Stretching from the Capitol to the foot of Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall is the heart of the U.S. capital. Millions of visitors head here each year to explore the Smithsonian's free museums and tour the monuments. This expansive strip of green space is a symbol of the country's democratic values—the Mall commemorates American history and is also where history is made. It serves as a gathering space for presidential inaugurations, marches, festivals, events, and concerts.
Crystal City is only a short distance away by Metro. Travelers can take the Yellow Line a couple of stops to L'Enfant Plaza or hop on the Blue Line to Smithsonian. The Mall is a National Park Service site, which means a variety of free tours are led daily by rangers.
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Every 4 Years in January...
Regardless of your politics and ideologies, or your opinions of candidates, it is truly a unique experience to witness a Presidential Inauguration, a representation of the enduring strength of American democracy and the peaceful transfer of power from one individual to another as George Washington did with John Adams over two centuries ago.
Elected Presidents starting with Thomas Jefferson since 1801, have been sworn in outside the East and West fronts of the U.S. Capitol Building. Obama holds the record for most (and second most) in attendance: 1.85 million in 2009, and about 800,000 in 2013 (pictured here). I toured two high schools from Texas and Michigan around D.C. for their 4-day Inauguration weekend trip and they absolutely enjoyed it despite the cold.
Usually it goes down like this: swearing in of the Vice President at 11:50am, followed by the President at noon. Luncheon in Statuary Hall, followed by the parade on Pennsylvania Avenue starting around 3pm.
Come early, use the Metro subway (forget driving), bundle up, and bring some snacks and bottled water to get you through the day.
The day I arrived in Washington, D.C., I had some time to go exploring. Given the overcast skies, this turned out to be a poor photography expedition. And so the day I left D.C., I got up extra early to catch the sunrise over the National Mall. It was again fairly cloudy, but the sun broke through long enough for this shot. I'm glad I gave up an hour of sleep that morning!
We did a guided bicycle tour of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and it was fabulous. I highly recommend it for families and active individuals. The tour was not strenuous or hurried. In three hours, we got a lot of fresh air and a good lay of the land.
My husband and I recently took a short jaunt to Washington, D.C. Pushed for time, we were happy to find that most of the memorials are within a short distance of each other. We only had so many hours to spare in D.C. before we had to catch our flight home, so after visiting the Jefferson Memorial, we quickly made our way to the opposite side of the Tidal Basin to see the FDR and MLK, Jr. Memorials. My husband encouraged me to slow down for a moment to look at the view across the basin, and the photo I captured in that moment perfectly captures the essence of D.C.
You don’t have to ride to the top of the Washington Monument to appreciate its grandeur, but it helps: The 70-second elevator ride delivers you to the tip of the monolith, 500 feet above the Mall, where you can peer down at its antlike visitors and absorb all of D.C.’s sights in one glance: Arlington Cemetery, the White House, the Capitol, and the entire National Mall unfolds below. Same-day tickets are free; fees apply advance reservations (book through recreation.gov).
Back on the ground, take an up-close tour of Mall sites such as the Lincoln Memorial to feel dwarfed by its 44-foot columns and inspired by Lincoln’s history-altering dedication to the notion that all men are created equal.