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Best Parks in Washington DC

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Part of the original design for the federal city, this massive park stretches from the US Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and around the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Memorial. It has played host to many momentous, world-changing events throughout history including the 1963 March on Washington, the Million Man March and several presidential inaugurations. Today, the National Mall serves as a place for reflection, a memorial to American heroes, a symbol of freedom and a forum for the exercise of democracy. The Smithsonian museums, the Vietnam Memorial, the Reflecting Pool and the iconic Washington Monument are a few of the most well-known of the National Mall's many iconic sites. Certainly, any visit to Washington DC should start with a tour of the United States National Mall, aptly named "America's front yard."

Best known for its vast collection of azaleas, (a popular porch-flower), this 446-acre (180-hectare) garden park has much else to offer. Fountains, pools and open space separate a series of focused gardens at the United States National Arboretum. The National Bonsai Collection, a gift from Japan, is a fascinating exhibit of tiny trees. Other notable sections are the aquatic garden (filled with lotuses of many varieties) and the National Herb Garden.

The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden is located just a short walk from the National Gallery of Art. The garden features sculptures from the National Gallery's collection, as well as pieces from traveling exhibitions. Sit down on a bench and marvel at the fusion of man-made and natural beauty that this garden affords. The garden also contains a large water fountain that is transformed into an ice rink in the winter, and a cafe where visitors can grab a pastry to enjoy among the sculptures and flowers.

This lovely Victorian style garden is a welcome respite for tired National Mall visitors. It is located off Independence Avenue near the entrances to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the National Museum of African Art. The park resembles a rooftop garden, and a three-story building lies beneath. Visitors will love the 19th-century style benches and urns along the park's brick paths.

The Rock Creek Park contains a beautiful wild forest and serves as an oasis for city residents and tourists. Founded in 1890, the Rock Creek Park is a stunning haven for both people and wildlife. It features a multitude of attractions within which include picnic areas, winding trails and bike paths, a nature center, a public golf course, tennis courts, and stables. Rock Creek Parkway runs alongside the meandering creek. During winter, the park transforms into a popular spot for sledding and other outdoor winter activities.

This pleasant park is situated just north of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. With its flat terrain and location right on the water, the park attracts cyclists and boaters, but its biggest draw is probably the close proximity to the airport (a mere 400 feet away). People come to watch the planes land and take off, flying in low right above them. An added bonus is a nice view of the Washington skyline.

A variety of European park styles are on display here at Meridian Hill Park, from long French promenades to Renaissance terraces. Waterfalls and pools abound among curling pathways. Especially delightful is the water staircase, a terraced waterfall. Nearby is the historic Adams-Morgan neighborhood, which features myriad ethnic restaurants and eclectic shops.

An array of various gardens surrounding the many museums around the National Mall form the Smithsonian Gardens. Gear up to take a tour of these 180 acres of greens, varying from traditional gardens to green houses and vegetable patches in a pair of comfortable shoes and a dash of sunscreen! Visit the Pollinator Garden featuring several spices of bees, wasps, flies and beautiful butterflies. Then head to the National Museum of African Art and enjoy the rooftop Enid A. Haupt Garden (open from dawn to dusk). Relax in the beautifully designed Courtyard Garden or check out the Orchid Collection, indoor plants, and tropical plants at the Greenhouse Nursery. You can also visit the Heirloom Garden, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden, the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden, the Victory Garden at National Museum of American History and many more.

From El Greco's "The Visitation" to Byzantine and pre-Columbian artworks, jewelry and mosaics, Dumbarton Oaks is filled with elegant treasures. Built in 1801, the estate achieved its height of glory in the wealthy 1920s when it served as the high-society showpiece of Robert Bliss and his heiress wife, Mildred. The gardens occupy 10 acres above Georgetown and include terraced lawns, winding footpaths and elaborate fountains.

This Potomac River island is an apt memorial to the conservation-minded Teddy Roosevelt, the nation's 26th president. The 88-acre wildlife refuge can be explored along winding footpaths. In a clearing at the island's center stands a 22-foot bronze statue of Roosevelt, accompanied by inscriptions of his eloquent thoughts on nature and conservation. Access the island from Virginia via George Washington Memorial Parkway. A pedestrian bridge connects the island to a parking lot on the Virginia shoreline.

The gorgeous U.S. Botanic Garden conservatory presents botanical variety, from the desert to the tropics, along a series of calm and gently meandering paths. A particular waterfall and garden display the flora of the dinosaur age. Seasonal displays include Christmas greens and poinsettias in December and January, chrysanthemums in autumn and blooming flowers at Easter. A part of the United States Botanic Garden (USBG), the National Garden, was opened in October 2006 and includes the carefully-designed Butterfly Garden.

Heralded as "a garden for the ages," the Washington National Cathedral Gardens and Close were born out of a collaboration between architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and Florence Brown Bratenahl, wife of the dean of the Washington National Cathedral. Together, Bratenahl and Olmsted filled the cathedral's gardens with native plants, plants that figure in Christian legends, and historically-interesting plants - such as the boxwood cuts that were taken from George Washington's Hayfield Manor. The gardens were added to and expanded in the 1920s and 1930s. Visitors today can enjoy this beautiful pocket of nature while they wander the Bishop's Gardens and admire the old growth forest of Olmsted Forest on the Close.

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