D.C.'s Best Gardens & Parks

More than 230,000 acres of parks and green spaces as well as approximately 40 community gardens dot DC. Not only do most serve as gathering places for people to eat, play and socialize, they possess an abundance of flora and fauna, such as the display of 10,000 orchids at the US Botanic Garden, and natural formations in Rock Creek Park. As peaceful, refreshing sites, DC’s parks and gardens are a welcome respite from the stresses of everyday living and long hours of sightseeing.

Washington, DC, USA
From mid-March to mid-April, thousands of crab apple and Yoshino cherry trees explode into bloom, surrounding this 2.1-mile path with tunnels of white petals. But that’s just one reason to walk (or run!) the paved trail encircling the Tidal Basin reservoir: The string of monuments you’ll pass along the way of Martin Luther King, Jr., Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson aren’t bad, either. Want to extend your blossom tour? Walk west from the Tidal Basin to Ohio Drive, where the sidewalk sandwiched between Ohio Drive and the Potomac River meanders beneath the branches of Usuzumi, Fugenzo, and Akebono cherry trees.
1600-1608 H Street Northwest
If you end your White House tour around lunchtime, head over to one of the many eateries on Pennsylvania Avenue, between 17th and 18th streets, and pick up lunch to go. At the cash register, ask for two extra paper bags. Then head back toward the White House and make your way to Lafayette Square to eat. Named after Pierre Lafayette, a designer of the city’s layout, Lafayette Square is a pretty little park that is very popular with locals—who will be doing the same thing as you. It’s a wonderful oasis in the middle of the city, and a great spot for people watching. There are plenty of benches to sit on—in sunny spots or under the shade of the trees.If you’re lucky enough to score a table, you get to play checkers. Sounds corny, but it’s fun. Take the two paper bags and fold and rip each one into 12 square pieces to fit the game board in front of you. Last time I went with a friend, we didn’t have a pen on us, so we just ripped off the corner on 12 of the pieces of paper and called them the red pieces. We couldn’t quite remember the game rules, so we had to quickly surf the Web for them. Next thing we knew, we were having a blast and almost missed getting back to the office on time!
One deceptive thing about D.C. is that it looks like a small place, but it’s surprising how much walking you do when you’re here. Walking in and between the museums, monuments, and other landmarks, you’ll be exhausted if you don’t pace yourself. So here’s a bit of advice from a local: Take lots of breaks. One of my favorite spots to rest for a few minutes or eat a bite is Bartholdi Park, located in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, across the street from the Botanic Garden. Most visitors spend their time in the Botanic Garden; few cross the street to this little park. Bartholdi Park was developed as a demonstration garden where folks could learn about and get planting ideas for landscaping their home gardens. For most visitors, it’s less about seeing how plants grow than making use of the benches, tables, and chairs that the park has to offer—not to mention wonderful views of the Capitol and the glass conservatory of the Botanic Garden. A small fountain sits in the center of the garden and helps to drown out the noise from the traffic going up and down Independence Avenue. You won’t even feel like you’re in the heart of the tourist area. A bit of history trivia: The beautiful fountain was created by Frederik Auguste Bartholdi (the park bears his name) who went on to gain fame as the architect of the Statue of Liberty. Metro stop: Federal Center SW
400 8th St NW, Washington, DC 20004, USA
From the hilltop of the U.S. Capitol to the riverfront behind the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall is “America’s Front Yard.” Lined with museums and accented by monuments and memorials, the 1.9-mile stretch of green space is also a destination for public gatherings. Spend a day (or more) celebrating cultural breakthroughs at the National Gallery of Art and the Air and Space Museum, as well as reflecting on our more somber legacies at the Holocaust Museum, the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Korean War Memorial. From presidential inaugurations to protests, a pickup sporting match, or a simple picnic, no matter your reason for visiting, you’ll leave with more reasons to return. Note: The Washington Monument is closed until spring 2019 for renovations.
16th St NW &, W St NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA
Once an encampment for Union troops during the Civil War, 12-acre Meridian Hill Park is now a central gathering space for friends and fitness enthusiasts. Running groups, yoga classes, and personal training sessions all meet at this urban hilltop park, no matter the season. Stroll around the perimeter to admire the 13-basin, Italian-style cascading fountain—the longest in North America—as well as statues commemorating figures such as Joan of Arc. In fair weather, join the hundreds who flock here over the weekends for picnics, impromptu sporting matches, and dog walking (and watching), as well as the Sunday drum circle whose rhythms have been sounding into the night since the 1950s.
3501 New York Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002, USA
Whether you have a green thumb or just love to bask in nature, you’ll want to check out the National Arboretum before you bid D.C. adieu. Spring is one of the best times to visit, when the azaleas, rhododendrons, and native trees are in full bloom. Summer visitors will enjoy beds of colorful annuals and perennials. And any time of year, be sure to stroll through the Bonsai Pavilion, where you can see an amazing collection of Japanese and Chinese bonsai plants, some more than 400 years old. Bring along a picnic lunch and head to the spot where the original columns from the U.S. Capitol are located—you’ll never forget the view.
5200 Glover Rd NW, Washington, DC 20015, USA
Rock Creek Park is the main stretch of woodland that runs through the city’s northwest corridor. If you want to escape the mob of tourists on the Mall, or you just want to spend time in an urban oasis, head to Rock Creek Park. Any section between the Kennedy Center and Pierce Mill has features aplenty—running/biking trails that follow the twists and turns of the creek, tennis courts, idyllic scenery, and the occasional distraction like the National Zoo. On weekends, Beach Drive, located just north of Pierce Mill, is closed to vehicular traffic, transforming into an ideal trail for running or biking. To enter the park at Pierce Mill, take the Metro to Van Ness/UDC and head down Tilden Street. It will be about a 15-minute walk to the mill. For those looking for a more strenuous workout, a hike or a run on the Western Ridge Trail might just fit the bill.
Washington, DC 20007, USA
D.C. is one of the few cities to have one of these—officially, that is. Sandwiched between Montrose Park and Dumbarton Oaks Museum and Gardens, this picturesque trail starts near 31st and R Streets NW in Georgetown and cuts through Rock Creek Park out to Massachusetts Ave/Embassy Row. The lane received its name in 1900, long after it earned its reputation as a popular trysting place.
355 Water Street Southeast
Named for the mythical dragon-like beast said to terrorize the region at the turn of the century, Snallygaster is DC’s largest beer festival. It features a beastly display of over 250 unique craft beers, sourced from the best local, domestic, and international craft breweries along with food trucks, live music, entertainment, and games. As you walk around, choose and taste from a overwhelming array of autumn seasonals, German and Belgian-style beers, pumpkin ales, cask ales, barrel-aged brews, craft cans, new releases from the nearby local brewery Bluejacket, as well as artisanal ciders.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Food + Drink
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East