How to Watch 4th of July Fireworks in DC and Avoid the Mall

Donald Trump announced he will speak from the Lincoln Memorial during the national fireworks celebration on Independence Day. This new wrinkle to the normal 4th of July festivities will inspire many to seek alternative venues to watch the fireworks.

Regardless of how you feel about the President, any Washington insider will tell you the National Mall is already a difficult place to go see and enjoy the fireworks. Now with the President speaking, it promises to be a security nightmare, combining the normal vaudeville with the extraordinary security added by a Presidential appearance.

National Mall celebration attendees should expect an extraordinary set of security measures that will include perimeter checkpoints, frisks, bag checks, and body scans. Most will be encouraged to arrive several hours in advance, and then sit outside in the humid boiling Washington heat.

Most Washington insiders usually opt for alternative locations, only periodically going down to the National Mall. Tourists who want to avoid the crowds and hours in the heat can enjoy the fireworks in the same venues. Here are some of our favorites.

1) Enjoy the Fireworks from the River

The Potomac River side view of the DC fireworks. Image by Will Marlow.

Perhaps the best way to enjoy the fireworks up close and without crowds is to purchase a ticket on a Potomac River 4th of July boat cruise. Usually a few hours long, these cruises have bars and offer meals, from boxed meals to sit down buffets.

These cruises are quite a treat and will allow you to enjoy the fireworks in comfort. they anchor right by the Lincoln Memorial for an intimate view of the fireworks celebrations. It’s best to book early, as they fill up quickly.

If you are hoping to capture a few fireworks shots during the cruise, be aware of the normal river waves caused by the tide. This will prevent long exposures.

2) Get a Rooftop Restaurant Reservation

A Virginia rooftop view of the National Mall. Image by Tim Kelley.

Equally popular amongst Washington Insiders is the rooftop view of the fireworks. While many individuals or have friends that may have special access to a downtown rooftop, the best way to ensure your view atop Washington is to secure a rooftop reservation at one of Washington’s view-centric restaurants or venues.

Here is a list of 20 Washington, DC venues that offer rooftop views of the National Mall and the fireworks. There are several venues including the CEB Tower that offer a view from the Virginia side, too. You can also check in to a hotel with rooftop access, too. Don’t wait too long, RSVPs fill up quickly.

3) Cardozo High School or the National Cathedral

The fireworks from Cardozo High School by William Neuheisel.

A bit further away with a more panoramic view of Washington, Cardozo High School or the National Cathedral offer distant views of the fireworks. These hilltop views offer great places to go have an evening picnic and enjoy with the family.

Both Cardozo and the National Cathedral can get crowded as the evening progresses, so be sure to show up early. Bring plenty of water as Washington summer nights are often hot and muggy.

4) Gravelly Point by Reagan Airport

The Fireworks as viewed from Gravelly Point by Geoff Livingston.

Like most venues, Gravelly Point gets crowded. It pays to park at the National Airport and take the 20-minute stroll to the field a couple of hours in advance. Put down your picnic blanket, have dinner and some conversation, and then watch the beauty.

Of course, if you prefer a longer walk or have bikes you can get closer to the celebration and enjoy a view similar to the boats. You just have to walk up the historic Mount Vernon Trail, part of the Potomac region’s series of National Parks. Bring plenty of water, and a flashlight for the walk back to your car!

National Airport is accessible from the George Washington Parkway or Route 1. There is ample parking, and its easily accessible by Metro, too.

5) Iwo Jima

The fireworks as viewed by Iwo Jima, the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, VA. Photo by the USDA.

Another Virginia view of the fireworks can be found at Iwo Jima and the Netherlands Carillon by Arlington Cemetery. A favorite location for Arlingtonians, this location gets crowded quickly and can be difficult to find parking. We recommend taking the metro to the Rosslyn station and walking there.

The exodus from the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial can be crowded and a bit difficult, too. Be prepared with plenty of water, and allow for extra time to get back to your hotel or home.

The nearby Rosslyn district offers several parking garages and there are many restaurants to choose from. Go early, pick up a meal, and walk to the hills looking on the National Mall.

6) Seek Out an Alternative Fireworks Celebration

The Fourth of July Day Fireworks at Mount Vernon.

Several local cities and towns in the region offer alternative fireworks celebrations, including Annapolis and Baltimore. You can check out any of these venues if you want to avoid the National Mall fireworks altogether.

One of our favorite alternative fireworks celebrations is the daytime 4th of July fireworks at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Enjoy a little history, see POTUS #1’s colonial farm and home, and enjoy an unusual fireworks celebration to remember.