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Visiting the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC
Discover a stunning collection of plants and Instagram-worthy sights with our guide to the best things to see and do at this free outdoor museum.
What and where is the U.S. National Arboretum?
The U.S. National Arboretum is located at 3501 New York Avenue NE in Washington, DC. The grounds are open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the year except Dec. 25. The Arboretum’s popular National Bonsai & Penjing Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except for federal holidays that fall from November through February. Admission to the Arboretum and the museum is free of charge.
Established in 1927 by an act of Congress, the Arboretum aims to increase the aesthetic, environmental and economic importance of landscape and ornamental plants. The attraction does so through gardens and exhibits, long-term botanical research and conservation of resources. The gorgeous, 446-acre property makes for an inspiring and visually captivating visit at any time of the year.
The easiest way to reach the National Arboretum is by car, as the grounds are located approximately 10 minutes from the U.S. Capitol Building. Parking is readily available, or you can use Uber or Lyft. Please note that the Arboretum’s R Street entrance is closed after 2 p.m. from Monday through Friday, so make sure to use the New York Avenue entrance if visiting at that time or later. Driving directions from numerous points in the DMV area are available on the Arboretum’s website.
If you choose to use Metrorail, exit at the Stadium Armory station on the Blue and Orange lines. Then, use the B-2 Metrobus and exit on Bladensburg Road. From there, walk two blocks to R Street, where you will make a right. Two blocks further, you’ll find the Arboretum gates.
What to see and do at the U.S. National Arboretum?
The Arboretum presents a stunning collection of plants, with each given its own display. One of the most popular is the Gotelli Conifer Collection, which showcases conifers that hail from a range of climates, including the Arctic and subtropical regions. Japanese maples, ornamental grasses and daffodils combine with the conifers to create an alluring array of colors. Make sure to stop in the gazebo, where you will have a full view of the Conifer Collection while resting.
The aforementioned National Bonsai & Penjing Museum is another notable feature of the Arboretum. The museum is a riveting collection of legendary miniature Japanese and Chinese trees. The Japanese art of bonsai goes back more than one thousand years, a practice of growing beautiful trees in artful containers. The art of penjing is an even earlier version of the same practice, with both providing a calming effect on the observer. You’ll learn of this fascinating art and its conversation elements as you are dazzled by these living sculptures and natural scenes. The museum literally changes with the seasons, so it’s worth repeated visits.
No discussion of the Arboretum is complete without mentioning the National Capitol Columns. The permanent installation features 22 Corinthian columns that supported the east portico of the U.S. Capitol when it was built in 1828. Once the dome of the Capitol was completed in 1864, builders realized that the columns were not properly constructed to support the dome, creating an odd and unsettling visual. The strange aesthetic was not solved until 1958, and it took until the 1980s for the columns to find their resting place on the Ellipse Meadow in the Arboretum. Now, the site of the columns serves as one of the most beautiful (and Instagram-worthy) sights in the nation’s capital.
The U.S. National Arboretum also offers azalea blossoms, making it one of the best places to view blossoms in the District. The azalea blossoms usually peak at a different time than the blossoms found near the Tidal Basin, offering an additional opportunity to marvel at the beautiful trees and their scenic flowers. This arrangement of blossoms is located near the Capitol Column Overlook and the Flowering Tree Walk.
Finally, make sure to take note of the Arboretum’s events, which can include moonlight-adorned hikes and celebrations and educational programs.