Every summer, the National Mall crawls with tours. You can pay to see the city by trolley, duck boat, by walking, and by running—but some of the city’s best tours are free. The National Park Service, which oversees everything on the Mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument and beyond, offers guided experiences throughout the year. Led by the park’s own rangers and volunteers, they’re the best way to see the city’s most famous sites, and fully gratis.
Rangers are stationed at the main monuments and memorials on the National Mall, and they offer guided tours of those specific locations several times a day. If you happen to be at the Lincoln, Vietnam Veterans, Korean War Veterans, World War II, Martin Luther King, Jr., Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or Thomas Jefferson Memorial at 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. or 8 p.m., find a ranger and get the real story about the history you’re witnessing.
Memorial Tours by Day
Twice a day, park rangers lead groups from the Lincoln Memorial Plaza to several historic sites. Routes vary by the ranger or the time of year—during cherry blossom season, for example, tours tend to focus on the Tidal Basin area—but are less than two miles long. Walking tours leave the Lincoln Memorial at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. every day, and last about two hours.
Memorial Tours By Night
DC’s best date night acitivity is also one of its best walking tours. Rangers take groups past a selection of the beautifully lit monuments, starting from the Lincoln Memorial Plaza, which makes for an entirely different experience from seeing them in daylight. They leave at 8 p.m. each night.
Memorial Tours by Bike
For anyone who wants to see more of the monuments and memorials, the National Park Service also offers once-a-day biking tours on weekends. Groups leave from the Lincoln Memorial Plaza at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and last for three hours. Bring your own bike.
The NPS also hosts special events and ranger talks. This July, there will be two biking tours for kids who want to participate in the junior ranger program. On July 18, a former Utah Beach bombardier will look back on D-Day at a ranger talk at the World War II memorial. And on the evening of July 25, a tour and talk at the FDR Memorial will discuss “how the paralysis FDR experienced did not keep him from running.”
For details on these programs and more, check out the official park service event calendar.