The two-mile green strip of land in Washington, DC that reaches from the Capitol building to the Lincoln Memorial is a National Park and a great place to walk and enjoy. Here are some of the highlights and landmarks right down the center of this Washington Mall. And a word of warning: On a map, this looks like a small park you can easily jaunt along from end to end. Those two miles seem very long when you’re on the ground, especially in 90+ degree heat, but we walked the distance on more than one day of our recent trip. The sights are worth the effort!
Poet Walt Whitman wrote in the 1800s that the Washington Mall is a place of “democratic vistas, where the American people assemble to play, attend cultural events, or petition the government for change.” So much of American history has taken place within these two miles, and it’s amazing to be here in person.
At one end is the distinctive Capitol Building. When you are in this lawmaking arm of the government, you are said to be “on the hill.” It’s not steep, but it does anchor one end of the Mall. The cornerstone of the building was laid by President George Washington in 1793, though construction stalled and the Capitol finally opened in 1819. It’s a large building, and we weren’t sure what is the front and what is the back. When we toured, we went in the “side” entrance. It doesn’t really matter. This is a majestic building from any angle.
Next to the Capitol is the lovely Library of Congress.
From far and near you can see the Washington Monument, soaring 555 feet in the sky. When it was completed in 1885, it was the tallest structure in the world. A steam-powered elevator whisked visitors to the top. The monument is currently closed for renovation, but you can circle around it and use it as a landmark if you’re lost (yes, we got lost!).
Walking around the Washington Monument, you come to the impressive World War II Memorial honoring the 16 million Americans who served in uniform in the war. Granite columns representing each of the states and territories at the time of war curve around a fountain. A wall of 4,048 stars, each standing for 100 people, represents the more than 400,000 Americans who paid the price to win the war.
Rallies, concerts, and parties take place around this pool. The most well known is likely the all-day event when Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. When you get to the stairs, look for the notation in the landing for the exact spot where King stood on that day.
On to the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln sits looking out on the Washington Mall, with the words of his Gettysburg Address etched in the wall beside him. Seeing my favorite president larger than life in this stately memorial was so moving.
We were able to come back to the Lincoln Memorial at sunset our second day here. Walking the Mall gives you a feeling for how fragile the country is, how close it came to being split in two, what problems are still not solved, and how all arms of the government are imperfect but work to balance each other. It’s quite a perspective, and beautiful, too.
For more information and to plan a trip, visit the National Park site.
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