Longer days and warmer weather make us want to go for a long walk. But not everyone wants to lace up hiking boots and head to Great Falls. Some would rather go on a leisurely urban ramble, enjoying both natural and man-made scenery, visiting attractions along the way and maybe stopping off for a picnic.
In this guide to urban walks, ranging in length from one to more than four miles, we’ve steered clear of the better-known bike and running paths — sorry, Washington & Old Dominion Trail — in favor of general routes for city exploring. We hope you’ll find an itinerary that provides some exercise and fun, not to mention a chance to discover sights you’ve never seen.
Woodrow Wilson Bridge
Aside from landing at Reagan National Airport, there may be no better view of metropolitan Washington — from Old Town Alexandria to the monuments on the Mall — than standing over the Potomac River on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Sure, there’s only a concrete barrier protecting you from all the noise of 12 lanes of Beltway traffic. But what the mile-long span lacks in pedestrian luxury it more than makes up for in views.
Part 1: Park along the George Washington Memorial Parkway or walk from Old Town Alexandria to the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery (1001 S. Washington St.), where a memorial commemorates the 1,800 African Americans who were buried there from 1864 to 1869. Many of the graves were desecrated during construction in the 20th century and are now marked with stones set in the grass. Cross the street to access the bridge next to another cemetery, St. Mary’s.
Part 2: Maryland, Virginia and the District all lay claim to different sections of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. From the viewing stations along the way, take a look at Washington to the north and the military’s Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, also to the north and along the river’s eastern shore.
Part 3: The bridge path crosses Rosilie Island, a beautifully landscaped peninsula on the Maryland side of the Potomac, before winding toward National Harbor. Rest your feet with a glass of wine at the Tasting Room (137 Waterfront St.), an outpost of Boxwood Winery in Middleburg, Va., or take a spin on the 180-foot tall Capital Wheel ($15).
Part 4: When you’re ready to head back, hop on the Potomac Riverboat Co.’s water taxi for a 20-minute ride to Old Town ($8). The boat leaves every 40 minutes on weekends and drops you off right next to Alexandria’s free Torpedo Factory Art Center (105 N. Union St.).
Cleveland Park’s Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, contains more than 1,000 contributing structures; the application for that honor describes the Northwest neighborhood as a “visual textbook of the changing taste in domestic architectural styles between the years 1890 and 1940.” Take a stroll through the area to see stark modernist facades next to art deco details, plus interesting-looking porches and cool turrets.
Part 1: From the Cleveland Park Metro Station, head west on Ordway Street NW to walk past neoclassical mansions, brick rowhouses and Colonial revivals. You’ll come across a tiny, low-to-the-ground house, mostly obscured by a garden wall. The key feature is a triple-barrel-vault concrete roof. This is the William Slayton House (3411 Ordway St. NW), one of only three houses designed by celebrated architect I.M. Pei, who also devised the National Gallery of Art’s East Building. (The home is a private residence, so please don’t trespass.)
Part 2: Continue west, toward 36th Street, passing turreted houses and Mission-style structures with terra-cotta roofs and modernist residences by architect Winthrop Faulkner. Just south, on Newark Street NW, you’ll find the Rosedale Conservancy (3501 Newark St.), three acres of land from Cleveland Park’s oldest house preserved by a community trust as a place for picnics, games and dog-walking. From the park’s rolling lawns, you can see the 18th-century farmhouse built by Gen. Uriah Forrest. One of the oldest structures in the city, it is now a private home.
Part 3: Cleveland Park became a popular and prosperous “streetcar suburb” in the 1890s, thanks to the arrival of electric streetcars, on Wisconsin and Connecticut avenues, and President Grover Cleveland, who built a summer home on Macomb Street. To see some of the best turn-of-the-century houses in the area mixed with the occasional modern residence, walk east on Newark. Turn left on 34th Street, then follow Highland Place NW back around to Newark: Architectural styles on the route include Japanese-inspired, Italianate, Tudor revival and New England-style shingle houses.
