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22 Quiet Places in Washington, DC

Between the tourists, college students, government workers, and lobbyists, DC can get very crowded and noisy. The good news is that DC has the most public park space of any major city in the US, with 24% of public land used for 683 parks and green spaces. And while many of these spaces are outside of the downtown core, centrally located quiet areas can still be found.

When I first moved to DC from a much calmer (and smaller) city, I was a bit overwhelmed by the throngs of tourists and gaggles of suited lawyers, and I sought refuge in the tranquil spots I stumbled upon while out exploring. 12 years later, I’ve gotten used to (and love) the busyness of DC, but I still find myself wanting to escape on occasion into lesser known corners of the district.

Here, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite places to find a bit of peace in the big city, separated into five sections: close to the National Mall, Northwest (NW), Southwest (SW), Northeast (NE), and Southeast (SE).

Quiet Places On and Near the National Mall

The Mall itself is one giant park, with large trees you can relax underneath and people watch as you rest from meeting (and exceeding) your daily steps goal. But if you’re looking for a truly quiet place, try one of these sites.

Summerhouse

Summerhouse is the perfect place to feature at the start of this list because it was built in the late 19th century specifically to address complaints that visitors to the Capitol had nowhere to rest and refresh themselves.

The hexagonal, open-air site has shaded benches and cold fountain water that is filtered and safe to drink. Summerhouse also provides wonderful views of the Capitol and the Mall from its windows and doorways.

Closest metro stops: Judiciary Square (red line) and Capitol South (blue/orange/silver lines)

Entrance: Enter at the intersection of New Jersey Avenue NW and Constitution Avenue NW and heading right, or if already in the park and facing the Capitol Building, take the road or the pedestrian path toward the left

Enid A. Haupt Garden

The Enid A. Haupt Garden is located on the rooftops of the subterranean galleries of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the National Museum of African Art, and S. Dillon Ripley Center. Despite its proximity to museums, it’s rarely filled with visitors except during peak saucer magnolia bloom.

The garden is comprised of The Parterre, a manicured lawn bordered by benches and trees; the Moongate Garden, an abundantly flowering, shaded garden with several water elements; and the Fountain Garden, a symmetrical garden modeled after the Court of Lions at the Alhambra in Spain.

Closest metro stop: Smithsonian (blue/orange/silver lines)

Entrance: Enter via the Renwick Gates on Independence Avenue or by walking behind the Smithsonian Castle

Constitution Gardens

Constitution Gardens is a 50-acre park between the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Reflecting Pool. It includes a small lake and island, the latter of which features a memorial to the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Thanks to meandering paths and many birds and other wildlife, you can wander through the gardens and forget you’re in the center of the bustling capital. The gardens are especially pretty in the spring and fall.

Closest metro stops: Foggy Bottom (blue/orange/silver lines) and Smithsonian (blue/orange/silver lines)

Entrance: Enter at the intersection of Constitution Avenue and 19th Street NW or by following the paths out of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial or the National World War II Memorial

DC World War I Memorial

Close-up of a hand holding a white rose with the blurred Washington D.C. War Memorial in the background under a cloudy sky
DC World War I Memorial

A grove of trees protects this elegant memorial in West Potomac Park. The domed memorial and surrounding shaded grounds provide respite from the hot sun.

Although traffic from nearby Independence Avenue can sometimes mean this memorial is a little less quiet than some of the other spaces featured in this post, it’s still a wonderful place to decompress and have a moment to yourself.

Closest metro stop: Foggy Bottom (blue/orange/silver lines) and Smithsonian (blue/orange/silver lines)

Entrance: Enter via the Independence Avenue sidewalk or by following the path out of the Korean War Veterans Memorial and heading right

Looking for a quiet place on a day when it’s unpleasant to be outside? Try the ground-floor galleries of the National Gallery of Art’s West Building, any gallery at the National Museum of African Art, or The Great Hall (top floor) of the National Portrait Gallery. None of these places tend to have many visitors!

Quiet Places in the NW Quadrant

The NW quadrant is the leafiest of the four sections of the city, with several large, wooded parks that are popular with walkers, runners, and bikers. If you’re looking for someplace a bit less visited, however, check out one of these locations.

Decatur Terrace (Spanish Steps)

Just beyond Dupont Circle is a set of steps officially called Decatur Terrace but known locally as the Spanish Steps. The steps connect Decatur Place NW and S Street NW and have served as an urban oasis for more than 100 years.

Closest metro stop: Dupont Circle

Entrance: The steps take the place of 22nd Street NW between Decatur Place NW and S Street NW

The Scottish Rite of Freemasonry Library

The imposing exterior of the Scottish Rite building makes it a well-known neighborhood landmark, but did you know that parts of it are open to the public? Visit the library, and you’ll find a place of total silence, or attend a free building tour (Monday-Thursday at 10:00, 11:00, 2:00 and 3:30) for an interesting overview of the architecture and the work of the Scottish Rite. 

