What more patriotic way to celebrate American independence than to stand on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol and watch fireworks explode over the Washington Monument? No other city celebrates the Fourth of July with as much fervor and pageantry as Washington, D.C. And with Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”–complete with cannon fire–in the background.
The West Lawn of the Capitol is the site of “A Capitol Fourth,” the free hour-and-a-half concert put on each year by PBS. The National Symphony Orchestra and the Choral Arts Society of Washington back up a lineup of stars.
It all leads up to a spectacular fireworks show, which usually kicks off shortly after 9:00 p.m. On the West Lawn, you’ll have the best seat in the house–and the best seat in the country.
Don’t even think about driving. About 700,000 people flock to the National Mall each year for the fireworks, making parking close to impossible, and police close many of the streets around the Capitol for security reasons. The concert fills up so you probably want to come early–gates open as early as 3 p.m.–and bring a blanket or folding chairs and a picnic dinner. Be sure to bring plenty of water (no glass bottles or alcohol, though), because Washington, D.C. gets hot and sticky during the summer, and you don’t want to risk heat exhaustion. Bring sunscreen too.
Note: On July 4th, public access to the National Mall begins at 10:00 a.m. The U.S. Capitol grounds open at 3:00 p.m.
You can get some of the same effect with smaller crowds, minus the fireworks of course, if you come a day early. The organizers stage a full dress rehearsal on July 3, and that, too, is open to the public.
Whenever you come, expect to pass through a metal detector and have police search through all of your bags, picnic baskets, and coolers.
For more information on A Capitol Fourth, visit www.pbs.org/capitolfourth/.
For more information on the fireworks on the National Mall, visit www.nps.gov/foju/fireworks.htm.
For information on the National Independence Day Parade, visit http://july4thparade.com/.
For a map of general public access points and screening sites for the concert, click here.
For a map of general public access points and screening sites for the fireworks, click here.
For a full list of road closures, click here.
A Capitol Fourth – 4th of July
Hours: On July 3 and 4, gates open at 3 p.m. The concert itself runs from 8 to 9:30 p.m. on July 4. The dress rehearsal runs from about 7:30 to about 10 p.m. on July 3.
Parking: Forget it.
Metrorail: Blue and Orange Line stops for Federal Center or Red Line stop for Judiciary Square. Be aware that the Smithsonian station closes on July 4.