What To Do on the Fourth of July in Washington, D.C. on July 4, 2011

Researched by James R. Heintze. All Rights Reserved.

Washington, D.C. is one of the most exciting places to visit and especially on the Fourth of July when you not only visit all the monuments, museums, and other landmarks, but also have an opportunity to the “National Parade,” reenactment ceremonies, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall, the evening Capitol Fourth concert with major headliners on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, and ending the evening with one of the best fireworks displays in the country and accompanied by America’s most treasured patriotic music.

Start the day by arriving fairly early (around 9:30 a.m.) at the National Archives, Constitution Avenue entrance, and find some seating area on the steps. The speakers and activities will take place on the top of the steps, as well as on the street below. Speeches are made, singing the National Anthem, a public reading of the Declaration of Independence, and period music presented by the U.S. Army “Old Guard” Fife and Drum Corps. TIP: be sure to bring hats, sunblock, and plenty of water, since the marble steps reflect a considerable amount of sunlight and heat.

View of the National Archives. Photo (2000), taken by the author.

After the ceremony is completed, the National Parade begins and comes directly up Constitution Avenue. You can view the parade from where you are or just about anywhere along much of Constitution Avenue.

Another excursion is to walk East along Constitution Avenue towards the Capitol. You will pass the Newseum on your left

And shortly after will pass the Monument of George Meade (intersection of Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues), Union General, presented to the city by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The monument sits directly in front of the U.S. Court House. General Meade commanded the Union troops at the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, and likely was surveying the aftermath of the battle on July 4.

As you get closer to the Capitol you come upon the Peace Monument with the U.S. Capitol in the background. The monument was constructed in 1877-78 in commemoration of naval personnel who lost their lives during the Civil War. This site has been a popular gathering place for celebrators and protest marchers on Independence Day.

As you near the Capitol, you are facing the West Side and you will notice the shell that has been constructed especially for the Capitol Fourth celebration that takes place during the evening of July 4.

If you see the lawn area in front of the shell, which faces the Capitol, that is where you will have to claim space to see the show. Plan on arriving very early.

As you continue walking towards the right of the Capitol, you will come across the monument of President James Garfield. During the last week in June of 1881, Garfield was shot by an assassin and a few days later on the Fourth of July the city was very somber. Washington’s chief of police banned the use of fireworks, so as to diminish the noise as Garfield lay critically wounded in the White House.

As you walk back towards the Mall you will see the National Space Museum on your left.

You can spend the remainder of your vacation time either before July 4, or after, visiting the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Finally don’t forget to visit the Washington Monument, which is one of the most significant landmarks directly connected to the Fourth of July. The cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1848. First Lady Dolley Madison, the first woman to give an Independence Day address in Washington on July 4, 1808, attended the 1848 ceremony. Through the years the monument and its grounds became a gathering place for crowds witnessing the annual fireworks displays, as well as other ceremonies.

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