We didn’t expect to like Washington D.C. but if there’s one thing we learned in our travels it is that anywhere can surprise you. What surprised us about Washington DC? Just how huge every D.C. monument is and just how close everything is together.
Washington DC is the perfect walking city with plenty of picturesque trails and easy paths. The Washington DC monuments, memorials, and buildings are grand, and each one is laid out within close proximity to the next. It really is a beautiful city to explore on foot, and it’s an easy and entertaining way to learn about American history.
Washington DC Monuments Tour
This was our first visit to D.C. and we knew we had very little time to see everything we wanted. Luckily the concierge at the Intercontinental Wharf was very helpful and laid out our route telling us where we should go and what we should see first. So we set off on foot to explore the Monuments of Washington DC We walked everywhere during our tour of Washington D.C. As John Candy would say in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, “Our Dogs were Barking!”
Note: Things are constantly changing in 2021, Many of the Washington National Memorials are managed or co-managed by the National Park Service. Visit the National Park Service Website for Memorials in Washington DC protocols here.
Let the Walking Tour Begin! Memorials in Washington DC
We stayed in the District Wharf area and loved it here. District Wharf is an urban waterfront development that is within walking distance from everywhere. Located on the Southwest Waterfront, it is a destination unto itself with the Maine Avenue Fish Market, restaurants, shopping, and scenic piers.
It was a short and pleasant stroll along the waterfront past the water taxi that can take you easily to out-of-the-way places like Arlington National Cemetery and Georgetown. To give you an idea of just how easy it is to see everything in Washington on foot, a walk around the entire Tidal Basin from the Intercontinental The Wharf only takes about 45 minutes if you don’t stop. We stopped a lot, but it was only about 15 minutes before we found ourselves at our first stop, the Jefferson Memorial.
1. Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Located on the South Bank of the Tidal Basin of the Potamic River, the Jefferson Memorial was modeled after the Pantheon of Rome. Dave and I both agreed that the location of this memorial was our favorite monument in the city. It sits farther away from the other monuments overlooking the basin so there were few people when we arrived. A statue of Jefferson stands tall in the center surrounded by his most memorable quotes.
Few tourists were at the memorial during our visit and we had it all to ourselves walking around the marble steps, enjoying the views and reading the words of one of America’s early presidents.
There is an ongoing debate regarding many Washington DC memorials if monuments dedicated to the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson should be taken down. This article on the BBC Website is a good read.
2. Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial
Walking west we continued our tour of Washington DC monuments with a stop at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. We always learn something when we visit a new place. After all, travel is the best education. I must admit, that even though we know the names of many U.S. presidents, we didn’t know a lot about each person or their role as leaders.
We had no idea that Roosevelt was a four-term President. But found out quickly at his memorial as there are four different sections honoring his different terms as leader of the country. President Roosevelt served from 1933 until his death in 1945, leading America through the second world war.
It’s a very pretty monument that feels more like a garden and a place for quiet contemplation. Many of his quotes are etched into rocks, scenes from the Great Depression and WWII are depicted and there are statues of FDR, his dog, and Elenor Roosevelt that can be viewed as you walk through the four sections.
3. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
Our next stop on our stroll around the Tidal Basin was the striking Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. In our opinion, this is the most beautiful monument in Washington DC. The likeness of Martin Luther King Jr. stands just ahead of two huge slabs of granite signifying “The Stone of Hope emerging from the mountain of despair.”
This monument had more tourists honoring Dr. King, but it was still quiet and we had plenty of time to read his many empowering quotes.
It is a profound experience to read the words of Martin Luther King Jr. etched into a 40 foot (13 meter) wall surrounding the statue.
4. Korean War Veterans Memorial
We continued our walk through time moving away from the Tidal Basin towards the reflection pool of the National Mall. Our first stop walking from the Martin Luther King memorial was the Korean War Memorial on the national mall. I didn’t even know this memorial existed, but it is a very touching tribute to those who fought in the Korean War.
A platoon of men walking in full rain gear, helmets, and carrying weapons and radios are depicted walking through a re-creation of the Korean landscape. The details of each piece of gear were perfect. But what caught my attention was the detail in their faces. I studied the mix of concentration and determination and I found myself mesmerized by the scene.
5. Lincoln Memorial
Just a short walk further took us to the Lincoln Memorial, the most famous memorial in all of Washington DC. It was from here that Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
The Lincoln Memorial is certainly awe-inspiring with an imposing sculpture of Lincoln sitting in the center of a Greek temple complete with white columns and marble steps. It stands over the reflection pool towards the Washington Monument creating one of the most beautiful settings in the capital.
The Linconl Memorial was the first stop on our walking tour where we encountered plenty of tourists and we didn’t spend too long here deciding to come back the next day for sunrise where we had the place all to ourselves – save for morning joggers finishing up their run at the top of the steps.
6. The National Mall
One could hang out all day at the National Mall taking time to peruse the monuments, relaxing in the park, or simply people watching as you sit on a bench. There are several paths surrounding the mall where runners do their daily workouts and families stroll with their baby carriages. The area is public land and we are told that in the summer you may find a game of touch football taking place outside.
