Make the most of the National Mall with these visitors’ tips | TribLIVE.com
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Make the most of the National Mall with these visitors’ tips

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Matt McClain/Washington Post
The U.S. Capitol dome.
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Bonnie Jo Mount/Washington Post
The Washington Monument, as seen in the Reflecting Pool.
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Matt McClain/Washington Post
Visitors walk near columns at the Jefferson Memorial.
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Bonnie Jo Mount/Washington Post
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, with the Washington Monument in the background.
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Ricky Carioti/Washington Post
The Korean War Veterans Memorial.
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Calla Kessler | Washington Post
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Millions of visitors to Washington, D.C., descend on the National Mall every year, touring the U.S. Capitol, posing for photos in front of the memorials and picnicking on the Washington Monument grounds.

With so many people jostling for space in the strip of green running between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, the key to an enjoyable visit is finding the right time to go. These are our suggestions for making the most of the Mall.

Sites are listed from east to west, starting at the Capitol. All outdoor memorials are open around the clock every day, though rangers are on duty only from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Memorial bookstores and museums have varying hours.

U.S. Capitol

Best time to visit: Morning

If you want to get inside the Capitol, the easiest and fastest way is to arrive at the same time as the people who work there. The U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, accessed from the East Front of the Capitol, opens at 8:30 a.m. — a half-hour before some senators and representatives begin public office hours.

The Visitors Center begins offering its free 45-minute guided tours at 8:40 a.m., and starts new ones every 10 minutes. Visitors can reserve slots online; but if you haven’t, an early arrival is usually your best chance for first-come, first-served passes. On your way out, you’ll notice how the lines to get through security have grown throughout the morning.

Early arrivals are also good for photographers: The morning sun shines brilliantly against the Capitol dome, which finished an extensive restoration in 2017.

Washington Monument

Best time to visit: Afternoon

The Washington Monument remains closed as repairs to its elevator continue, and while the National Park Service has promised a “spring 2019” reopening for the landmark, there’s still no specific date.

In the meantime, the best place to take pictures of the obelisk is from the area between the World War II Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, where you can catch its reflection in the Reflecting Pool.

Jefferson Memorial

Best time to visit: Morning

Crowds flock to the Tidal Basin nonstop during cherry blossom season. Morning is the best time to spend some quality time with the thousands of trees that surround the Tidal Basin, and if you come early enough, your chief competition will be exercise fiends getting in their morning run.

The Jefferson Memorial itself is mostly a peaceful place, with visitors sitting on the sun-kissed marble steps, overlooking the water and the Washington Monument beyond, or marveling at the 19-foot statue of Thomas Jefferson inside.

If you want to reflect on Jefferson’s words, or visit the small exhibition on the memorial’s lower level, it’s better to beat the rush of school groups.

Another bonus: Early risers have a better chance of scoring one of the three swan-shaped boats that glide around the Tidal Basin — they are rented on a first-come, first-served basis, beginning at 10 a.m.

World War II Memorial

Best time to visit: Afternoon

The World War II Memorial sprawls across 7.5 acres of the Mall, in a prominent spot between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, at the top of the Reflecting Pool.

If you want to explore the memorial, with its bronze reliefs showing scenes of battle and the home front, or pose for a photo in front of your state or territory’s memorial column, afternoon might be the best time. This will allow you to take advantage of the memorial’s most personal quality: free tours and talks led by National Park Service Rangers.

Depending on the schedule, you might learn about “The Road to Pearl Harbor” or venture on a guided 2.5-mile hike to find “Obscure Memorials of the National Mall.” Events often begin at 2 p.m., but check the online schedule for more details.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial

Best time to visit: Evening

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is the most immersive on the Mall: It’s a series of outdoor “rooms” representing Roosevelt’s four terms, filled with bronze sculptures, waterfalls and pools, depicting the Great Depression and World War II.

Because the layout calls for exploration, it’s most rewarding at night, when the statues cast shadows, the water shimmers and it’s peaceful enough to linger and contemplate.

But don’t just take our word for it: In 1998, architect Lawrence Halprin told The Washington Post: “When people tell me they love the memorial, I always have one thing to tell them: You really ought to see it at night.”

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Best time to visit: Afternoon

There’s a lot of inspirational reading to be done at the most recent memorial to grace the Mall: The walls surrounding the 30-foot statue of Martin Luther King Jr. contain famous quotations from his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” his Nobel Prize acceptance speech and other notable works. Because of this — and because you’ll want to take photos — it’s easier to visit during daylight hours.

As at the World War II Memorial, park rangers are on hand to lead tours and discussions; a recent talk covered King’s approach to voting rights and the 15th Amendment. Talks often begin at 2 p.m., but check with rangers or the neighboring bookstore for more information.

Korean War Veterans Memorial

Best time to visit: Evening

This group of 19 poncho-wearing soldiers on patrol is one of the most dramatic displays in a city that loves historic tableaux. Gesturing, crouching, alert to danger — the larger-than-life steel statues seem ready to spring into action, moving in triangular formation from a wooded area toward a large American flag.

The illusion is even more remarkable as shadows lengthen, rewarding those who visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial, its black granite memorial wall and the peaceful Pool of Remembrance at twilight or early evening.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Best time to visit: Afternoon

Most visitors feel the solemn presence of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial before they reach the famous Three Servicemen Statue or see the austere memorial’s black granite panels, inscribed with the names of 58,318 American casualties.

Even the teenagers on school trips instinctively seem to know that this is a place for hushed voices; when you do hear someone talking on their phone, it’s a visitor calling a family member for help finding a specific name on the wall.

After dark, the memorial feels even more somber. But for first-time visitors, it’s better to go during the day, when park rangers and volunteers — often veterans themselves — can assist in finding the name of a friend or loved one, so you can make a rubbing, or just reach out and touch it.

In daylight, it’s easier to see the photos and tributes left at the wall, or see people reflected in the polished surface. That’s when the emotional impact of the memorial is most striking.

Lincoln Memorial

Best time to visit: Afternoon or sunset

Situated at the western end of the Mall’s axis, the Lincoln Memorial is a popular gathering spot for tourists who want to take a photograph in front of Daniel Chester French’s statue of the 16th president or stand on the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

It’s more than just history that lures them here: The steps and benches provide a great place to rest and enjoy the view, and the adjacent parking lot is a convenient place for tour buses to pick up their charges.

Once the school groups have left for the day, though, the atmosphere becomes less frenetic. (Except, that is, on summer Tuesdays, when the Marine Corps’ Drum and Bugle Corps and Silent Drill Platoon perform on the plaza at the base of the memorial.)

The Lincoln Memorial offers one of the most beautiful and memorable vistas in Washington, and the white marble glows ethereally with the light of the setting sun behind it. The bookstore, focused on Lincoln and the Civil War, and a small display of images relating to the construction of the memorial are open until 8 p.m.

Take the bus

Visitors sometimes talk about “the Mall” as if it’s a small, easily walkable park. In fact, the stroll from the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center to the Lincoln Memorial is almost three miles, and that’s if you don’t make any detours to memorials or museums along the way.

If you’re planning to hopscotch among attractions on the Mall, the best way to do it is on the free Circulator bus.

The Circulator is an accessible city-run bus that follows a 15-stop route that begins at Union Station before wrapping around the Mall and Tidal Basin. Riders can hop on and off at any time. Buses are air-conditioned, and newer models offer free Wi-Fi and USB ports for charging phones.

See a route map at nationalmall.dccirculator.com.

Categories: Lifestyles | Travel
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