Closest metro stop: U Street (green/yellow lines)

Entrance: Enter at 1733 16th Street NW

Lovers’ Lane

This skinny trail abuts Montrose Park and Dumbarton Oaks Park in Georgetown and connects Georgetown and Rock Creek Park. If you don’t want to go all the way to Rock Creek Park, turn off the trail when you reach the sign for the 54-acre Dumbarton Oaks Park, which has extensive gardens filled with trees, flowers, vegetables, and herbs, some of which date to the 1920s and earlier. Entrance to the Dumbarton Oaks gardens does require an admission fee.

If you’re on a budget, Montrose Park on the other side of Lovers’ Lane is a public park and equally tranquil. It has only a limited number of flowering plants, but its majestic trees and shaded paths make it a nice place to stroll or read a book, and next to the park is Oak Hill Cemetery, a historic cemetery with a lovely 19th Century English garden.

Closest metro stop: None, but the DC Circulator (Georgetown-Union Station route) and 31, 32, 33, D2, and D6 buses will all drop you off within easy walking distance

Entrance: Enter on R Street near the intersection of R Street NW and 31st Street NW

The Glass Forest

The Glass Forest in DC, a forest path surrounded by lush green trees and plants, featuring a unique wooden sculpture hanging from a branch and a woven spherical object suspended in the air.
Path in the Glass Forest

Even many long-time DC residents have never visited the Glass Forest. Located in Palisades Park, the Glass Forest comprises hanging and ground sculptures made from scrap metal, pipes, bicycle parts, found objects, tree branches, and pieces of broken glass. The art gives off the vibe of someone who combined the work of Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, and Andy Goldsworthy.

Go during the early morning or early evening when the light reflects off of the shards of glass, and the experience will be almost ethereal. There are some benches if you’d like to stop and contemplate the art.

Closest metro stop: None, but the M4 bus goes somewhat near

Entrance: Enter via the park entrance at the Palisade Rec Center (5200 Sherier Place NW). Take the old Palisades Trolley trail to the left just before the rec center. The first path into the woods on your right will take you to the Glass Forest.

Tregaron Conservancy

A white and brown dog wearing a red harness stands on a small stone bridge in a lush, green forest. The path ahead winds through dense vegetation, surrounded by vibrant foliage and tall trees.
Lil Mikey enjoying the trails at Tregaron Conservancy

If your idea of a quiet walk includes a bubbling stream and dappled sunlight, the Tregaron Conservancy is just the place for you. It also connects to the Klingle Valley Trail, giving you some additional time in nature.

The park has six trails, a lily pond, and two streams that run through it. Biking is not permitted, but dogs are (as long as they are leashed at all times) and you may see some horses on the bridle path. The conservancy also has events, such as tours on the conservancy’s historic design elements, tai chi classes, and birdwatching walks — all free!

Closest metro stop: Cleveland Park (red line)

Entrance: Klingle Street NW or the Klingle Valley Trail drop you into the heart of the park, but you can also enter from Macomb Street NW (directions here).

The Cathedral Close

The National Cathedral receives many visitors each month, but most people miss out on one of its most special parts — its gardens. Nearly 60 acres of landscaped gardens, terraces, and memorial sites as well as a historic oak and beech forest surround the cathedral.

One of the most intimate spaces is the Bishop’s Garden, a walled, formerly private area featuring plants mentioned in the Bible, native plants, and a lily pond. Curving paths throughout the close make for a labyrinthine stroll dotted with thought-provoking sculptures and peaceful resting places.

Closest metro stop: None, but the 32, 33, and 96 buses will drop you off within walking distance

Entrance: Enter via the National Cathedral grounds

Crispus Attucks Park

A stone pathway winds through a green lawn under a wooden pergola, leading towards a cluster of trees. In the distance, a person walks along the path while a group of people sits on the grass, enjoying the serene park setting.
Crispus Attucks Park

Maybe you’re looking for a low-key place to enjoy fresh fruit from the Bloomingdale Farmer’s Market, or perhaps you need some time away from the sterile hallways of Howard University Hospital. Crispus Attucks Park is nearby, yet somehow feels truly secluded.

The park is located between U and V Streets NW and accessible only by alleyway. It features a long meadow that’s great for playing frisbee, laying out on a towel and reading a good book, or throwing a ball for your dog. There are also benches and a short but pleasant walking trail.

Similar: If you enjoy Crispus Attucks Park, you’ll probably also like Temperance Alley, a temporary park located on a long-abandoned site that has been slated for years for development (despite several proposals, no development has so far come to fruition). Temperance Alley is accessible via the intersection of 14th and U Streets NW.

