The National Mall encompasses the area between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capitol, bordered by the Washington Monument to the west, and sometimes as far off as the West Potomac Park and Constitutional Gardens. Every year the National Mall is visited by more than 24 million people. The National Mall grounds are open 24 hours with Park rangers available at memorials between 9:00 am and 10:00 pm daily. The Park is closed on Christmas, December 25.
Originally devised as a “grand avenue” during Washington D.C.’s designer Pierre (Peter) Charles L’Enfant’s plan for the future city, it was meant to be approximately a mile long and 400 feet wide garden-lined stretch of land between the Capitol building and a Statue of George Washington south of the White House. The “grand avenue” was never constructed and now is home to the National Mall.
It wasn’t until the early 1850s that Andrew Jackson Downing, an architect and horticulturist, designed the landscaping plan for the future National Mall. It took nearly a half century for several federal agencies to develop the naturalistic parks according to Downing’s plan for the Mall which included the Henry Park and Seaton Park. At one point the U.S. Botanic Garden maintained greenhouses on the east end while railroad tracks crossed on 6th Street with a large market and railroad station at the north end of the National Mall.
After the turn of the 20th century, the McMillan Commission formed a plan set forth in 1901 that was meant to expand the original L’Enfant plan which removed the existing gardens, trees, greenhouses, and other facilities, replacing them with open space lined by American elm trees. In years since the McMillan plan came to be, trees have been planted, and four boulevards – Washington and Adams Drive on the inside, Jefferson and Madison Drive on the outside - have been constructed along the central lawn. Jefferson and Madison Drive may still be accessible to vehicular traffic.
The National Mall was official placed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15th, 1966. The main section of the National Mall, also known as the National Mall (proper), presently consists of the following museums, landmarks, and other features:
- National Museum of American History
- National Museum of Natural History
- National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
- East and West Buildings of the National Gallery of Art
- National Museum of the American Indian
- National Air and Space Museum
- Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
- Arts and Industries Building
- Smithsonian Institution Building (“The Castle”)
- Freer Gallery of Art
- Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
- National Museum of African Art
- Andrew Jackson Downing Memorial Urn
- Joseph Henry Statue
- Smithsonian Carousel
All of the museums in the National Mall, excluding the National Gallery of Art, are free to the public as part of the Smithsonian Institution.
For visitors to the National Mall wishing to plan their day, they should start off on either the east or West sides and make their way across the Capitol using the Metro services to get across the city quickly.
If you start on the east side, you can visit the following monuments, landmarks, and other features:
- United States Capitol
- Capitol Reflecting Pool
- Union Square
- Peace Monument
- James A. Garfield Monument
- Ulysses S. Grant Memorial
- United States Botanic Garden
However, if you opt to start on the west side, you can plan on seeing the following features:
- Constitution Gardens
- Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool
- Sylvan Theater
- Washington Monument
- National World War II Memorial
- Korean War Veterans Memorial
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- The Three Soldiers Statue
- Vietnam Women’s Memorial
- United States Department of Agriculture Building
- Jefferson Pier
- John Paul Jones Memorial
- District of Columbia War Memorial
- Lock Keeper’s House
For those visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture, it is located between the Washington Monument and National Museum of American History.
When visiting the National Mall it is always recommended to take public transportation where possible as the Washington Metro system can quickly get you to south side of the Mall via the Smithsonian station. Getting off at the Smithsonian station will place you between the United States Capitol and Washington Monument. If you want to get to the north side of the Mall you should get off at either the Archives, Union Station, or Federal Triangle stations. The Federal Center Southwest, L’Enfant Plaza, and Capitol South stations will all leave you several blocks away from the Mall, so bring your walking shoes if you plan to start your journey there.
As with most cities, you can find pedicabs operating from 10 different stations along the National Mall in front of each of the memorials and larger museums. Bicycles can be rented or locked up near each of the memorials and museums offering a convenient option for travelers looking to pedal their way across the capitol. Prices for rental bikes are subject to change, but membership fees range from $8 for 24 hours, $17 for 3-days, a day key which requires a $10 initial fee in addition to $7 per day, or 30-day options at $28. Annual rates for rentals start at $85 but if you pay by the month it is $8 per month. However, be aware that if you take the rentals out for extended periods of time you may end up with a significant charge. So be aware that you may end up paying as much as $2 per 30 minutes without a Day Key or higher membership which reduce it to $1.50 per 30 minutes. More information can be found at: www.capitalbikeshare.com
If you are hoping to drive to the Capitol, there are visitor parking areas along Ohio Drive SW between the Lincoln Memorial and Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Busses run along Ohio Drive making the process of getting across the Capitol very simple. Alternatively, if you are in need of handicapped parking, there are limited spaces available at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt and World War II memorials, near the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and Vietnam Veterans Memorial. However, be aware that parking near the National Mall (proper) is exceptionally limited and should not be considered a reliable option when visiting.