The National Mall is known as America’s front yard – a place where history is made and remembered – and home to one of the most iconic landscapes in the world. And while it is universally known as historic and epic, for us patriotic and wonkish Washingtonians, it can also be downright romantic. For many Washingtonians, love blossoms on the Mall when the cherry blossoms do.
And there is no doubt this spring will bring a host of rendezvous opportunities – from the annual Kite Festival to the re-opening of the Washington Monument. But for diehards, the National Mall is a great place to celebrate Valentine’s Day, with the pure majesty of the landscape dotted with memorials but free of warm-weather crowds.
A visit this month also provides an opportunity to enjoy the renovation work that has been accomplished over the last few years by the National Park Service and the growing number of Washingtonians who have supported the Trust for the National Mall, the Park Service’s official nonprofit partner.
Here is our totally biased take on the top 10 most romantic places on the National Mall.
Jefferson Memorial: This popular memorial is also one of the most popular places to pop the question. From the top of the steps, you have one of the best views of the White House. It’s also one of the three locations where you are able to get married on the National Mall. (You can find information about how to obtain a wedding permit here.) Steal a kiss under the watchful eye of our third president who once said: “I find as I grow older that I love those most whom I loved first.”
Even on a cold winter day, the Lincoln Memorial can get crowded with visitors from around the world. Avoid the crowds by walking up the steps under the moonlight to see this larger-than-life white marble
statue truly glow. The design of the Memorial, according to the National Park Service, was inspired by the Parthenon, the ancient Greek temple that is considered the birthplace of democracy. With recent repairs to the Reflecting Pool, its basin now has a tinted bottom so that it is even more reflective, especially at night. Pause for a minute on the steps and take in the Reflecting Pool, glistening with the image of the Washington Monument.
DC War Memorial: A little bit off the beaten path, the DC War Memorial (located between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument on the Independence Avenue side of the Mall) is the only Memorial on the National Mall honoring World War I veterans. This domed temple is a secluded, intimate (and also recently renovated) Memorial that was originally designed as a bandstand. Restored to its original brilliant white, it is a majestic and yet intimate setting. Picture yourself getting married here – it’s also one of the three locations on the National Mall where weddings are permitted.
Declaration of Independence Memorial: Want to whisk your significant other away to an island? Look no further than this quiet bit of land in the middle of the lake at Constitution Gardens, north of the World War II Memorial. Signers Island is reachable by a footbridge and is home to the Declaration of Independence Memorial. This Memorial, which celebrates the framework on which our country was founded, offers spectacular views of the Washington Monument from a little oasis in the middle of the city.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
The FDR Memorial covers the largest area – 7.5 acres – of any presidential memorial on the National Mall. This unique site is the only Memorial that features a couple – President Roosevelt and First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt – along with a first pet, FDR’s beloved Scottish terrier Fala. Divided into four outdoor “rooms,” walk hand in hand through the historically significant moments of FDR’s four terms in office captured in his words and through beautiful bronze artwork.
For the Flower Lover:
U.S. Botanic Garden: Planning on sending bluebells to your true love this Valentine’s Day? Did you know they mean grief? Striped carnations? A rejection. Learn the language of flowers at a special free demonstration at the Conservatory Garden Court at the Botanic Garden on Feb. 13 1-2 pm. Wander the Garden on Valentine’s Day – sneak away at lunch (it’s a Friday!) or visit before closing time – 5 pm. What better way to keep warm than to walk amidst the lush greenery inside the Conservatory at the Botanic Garden. The Conservatory features a state-of-the-art environmental control system that maintains a tropical warmth even when it’s frigid outside.
For the Art Connoisseur:
National Gallery of Art:
“Love in Art,” a permanent collection gallery talk takes place Feb. 3 through Feb. 15 on certain weekdays at 1pm (see full schedule here). If art collections aren’t your cup of tea, grab some hot chocolate at the Pavilion Café and head to the Sculpture Garden for some ice-skating at the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden Ice Rink. The rink is open until 11 pm on Valentine’s Day.
Eventually the Sculpture Garden won’t be the only place for ice skating at the National Mall. One of the upcoming projects managed by the Trust for the National Mall is the renovation of lake at Constitution Gardens. Once Constitution Gardens is restored and rehabilitated, visitors will be able to ice skate in the winter and rent model boats in the summer. Something to keep in mind for future dates with your sweetheart.
For the Kid in All of Us:
Carousel: Located in front of the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries building, the authentic 1947 carousel allows you to step back to a nostalgically romantic time. Invite a date to bring out his or her inner child and take a spin on this classic carousel. Instead of riding on one of the horses, snuggle with your date in one of the two chariots on this amusement ride. Open daily 10 am to 6 pm.
For the International Set:
Japanese Stone Lantern
: Located next to the Tidal Basin, among the cherry trees first planted in 1912, this area is both intimate and serene, even in February without the cherry blossoms in full bloom. A 2013 renovation
managed by the Trust for the National Mall added some prominence to this site by creating a plaza around the lantern. Stroll through this area of the National Mall and it isn’t hard to imagine yourself halfway around the world.
For Views That Will Take Your Breath Away:
Nighttime Mall Tour: All of the major memorials on the National Mall are illuminated at night and open for viewing. If it’s too cold, consider going “once around the park” in a car, cab or on one of the city’s twilight bus tours. And while we may take our beautiful city for granted most days – stop and see the beauty of the National Mall at night to realize how lucky we are to call this amazing city home. You can find a listing of companies to use to book a nighttime tour here.
So if you’re looking for an alternative or a capper to the evening’s prix fixe dinner date, there are great ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day on the National Mall – and most cost nothing at all.