Standing near both the Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, the Netherlands Carillon has one of the best views in the area. It stands on a hill looking over the Potomac past the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and US Capitol Dome, offering views like this.
The 50 bells that make up the Carillon were a gift from the people of the Netherlands to the people of the United States in gratitude for assistance during World War II. After first arriving in 1954, the bells were temporarily hung in West Potomac Park. A new, permanent tower was built for them across the Potomac, and they were installed in their current position in 1960.
The bronze alloy bells are hung in a tower 127 feet high (and no, it’s not open for climbing, unfortunately). And while you can’t see them up close, each of the bells is inscribed with symbols of aspects of Dutch society as well as poetry by Dutch poet Ben van Eysselsteijn.
During the spring, there’s a large flower garden at its base featuring, naturally enough, tulips. And you can hear the bells ringing in automated concerts throughout the day and chiming the hour. During the summer there are free, live concerts every Saturday evening (6 to 8pm) as well as special holiday concerts on Memorial Day and Labor Day (both at 2pm to 4pm). You can find more information here.
Here’s an ultra-high resolution panorama (2.6 gigapixels) that allows you to zoom in considerably to see details, including the etchings on some of the bells.
There’s limited free parking close by, next to the Iwo Jima Memorial. Another option is on-street parking in the neighborhood just up the hill (many spots are metered). A third option is to park at the Arlington National Cemetery parking lot and walk through the northern part of the cemetery when it’s open or along the path running just outside the northeast perimeter–it’s roughly half a mile.
The Netherlands Carillon is in an open outdoor park near the Iwo Jima Memorial. The area isn’t fenced and is accessible day and night. The grounds are technically closed from midnight to 6am, but there’s no gate or fence to prevent access, and the reality is that the pathway running in front of it is a popular one for early-morning bike and pedestrian commuters as well as joggers.
No, it’s in an open public park. You can’t actually climb up into the structure–internal access is gated off at its base–but you can visit the grounds around it.
As with any flowering plants, the precise schedule depends on local weather conditions in the weeks and months before the bloom, but you can typically expect them to be blooming around the first couple of weeks of April (give or take).
If you're coming in from out of town, here are some of the most popular guidebooks that can help you make the most of your visit.
And here are some interesting options for less traditional guidesbooks if you'd like an emphasis on exploring DC on foot or diving into some of the region's rich history.