A Day on The National Mall

I've lived in the Washington, DC area now for nearly ten years and I'm starting to really feel like a local.  The nation's capital has some great attractions, is rich in history and is home to some great restaurants.  The trick is don't just rely on a tour guide.  Do your homework and you'll find all sorts of great tips for your next visit to DC.

We're working on several DC travel guides, but in this article I'm going to give you my recommendations if you have only a day to spend on the National Mall.  Tourist season in Washington really kicks off around the National Cherry Blossom Festival at the end of March and runs through Labor Day.  If you're here during the "off season" you'll find smaller crowds and sometimes more pleasant weather.  

Tip Number 1: Wear comfortable shoes.  The National Mall is large.  This always seems to surprise people.  You'll walk several miles to see the sights in a day.  Also dress for the weather. During the summer it gets hot and in the winter it can be bitter cold.  Check the forecast and plan ahead.

Tip Number 2: Plan your day before you arrive on the Mall.  There are few food options on the Mall itself and you may walk several blocks into the city to find something suitable.  Grab a map.  Many people don't realize the National Mall is a National Park.  You will find friendly and helpful park rangers at many of the monuments and attractions around the mall.  Don't confuse the Smithsonian with the National Park.  The Smithonian is a series of museums, 19 museums and galleries to be exact.  Many of these museums are on the National Mall, but not all of them.  Check online and determine which museums you would like to visit and plan accordingly.  

I'll have more tips later in this article, but first let me give you my thoughts on the attractions around the Mall.  The National Mall runs from Captiol Hill to the Linconln Memorial.  The Washington Monument is in the middle.  Many of the Smithsonian museums flank the mall between the Monument and Capitol Hill.  Pick an end of the Mall to start and go from there.  Since this is the Mall in a day, we're going to skip Captiol Hill for now.  

If you start your tour down around 3rd Street you'll be able to snap some great pictures of the Capitol before hitting some of the museums.  Smithsonian museums are free so I always tell people to go in, check it out and if you don't want to stick around long move on.  The closest museums to 3rd Street are the National Museum of the American Indian, National Air and Space, and the National Gallery of Art.  Air and Space is popular and almost always crowded.  This is a good spot to hit early in the day.  If you like art galleries the National Gallery is a great stop.  

As you work your way down the Mall you'll pass more museums include the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of American History.  I highly recommend a stop in both of these museums.  Among other things you'll find the Hope Diamond at the Natural History museum and many historic pieces of U.S. history at the American History museum.

By now you're probably ready for lunch.  Head up 14th street a few blocks to F or G streets.  You'll find several sandwich shops and restaurants that cater to the office crowd.  If you want to hit a piece of DC history, and also a big tourist desitation, visit Old Ebbitt Grill on 15th.  It's about a block and a half from the White House.

After lunch trek back to the National Mall for an afternoon of Monuments.  The Washington Monument is currently closed due to earthquake damage in 2011, but you can still take pictures from the outside.  From there walk down to the World War II Memorial.  This memorial is relatively new and is a popular destination.  It's located on the far end of the reflecting pool that's in front of the Lincoln Memorial.  

As you face the Lincoln Memorial leave the WWII memorial heading down the right side of the reflecting pool.  If you veer to the right at the end of the sidewalk, before the Lincoln, you will find the Vietnam Wall.  This is definitely worth the stop.  From there climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and turn around and enjoy one of the best views in DC.  You'll see down the National Mall all the way to the Capitol.  

If you have time, and your legs aren't aching too bad, leave the Lincon Memorial and to the right on the west side of the Mall you'll see the Korean War Memorial.  There's still more to see, but this is probably the best itinerary if you have only a day.  The Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial and MLK Memorial are located around the tidal basin which is just south and west of the Lincoln.  When the weather is warm there are also paddle boats you can rent on the tidal basin.

Tip Number 3: If you can, check out the Lincoln and especially the Korean War Memorial's at night.  They are all lit up and spectacular.  The National Mall monuments are open to the public until midnight so nighttime viewing is encouraged.  The other plus is that it's rarely busy at night.  

Now I realize I glazed over or skipped some of the museums.  It's not that I don't recommend them, it's just this is what you can do in a day.  If you have more time use it to explore the museums.

We'll have more DC tips including some great restaurant ideas, what do do if you like the great outdoors and Arlington National Cemetery.