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17 In Archaeology + History/ Art + Museums/ Travel/ Virginia/ Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. – Guide to the Monuments + Memorials

Visiting my nation’s capital always feels special to me. I’ve only been to Washington, D.C. twice, but both experiences have been unique, educational, moving and fun. On this visit I made my way to many monuments and got to experience them in both day and night. I am excited to share facts, history and my personal experience at these monuments, along with tips to help you plan a great visit at the end of the post.

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THE WHITE HOUSE // The White House viewable from the street and you can even tour it, but you have to book that tour in advance (no fewer than 21 days in advance, but they recommend as soon as possible) and you do so by contacting your member of Congress. Even though I’ve been to Washington, D.C. twice and have yet to make it into The White House, but there’s always next time. Stacey and I dubbed this site to have our own version of the “Mona Lisa effect” because it is so much smaller than you would ever expect. Even so, it’s worth stopping and looking at just because it’s so iconic!

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WASHINGTON MONUMENT // This monument is actually the world’s tallest stone structure and obelisk. It took 40 years to construct the monument, but many additions have been made since its completion. The color change in the lower and upper levels of the stone are from the first and second phases of construction. The interior of the Washington Monument is lined with memorial stones dedicated to George Washington from states, cities, other countries and even individuals and they’re made from different materials (I learned about this because the places where the stones were taken in the states are marked with historical markers). Unfortunately the elevator to the top closed literally the day before we went. Since then it’s been closed until they can completely revamp the elevator system. To find out more recent information on closures check on the NPS site for the monument.

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DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA WAR MEMORIAL // This memorial is the only local monument in the National Mall and was dedicated in 1931. It’s a memorial to all of the soldiers from Washington, D.C. who served in World War I. over 26,000 names are inscribed in the memorial. We saw this memorial from the outer walkway of the mall near the Lincoln Memorial.

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MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MEMORIAL // This is the newest memorial to the mall (dedicated in 2011) and is the first monument on the mall dedicated to a man of color. This is one of my favorite memorials and my favorite part of this memorial is all of the amazing, beautiful quotes by MLK that are engraved in the walls. This monument was really moving to me since I’ve been an advocate for human rights in a peaceful manner my entire adult life. The statue of MLK looks out across the water towards the Jefferson Memorial.

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One of the things I love about the quotes is that the year and location of the quote are listed below them. It’s just such a beautiful memorial.

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The monument from across the river

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT MEMORIAL // The FDR Memorial (dedicated in 1997) is my personal favorite because FDR is my favorite past president. I love all of the social changes he made and I think that they’re beautifully represented in this memorial. His memorial is also filled with quotes from his presidency along with statues that embody different things from his just over twelve years in office.

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I love this depiction of the fireside chat. I watched a documentary that explained how the whole nation stopped what they were doing to listen to these chats. Store owners would turn up their radios so people on the streets could even hear it as they passed by. 

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This is a depiction of the people lining up to get their bread from the breadline.

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I just love this quote and think it still speaks volumes decades later.

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I love that FDR created the CCC and so does Lilly since she was part of it just over a year ago and I love hearing her stories about it.

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Eleanor Roosevelt is the only first lady to ever be depicted in a monument or memorial. She was depicted because of her work with the UN, but I also like to think it’s because she was such a powerful force behind FDR and some of his policies.

THOMAS JEFFERSON MEMORIAL // This beautiful piece of architecture was dedicated in 1943 by FDR. The memorial itself reminds me a lot of the Pantheon in Rome. It’s the furthest monument that we ventured to and after a full day of walking it’s the perfect place to relax. There are a few benches inside, but I highly recommend sitting on the steps instead because you get to look out at the water instead. Plus, you get the perfect view of the Washington Monument!

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When this monument was dedicated the nation was fighting in WWII so there was a shortage of bronze. This statue was originally just a cast of the statue painted bronze and the one that stands now was put in place in 1947.

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When walking around the Potomac to get to the Jefferson Memorial, you get a great view of it and the Washington.

