Situated on the banks of the Potomac River, the National Mall is a two-mile swath of land bound by the U.S. Capitol to the east and the Washington Monument to the west. Visitors to "the Mall" will find a wide, pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined boulevard with moving monuments and memorials, world-famous museums and impressive federal buildings along Constitution Avenue.
The National Mall welcomes millions of visitors every year, but it has also played host to many history-making events. This is where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech to hundreds of thousands who marched on Washington. This is where protestors - from those opposing the Vietnam War during the turbulent 1960s to the peaceful protests of the 1980s punctuated by the AIDS quilt, to modern-day marchers rallying for and against everything from reproductive rights to big business- make their voices heard.
The National Mall is home to the country’s most famous monuments and memorials. The Lincoln, Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorials all reside here. You’ll also find the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, the National World War II Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
DC’s monuments and memorials are free and open to the public 24 hours a day. Spread out across just two miles, it’s fairly easy to see them all in a day or two (be sure and include some time to rent a paddle boat at the Tidal Basin, where the Jefferson, FDR and MLK memorials are located). If walking the Mall isn’t in your plan, you can also rent a bike, Segway or see the sights via the hop-on, hop-off bus. Be sure to check out our Tours of DC's Monuments & Memorials for more information.
The National Mall is also home to many of the country’s most popular museums. Smithsonian museums along the National Mall include the National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian Castle.
The expansive National Gallery of Art, which features two wings of traditional and contemporary art, is also conveniently located on the Mall. The museum’s sculpture garden hosts free Jazz in the Garden concerts on Friday evenings during the summer and transforms itself into an ice skating rink during the winter.
For more information on navigating all 15 Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo, read Visiting the Smithsonian Museums.
The National Mall hosts a number of annual festivals throughout the year, including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in July, Screen on the Green Monday evenings in the summer and the National Book Festival in September. And on Jan. 21, 2013, visitors will be camped out for the 57th Presidential Inauguration.
Since it is centrally located and Metro-accessible, the National Mall is a good starting point for touring other attractions. Just off the Mall, you’ll find the National Archives, Old Post Office Pavilion and the Newseum offering spectacular views of the city, and the White House. Several neighborhoods, including Penn Quarter and Chinatown, are just a short walk or Metro ride away and offer more museums, entertainment and restaurants to explore.