Home » Day Trips » Day Trip: National Mall via the new Circulator

Day Trip: National Mall via the new Circulator

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Washington DC Circulator bus

Originally published on Bad Wolf DC  6/23/15.

The Circulator Experience

DC has had Circulator buses for 10 years now but it wasn’t until last week, with the opening of its long-awaited National Mall route, that I finally rode one. I discovered my new favorite way to see the biggest collection of sights in all of D.C. Easy, relaxing, and super-cheap.

I arrived at the Mall from the subway, where I’d paid with a SmartTrip, so when I jumped on the Circulator it cost me an amazing nothing for a 2-hour window. Even if you don’t transfer, the fare’s just a buck for adults, 50 cents for seniors, and free for students.

All the info you need is here on their website. Speaking of which it’s terrific. Same goes for the one-page flyer available on the bus. I give them both a solid A, and I’m picky.

Onboard Washington's DC Circulator bus


All 11 buses on this route are brand new and equipped with charging stations for phones and pads and whatnot. And the AC works great.

Driver Amat Ballard told me that this is a great gig for him, with friendly passengers and a route that avoids heavy traffic most of the way. So far, his passengers have been mostly tourists, plus a few locals getting to work.

map of Washington DC's Circulator route


Gardens and Garden-Style Memorials Along the National Mall Route

The National Mall route has 15 stops, and you can get on or off at any of them. The buses run at roughly 10-minute intervals and riding the whole route takes about an hour and 20 minutes.

The new route is especially useful for getting us to get to the sites farthest from the Metro, like the Jefferson, FDR and MLK, no matter our physical capabilities or level of endurance.

So let’s get right to the gorgeous plants and gardens you can see along the route. They’re listed by stop number and name.

And remember, you lucky Washingtonians, they’re all free to visit.

3. National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden


This sculpture garden combines art, plants and a fountain for cooling off now and skating on in the winter. In the summer there are free Jazz in the Garden concerts on Friday nights. Very popular.

Smithsonian's Pollinator Garden


The Smithsonian’s Butterfly Habitat Garden runs along 9th Street between Constitution and the Mall. It’s a complex and stunning garden for all pollinators, not just butterflies, and succeeds in a very tough spot.

4. National Museum of American History/National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian's Victory Garden


Here you can visit the Victory Garden at the Museum of American History, and beautiful tropical plantings along the Constitution Avenue side of the museums.

6. Holocaust Memorial Museum/Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Washington DC's Tulip Museum


Between these two attractions and the Tidal Basin is a “Tulip Museum” in the spring and beds of drought-tolerant perennials in the summer.

8. Martin Luther King Memorial/Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

Martin Luther King Memorial
National Park Service photo.


The MLK Memorial opened in 2011, so its trees and smaller plants are still filling out but already, its cherry blossom show is impressive.

FDR Memorial


Just next door is the FDR Memorial, a favorite of local gardeners. Designed by the world renown landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, it’s a series of water-filled garden rooms.

9. Lincoln Memorial/Korean War Veterans Memorial 

The Korean and nearby Vietnam Veterans Memorial memorials are great examples of the new landscape-style memorials that are winning design competitions and converts to a new style.

11. World War II Memorial/Constitution Gardens

Coming in a few years – a totally new Constitution Gardens designed by landscape “starchitect” Peter Walker. It’ll include new attractions like dining and entertainment, and I can hardly wait.

13. Smithsonian Visitors Center

Gardens of the Smithsonian Visitors Center


There are terrific Smithsonian Gardens at this stop, including the entrance gardens at the Castle and Freer, a rose garden near the Castle, and the serpentine Ripley Garden just east of the Castle – another big favorite among local gardeners.

People's Garden at USDA in Washington DC


Across the street from the Smithsonian Metro entrance is a vegetable garden, one of the USDA’s many People’s Gardens. Next door to it is the USDA’s Farmer’s Market, open Fridays May-October.

14. National Air and Space Museum/Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum gardens


Gardens on the Mall side of the Air and Space Museums are appreciated for their flowering cherry and magnolia trees in the spring and the stunning bark of their river birches in the winter.

Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden


The Hirshhorn’s Sculpture Garden includes this very cool “Lunar Bird” by Jean Miro in a bed of grasses.

15. United States Capitol/National Museum of the American Indian

National Museum of American Indian


The Native Landscape at the American Indian Museum is historically accurate and just fascinating.

U.S. Botanic Garden


Leave lots of time to see the U.S. Botanic Garden, at the foot of the Capitol. Its acres of outdoor and indoor gardens have made it the second-most visited botanic garden in the U.S.

Disabled Veterans for Life Memorial

Finally, the Disabled Veterans for Life Memorial just opened in November of 2014 and immediately drew raves. It’s beautiful and moving.

Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. She also created and curates the Greenbelt Maryland YouTube channel. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog weekly at GardenRant.com.

  1. Mary-Denise Smith
    | Reply

    But wait! There’s more! Also at Stop 11 is the DAR Museum (entrance at 1776 D St NW), it’s free and AIR CONDITIONED!! There are a ton of exhibits, and the current one in the museum gallery space is a great quilt show – Eye On Elegance. Don’t miss it. Across D Street, in the basement of the American Red Cross building, is the Red Cross Cafe (7 am – 2 pm seven days). Good food, good prices.

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