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Strolling through the National Mall

The National Mall is often referred to as the political heart of the United States. This vast green area in the centre of Washington, D.C. is lined with imposing monuments, iconic government buildings and impressive museums. This is truly the place where Washington captivates, impresses and radiates power.

In 1791, President George Washington commissioned the French-American architect Pierre Charles L'Enfant to design the capital of the United States in an area of about 22 square kilometres. L'Enfant wanted to create a 'grand boulevard' between the United States Capitol and the place where the Washington Monument now stands. In 1901, Senator James McMillan initiated the McMillan Plan, an extension of the L'Enfant plan creating the National Mall as we know it today.

View from the Lincoln Memorial
View from the Lincoln Memorial

Washington

I Have a Dream

At the feet of President Lincoln

At almost 3 kilometres long, the National Mall stretches from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol. The best place to begin your walk is at the top of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. From here you will have the most beautiful view of the Mall. The Washington Monument is beautifully mirrored in the Reflecting Pool while in the distance you see the stately Capitol Dome. It was on these steps that Martin Luther King held his famous 'I Have a Dream’ speech in 1968. Inside the memorial is an almost 6-metre-high statue of President Abraham Lincoln. From his chair he calmly looks out over Washington.

A collection of amazing museums

A walk along the Mall can easily take an entire day – not so much because of the length of the green corridor, but because of the dozens of museums that flank this vast plain. There are 10 Smithsonian museums along the Mall. All are big institutions, so unless you have days to spend it is best to limit yourself to 2 or 3. The National Museum of American History is an absolute must. This museum displays hundreds of years of American history: from Lincoln's top hat to the first Nintendo Game Boy. One of the most valuable items is from 1813, the very first version of the Star Spangled Banner, the American flag. This gigantic flag inspired Francis Scott Key to write the song that would eventually become the American national anthem. Another highly recommended choice is the National Museum of Natural History. The collection ranges from a room full of dinosaurs to the Hope Diamond: everyone will find something of fascination here.

Flags around the Washington Monument

The Washington Monument: the central point

In the heart of the Mall is the Washington Monument. This obelisk is the highest point in Washington, D.C. There are 4 important points aligned with this monument: the Lincoln Memorial to the west, the White House to the north, the Capitol to the east and the Jefferson Memorial in the south. The pillar is surrounded by 56 American flags representing the 50 states plus Washington, D.C. and 5 U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. You can take an elevator to the top of the monument but tickets must be booked in advance.