The reflection pool is long, and the walk from Lincoln to WWII takes a good 5-10 minutes if you go directly from one to another. But you won’t want to do that, you’ll want to stop to see all the sights in between. Many memorials of Washington are located near the National Mall.
7. Vietnam Veterans Memorial
I was most interested in seeing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. For some reason, this is the memorial that stands out from my childhood memories. Maybe it was because of all the Vietnam action films that I saw during the 1970s and 80s or it was because I remember the large crowds and media attention it drew when opening.
For us, it was the most moving memorial. It seems simple in design, but the long black wall reflects the scene where thousands of names are etched into the marble depicting the names of those who fell during the Vietnam War.
There is a book where visitors can search each panel by name and rank to pay tribute to the fallen. There is a Vietnam Women’s Memorial just a short distance away dedicated to the 265,000 women who volunteered to care for the wounded.
There are many monuments and memorials lining the pool that I knew from the movie Forrest Gump where Jenny waded through the water to meet Forrest in an embrace. Want more information about America? Check out these Independence Day Facts
8. National World War II Memorial
At the other end of the reflection pool from the Lincoln Memorial is the National World War II memorial. I didn’t realize just how big this space was everything is massive and larger than you expect. When touring the memorials and monuments of Washington, give yourself time. There are so many stops and it is this enormous space.
I was surprised to learn that the National World War II monument was only completed in 2004. One would have thought that a monument to the more than 400,000 people who died would have gone up long ago.
The National World War II Memorial memorial has 56 columns representing American states and territories surrounding a pool and fountains. There are several places to look out over the fountains. And you will see many people taking photographs from beside their home state. Like many of the other Washington memorials, there are several quotes from U.S Presidents from the first president to many military figures.
9. The Washington Monument
The Washington Monument is most certainly an impressive monument in the city. It’s not surprising since it is the tallest stone structure in the world. The Washington Monument is also the world’s tallest obelisk. It towers above the city. If you ever need a point of reference, chances are you’ll be able to see it from wherever you are.
It sits in the center of the National Mall surrounded by open fields. I had always thought that the Washington Monument was dedicated to the city, but now that I’ve visited D.C., it’s obvious that it would of course be dedicated to George Washington. The memorials of Washington DC are all dedicated to historic figures. It’s quite embarrassing to think that I thought otherwise. But not as embarrassing as what I thought about the Smithsonian Museum.
10. The Smithsonian
The next stop on our walking tour of DC doesn’t go to a specific Washington DC monument but instead goes to what is known as the Smithsonian. I wonder if I am alone in thinking that the Smithsonian was one single museum? When people asked us what we wanted to do in D.C. We replied, “Well, I’d like to visit the Smithsonian.” To which they responded, “which one?” Huh?
It turns out that the Smithsonian is a complex of 17 incredible free museums located along the edges of the National Mall.
From the African American History and Culture Museum to the National Air and Space Museum, you could spend weeks soaking in the culture, technology, history, and art of the Smithsonian museums.
There are many museums we didn’t get a chance to visit. A must-stop next time is to see the Declaration of Independence at the national archives.
11. White House
And when taking a walking tour of Washington DC, you must stop to see the White House. There are crowds of people eying for a view, but no visit to Washington DC would be complete without it. We didn’t stay long here and snapped a quick photograph before moving on.
It may not be a proper Washington DC monument or memorial, but no visit to DC would be complete without seeing the Pentagon. Right now public tours are suspended, but if you are planning on traveling to Washington DC in the future, you can keep updated with the Pentagon Tours Website to see when it will open back up.
Watch our Washington DC Monuments Tour Video
We thought Washington DC would be a boring political city filled with uptight suits and uninspired architecture. It turned out to be one of our favorite American cities we’ve ever visited. There is a lot of history in this town. Many hotels and restaurants date back hundreds of years and bartenders and patrons can tell you stories of when famous Americans frequented these spots and made history.
A Visit to the Intercontinental – The Willard
The Willard was the first hotel in Washington DC and it has hosted every American President (save for Trump as far as I understand he had his own hotel) throughout history. One of our favorite spots was the Round Robin Bar at InterContinental – The Willard downtown. The Round Robin Bar is a local hot spot for the political elite. We looked around and wondered what political rivals were feeding information to incognito journalists.
The people that have passed through these doors. Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Abraham Lincoln have all enjoyed a drink or two within these walls. So many people have been inside, they decided to name drinks after the famous patrons of yesteryear.
We tried their famous Mint and Christmas Juleps, but you could try a Henry Willard or a Woodrow Wilson, Whatever you decide, make sure to visit The Willard and pop into their mini-museum.
Surprising Washington DC
Washington is a must for anyone interested in history but it is also a great city filled with superb food options and a lot of attractions. As a fellow traveler said to us the other day “the people of D.C. work hard, but they play hard too.” You’ll always find something to do.
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Have you been to Washington DC? Let us know what your favorite Washington Monument is/