KOREAN WAR VETERANS MEMORIAL // This monument is very visibly moving and even a bit eerie. I walked up from behind and these massive statues of soldiers are lurking in the bushes. It’s so eerie and it feels like you’re coming up on a battle right there in front of you. One thing that I really like about this memorial is it depicts people from each branch of the military. There is also a mural that is just so faintly etched into the wall, almost ghost-like. I think it very aptly depicts the statement on the ground, “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.”

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LOOKING ACROSS THE REFLECTION POOL // This is such an iconic piece of the national mall. The view from the Lincoln Memorial down at the Washington Monument, the WW2 Memorial and The Capital! I just so vividly remember this view from Forrest Gump and I just really love looking across this beautiful pool. This was my first time seeing it at night and the way it was lit up just looks so magical!

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LINCOLN MEMORIAL // Visiting this memorial feels a bit like an experience in itself. Walking up the steps felt a bit like walking into a temple and there’s a massive statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting in a chair. There are amazing, meaningful quotes from his presidency. I think it’s an extra special place because of the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech. It’s just such a moving experience.

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VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL WALL // This was a really moving experience for me, especially since visiting Vietnam and learning more about the war last year. This 2-acre memorial is a massive list or the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice or are unaccounted for in such a horrendous war. It was incredibly moving because the list just seemed to never end; 58,191 names to be exact. Unfortunately, it was too dark for us to adequately photograph it, so I found a really great photo of it on Pinterest.

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VIETNAM WOMEN’S MEMORIAL // This is a memorial for all of the women who served in Vietnam. This statue depicts three women in uniform and a wounded soldier; most of the women who served were nurses.

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WORLD WAR II MEMORIAL // The World War 2 national memorial was dedicated in 2004 and is a memorial to those who served in the second world war. There are pillars representing each of the states and territories surrounding a beautiful fountain in the middle. There are also small things from the time that were part of the time. The next time I’m at the monument during the daylight.

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There are 4,048 gold stars on this wall, and each of these stars represents 100 Americans who died in the war. There’s a sign in front of the wall that says ‘Here we mark the price of freedom.’ Seeing this was incredibly moving because it seems like a never-ending wall of stars and each one represents 100 deaths. 

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ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY // Arlington National Cemetery is across the river from the monuments in Virginia, but it is still recognized as part of Washington, D.C… It has its own metro stop and is pretty easy to navigate with the maps provided at the visitor center. This cemetery started during the Civil War and since it has become the national cemetery. This is where the tomb of the unknown soldier is held, the bodies of many brave soldiers have been laid to rest and even the bodies of past presidents. The grave that we made an extra-special point to see was JFK’s grave. The cemetery is massive and trolley tours are given.

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FOR THE LOVE OF WANDERLUST’S TIPS FOR VISITING THE WASHINGTON, D.C. MONUMENTS + MEMORIALS

⋙ Bring a reusable water bottle on your tour of the mall. More than likely you’ll pop into a museum, The Capital, etc. and in some of those food and drink – even water – isn’t allowed. It’s great to be able to just dump your water out and refill it in a nearby drinking fountain. Plus, it’s stinkin’ hot in the summer so you’ll want to save some money by getting to fill your own water.

⋙ Take advantage of their bikeshare program. If you feel confident in your biking abilities, I love the concept of these bikeshare programs popping up all over the world. Capital Bikeshare offers incredibly reasonable prices to make your tour through the monuments and memorials speedier and it’s something a little different than your normal walk through the mall along with other parts of Washington, D.C..

⋙ Plan what time of day you want to see the monuments and be mindful of their locations. If you’re limited on time, remember that these monuments are spread out. So, be sure you don’t miss seeing these amazing sites in the light you want to because you underestimated their distance.

⋙ Take advantage of the opportunity to learn. These monuments are run + maintained by the National Park Service. There are rangers available to answer questions along with plaques, signs and brochures. I personally find an experience to be more enjoyable when I get to take something away from it.

DID YOU ENJOY THIS POST? PIN IT SO OTHERS CAN TOO!

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17 Comments

  • Reply
    Jen Morrow
    October 12, 2016 at 8:45 am

    I wish every American gets the opportunity to see Washington DC, and experience the history of our new little nation. Excellent travel tips and a great variety of monuments and museums to visit while in DC!

