Don’t want to worry about the hassle of waiting in line behind other tourists for the next Hop on Hop off Bus Tour? We’ve created a guide to creating your own free Washington DC bus tours by using the new Circulator National Mall Route! Now, this option does not come with a tour guide or narration of any kind as you will be using public transportation!
However, you should use these buses in conjunction with our pay-what-you-like tours and really save as much money as you like. Below is a self-guided tour with links for more information on the sights that you will see on this tour.
Get a SmarTrip card
Since you’ll be hopping on and off at various stops, we recommend getting a SmarTrip card rather than paying the fare each time. Circulator Fares are $1 regardless of the time of day or how long you ride, but with a SmarTrip, you just touch in and grab a seat! For more, which Metro card to buy in DC.
TIP: Riders who pay using a SmarTrip card are able to re-board the Circulator for free within two hours from the time they first board the bus. Paying in cash means you have to pay each time.
Know your Route
The Circulator runs the circumference of the National Mall, using the inner roads by the museums and the outer roads by the memorials. The buses come every 10 minutes, but during normal rush hours expect a bit of a delay.
Summer (April 1 – September 30)
7am – 8pm (weekdays), 9am – 8pm (weekends) Winter (October 1 – March 31)
7am – 7pm (weekdays), 9am – 7pm (weekends)
Download a print ready version of the
National Mall Service map here
Self Guided Bus Tour of the National Mall: Stops
Stop 1: Union Station – this is a great place to begin, but you can hop on the bus anywhere. There is a parking garage at Union Station as well as MARC/Amtrak trains, interstate buses, and lots of restaurants. It’s an easy walk to the US Capitol Building, Supreme Court and Library of Congress from here as well.
Stop 2-4: Smithsonian Museums: If you choose to visit any of the Museums on the National Mall (National Gallery of Art, Air & Space, Natural History, American History) or near the Mall (National Archives), you can hop off one of these stops. Though the Air & Space is on the other side of the mall, it is much faster to hop off and walk across the Mall then ride the bus the entire way around!
Stop 5: Washington Monument: You can either hop of here to try to get tickets to the top, or view it from the bus as you drive by. At 555.5′ tall, you can see this memorial to George Washington from almost anywhere!
Stop 7: Thomas Jefferson Memorial: This memorial is one of the farther ones to get to on foot, so the Circulator stop here will be popular! On the southside of the Tidal Basin, you can hop off and visit the memorial up close. There is a small refreshment stand near the bus stop and restrooms in the basement of the memorial. Use our self guided tour of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial for more information about this magnificent building.
Get back on the Circulator for a drive around the Tidal Basin. As you cross over the bridge right after you make the right onto Ohio Drive, you’ll see a great view of the DC skyline on your right and the Pentagon across the river on your left.
Stop 8: Martin Luther King, Jr & Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial: These two memorials are right next to each other, so the stop services both of them. Both have restrooms, but no refreshment stands – though the MLK Memorial Bookstore sells bottled water. Use our guide to the MLK and FDR Memorials for more information.
Hop on the next bus for a quick drive over to the “Big Three”
Stop 9: Lincoln/Korean War Veterans/Vietnam Veterans Memorials: These three memorials are known as “The Big Three” because of their popularity and closeness. When you exit the bus, you should visit them in order. The Korean War Veterans Memorial is first across the street in the trees. You’ll also find a refreshment stand with hot food on this side. Then visit the Lincoln Memorial and enjoy the view along the National Mall. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is on the north side of the Mall in the trees.
Once you visit this, you can continue on to Constitution Ave to hop back on the Circulator here instead of walking back to where you were dropped off, if you don’t want to visit the WWII Memorial. If you do, we suggest walking.
WWII Memorial: This beautiful structure is in the center of the mall so the bus does not drop off in front of it. It will be less walking to walk straight here than back to a bus stop. You can follow the well marked path through Constitution Gardens to find the memorial.
After WWII, you can make your way through Constitution Gardens to Constitution Ave and 18th Street NW to get back on the Circulator. Back on the bus, try to grab a seat on the left side of the bus. As you’re driving along Constitution Ave NW, you’ll get a view of the South Lawn of the White House on your left.
Stops 13-15: If you want to visit any of the Smithsonian Museums after your memorial tour, hop off at one of these stops. Again, it is faster to walk across the National Mall then wait for the bus to circle around to drop you right in front.
And now you’re back at Union Station to grab your car, train or lunch!