The Washington Magazine

The Washington Magazine

July 4th in the Nation’s Capital: How to Celebrate Independence Day in Washington, D.C.

No matter where you live in the United States, it’s easy to get into the spirit of Independence Day—especially if you live in Washington, D.C., where the annual July 4th parade steps off from the Capitol building and heads down Pennsylvania Avenue NW toward the Washington Monument. But what if you want to spend your holiday weekend in our nation’s capital? Or if you live there year-round? Don’t worry; here are five fun ways to celebrate July 4th in Washington, D.C., that don’t involve the traditional parade route!

A Brief History

In 1776, our Founding Fathers declared their independence from Great Britain and established a new nation based on principles of equality and government by consent of the governed. To honor those achievements and show pride in your country today (and every day), consider these tips for celebrating July 4th properly in Washington, D.C. It’s a time-honored tradition!

Getting Around

Traveling by car around town is no picnic—the District is easily one of America’s most traffic-congested cities. A much more fun way to see everything July 4th has to offer is by bike! Capital Bikeshare offers users nearly 1,000 rental bikes and docking stations throughout downtown (bikes can be returned at any station within 30 minutes). Even better?

The National Mall

Your first stop is The National Mall—the very place that helped inspire our independence. Today, you can visit historical monuments like The Lincoln Memorial and see where national events like concerts and festivals are held on any given day throughout summer. Although you won’t want to miss a second of these seasonal events, be sure to remember that it’s also important to get outside when visiting in July—just don’t forget your sunscreen!

Touring Mount Vernon

George and Martha Washington spent more than 30 years of their married life at Mount Vernon before moving into a new home on Pennsylvania Avenue. The estate is a virtual museum of 18th-century artifacts—and much of it has been restored to look like it did when George and Martha were alive (which means no WiFi). Spend some time here if you can; touring Mount Vernon is perhaps your best chance at taking a step back into colonial America.

Fireworks Over the Potomac River

On July 4, 1826 (50 years after America gained its independence), President John Quincy Adams ignited a Festival of Peace fireworks display over Washington Harbor (now known as The Potomac River). The first official celebration of Independence Day by Congress was June 28, 1777. After that, Independence Day became an annual tradition—but only an occasional federal holiday until 1870 when it became a U.S. federal holiday and is celebrated every year since!

The Tidal Basin and Waterfront Park

The Tidal Basin, located directly across from The White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, is one of two large reflecting pools on either side of The National Mall (the other being part of West Potomac Park). This pool is open year-round and provides a great spot for skaters in wintertime. Also on The National Mall is Waterfront Park—located right next to National Harbor, it’s a great place for walking/running or biking along Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs.

Where To Stay On July 4th Weekend in Washington, D.C.

When we think of celebrating July 4th in Washington, D.C., images of attending a parade on a sunny day come to mind (most parades start around 10 or 11 a.m.). With that in mind, it makes sense that many people head into D.C.—and stay there—for celebrations and events throughout the weekend leading up to July 4th itself.