It’s summertime in Washington, D.C., and the city’s iconic monuments and memorials stand ready to welcome visitors from near and far. In the heart of the nation’s capital, these landmarks are iconic architectural and historical sights you don’t want to miss. From the solemn Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the revered Lincoln Memorial, each site holds a profound significance that invites visitors to reflect, learn, and capture the moment in the center of the city. Plan your trip to visit these famous landmarks today!
Discover DC’s Monuments and Memorials This Summer
The US Capitol Building
The United States Capitol is an important symbol of American government and democracy, as well as the workplace for the country’s legislature, the U.S. Congress. It serves not only as a functioning office building, but also as a destination for tourists from around the world. Construction of the Capitol began in 1793, and Congress moved in to the newly completed north wing in 1800. This architecturally impressive building was expanded several times throughout history, including after the War of 1812 and in the 1850s to accommodate more representatives and senators, with the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center completed in 2008. We recommend visiting the Capitol building while the sun is setting or after sundown to admire the architecture against the beautiful sky and see the impressive building lit up once it gets dark.
The Washington Monument is an over 555 foot tall building built to commemorate the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army outlasting British armies during the Revolutionary War and the first President of the United States George Washington. It is the tallest stone structure in the world and is made from marble, bluestone gneiss, and granite. The monument standing in the center of the nation’s capital is often compared to President Washington as standing tall and being in no one else’s shadow. This monument is quite the magnificent site from the ground, and visitors can also get tickets in advance to ride the elevator to get to the top. Learn about how to visit and get your tickets to get to the 500 foot observation deck here.
The Lincoln Memorial honors the sixteenth president of the United States Abraham Lincoln who guided the country through the Civil War and contributed to the freedom of over four million enslaved people. The exterior of the memorial is inspired by Greek architecture with 87 steps extending from the edge of the reflecting pool to the main chamber. This grand memorial is where the “I Have A Dream Speech” occurred, where Marian Anderson performed, as well as the location for many other historical moments. Inside of the memorial chamber sits a striking statue of Abraham Lincoln with inscriptions from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and Gettysburg Address surrounding him on the north and south walls. Words and pictures do not do this memorial justice, and it is definitely a sight to behold in person.
Korean War Veterans Memorial
The Korean War Veterans Memorial in West Potomac Park was built to honor the people and entities that contributed to South Korea’s freedom in the 1950s. President Reagan appointed the Korean War Veterans Memorial Advisory Board in 1988 to select the location, and the designer, Cooper-Lecky, broke ground in 1995. The memorial includes a 2.2-acre site that points towards the Pool of Remembrance, which honors the 54,269 American casualties of the conflict. At the opposite end, 19 soldiers sculpted by Frank Gaylord emerge from the trees and walk among juniper bushes and granite strips, representing the terrain they faced. Additionally, the memorial includes a 164-foot-long mural made of polished black granite, etched with 2,500 photographic images of the support staff, and the UN wall commemorates all the countries involved in the South Korean independence effort. Visit the memorial to honor those who fought in what is often dubbed “The Forgotten War”.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
Located in downtown DC along the Tidal Basin, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial stands at 30 feet tall on Independence Ave SW near the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. The design of the memorial is a grand statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. carved beautifully into stone to depict his image emerging from a mountainside. The inspiration for the design of the statue comes from the quotation “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope” from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, DC in 1968. The stone with the statue carving is depicted as a slice pulled from a mountain, symbolizing the stone of hope from the mountain of despair. There are incredible details like scrape marks on the edges to symbolize the struggle to create change as well as an engraving with this quotation. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an extremely influential figure in American history who made great strides for the civil rights movement and granting more rights to African Americans.
A group of Vietnam veterans established the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc. on April 27, 1979. The group sought to create a memorial to honor those who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. After President Carter signed legislation authorizing a site for the memorial in Constitution Gardens, a design competition was held with specific criteria: the winning entry had to be reflective and contemplative, harmonious with the surroundings, and devoid of political statements. Maya Lin, a Yale undergraduate, won the competition with her untraditional design consisting of two 246-foot walls of polished black granite etched with the 58,261 names of the missing or dead. The memorial was dedicated on November 13, 1982, and while initially controversial, has become one of the most emotional locations on the National Mall. Visitors often leave mementos at the memorial, and some are displayed in the Smithsonian Institution’s American History Museum.
World War II Memorial
The World War II Memorial was approved by President Clinton in 1993 to commemorate the sacrifice of veterans of the war. It was designed by Friedrich St. Florian and construction began in 2001. The memorial is divided into two sides, representing the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, and is surrounded by pillars with the names of US states and territories involved in the war. The east-facing wall of the memorial, known as the Freedom Wall, has 4,048 gold stars to honor the lives of 400,000 Americans who gave their lives in some aspect of WWII. This memorial attracts millions of visitors each year.
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is located in West Potomac Park between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorial. This memorial honors the 32nd president of the United States and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who were in office during the depth of the Great Depression and World War II and contributed to restoring faith to Americans. The memorial is a magnificent site that you walk through to discover more bits of history. The memorial includes sculptures, tactile elements, and granite engravings of twenty two quotes from Roosevelt’s presidency from times of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Second World War.
Tour the Monuments at Dusk
For an enchanting and unforgettable experience, we recommend embarking on a narrated dusk golf cart tour of the monuments in Washington, D.C. As the sun begins to set, the temperature cools, creating a pleasant atmosphere for exploration. Imagine cruising through the monuments with a gentle breeze on your face, as you’re brought from one monument to another while learning about the city and its history. The magic truly unfolds when the evening illuminates the majestic Capitol Building, casting a mesmerizing glow that adds a whole new dimension to its architectural splendor. This after-dark adventure not only provides respite from the daytime heat but also grants you the opportunity to witness the capital’s landmarks in a whole new light, quite literally. So hop in, embrace the cooler evening air, and immerse yourself in the captivating beauty of the illuminated Capitol Building and the timeless monuments that surround it. Book your tour here!