  • Reply
    Amandas_Wanderlust
    October 12, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    Even though I have never been to Washington DC, I immediately think of the monuments and memorials when I picture the place, so this post seems so apt. I would most like to visit the Martin Luther King Jr memorial and the FDR Memorial. There is some pretty amazing history behind all of these places, it must be fascinating to visit.

  • Reply
    Ivy
    October 12, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    Washington DC looks incredible- I’ve always wanted to go but never had the chance. I love the monuments and memorials but I’ve only seen them in movies. Will keep this post in mind when I do visit one day!

  • Reply
    Patricia Steffy (@PLSteffy)
    October 12, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    As a visitor to the city, you saw more of the memorials and monuments than I did during the two years that I lived there! It was one of those things that I always meant to do, but with work and school, just didn’t get around to it. You’ve inspired me to go back! I’d love to see the MLK, Jr. memorial, and seeing the different memorials at dusk and at night always gives me a special feeling. Awesome pictures, and it sounds like you had an incredible trip. Also, excellent tip on the water bottle, particularly if you are visiting DC in the summer!

  • Reply
    The Soul of Seoul
    October 12, 2016 at 11:02 pm

    That Korean War Memorial does seem very eerie though it might have to do with visiting in the evening like that. I haven’t been to our nation’s capital yet, but I’d love to go. Would definitely be awe-inspiring I think.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      October 15, 2016 at 12:01 am

      I honestly feel it’s eerie in general. I went a little over two years ago in broad daylight and still felt that it had the same appearance. I hope you get to make it because it’s quite the experience and more than just the history!

  • Reply
    Carmy @ Carmyy.com
    October 12, 2016 at 11:54 pm

    I’ve been dying to head to DC to see these in person! This post just made me want to go even more. There’s just so much history to check out

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      October 15, 2016 at 12:00 am

      Very true! There’s so much history and so many new things going on as well. I have really enjoyed my time there and can’t wait to return some time soon!

  • Reply
    Sally E
    October 13, 2016 at 4:05 am

    I feel like everyone I meet has been to DC and loves it! I only spent a few hours there on a long layover, so I really didn’t get a chance to see much. I love all the inspirational quotes depicted though! I think it’s definitely important to visit the capitol at least once!

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      October 14, 2016 at 11:57 pm

      I agree! This visit I finally saw the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights and it was such a moving experience! I highly recommend getting to check those out too!

  • Reply
    Cori Carl
    October 13, 2016 at 8:18 am

    Between the horrific traffic and the swampy weather, I haven’t been to Washington DC very often, aside from when I have to go there for research. This is a great reminder that I have to make the time to see the memorials again sometime soon!

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      October 14, 2016 at 11:56 pm

      Haha! That’s definitely one perspective! The first time I visited it was swampy as hell, but this visit was much more pleasant! I took the metro the vast majority of the time, so the traffic didn’t get to me either! I definitely have enjoyed both of my visits and look forward to a return!

  • Reply
    Kerri
    October 13, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    Terrific article and summary. I was quite literally astounded by the number of these in DC when I went. I expected there to be a heap but that’s an understatement. We sat for hours just watching the comings and goings at the White House alone! Loved the Washington Monument and the beautiful walk to the Capitol Building. It’s a great city.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      October 14, 2016 at 11:54 pm

      Thank you so much, Kerri. I’m with you! You hear about certain monuments, but there are so many that don’t get nearly as much press, and most of those are my favorites! Thanks for commenting!

  • Reply
    Natasha G
    October 13, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    Love this so much. I’ve done the historical DC stuff but it was many years ago when I was younger. My sister is now living there so I hope to go back this upcoming spring to do it again! I love the photos!

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      October 14, 2016 at 11:52 pm

      That sounds like the perfect reason to go back! One of my best friends lives too, so it was the perfect reason to visit. We had a lot of fun exploring!

  • Reply
    Museums + More in Washington DC - For the Love of Wanderlust
    October 30, 2016 at 8:14 am

    […] Smithsonian means something to people who aren’t even museum nerds! Aside from visiting the monuments and museums, though, there are tons of other fun things to do in Washington DC so I added a bonus […]

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