Washington DC National Mall

The National Mall is usually the center of every visitor's trip to Washington DC. This tree-lined parkland stretches two and a half miles from the Potomac River to the United States Capitol, and is adjoined by the White House. At one end of the National Mall, known as West Potomac Park, the Lincoln Memorial stands majestically over its Reflecting Pool, offering a stunning view of the Washington Monument, the Tidal Basin, Constitution Gardens and the Memorial Bridge. In addition to showcasing the Washington DC national monuments, the Mall is home to a number of museums and galleries, including the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum and many of the Smithsonian Institution buildings.

The Mall is significant as the central axis of the Washington DC national monuments core area, as designed by Pierre L'Enfant in 1791. The Washington DC National Mall was to be the foremost avenue of the city, and was to be named "The Grand Avenue." It was expected to extend westward from the US Capitol building all the way south to the house of the president, where it would terminate with a splendid statue of George Washington on horseback.

During the 1800's, however, L'Enfant's ceremonious blueprint for the Mall was, for the most part, neglected. The Civil War had much to do with this, being that the Mall grounds were used for troop parades and encampments, and even for the slaughter of livestock and production of armaments. In 1872, fourteen acres of the Mall was given to the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad for the building of a train depot. The railroad was also granted permission to lay tracks north to south across part of the Mall. In 1902, after the Union had been restored, "The Grand Avenue" vision put forth by L'Enfant was resurrected when the McMillan Commission formally called on Congress to restore and further develop the Mall. The railroad station was eventually removed from the area in 1909.

Today, the Washington DC National Mall is one of the most popular places in the city. At the heart of democracy, the mall is the site of many protests and demonstrations, such as the March on Washington in 1963 and the Million Man March in 1995. Every year on Independence Day, the US Capitol hosts a massive July Fourth celebration, with free performances by national entertainers and one of the most intense fireworks shows in the world.

The best way to enjoy the Washington DC National Mall is to take Metro to the Smithsonian stop, then walk from one monument, gallery or memorial to the next. In nice weather, walking the Mall is a favorite even for locals. If you'd rather, you can take a Tourmobile, which regularly shuttles visitors between the monuments in Washington DC on a daily basis.

Many believe the best time to visit the Washington DC national monuments is at night, when their beautiful white stone edifices are brilliantly floodlit and there are no noisy crowds to diminish their stately tranquility. It is at this time that the reflective nature of their design is evident. Try it -- all of the memorials are safe to visit after dark, and park rangers stay on duty until just before midnight, with the exception of the Washington Monument, where the close the doors at 5pm. You can still wander around the grounds and enjoy their ambience at any time, however. Early mornings are also beautiful and very peaceful, with sunrises reflecting color across the pools and the white stone of the memorials.

You don't have to tour anything to enjoy the National Mall in Washington DC, however. Locals and tourists alike gather here to picnic, fly kites, play volleyball, read on park benches, walk dogs, and to jog among the monuments in Washington DC. It really is the heart of the nation, and never stops pulsing with life!

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