If you are ambitious and want to see most, if not all of the monuments in one day, after visiting the Lincoln Memorial, head south to loop around to the FDR Memorial on Ohio Drive and Jefferson Memorial on Raoul Wallenberg Place. This is a bit of a hike, but a neat walk. 

There is also a hidden gem along this route, the not
highly publicized District of Columbia War Memorial. The memorial commemorates District of Columbia citizens who served in WWI; you can pass through
here on your way to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. and Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorials.

District of Columbia WWI Memorial
If you want to see it all, and don't mind the walking, after seeing the FDR Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial should be next on the list. After visiting the Jefferson Memorial, continue around and the Holocaust Museum is on Raoul Wallenberg Place.

This route will loop you around the Mall and bring you closer to the center of where the rest of the museums are located. Chances are visiting the monuments will take up most of the day; if you're pressed for time, all can be seen in the same day, but if you have time to linger you can always pick up where you left off the next day.

At this point you'll be back at the Smithsonian Metro Station, where a number of the Smithsonian museums are located. All are right near the station; the Smithsonian museums are free. Chances are though you'll want to save these for another day. It is easy to spend hours in each museum, so if time is limited, you might want to plan ahead of time to determine what you want to see most. There's much to see, but by planning it well, you can see most, if not all, of what you want and more. 

What to wear

Plan to wear a good pair of walking shoes though because you'll be putting some mileage on your footwear. While the monuments look close together on a map, or even by eye, they aren't as close as they appear. Dress for the weather too. In the spring, summer and even sometimes in the fall it can get rather hot. Early spring is unpredictable and winters can be cold! So definitely check your weather app before you plan to spend the day walking around the National Mall. Also, there is not much in terms of food down on the Mall but there are kiosks and often truck vendors located in scattered places.

Be warned: No matter how much you do, your visit is likely to leave you wanting to see more. Even after 10 years, I still keep going back to see it again and again.

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