Closest metro stop: Shaw/Howard University (green/yellow lines)

Entrance: Enter via the alley connecting U and V Streets NW in the block between 1st Street NW and North Capitol Street NW

Quiet Places in the SW Quadrant

In spite of the fact that SW is DC’s smallest quadrant, it has a large amount of green space and other public areas. The lack of traffic makes it a great place to retreat to after a busy day on the Mall, a noisy ballgame, or a lively lunch in one of the many restaurants along the water. Here are three places you can step away from the urban chaos.

The Southwest Duck Pond

The Southwest Duck Pond is a humble but beloved neighborhood spot. Rocking chairs and a Little Free Library make it a great site for reading a book or just relaxing and watching the ducks and other birds who frequent the pond.

Across the street, a tree-covered walkway takes you to 4th Street and then beyond to the recently built Southwest Library. This walkway is just one of many paths in Southwest that wind in between buildings and houses. Just beyond the library, you can turn left onto 3rd Street and, once into the development of pastel townhouses, ramble to your heart’s content. The narrow paths sometimes connect and sometimes don’t, and it’s easy to forget that the freeway is only a block or two away.

Closest metro stop: Southwest Waterfront (green line)

Entrance: Enter at the intersection of 4th and I Streets SW or 6th and I Streets SW

The Titanic Memorial

Surely, the director of the movie Titanic knew of the Titanic Memorial at the end of a path at the intersection of 4th and P Street SW. Visit the memorial, and you’ll see what we mean. Not only is the statue a figure to behold, but it’s located on a point with terrific views of both Washington Channel and the Anacostia River and stately officer housing on the adjoining base (you may need to crane your neck a bit to the left to see the houses).

The park in which it stands is somewhat rundown, but its towering trees are magnificent, and it’s amazingly quiet for being so close to the Wharf, the ballpark, and the soccer stadium.

Closest metro stop: Southwest Waterfront (green line)

Entrance: Take the path at the intersection of 4th and P Streets SW

James Creek Marina

Southwest is gentrifying quickly, but a few of the old timers’ spots remain. One of those is the James Creek Marina. Originally part of DC’s canal system, this marina has little in common with other DC marinas. It hasn’t been renovated in a very long time and is very small. It’s located across the street from a restaurant, but the restaurant is fairly new, so the area still has little foot (or car) traffic. An old wooden table on the grass is the perfect place for a picnic.

If you find that you’re restless, take a walk on the Anacostia River Trail, which begins at the end of 2nd Street SW, continues via the road (1st Street, V Street, and Half Streets SW), and then reverts to a paved path just before the large condo building on the right hand side). The views of the marsh and river are striking, and wildlife is abundant. 

Closest metro stops: Southwest Waterfront and Navy Yard (green line)

Entrance: Enter at the intersection of 2nd and V Streets SW

Quiet Places in the NE Quadrant

The first places that come to mind in NE are always the National Arboretum and Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, and both are serene, with expansive networks of trails. Don’t miss out, though, on these other tranquil spots, some of which are especially quiet because they receive so few visitors.

Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

The beauty and stillness of the Franciscan Monastery is no secret, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth including in this list. While tours are offered (and fascinating), it rarely seems to be crowded, and the noise level is kept low out of respect for the sacredness of the site. You can also volunteer in the apiaries and gardens, a meditative experience for both green thumbs and the spiritually faithful.

The friars ask all visitors to be dressed modestly; specifically, no shorts are permitted inside the church. Additionally, note that picnics (and food in general) are not allowed.

Closest metro stop: Brookland — Catholic University (red line)

Entrance: Enter at 1400 Quincy Street NE

St. Anselm’s Abbey

Unlike the Franciscan Monastery, St. Anselm’s Abbey (a Benedictine monastery) is not regularly open to the public. This doesn’t mean you can’t visit, however. People looking for a peaceful place for reading or contemplation can request to visit. You can even request to stay overnight in the monastery with the monks if you’re seeking a period of extended quiet.

Closest metro stop: Fort Totten (red/green/yellow lines) and Brookland — Catholic University (red line), or the E2 bus will drop you off right in front of the abbey’s long driveway

Entrance: Near the intersection of South Dakota NE and Webster Street NE

Cemeteries overlooking Bloomingdale

Three cemeteries share a hill overlooking Bloomingdale: Saint Mary’s, Glenwood, and Prospect Hill. They are nicely cared for, with lovely trees in the autumn and spring, and funerary tributes range from simple markers to ornate Victorian and fin-de-siècle monuments.

The total area is quite large, making it a good place for a walk (although note that Saint Mary’s is separated from Glenwood and Prospect Hill by Lincoln Road NE, which is open to vehicular traffic).

