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 2021, the concert will not be live)
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/.
(The parade is cancelled for 2021)
For US Capitol Police information for the 4th of July Concert and Fireworks, click here.
(For 2021, the concert will not be live)
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.
For July 4th Metro service information, click here.
If there is inclement weather:
From the National Park Service- “The Fireworks display may be cancelled/delayed if there is significant inclement weather such as driving rain, high winds, lightning and/or low ceiling cloud cover in the area. Sign up for automated alerts by texting JULY4DC to 888777.”
Summary of July 4th Schedule:
National Independence Day Parade
Constitution Avenue NW from 7th Street to 17th Street NW
11:45 a.m. – 2 p.m.
(Cancelled in 2021)
A Capitol Fourth Concert
West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol
8 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
(Pre-recorded, not live on the National Mall in 2021)
9:07 p.m. – 9:42 p.m. (approximate)
A Capitol Fourth – 4th of July
Hours: On July 3 and 4, gates to the U.S. Capitol grounds 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. On July 4, public access to the National Mall begins at 10:00 a.m. Note that the National Mall and U.S. Capitol grounds have separate gate opening times.
Parking: Forget it.
Metrorail: According to Metro: “The closest station to the Mall is Smithsonian, however this is not your best choice. While many passengers choose to use Smithsonian, this station can become overcrowded during larger Mall events. Metro recommends selecting a destination station on the same line as your origin to avoid the need to transfer. There is a station near the Mall on every line.”
Note: Arlington Cemetery & the National Mall side of Smithsonian station will become “entry only” after 9 p.m. to accommodate returning crowds. The Independence Avenue entrance of Smithsonian station will be available for both entry and exit throughout the entire day.