Part 4: Make your way south toward Macomb Street NW, passing fashionable houses on 34th Street, near where President Cleveland’s house stood. Walk two blocks west and you’re at the Wisconsin Avenue strip that includes the Neapolitan pizza restaurant 2 Amys (3715 Macomb St. NW), French bistro La Piquette (3714 Macomb St. NW) and the nachos-and-margaritas Cactus Cantina (3300 Wisconsin Ave. NW) for a well-deserved meal after your walk.
Yards Park to Kingman Island via the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail
Most of Washington’s scenic monuments and bridges sit near the Potomac River, but recent years have seen more focus on restoring and beautifying the Anacostia. This walk follows the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail from the hustle of development around Yards Park to the peaceful and green Kingman and Heritage islands.
Part 1: Start near Nationals Park and follow the wide waterfront boardwalk past Yards Park, where you can pick up ice cream from Ice Cream Jubilee (301 Water St. SE) or sandwiches from 100 Montaditos (300 Tingey St. SE), and into the Navy Yard itself. Check out the Vietnam-era Swift Boat with explanatory markers, then wind your way behind the base toward and onto the 11th Street Local Bridge. Yes, really: The span has a wide pedestrian sidewalk and observation areas that allow for stunning panoramic photos high above the river.
Part 2: Once you’re on the eastern side of the river, keep hiking upstream. The path next to the water is wide and grassy, passing a playground with giant pirate ships, covered picnic pavilions and fields perfect for ballgames. (The western side, on the other hand, has environmental cleanup sites and not-so-scenic paths behind Congressional Cemetery and the D.C. Jail.)
Part 3: Follow the trail up to the Benning Road Bridge, where a wide sidewalk across the bridge leads to the entrance to Kingman Island Park. Kingman and Heritage islands are living classrooms run by the D.C. government, with boardwalks, hiking and biking trails, picnic areas and abundant birdwatching. This Saturday, it’s also home to the annual Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival from noon to 9 p.m.
M Street NW can feel like a tourist trap. But for a nice walk, few neighborhoods can beat Georgetown, where brick sidewalks pass some of the city’s most historic homes and gardens. Explore its northern reaches to step back into a time when tending to your garden meant much more than watering that succulent on your windowsill.
Part 1: Start by picking up a sandwich at Stachowski’s Market (1425 28th St. NW) — the four-meat grinder includes salami, capicola, mortadella and sopressata — and walk up 28th Street NW to Montrose Park for a picnic. If you’re feeling more adventurous, head down the asphalt path known as Lovers’ Lane, off R Street NW, to eat in the woods of Dumbarton Oaks Park, a free alternative to the Dumbarton Oaks gardens and estate.
Part 2: From there, visit Tudor Place (1644 31st St. NW), a 5.5-acre garden and Federal-style mansion once occupied by the descendants of Martha Washington. Take a guided tour of the 1816 home ($10) or explore the garden by yourself ($3).
Part 3: On the far side of Wisconsin Avenue NW is a recently excavated archaeological site: the former property of Yarrow Mamout, a freed slave from Guinea who, at the turn of the 19th century, built a log house at what’s now 3324 Dent Pl. NW. Mamout was one of the neighborhood’s best-known residents — his swimming abilities and his claim to be more than 130 years old made him something of a legend, and a portrait painted by James Alexander Simpson now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery — although no plaque marks the property today.
Part 4: Head south to Halcyon House (3400 Prospect St. NW), a 1787 mansion built by the first secretary of the Navy, now home to a nonprofit arts organization. Its gardens were designed by Pierre L’Enfant, whose plan for the District gave the city its urban grid. You can’t go inside for a tour, unfortunately, but you can continue down to M Street for a cupcake, lines be damned, at Georgetown Cupcake (3301 M St. NW).
