Millions of visitors descend on the National Mall in Washington every year, touring the U.S. Capitol, posing for photos in front of the memorials, and picnicking near the Washington Monument.

With so many people jostling for space in the strip of green running between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, a key to an enjoyable visit is finding the right time to go. Here are some suggestions for making the most of the Mall, not including the Smithsonian museums or the National Gallery of Art.

(Sites are listed from east to west, starting at the Capitol. All outdoor memorials are open around the clock every day, though National Park Service Rangers are on duty from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. only, and memorial bookstores and museums have varying hours.

The U.S. Capitol, as seen from the roof of the Canadian Embassy in Washington.
AP
The U.S. Capitol, as seen from the roof of the Canadian Embassy in Washington.

U.S. Capitol

Best time to visit: morning

If you want to get inside the Capitol, the easiest and fastest way is to arrive at the same time as the people who work there. The visitors center there, accessed from the East Front of the Capitol, opens at 8:30 a.m. — a half-hour before some senators and representatives begin public office hours.

The visitors center begins offering its free 45-minute guided tours at 8:40 a.m. and starts new ones every 10 minutes. Visitors can reserve slots online, but if you haven't, an early arrival is usually your best chance for first-come, first-served passes.

Early arrivals are also good for photographers: The morning sun shines brilliantly against the Capitol dome.

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration team performs a flyover above the Washington Monument on July 4.
Patrick Semansky / AP
The U.S. Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration team performs a flyover above the Washington Monument on July 4.

Washington Monument

Best time to visit: afternoon

The Washington Monument remains closed as repairs to its elevator continue — the National Park Service says until August but has not announced a date. In the meantime, the best place to take pictures of the obelisk is from the area between the World War II Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, where you can catch its reflection in the Reflecting Pool.

Jefferson Memorial

Best time to visit: morning

The Jefferson Memorial is mostly a peaceful place — especially when crowds are not flocking to the Tidal Basin during cherry blossom season — with visitors sitting on the sun-kissed marble steps, overlooking the water, and the Washington Monument beyond, or marveling at the 19-foot statue of Thomas Jefferson inside. If you want to reflect on Jefferson’s words, or visit the small exhibition on the memorial’s lower level, it’s better to beat the rush of school groups.

Early risers have a better chance of scoring one of the three swan-shaped boats that glide around the Tidal Basin; they are available for rent on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 10 a.m.

World War II Memorial

Best time to visit: afternoon

The World War II Memorial sprawls across 7.5 acres of the Mall, in a prominent spot between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, at the top of the Reflecting Pool. If you want to explore the memorial, with its bronze reliefs showing scenes of battle and the home front, or pose for a photo in front of your state or territory's memorial column, afternoon might be the best time.

This will allow you to take advantage of the free tours and talks led by park rangers. Depending the schedule, you might learn about “The Road to Pearl Harbor” or venture on a guided 2.5-mile hike to find “Obscure Memorials of the National Mall.” Events often begin at 2 p.m., but check the online schedule for more details.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial

Best time to visit: evening

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is the most immersive on the Mall: It's a series of outdoor "rooms," representing Roosevelt's four terms, filled with bronze sculptures, waterfalls, and pools, depicting the Great Depression and World War II. Because the layout calls for exploration, it's most rewarding at night, when the statues cast shadows, the water shimmers, and it's peaceful enough to linger and contemplate.

Cherry blossom trees surround the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial at dusk.
Patrick Semansky / AP
Cherry blossom trees surround the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial at dusk.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Best time to visit: afternoon

There’s a lot of inspirational reading to be done at the most recent memorial to grace the Mall: The walls surrounding the 30-foot statue of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. contain famous quotations from his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, and other notable works. Because of this — and because you’ll want to take photos — it’s easier to visit during daylight hours.

As at the World War II Memorial, park rangers are on hand to lead tours and discussions. Talks often begin at 2 p.m., but check with rangers or the bookstore for information.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial.
Ricky Carioti / Washington Post
The Korean War Veterans Memorial.

Korean War Veterans Memorial

Best time to visit: evening

This group of 19 poncho-wearing soldiers on patrol is one of the city’s most dramatic displays. Gesturing, crouching, alert to danger — the larger-than-life steel statues seem ready to spring into action, moving in triangular formation from a wooded area toward a large American flag. The illusion is even more remarkable as shadows lengthen at twilight or early evening.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Washington Post
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Best time to visit: afternoon

Most visitors feel the solemn presence of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial before they reach the famous Three Servicemen Statue or see the austere memorial’s black granite panels, inscribed with the names of 58,318 American casualties. Even teenagers on school trips instinctively seem to know that this is a place for hushed voices; when you do hear someone on a phone, it’s likely a visitor calling a family member to talk about finding a name on the wall.

You can visit after dark, when the memorial feels even more somber. But first-time visitors might want to go during the day, when rangers and volunteers can assist in finding the name of a friend or loved one. In daylight, it’s easier to see the photos and tributes left at the wall, or see people reflected in the polished surface. That’s when the emotional impact of the memorial is most striking.

The Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool.
Washington Post
The Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool.

Lincoln Memorial

Best time to visit: afternoon or sunset

At the western end of the Mall, the Lincoln Memorial is a popular gathering spot for tourists who want to take a photograph in front of Daniel Chester French’s statue of the 16th president or stand on the spot where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. (Also, the steps and benches provide a great place to rest and enjoy the view, and the adjacent parking lot is a convenient place for tour buses to make pickups.)

Once the groups have left for the day, the atmosphere becomes less frenetic — except on summer Tuesdays, when the Marine Corps’ Drum and Bugle Corps and Silent Drill Platoon perform at the base of the memorial. The Lincoln Memorial offers one of the most beautiful and memorable vistas in Washington, and the white marble glows ethereally with the light of the setting sun behind it.

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The stroll from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial is almost three miles, and that’s if you don’t make any detours to memorials or museums along the way. If you’re planning to hopscotch among attractions, the best way to do it is on the free Circulator bus, operated by the city, which riders can hop on or off of on the 15-stop route. Circulator buses are accessible and air-conditioned, and newer models offer free WiFi and USB ports for charging phones.

Mall memorials: nps.gov and search for individual attractions.