Home ยป How to see Washington D.C’s National Mall | a mini travel guide

The following post is in collaboration with Aerosoles shoes

Washington D.C is one of those iconic cities that everyone must see at least once. Built on American politics and European based architecture, you’ll find plenty to do amidst the free museums and sights.

Since moving to the area, the number one question I get asked is “what monuments or museums should I see?” This usually includes The White House, the Capitol, and a “Smithsonian”.

Luckily, after walking up and down the city multiple times, I’ve found the best way to see D.C., specifically the National Mall where most historical landmarks and museums are located.

Washington D.C is a walking city

No matter what season you visit D.C, chances are you’ll be walking most of the time.

Not only is it the most convenient way to get around, but it makes it easier to get closer to the action and most museums and landmarks are right next to one another.

Packing comfortable shoes are a must, while Washington D.C is mostly flat, the National Mall has gravel walkways making flats or tennis shoes the best option for the area.

My Rossies were breathable, easy to walk in, and were flexible enough for a full day of sightseeing!

Check ahead of time for tours

Contrary to popular belief, you can’t just walk into the White House, Capitol, or even the Library of Congress. In fact, every building on the National Mall requires a security checkpoint to check bags, pockets, and anything else.

Before your trip, it’s best to make a list of buildings you want to see ahead of time. Do some research to see which of these require a scheduled tour and which you can see without one.

Some of the most popular buildings to visit the National mall:

  • White House – Public tours of the White House are requested through your current member of Congress or Embassy for international tours. Most tours are available Tuesday through Saturday. Check out The National Park Service for more information.
  • The Capitol – A working office building that is open from 8:30am-4:30pm weekdays and closed weekends and all major U.S holidays. The visitor center is open to everyone who completes a security check, however, to get a complete tour of the building you must schedule a tour on the Capitol’s website here.
  • Supreme Court Building – Visitors are encouraged to do their own self-guided tour, entering from the left side of the main steps. Open Monday through Friday 9am-4:30pm. Tours are available if wanted, for more info visit the Supreme Court’s website.
  • The Library of Congress – This is a self-guided tour with some of the most beautiful artwork and architecture. Welcome to anyone who passes a security check. It definitely has the most to offer in terms of exhibits (which are rotated continually). Guided tours are available as well as student tours, more info found on their website.

Transportation

While D.C is primarily a walking city, the second-best way to get around is by metro.

The metro is made up of 6 lines that go to and from D.C as well as areas of Northern Virginia and Maryland. You can find all your metro travel needs on their website.

Even if you are primarily staying in one area, taking the metro is worth it just for the experience. The Washington D.C metro is different than other underground subways, just by way of the architecture alone.

The center of the metro system is Union Station. A must-see just for the unique layout alone. Here you’ll find connections to every metro line, busses to other cities, and the Amtrak.

From Union Station, you can walk to the National Mall where places like the Capitol or Supreme Court are located. This is also the stop if you are looking for specific tours such as bus tours or Potomac boat tours.

There is more than one Smithsonian

I can’t even tell you how many times I’m told: “I want to see the Smithsonian!” If you weren’t aware there isn’t just “one” Smithsonian. In fact, there are over 20 Smithsonian’s.

Like other buildings in D.C, you’ll want to make a list of what Smithsonian museums you want to see. Keep in mind that you can spend a full day in just ONE museum and still not see everything it has to offer.

While most Smithsoanin’s are close in proximity, there are a few that require a metro ride or two.

A list of all Smithsonian museums

Information from the Smithsonian Institution website. I’ve bolded my personal favorite museums.

  • National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • African Art Museum
  • Air and Space Museum
  • American Art Museum
  • American History Museum
  • American Indian Museum
  • American Indian Museum Heye Center
  • Anacostia Community Museum
  • Archives of American Art
  • Arts and Industry Building
  • Cooper Hewitt
  • Freer Gallery of Art
  • Hirshhorn
  • National Zoo
  • Natural History Museum
  • Portrait Gallery
  • Postal Museum
  • Renwick Gallery
  • S. Dillon Ripley Center
  • Sackler Gallery
  • Smithsonian Castle
  • Smithsonian Gardens

Make sure to pack snacks & water

Whatever you decide to explore in D.C., I would strongly advise bringing a few snacks and water.

They call the National Mall a “food desert’ for a reason, it’s hard to come by food and water that isn’t an overly priced downstairs cafeteria (and not all museums even have those).

Chances are you’ll be able to find food off the mall, but keep in mind that the mall stretches for several miles with all those museums and landmarks in between.

You don’t want to be caught without water unless you’re willing to pay up.

It’s totally acceptable to bring snacks and water into museums, staff however may have persons hang the bag in front of their chest or sling on one shoulder for safety precautions. Aside from that, you are in the clear.

Enjoy it

Overall, have fun! Washington D.C is a great place to have fun and enjoy all the sights and sounds.

Whether you decide to do a museum, park or tour the Capitol you’ll have fun! Just don’t forget some water, snacks, and your walking shoes ๐Ÿ˜‰

Thanks again to Aerosoles

Huge shoutout to Aerosoles for sponsoring this post, I would highly recommend their flexible comfy shoes for any travel (especially if you’re walking!)

You can find them on their website here, or on their Instagram. And let me know below if you’ve tried a pair of their shoes and if you love them!

I hope this mini-travel guide to Washington D.C’s National Mall helped you narrow down your next adventure in the area, or gave you some inspiration to do so.

As always you can DM me here, or leave a comment below – happy writing!

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