Takoma Park boundary stone
When George Washington settled on the site for the nation’s capital, deciding on a 100-square-mile plot that included what are now the cities of Alexandria and Arlington, surveyors set to work marking the border. For each mile, they set a sandstone block in the ground — boundary stones that are almost all still visible today, though sometimes hidden in back yards, parks or parking lots. Head to Takoma Park to see one of the 40 original stones while also exploring a downtown that feels far more Main Street than K Street.
Part 1: From the Takoma Metro station, take Carroll Street NW toward the heart of Takoma Park, a tree-lined suburb known for its progressive politics and folk-music scene. Grab a coffee or a house-baked scone or muffin from La Mano (304 Carroll St. NW) and take a left on Maple Street NW to find a boundary marker.
Part 2: The stone is right outside a three-story apartment building at 7100 Maple Ave., protected from the sidewalk by a round black fence. Most of the stone’s original engravings are still visible, noting the year it was placed (1792) and, on opposite sides, the markers “Maryland” and “Jurisdiction of the United States,” for the District.
Part 3: Welcome to Maryland. Now that you’re here, stroll past some of Takoma Park’s historic Queen Anne-style homes, taking a right on Tulip Avenue to reach Carroll Avenue and Capital City Cheesecake (7071 Carroll Ave.) for a sandwich or miniature cheesecake at this spacious coffee-shop hangout.
Part 4: Walk back to Washington along Carroll Avenue, ducking inside some of the shops that make Takoma Park one of D.C.’s most charming neighbors. Pluck on a Tahitian ukulele or cradle a concertina at the House of Musical Traditions (7010 Westmoreland Ave.), or browse Turkish lamps and embroidered shoes at the Covered Market (7000 Carroll Ave.). The shop’s neighbors at 7002 Carroll Ave. include ArtSpring, which sells jewelry and other goods by local artists, and the African handicrafts store Things From Egypt, where you can buy decorative rugs and ceramic tagines.
Drivers commuting along Massachusetts Avenue in Northwest Washington have plenty of reasons to dislike it. But when you get out of your car, Embassy Row, between Scott Circle and Observatory Circle, is a fascinating strip of statues, free museums and international culture. (Bonus: This weekend is the European Union Open House.)
Part 1: Start at the southeast end, at the new Embassy of Hungary (1500 Rhode Island Ave. NW) to see a statue commemorating the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Head up Massachusetts Avenue, making sure to stop at the Embassy of Chile (1736 Massachusetts Ave. NW) to marvel at the sideburns and epaulets on a bust of Bernardo O’Higgins, and then at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies’s front garden (1740 Massachusetts Ave. NW) to see a segment of the Berlin Wall.
Part 2: Breeze past Dupont Circle to head northwest, passing the statue of Dewi Saraswati next to the Embassy of Indonesia and the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial on a traffic island outside of the Embassy of India. Your destination: Anderson House (2118 Massachusetts Ave. NW), the headquarters of the Revolutionary War-era Society of the Cincinnati; its museum has an exhibition about parallels between World War I and the American Revolution.
Part 3: Continue onto Sheridan Circle’s monumental equestrian statue of Gen. Philip Sheridan, which is in fact a fountain with water shooting from lions’ heads. On the circle, there are several life-size statues, including Kemal Ataturk on the sidewalk outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence. Farther up Massachusetts Avenue, the Korean Cultural Center (2370 Massachusetts Ave. NW) offers exhibits during the day as well as monthly movie nights. The Embassy of the Ivory Coast (2424 Massachusetts Ave. NW), meanwhile, is home to an exhibition called “African Art on the Move.”
Part 4: North of the Embassy of the Ivory Coast, the avenue is notable for its variety of architecture and art: the contemporary embassies of Italy and Finland; the plain but striking Japanese Chancery; the British ambassador’s residence, resembling a British country house; the Islamic Center of Washington, decorated with donations from many Muslim-majority countries. Along the street are statues of Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill and Norway’s Crown Princess Martha, who lived in exile in Washington during World War II.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Charles Willson Peale painted the portrait of Yarrow Mamout at the National Portrait Gallery. The painting is by James Alexander Simpson.