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What’s NEW to see on the National Mall

posted in: Day Trips

Suddenly there’s lots more to see and do in the tourist center of D.C., a quick trip away from Greenbelt on the Green Line. And boy was it ever great to be back on Metro again, all masked with cars almost empty off-peak. I got off at the Archives – such an easy trip!

Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building

The Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building finally reopened last week and after its 2004 closure to fix structural issues, and the Washington Post’s review of its opening exhibit piqued my interest: “Futures,” on view through July 6, enlists artists, sci-fi writers, engineers, designers and others to envision the world of tomorrow.” The review in Architectural Digest.– of the building and the exhibit – is meaty thought-provoking, very worth a read before you go. I visited and took these photos yesterday – Thanksgiving Day.

Art installation on the Mall-facing facade by Soo Sunny Park.

Hirshhorn Museum

The Hirshhorn is open again but I just admired it from the outside, especially this view of “Draw the Curtain” from the Ripley Garden (a favorite of local gardeners). It’ was installed in September of this year and described thusly: “The exterior of the Hirshhorn’s iconic cylindrical building is the site of internationally renowned Swiss artist Nicolas Party’s newest artwork. Draw the Curtain (2021) wraps 360 degrees around the temporary scaffolding that encases the Museum building and spans a circumference of 829 feet, becoming the artist’s largest work to date.” Very cool!

U.S. Botanic Garden

The main reason for my trip downtown was the opening just yesterday of the U.S. Botanic Garden’s holiday train show (called “Outdoor Holiday Display”), which was outdoors for the first time. Last year the trains were cancelled altogether but I say good riddance to the indoor location with its long, slow-moving line to get in. The down side, of course, is that bad weather – the trains won’t be operated when it’s raining or snowing..

Here’s what the Observatory’s holiday display looked like in 2018 – indoors.

The train display is different every year, built using plant parts in innovative ways. This year’s focus is farming, like the replica of a Kansas wheat and corn farm above.




Near the trains is the fabulous stickwork installation by Patrick Dougherty. Constructed with the help of dozens of volunteers in the fall of 2019, the massive work uses branches of Siberian elm, Norway maple, cherry hybrids, and willow. More importantly, it’s super-fun.


Plant-based Monuments and Memorials

Another traditional highlight of the USBG’s holiday display are replicas of Washington’s iconic memorials and monuments, all made from plant parts. Pre-covid, they were displayed throughout the large atrium of the Observatory but this year they’re just a bit harder to find – in the windows. I imagine they wouldn’t withstand the elements.

Above, one window holds the Jefferson, the MLK and the Museum of American History and Culture.

Just off the Mall – Eisenhower Memorial

I bet you haven’t seen the new Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial yet! This super-controversial memorial by Frank Gehry opened in September of 2020. Reviewers agree that it looks best at night.

It’s located just across Independence Avenue from the Air and Space Museum.

By the way, the rest rooms at the Eisenhower Memorial, located behind the gift shop, are open 8 – 6:30 every day and there’s no need to go through security. The USBG’s rest rooms are still closed for covid.


A Few Blocks North – Planet Word and Franklin Park


Planet Word is the newest private museum in D.C. and it’s FREE, unlike other private museums in town. It’s housed in the old Franklin School facing the newly restored Franklin Park, at 13th and K, N.W.  Planet Word opened in October of 2020 to great reviews, like this one in the Washington Post that called it a “high-tech, feel-good experience.” A friend raved to me about it, so that’ll be my next destination in the city.

Franklin Park’s restoration was completed just a couple of months ago – here’s a review by NPR.

Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first 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 at GardenRant.com.

2 Responses

  1. Frank Gervasi
    | Reply

    Your adventures have inspired me to go there too. Thanks for letting us know all the very exciting new things to see downtown

  2. Harvey Leifert
    | Reply


    Thanks for this excellent roundup!

    Harvey Leifert

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