When most visitors have already crashed hard into beds after jam-packed days of sightseeing, a tranquility descends over the National Mall in Washington, DC. There are few things more inspiring than exploring DC at night, as a low-hanging moon illuminates the lineup of majestic monuments and sleek memorials. And there’s no better time to check out this historic swath of green than around Independence Day, when the nation’s capital gets especially decked out in patriotic style.
Though the city celebrates America’s birthday with a free concert on the Capitol’s West Lawn and an awesome fireworks extravaganza afterward, the Mall dazzles any day of the year. And since “America’s front yard” remains open 24/7, we’ve come up with a list of ways to savor its nighttime splendor.
Do the shutterbug. Wander the memorials and monuments with your camera in tow on one of Washington Photo Safari’s popular workshop walkabouts. Since 1999, E. David Luria and his talented team of photogs have brought DC neighborhoods into focus, and their current roster offers 150-plus itineraries through the city, for all levels of photographers. The friendly company’s alluring nighttime tours include the Mall-centric “Monuments at Night.”
Relish a movie under the stars. Pack up some BYO picnic provisions to enjoy on the Mall (between 7th and 12th streets), while experiencing a favorite summertime tradition — Screen on the Green. Movies roll on a gigantic 20-by-40-foot outdoor screen every Monday at dusk, beginning July 20. Tip: Folks claim their spots as early as 5pm, so show up early to get prime turf.
Get face time with Abe. Enjoy the Lincoln Memorial, the most-visited site on the Mall, at a less-hectic hour. Climb the steps in peace — right up to where the 19-foot-high seated president resides — to enjoy the ultimate view of the Mall after-hours. Also meet here for free, ranger-led “Memorials by Night” tours that push off daily in summer at 8pm.
Zip around in style. There’s no better way to cruise the National Mall than by futuristic, self-balancing Segway. And Segs in the City’s “Sunset on the Mall Safari” offers you the chance to feel like a time-traveling explorer learning about the past. The two-hour journey leaves from the Old Post Office Pavilion nightly at 7pm in summer. Riders — who must be at least 16 years old — wear audio headsets throughout fun-loving adventures that stop at memorials and museums along the Mall.
Channel your inner tourist. Old Town Trolley Tours, a staple along the sightseeing circuit, offers narrated evening “Sunset Tours” that begin at the Washington Welcome Center (1005 E Street, NW). The itinerary makes stops at the Lincoln, FDR, Vietnam Veterans, Korean War Veterans, Iwo Jima, and Martin Luther King Jr. national memorials.
Get on your bike and ride. Cruise around the capital’s world-famous icons on rented wheels, thanks to the Monuments@Nite Bike Tour offered by Bike and Roll. Don’t worry; the National Mall is as flat as a Midwest cornfield. Safety first: Guides equip riders with reflective vests and safety lights. (Also, for a daytime ride, you can borrow a free bike from your Kimpton hotel.)
With our nine DC boutique hotels, the good news is you’ll never have to stray far from the Mall. And by exploring DC at night you can skip having to get up early to avoid the crowds and the heat — just think of it as less dawn’s early light; more rockets’ red glare.