There’s no place quite like the District to celebrate the Fourth of July. Patriotism, along with the temperature, runs high in the nation’s capital as residents, interns, and tourists alike don their red, white, and blue and settle in for some star-spangled celebration. While the packed city lends the day an unbeatable holiday buzz, the crowds can drive up prices and cause everything to book up fast. For those of you just looking for great seats to the best free show in town, check out these awesome venues to catch fireworks sans cost.
Kennedy Center North and South Plazas
2700 F St., NW
Metro: Foggy Bottom
Tip: While the hidden gem that is the Kennedy Center Roof Terrace will be closed for a private event on the Fourth, the North and South Plazas will remain open to the public, boasting firework views and a fantastic location. Stroll along the Potomac to the Georgetown waterfront to catch dinner before the fireworks begin.
Gravelly Point Park
Metro: Reagan Airport, Crystal City
Tip: Reflections of the fireworks on the waters of the Potomac make watching from Virginia a superb option. The crowd is always substantial at Gravelly Point, so avoid the rush to get on the Metro after the fireworks end by taking a longer walk along the trail and boarding at Pentagon. Be warned, though, that with DCA right next door, the low-flying planes can make this spot a bit noisy.
East Potomac Park/Hains Point Picnic Area
Metro: L’Entfant Plaza
Tip: The views aren’t quite as good as they can be elsewhere along the river, but there’s often more room for large groups, and grilling is legal in this park, so if you’re looking for a place to host a barbecue, it’s a good option. (Note that reservations for picnic areas are required.) Parking is available, but be sure to get there early to secure a spot.
Lady Bird Johnson Park
Metro: Arlington Cemetery
Tip: It’s a little tougher to get to, but decidedly less crowded than the National Mall and with possibly even better views. Find more information online. If you’re a hiker or biker, the park is accessible by the Mount Vernon Trail, so hop on the trail anywhere along its 18-mile route and head toward the park.
Air Force Memorial
Columbia Pike and S. Joyce St., Arlington
Metro: Pentagon/Pentagon City
Tip: Arrive by 8 PM for the Air Force Band’s pre-fireworks concert. Click here for more information.
US Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima)
N. Meade St. and N. Marshall Dr., Arlington
Tip: Probably the best choice for shutterbugs looking for the most spectacular options to frame their fireworks photographs. Do your best to stake out a clear view of the Lincoln Memorial, and try to avoid getting stuck behind any trees. Find more info online.
Cardozo High School
1300 Clifton St., NW
Metro: U Street/Cardozo
Tip: Prepare for extra crowds as people return to this popular spot post-renovation closing last summer. Try and claim a space on the top of the grassy hill on the east side of the campus. You can also see the fireworks from the western side, but the 11th Street side offers a neighborhood party atmosphere, with plenty of families setting off their own firecrackers and sparklers all around. Not recommended for those who are skittish about the potential for firecracker-related mishaps.
Washington National Cathedral
3101 Wisconsin Ave., NW
Metro: Tenleytown-AU/Cleveland Park
Tip: The bathrooms in the cathedral parking garage are usually kept open until about 8 PM. Music lovers can start their day early with the annual Independence Day Organ Recital at 11 AM.
Metro: Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter/Smithsonian
Tip: It’s the classic choice for a reason: It attracts the biggest crowds by far, which can help make your celebration that much more festive. But don’t forget about how hairy things get at the Smithsonian Metro station on July Fourth. While the station will remain open during the day, the Mall-side entrance will become “entry-only” when the fireworks end. Our advice? Avoid the overrun station by walking to downtown.
A version of this article, by Sommer Mathis, appeared online in 2011.