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The Tidal Basin free

West Potomac Park | Washington, DC
The Tidal Basin Photo info
zxcynosure/iStockphoto.com
  • Type: Sightseeing, Neighborhood/Area
  • Time to Spend: 1 to 2 hours
Overall Rating: 4.5 (4.6)
Value: 5.0 (5.0)
Food Scene: 0.0 (N/A)
Atmosphere: 4.5 (4.5)
About these ratings

If you've never been to D.C. before, plan to spend some time along the Tidal Basin, a 2-mile-long pond that was once attached to the Potomac River and serves as the backdrop to some of D.C.'s best-loved sites. Every spring, the Tidal Basin bursts with color as cherry blossom trees (gifted to D.C. from Tokyo) bloom into cotton candy-colored tufts, and they attract hordes of visitors. You can follow the path that leads around the basin, but many recent visitors recommend testing the waters in a paddle boat. Paddle boats are available for rental starting March 15 for $14 per hour for a two-passenger boat and $22 per hour for a four-passenger boat. You can pick up a paddle boat every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from March 15 through Labor Day from the boat dock near Maine Avenue. Rentals are also offered Wednesday through Sunday after Labor Day weekend through Columbus Day weekend, depending on the weather conditions. 

Even if you don't make it to town for the cherry blossoms, you won't want to miss the three memorials that can be found along the Tidal Basin's shores: The Jefferson Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Kick-off your Tidal Basin walk at the Jefferson memorial. Here, you'll find a free exhibit located on the lower level called "Light and Liberty," though admirers agree the best way to experience the site is by exploring the massive marble columns and reading the inspirational writings cast on the marble walls surrounding Jefferson's 19-foot-tall statue.

When you're ready to turn your sights to another beloved figure — FDR — take a stroll to D.C.'s largest memorial. You should allot about 30 minutes to walk through this site, which contains statues of FDR's wife, Eleanor, his Scottish terrier, Fala, and Roosevelt himself. The space is made peaceful by plenty of greenery and several reflecting pools.

Next to the FDR Memorial — tucked between the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial — sits a nearly 30-foot-tall structure of Martin Luther King Jr. gazing across the Tidal Basin. Give yourself about a half hour to explore the site, which includes two stone figures depicting the "Mountain of Despair" along with a wall engraved with excerpts from the King's speeches. Many recent visitors describe the memorial as an eye-opening and fitting tribute to MLK.

If you're relying on public transportation, the easiest way to reach the Tidal Basin is by metro; the closest stops are Smithsonian (on the Blue and Orange lines) or L'Enfant Plaza (accessible from the Blue, Orange, Yellow and Green lines). If you're planning a summertime visit, brace yourself for D.C.'s stifling heat with plenty of water. 

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