Kingman and Heritage Islands Park

A calm body of water surrounded by greenery on a cloudy day, with a distant view of RFK Stadium. The landscape includes reeds and small plants growing along the water's edge, adding to the tranquil, natural setting.
View from the bridge between Heritage Island and RFK Parking Lot

You may have heard of (or been to) these man made islands for the annual bluegrass festival, but most of the year, the only sounds you’ll hear are those of more than 100 wildlife species. This is because parts of the islands are protected as State Conservation Areas or Critical Wildlife Areas. 

Kingman Island is larger and has some art installations for you to view. Heritage Island has a lovely boardwalk over marshland to explore that’s smaller than the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens boardwalk. Be careful of the poison ivy along the trail on Heritage Island. You can explore the islands by foot or on bike, and the park trails connect to the Anacostia River Trail, and you can bike or walk for miles further if you’re looking to extend your peace beyond just a couple of hours.

You can use a small watercraft to paddle around the islands. Better yet, sign up to participate in one of the weekly river cleanup outings between May and October, and scoop up river debris while out on a kayak!

Closest metro stop: Stadium-Armory (blue/orange/silver lines), but the X1, X2, or X3 bus will drop you off much closer

Entrance: Enter via Benning Road or RFK Stadium Lot 6 (directions here)

Quiet Places in the SE Quadrant

Did you know that outside of Rock Creek Park, SE has the most trails of any area in DC? It also has a number of homegrown, community oriented places where you can exercise, enjoy the river, or relax with friends. 

East Capitol Urban Farm

The East Capitol Urban Farm is one of DC’s many success stories of vacant lots turned into community spaces. While the gardening plots are only available to Ward 7 residents, anyone can visit the site, which includes walking paths and community art, and anyone can volunteer. The farm is a small oasis in an area that’s otherwise very busy.

Closest metro stop: Capitol Heights (blue/silver lines)

Entrance: Enter via the entrance off Southern Avenue, directly across the street from the metro station

Fort Circle Park Hiker-Biker Trail

This trail traverses seven Civil War forts located in SE and NE DC. The paved trail is over six miles long and mostly wooded, with rustic bridges and trickling creeks. Following the trail from one end to the other makes for a great half-day hike (only a few portions are steeply elevated, but the woods are hilly enough to make it more than just a leisurely stroll). Although it’s easily accessible by public transportation and on foot, the forested parts of the trail are not generally crowded. You will need to make use of city sidewalks when traveling between the parks surrounding each fort.

Closest metro stop: Minnesota Avenue (orange line) or Anacostia (green line)

Entrance: Enter at the trailhead at the intersection 42nd and Grand Streets NE if coming from the Minnesota Avenue metro, or begin at the trail beside the Anacostia Community Museum if walking from the Anacostia metro (you can also catch the W2 bus at the Anacostia metro station, which will drop you off right in front of the museum).

Anacostia Community Boathouse

This boathouse is tucked away in parkland on the north side of the Anacostia River. You can launch your own kayak or canoe from the docks between March and October (scroll to the bottom of this page to see the launching hours), and if you’d like to learn to row or paddle, you can sign up for classes with one of the boathouse’s many member organizations. The location is right off the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, so you can combine a water activity with walking or biking. As a bonus, that section of the trail is not as easily accessible as other parts, so it’s less utilized and feels almost rural.

Closest metro stop: Potomac Avenue (blue/orange/silver lines)

Entrance: If you’re on foot or bike, take the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail (closest trailhead is on Southeast Boulevard) to where it crosses M Street SE, and you’ll see a driveway down to the boathouse; or take M Street SE (which becomes a narrow street with little traffic after the Southeast Freeway underpass) from Navy Yard to the boathouse (cars can also take M Street SE all the way to the boathouse)

Eastern Senior High School Outdoor Athletic Facilities

These facilities are new and well maintained. While they aren’t open to the public during school hours or on weekends, the public can use them between 6:00-8:00 AM and 6:30-8:00 PM. Tennis courts, basketball courts, fields, and a track are all available to the community. They are especially quiet during the early morning hours, and if you’re looking for a post-workout breakfast, local spot The Hill Cafe opens at 7:00 and is only two blocks away.

Closest metro stop: Stadium Armory (blue/orange/silver lines)

Entrance: Enter the courts at the intersection of East Capitol Street NE and 19th Street SE; enter the track and fields space at the intersection of 17th St NE and A Street NE

What are your favorite places in DC for a quiet day? Comment and let us know!

Elizabeth Moore

Elizabeth spends most of her free time going to one of the DC area's many theaters, and she has been to nearly all of them in the 12 years she has lived in the city. She loves talking all things art, sustainable living, Spain, and volunteering.

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