- Washington, D.C.
With its beautiful neoclassic government buildings, tree-lined boulevards and iconic monuments, Washington, D.C., is among the world’s most beautiful capital cities.
But visitors would be missing out on a key element of the city’s character if they didn’t take time to explore its abundance of outdoor spaces. With nearly one-fifth of the city designated as public parks, Washington, D.C., is, quite literally, one of the greenest cities in the USA. Here are four not-to-be missed outdoor places offering experiences unique to the nation’s capital.
The National Mall & Tidal Basin
The heart of Washington, D.C., the National Mall, also known as the Mall to locals, is bordered by the U.S. Capitol building to the east and the Lincoln Memorial near the banks of the Potomac River to the west. The Washington Monument, the towering white obelisk that is one of the city’s most recognizable symbols, rises near the center of the National Park.
In addition to housing some of the country’s most prized monuments and memorials, this 3.2-kilometer park harbors some of its most prominent museums, including nine of the Smithsonian Institution’s 19 museums and galleries, including the popular National Air and Space Museum.
One of the most popular locations on the Mall is the Tidal Basin, which sits on the southwestern edge of the National Mall and is the focal point of Washington’s annual National Cherry Blossom Festival. During this festival, thousands of Japanese cherry trees that ring the Tidal Basin burst into bloom sometime between late March and mid-April, drawing about 1.5 million visitors.
Even after the blossoms have dropped, this area is one of Washington’s loveliest spots for a stroll or a paddleboat cruise through the manmade reservoir. Modeled after Rome’s Pantheon and dedicated to the third president of the USA, the graceful Thomas Jefferson Memorial is the crown jewel of the Tidal Basin. Memorials to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. are also nearby.
Iconic sites surrounding the National Mall in downtown Washington, D.C.
Rock Creek Park
New Yorkers have Central Park. Washingtonians have Rock Creek Park, which, at over eight square kilometers, is more than twice the size of New York City's iconic green space.
One of the USA’s oldest federally operated parks, Rock Creek has been a beloved part of the nation’s capital for 125 years. It bisects northwest Washington, preserving vast swaths of forested habitat, but the park also features recreational and educational facilities, including a planetarium, a nature center, an equestrian center and an 1820s gristmill. The National Zoo also lies within its borders. Take advantage of frequent park ranger-led hikes, lectures and other activities, many of which are free.
Some major thoroughfares, including Rock Creek Parkway and Beach Drive run through the park, making it easily accessible to motorists, and Washington’s Metro public transport system has stops within walking distance of the zoo. The park is popular among cyclists, too. On weekends, parts of Beach Drive are closed to cars and open to cyclists and inline skaters.
Trails in Rock Creek Park, sprawling across northwestern Washington, D.C.
Theodore Roosevelt Island
It’s fitting that the U.S. president most associated with conservation and rugged outdoor adventure would have a little piece of wilderness as his official memorial in the nation’s capital.
Theodore Roosevelt Island is named for the 26th U.S. president and features a central plaza with a five-meter statue of the larger-than-life statesman. The remainder of this nearly 36-hectare island in the Potomac River – near Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood – consists of native woodlands and swampy bottomlands. There’s a boardwalk that traverses the wetland areas with plenty of interpretive signs that provide more information about the park’s history and environment.
This pristine island represents a hidden refuge in plain sight. A footbridge is accessible only from the Virginia side of the Potomac River. It’s about a 15-minute walk from the Rosslyn Metro station in northern Virginia and a 20-minute walk across the Key Bridge from Georgetown.
Tribute to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, an advocate for conservation
Meridian Hill Park
A short walk from the trendy U Street and Adams Morgan neighborhoods, Meridian Hill Park boasts nearly five hectares of lush greenery and unique statues. Bordered by 15th, 16th, W and Euclid streets, just two kilometers north of the White House, this urban oasis is easy to find. The highlight of the park is the cascading fountain; complete with 13 basins, the fountain is the largest of its kind in North America. The Joan of Arc statue and the James Buchanan Memorial are other key statues that have decorated the park’s landscape since the 1920s.