Explore Washington D.C.

How to Navigate the National Mall

Our tips for making the most of exploring this iconic national park

For more than 200 years, the National Mall has played host to historic events, demonstrations, annual celebrations and everyday gatherings. The greensward stretches for more than two miles from the U.S. Capitol building to the Lincoln Memorial, with 
the Washington Monument rising midway.

Many Smithsonian museums frame the eastern half, between the Capitol and the Monument. Here, visitors hop from collections preserving famed aircraft and space vehicles to those marking key moments in American history. On the western half, visitors stroll among the country’s great tributes, from 
the meditative expanse of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the imposing granite structure immortalizing Martin Luther King Jr.

The National Park Service celebrated its centennial in 2016, but it’s always a great time to experience all that 
this iconic park has to offer. Make the most of your visit with this handy guide.

By Car

Every year, 25 million people traverse the more than 300 acres that make up the most visited national park in America, which can prove challenging for those wishing to drive. Lucky folks might chance upon a parking spot on Ohio Drive SW along the Potomac River, just south of the Lincoln Memorial. Spaces are also available in three lots south of the Jefferson Memorial. Smartphone apps such as Parking Panda can help minimize search time. For a more convenient option, try car services such as Uber or Senate Transportation (which also offers private tours).

By Metro

Four stops take visitors to points along the eastern end of the Mall, with the Smithsonian Station being the most central—it’s right on the Mall. Federal Triangle and Archives-Navy Memorial deposit travelers a block north of the park, while L’Enfant Plaza takes riders a block south. Visit the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority online to plan your trip and calculate fares before you ride.

Smithsonian Metro station
Smithsonian Metro station (Courtesy WMATA/Larry Levine)

By Bus

You can’t miss the bright-red D.C. Circulator buses looping the Mall. Rides cost just $1 (exact change please!), but passengers paying with a SmarTrip card (available at Metro stations throughout the system) can reboard for free within two hours of their first ride. The route begins at Union Station, and buses arrive every 10 minutes from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends.

Circulator bus parked near the Washington Monument
D.C. Circulator (©Sam Kittner)

On Two Wheels

Bike and Roll and the city’s own Capital Bikeshare rent cycles for those looking to explore at their own pace. Bike and Roll offers a variety of Trek two-wheelers at several locations, including L’Enfant Plaza near the Smithsonian Castle. (The company also gives group tours by reservation.) Capital Bikeshare’s Spotcycle smartphone app lets riders locate racks and check availability. Getting around by Segway or pedicab can be a fun alternative, too. Companies with those services provide both transport and tours.

Capital Bikeshare bike with U.S. Capitol building in the background
Capital Bikeshare bike (Mr.TinDC/Flickr, Creative Commons)

By Guided Tour

Whether ranger-led (reserve here) or through a company such as Fiat Luxe Tours or Zohery Tours, active explorers get an in-depth look with experts leading the way. Washington Photo Safari combines photography lessons with sightseeing. Double-decker buses, like those by Big Bus Tours and CitySights DC, take passengers around in comfort during the day and night, with hop on and hop off privileges for added flexibility.

A Fiat Luxe Tour at the American History Museum
Fiat Luxe Tours (Courtesy Fiat Luxe Tours)