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The National Mall
The National Mall is the US premier national park. It is home to some of the most recognizable monuments in the US, memorials and important events: presidential inaugurations, social and political demonstrations, and historical commemorations. It is estimated that the Park receives over 24 million visitors each year, good planning is therefore crucial to make the most of your visit!
Here’s the list of major attractions you’ll be able to find at the National Mall and Memorial Parks:
The Washington Monument: the tallest structure in Washington D.C., open to visitors 7 days a week. If you plan to visit it, think of booking your ticket well in advance. Check our separate Washington Monument page for more tips and a crowd timetable.
The U.S. Capitol Building. The Capitol Dome is open to the public for guided tours only. Tours are conducted from 9a.m. to 4:30p.m. Monday through Saturday. You need to book your place in advance. The Capitol Visitor Center is usually less crowded on weekday mornings, right after opening at 9:00a.m.
National Monuments and Memorials, of which the Lincoln Memorial is the most famous and the most visited. World War II Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Memorial are some of the other well-known ones you’ll find in the Memorial Park.
Smithsonian Museums. The National Mall is home to ten of the museums of the Smithsonian Institution offering a variety of exhibits ranging from art to space exploration. Don’t miss the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
The National Gallery of Art and the U.S. Botanic Garden. These two may become quite crowded on weekends, but the visitors’ numbers remain moderate during the week.
Tips to avoid the crowds
The best way to avoid crowds in National Mall is to visit on weekdays, early in the day. There are always more visitors on weekends, during school and public holidays and on military anniversaries.
The Mall in Washington DC is the most crowded on the 4th of July, Memorial Day weekend, during the National Cherry Blossom Festival and for major political rallies and special events.
Periods of festivals are also quite popular: Cinco de Mayo (in May), Rolling Thunder (May), Smithsonian Folklife Festival (June-July) see bigger crowds, though they can’t be compared to the ones you’ll see on the 4th of July.
Screen on the Green (free outdoor screenings) tend to bring more visitors on Monday afternoons and nights in late July - early August.
Spring and summer are the high season in Washington, D.C. Try to visit in late fall or winter to avoid crowds (except for Thanksgiving week and the Christmas holiday period, that will effectively bring as many visitors to the National Mall as the busy summer months do).
Crowds in the National Mall during the cherry blossom festival - photo credits to Dion Hinchcliffe via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
To maximize your time at the National Mall and Memorial Parks - try to plan your day in advance. The Washington Monument and the Capitol need prior booking, though Washington Monument has a number of tickets on “first-come, first-serve” basis. Therefore, if there are no online tickets available, you may prefer to start your day early at the Washington Monument to be sure to visit it, then head to the Lincoln Memorial and see it before the crowds arrive, and then to the Capitol during peak hours (if you’ve managed to book a ticket for the tour).
Check the Smithsonian Museums’ crowd table if they’re also on your list (we’ve prepared them for the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History). On the National Mall territory you can always find less popular and therefore calmer spots during busy middays and early afternoons. The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and The Freer and Sackler Galleries will offer you a crowd-free visit to their interesting exhibitions.
Photo credits to lina smith via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)