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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."
Located at the west end of the National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial is one of the principal landmarks of Washington DC, its stately form overlooking the Reflecting Pool, a gleaming stretch of water that lays sprawled before its base. Daniel Chester French's 19-foot (5.7-meter) statue of Lincoln, seated and deep in thought, watches over the nation he helped create, alongside the carved text of the Gettysburg Address, providing a glimpse into a weighty period of American history. The memorial itself draws inspiration from the Greek architectural style, its 36 Doric columns representative of the number of states in the union at the time of Lincoln's death. Surrounded by greenery, on the banks of the Potomac River, the Lincoln Memorial makes for a soul-stirring, picturesque sight; a fitting ode to one of the nation's most revered Presidents.
This monument is not only a memorial to the nation's 32nd president, but also to the people of his time. The monument stretches along the Tidal Basin with four outdoor gallery rooms and is connected by granite passageways. Each room exhibits aspects of Franklin D. Roosevelt's terms in office. The second room, for example, depicts the Great Depression with statues waiting in a bread line. Another room contains a statue of Eleanor Roosevelt, the only memorial to honor a First Lady. The monument also features waterfalls and pools.
Designed by John Russell Pope, this Roman-style monument to Thomas Jefferson, the nation's third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, is elegant and simple. Jefferson's 19-foot (5.79 meter) statue stands within, surrounded by some of his most inspirational writings. This is a perfect after-dinner destination. At night, the view of the Washington Monument across the tidal basin is one of the most attractive vistas in Washington, especially when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
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.
A popular outdoor destination for children, college students and nature lovers, this park lies north of Georgetown. Woodlands surround a recreation area with tennis courts, picnic tables and a playground. Special features include a boxwood maze and Lovers Lane, a cobblestone walkway on the west side of the park. To explore more elaborately designed grounds and an elegant estate, visit Dumbarton Oaks next door. Admission is free.
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.
Located near the Constitution Gardens is the Reflecting Pool. The Reflecting Pool, as the name suggests, lets you see the mirror images of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. It has great historical significance and has witnessed major political events. U.S citizens gathered here to listen to the speech delivered by Martin Luther King at the March on Washington. Every year thousands of tourists frequent the place and the calm and deep waters of the pool adds as a perfect backdrop for a family photograph.
If you're looking for something to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon, head to the Tidal Basin. Set in picturesque and scenic surroundings, it is truly a visual treat. Located between the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, it covers a vast area of 107 acres. Tidal Basin is also utilized as a means for flushing the Washington Channel. It is maintained and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens is the legacy of Marjorie Merriweather Post, a famous socialite and founder of General Foods. The 40-room mansion dates back to the 1920s and houses a huge collection of art, jewelry and other artifacts that belong to her. View rare Faberge eggs, historic portraits, exquisite tapestries and pieces of china. Walk through the landscaped gardens and enjoy the colorful flowers and plants.
Skirted by the surging waters of Rock Creek, the National Zoological Park is a forerunner for the title of America's finest wildlife facilities. It was created by Congress in 1889, making it one of the oldest zoos in the country. The zoo was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who also designed the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and New York's Central Park. The zoo is famous for its giant pandas from China but you will find all sorts of creatures, both familiar and exotic, crawling about the place. The zoo's Asia Trail gets you acquainted with fishing cats, clouded leopards and other Asian animals. Also, the zoo is home to the Elephant Trails, Lemur Island, Cheetah Conservation and Great Cats, where you can witness mighty lions and tigers in action. Birds and reptiles from across the world also call the Smithsonian National Zoological Park their home.