A Capitol Fourth – 4th of July

fourth of july fireworks viewing in washington dc

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.

Travel Tips

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/subjects/nationalmall4th/index.htm.

For information on the National Independence Day Parade, visit http://july4thparade.com/.

For US Capitol Police information for the 4th of July Concert and Fireworks, click here.

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.

Travel Information

A Capitol Fourth – 4th of July
West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol
Washington, DC

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 8:00 p.m. to about 10 p.m. on July 3.

Admission: Free.

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.


  1. Jessica says

    I have been twice before for the fourth and it is so hot on the mall with no shade. Are beach umbrellas allowed on the mall during the day until the sun goes down?

  2. Amy says

    How do you get the seats that you can see on tv for the show? I keep reading you don’t need tickets, but I can see a section that has people seated up close to the performers. Are these open to the public?

    • gus says

      The VIP section. To get in, know someone in the production (family of performer) or know someone at PBS. Lots o’ Luck even then.. My wife works at a PBS affiliate many states away and won some contest – a few years ago – we got in. It was kind of nice.

  3. chris says

    How crowded does it typically get for the rehearsal concert on the 3rd? How early do I need to get a spot relatively close?

    • The District says

      There will be a full concert dress rehearsal for this event on July 3 at 8:00 pm. The gates will open to the public at 3:00 pm. I don’t know if all of the performers will be there, but my guess is that most will be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *