Historic Monuments and Memorials Walking Tour, Washington D.C. (Self Guided)

Washington D.C. is a city of historic memorials and monuments that commemorate key chapters in American history. They are dedicated to all the noteworthy generals, politicians, statesmen and artists who played a major role in shaping the American nation. This walking tour will offer you a glimpse into the history of the U.S.
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Historic Monuments and Memorials Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Historic Monuments and Memorials Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Washington D.C. (See other walking tours in Washington D.C.)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.6 km
Author: irene
U.S. Navy Memorial & Naval Heritage Center

1) U.S. Navy Memorial & Naval Heritage Center (must see)

This memorial is dedicated to all those who have served and all those who are currently serving in the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Merchant Marines. The memorial was years in the planning stages and was finally dedicated in 1987 which coincided with the 212th birthday of the U.S. Navy.

Interestingly, the memorial was the dream of Pierre L’Enfant who served with General George Washington. President John Kennedy revived the plan and the naval memorial finally started to become a reality. It still took many years of dedicated fundraising and a final push by Admiral Arleigh Burke to bring the project to fruition.

One of the most touching tributes to sailors everywhere is The Lone Sailor, a piece of artwork done by Stanly Bleifeld. Artifacts from eight different U.S. Navy ships were included in the casting of the statue. The statue looks out over the Granite Sea which is a replica of Earth’s oceans. 26 bas-reliefs depict important events particular to the world’s navies. There are also famous sayings from naval personnel over the years which is a must see. Inside the Naval Heritage Center, there are rotating exhibits and a film featuring the Blue Angels.

The U.S. Navy Memorial is open 24 hours a day. The Naval Heritage Center is open Monday through Saturday in the summer from 9:30am to 5pm. It is closed Sundays and Mondays in the winter and also during Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year ’s Day.

The majority of the Heritage Center is downstairs, underground via an entrance in a building behind the fountain memorial.
It's not a big center but it's well represented. An added bonus is that they have quiet and clean restrooms.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Washington Monument

2) Washington Monument (must see)

Editor's note: The Monument is temporarily closed due to a new elevator system being installed. Scheduled to reopen on March 20, 2019. Meanwhile, enjoy the iconic Washington Monument from the outside.

The Washington Monument was built to honor George Washington. It stands in the center of the US Capital to symbolize the importance of President Washington to the country. The idea to raise the monument was first discussed in 1783. It wasn’t until 1847 that a design was agreed upon. However, that design was very different from the monument that stands today.

The obelisk was to rise above a temple that would house artifacts of American presidents and heroes. Over the years that plan was dropped, and today the obelisk is rather plain. The first cornerstone was laid in a Masonic ceremony on July 4, 1848. The same Masonic trowel that President Washington used to lay the cornerstone for the Capitol was used.

Work on the Washington Monument was slow and eventually stopped altogether during the civil war. Modifications were made to the design and work began again in 1880, with the capstone placed December 6, 1884. The hollow shaft of the monument contains an elevator to the top plus a staircase with 897 steps. There are 188 interesting, carved blocks of stone to be viewed along the staircase. There are stones from all 50 states, quarried of native stones. These stones were originally supposed to arrive with a donation attached to raise funds. Usually, the stones arrived but the donation did not.

Ride the elevator to the top to get the best views of DC by far. Entry is free, but a ticket is a must for everyone going into the monument.
One person from your party can obtain up to 6 tickets and pick a time to go up in the monument. Tickets can also be ordered ahead of time for a fee.
It is at its best in the early evening, when the sky is darkening and the lights at the base illuminate the column. You can take some lovely photos at that time of the day.
Sight description based on wikipedia
National World War II Memorial

3) National World War II Memorial (must see)

The World War II Memorial has a grand design that reflects the vastness of a war that spanned the globe. Two arches at either end of the memorial are symbolic of the Pacific and Atlantic areas of fighting. 56 pillars are arranged in two semicircles around both arches that represent the United States (48 at the time of the war) the District of Columbia, plus the territories of Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Philippines.

The walls between the arches and in front of the pillars depict scenes that were typical of the Pacific and European theaters of war. These are depicted in bas relief. An engraving of the ubiquitous “Kilroy Was Here” is also present. On the west side sits the Freedom Wall that contains 4,048 gold stars each one representing 100 American soldiers who died or remain missing during WWII. Behind the Freedom Wall is the Reflecting Pool on the Mall. In front of the wall is the World War II Memorial Rainbow Pool and the stars reflect in the water. It makes for a very moving scene.

The entire site sits on a little over seven acres, so wear comfortable walking shoes. Almost 2/3 of the site is water or landscaping so the components of the memorial really stand out. The site is available for visiting 24 hours a day except around Memorial Day activities. Rangers are on hand to answer questions from around 10am to 11pm.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the more formal-style memorials, it carries a certain gravity, conveys a somber nature, and provides lots of space to reflect on the drama of WWII.
The small bronze relief panels on the walls show scenes of different wartime activities that give you a bit more insight into the lives of people during the war.

Entry is free but do it on a clear day if you can. On a wet day, there is nowhere much to shelter.
If you can join a guide, it's recommended to have some explanation of all the symbolism and pageantry.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial

4) Vietnam Veterans Memorial (must see)

When most people think of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (VVM), they typically envision the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. There are two other components to the memorial, however: The Vietnam Women’s Memorial and the Three Soldiers statue. All three components are located in Constitution Gardens of the National Mall.

The U.S. involvement in Vietnam began in 1959. The last US serviceman died in Vietnam on May 15, 1975. Throughout this time the country had varying degrees of support for the war. One of the precepts of the VVM was to not let any of the controversy mar the honoring of the service men and women who served during that time. Even though the memorial itself has had some controversy, time is healing the wounds. The somber reflecting wall with all the names etched into stone lets visitors to the VVM focus on the sacrifice that has been made. There are currently 58,267 names listed on the wall of service personnel that was either killed or missing in action. There are no civilian names listed on The Wall.

The Vietnam Women’s Memorial is situated just south of The Wall. It shows three uniformed women helping a wounded soldier. The women’s names are Faith, Hope, and Charity. A total of 59 women died during the Vietnam War – 8 were servicewomen, and 59 were civilians in a support role.

The Three Soldiers portion of the VVM was created amid the controversy that surrounded The Wall. Some members of Congress wanted a more traditional memorial. The bronze statues of the service members depict soldiers wearing the common gear of the Vietnam War. They are positioned so they are looking at the names on The Wall.

The VVM is open 24 hours a day with rangers available to answer questions from 9:30am to 11:30pm. There are directories at the entrance to The Wall to help you find a specific name. There are also several websites that list the names on The Wall.

Why You Should Visit:
The gravity of the Vietnam War is not truly understood until you see all the names etched for eternity on the memorial's wall.

Do it on a clear day if you can. On a wet day, there is nowhere much to shelter.
If you want unobstructed photographs or more peaceful, quiet visits, it is best to visit very early in the morning, just after daybreak.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Lincoln Memorial

5) Lincoln Memorial (must see)

The Lincoln Memorial is one of the most famous monuments and historical places in the United States. It is a nationally recognized location that was built in honor of Abraham Lincoln, who was the 16th President of the United States, during the bloody years of the Civil War. The monument is a fine example of a classic Greek Doric temple. Even the sculpture of the President is done in Olympic Godlike fashion. Two well-known speeches of the former President are also engraved there: the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.

The Lincoln Monument Association was formed two years after the death of the President. Planning for the memorial, though, stretched out until 1901. The Lincoln Memorial Bill was signed by President Taft in 1911. Interestingly, the entire monument was built for $2 million. Today, the site is still famous as the location for many historic speeches, like the “I have a dream” speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King. It has also been the site for many famous protests. The Monument is cared for by the National Park Service and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The monument is open 24 hours a day.

Why You Should Visit:
The most visited memorial in the National Mall for a reason; it is beautiful and offers a fantastic view of the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument.

Go first thing in the morning (probably before 9am) or later in the evening (when the lights are turned on) to avoid the crowds.
Right on the steps, look down on the floor for the "I have a dream" block. It's where MLK, Jr. stood when he gave his most famous speech.
Pack your food and water (in the summer) because the food at the refreshment stands is not very good and somewhat overpriced.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Korean War Veterans Memorial

6) Korean War Veterans Memorial (must see)

The Korean War Veterans Memorial is located in West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C. The memorial is to honor all those who served in the Korean conflict. The United States came to the aid of South Korea after it was invaded by North Korea at the request of the United Nations. The U.S. was divided about the war, and in fact, called it a conflict rather than a war. The Korean War was a hard-fought battle in brutal conditions. During the Chosin Reservoir battle, the temperature plummeted to -40F.

The memorial is built in the shape of a triangle with juniper and strips of concrete simulating the rough terrain of the battle. The triangular shape represents the Field of Service. Interspersed among the juniper and concrete are 19 statues of soldiers. The soldiers are dressed in military clothing which is windblown, that recalls the harsh weather conditions. The statues are made of stainless steel. Along the south side of the memorial is a black granite wall, which reflects the statues so that it looks like there are 38 soldiers total; a nod to the 38th parallel that separates North Korea from South Korea.

The Field of Service ends in a triangular reflecting pool. Along the north side is a low wall made of granite. The names of the 22 U.N. countries that participated in the Korean War are engraved here. The memorial may be visited 24 hours a day; park rangers are available from 8am to 12am every day except major holidays.

Why You Should Visit:
The company of soldiers depicted as moving through hostile terrain is a bit eerie and very lifelike, making this one of the most remarkable war memorials you'll ever see.

Truly better to visit after dark; the lighting is so very dramatic, you can almost hear the soldiers' boots sloshing through the mud.
Additionally, use your phone flashlight to look carefully at the black wall that has images of soldiers laser-etched onto the black surface.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

7) Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (must see)

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is located in West Potomac Park in Washington DC, southwest of the National Mall. The monumental memorial is located at the northwest corner of the Tidal Basin near the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, on a sightline linking the Lincoln Memorial to the northwest and the Jefferson Memorial to the southeast. The official address of the monument, 1964 Independence Avenue, S.W., commemorates the year that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law, a milestone in the Civil Rights movement in which King played an important role.

Covering four acres, the memorial opened to the public on August 22, 2011, after more than two decades of planning, fund-raising and construction. A ceremony dedicating the Memorial was scheduled for Sunday, August 28, 2011, the 48th anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 but was postponed until October 16 (the 16th anniversary of the 1995 Million Man March on the National Mall) due to Hurricane Irene.

Although this is not the first memorial to an African-American in Washington DC, Dr. King is the first African-American honored with a memorial on or near the National Mall and only the fourth non-President to be memorialized in such a way. The King Memorial is administered by the National Park Service (NPS).

A 30 feet (9.1 m)-high relief of King named the “Stone of Hope” stands past two other pieces of granite that symbolize the "mountain of despair." Visitors literally "pass through" the Mountain of Despair on the way to the Stone of Hope, symbolically "moving through the struggle as Dr. King did during his life." A 450 feet (140 m) long inscription wall includes excerpts from many of King's sermons and speeches. On this crescent-shaped granite wall, fourteen of King's quotes will be inscribed, the earliest from the time of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama, and the latest from his final sermon, delivered in 1968 at Washington, D.C.'s National Cathedral, just four days before his assassination.

The relief of King is intended to give the impression that he is looking over the Tidal Basin towards the horizon (not towards the Jefferson Memorial as many believe), and that the cherry trees that "adorn the site" will bloom every year during the anniversary of King's death.

Why You Should Visit:
The memorial itself – a magnificent statue of King carved from white stone is worth checking out, but the quotes are really what make this memorial poignant.
People of all colors, creeds, religious backgrounds, ethnicities, etc., could benefit from reading – and thinking about – his many words of wisdom.

Particularly beautiful in spring, when white blossoms on cherry trees and new-green leaves on other trees surround the memorial.
Photographers: Try to go on a cloudless day when the white stone contrasts with a clear blue sky.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

8) Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (must see)

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is a presidential memorial dedicated to the memory of the 32nd president of the U.S. and to the era he represents. For the memorial's designer, landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, the memorial site represents the capstone of a distinguished career, partly because the landscape architect had fond memories of Roosevelt, and partly because of the sheer difficulty of the task.

Dedicated on May 2, 1997, by President Bill Clinton, the monument, spread over 7.5 acres, traces 12 years of the history of the United States through a sequence of four outdoor rooms, one for each of FDR's terms of office. Sculptures inspired by photographs depict the 32nd president alongside his dog Fala. Other sculptures depict scenes from the Great Depression. A bronze statue of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt standing before the United Nations emblem honors her dedication to the UN. It is the only presidential memorial to depict a First Lady.

Why You Should Visit:
Impressively laid out memorial (going through all four of FDR's terms) that feels both monumental and serene at the same time – like a mini outdoor museum.

Make sure to approach from the Lincoln Memorial so you can enjoy the memorial in chronological order.
You can walk through the exhibit on your own or you can request a tour from the park rangers. They are on duty to answer questions from 9:30am to 10pm daily.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Thomas Jefferson Memorial

9) Thomas Jefferson Memorial (must see)

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is located in Washington, D.C. and stands on the banks of the Potomac River. It is one of the least visited memorials, probably because it is not part of The Mall, so visiting is usually relaxing. It is located just south of the White House which makes for a very scenic setting.

The idea for the memorial originated in 1901. After much debate and several design changes, the memorial was finally dedicated on April 13, 1943. That date is significant because it was the 200th celebration of Thomas Jefferson’s birth. Part of the debate surrounding the memorial is its size. There were conflicting opinions about whether the memorial was too big as opposed to those who thought Thomas Jefferson, as one of the Founding Fathers, deserved a memorial on the scale of the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial.

In the end, Jefferson’s love of classical architecture won out and the large classic structure was built. This open building with its beautiful sweeping portico is very picturesque. Under the dome, there is a 19-foot tall bronze statue of President Jefferson. This is not the statue that was present at the dedication. Bronze was in short supply during the war effort and the original statue was made of plaster and painted to look bronze. The present statue was installed four years after the dedication.

On the walls around the statue are inscriptions of Jefferson’s writings. An interesting fact for history buffs is the inscription of the Declaration of Independence. Mr. Jefferson wrote “inalienable rights” but in the final document it was “unalienable rights”. In the Jefferson Memorial, the inscription is as he wrote it. While the area is pretty any time of year, during cherry blossom time the site is breathtaking. The cherry trees planted around the area are a gift from the people of Japan.

The Jefferson Memorial is open 24 hours a day, and rangers are present from 9am to 11:30pm except on major holidays.

Why You Should Visit:
Terrific spot to people watch and take in the DC skyline while sitting on the memorial's many steps.
Its backsides are often forgotten about but are also good for taking in the views and architecture.
Located at the back of the Tidal Basin, this is one of the most iconic and calming sites in DC.

Make sure to check out the bookstore and educational displays downstairs. Restrooms available there too.
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in Washington D.C., USA

Create Your Own Walk in Washington D.C.

Create Your Own Walk in Washington D.C.

Creating your own self-guided walk in Washington D.C. is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Georgetown Walking Tour

Georgetown Walking Tour

Georgetown is an area located in the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., along the Potomac River waterfront. Despite its proximity to downtown Washington, this former port has preserved its own distinct character. Many of the buildings along the tree-lined streets are over 200 years old. Take this walking tour to reveal all the secrets of Georgetown.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 km
Art Galleries and Museums Tour

Art Galleries and Museums Tour

Looking for inspiring and notable art venues? Washington D.C. is well-appreciated for the wide range of art museums and galleries that it offers. Take this self-guided tour and discover the treasures hidden by these art institutions.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.1 km
Gardens and Parks Walking Tour

Gardens and Parks Walking Tour

If you are looking for getaway spots from the hustle and bustle of politics and city life, this walking tour in Washington D.C. offers plenty of opportunities for that. There are many large parks and gorgeous gardens where you can admire beautiful flowers, landscape and even learn various historical facts.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.6 km
Nightclubs Tour

Nightclubs Tour

Washington D.C. offers a great nightlife. You can dance all night long in any of the clubs from its liveliest neighborhoods, playing rock, hip hop, punk, jazz, country, gospel or alternative music. Make sure not to miss such an exciting opportunity by checking out the tour below with the suggested music and dance clubs.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 6.9 km
History Museums Tour

History Museums Tour

Washington D.C. is well-known for its world-class museums. The Smithsonian Institution, the largest museum complex in the world, maintains most of the official museums in Washington, D.C. and the entrance is free of charge. Explore some of the most outstanding ones by taking this walking tour.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.2 km
Federal Buildings Walking Tour

Federal Buildings Walking Tour

Washington D.C. is a federal district and serves as the permanent national capital. It is is filled with important and memorable places to visit. Most of the nation's monuments and federal buildings can be found in the downtown of the city. The following walking tour will guide you to the most significant federal buildings in Washington D.C.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 6.3 km

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

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10 Unusual Things to Do in Washington DC

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Tips for Exploring City on Foot at Your Own Pace

Whether you are in Washington D.C. for a quick stopover or have a few days to see the city in more detail, exploring it on foot, at your own pace, is definitely the way to go. Here are some tips for you to save money, see the best Washington D.C. has to offer, take good care of your feet while walking, and keep your mobile device – your ultimate "work horse" on this trip - well fed and safe.

Saving Money with City Passes

To save yourself time and money visiting Washington DC's multiple sights, you may want to resort to the so-called city passes, such as Washington DC Explorer Pass, Go Washington DC, or Washington DC Sightseeing Pass.

A city pass combines all or multiple Washington DC's top highlights, tours and experiences in one prepaid attractions pass, using which you can save incredible amounts on general admission fees as compared to purchasing tickets separately. Often, a city pass also allows you to skip lines at major attractions, thus saving your precious time.

Staying at Walk-Friendly Hotels

Since you're keen on exploring cities on foot (we assume that you are, and this is why you're here), it is important that you stay at a hotel close to the city's major attractions. It saves you time and energy. Here are a few of Washington DC hotels conveniently located for a comfortable stroll: Club Quarters Hotel in Washington DC, The St. Regis Washington, D.C., The Hay - Adams.

Taking Care of Your Feet

To ensure ultimate satisfaction from a day of walking around the city as big as Washington D.C., it is imperative to take good care of your feet so as to avoid unpleasant things like blisters, cold or overheated soles, itchy, irritated or otherwise damaged (cracked) skin, etc. Luckily, these days there is no shortage of remedies to address (and, ideally, to prevent) these and other potential problems with feet. Among them: Compression Socks, Rechargeable Battery-Powered Thermo Socks for Cold Weather, Foot Repair Cream, Deodorant Powder, Shoes UV Sterilizer, and many more that you may wish to find a place in your travel kit for.

Travel Gadgets for Your Mobile Device

Your mobile phone or tablet will be your work horse on a self-guided walk. They offer tour map, guide you from one attraction to another, and provide informative background for the sights you wish to visit. Therefore it is absolutely essential to plan against unexpected power outages in the wrong place at the wrong time, much as to ensure the safety of your device.

For these and other contingencies, here's the list of useful appliances: Portable Charger/External Battery Pack, Worldwide Travel Charger Adapter, Power Converter for International Travel Adapter, and Mobile Device Leash.

Exploring City on Guided Tours

We have a strong bias towards exploring a city on foot, at your own pace, because this is how you get to see things up close with a maximum freedom. You decide how much time you wish to spend at each attraction and don't have to worry about following a crowd. That said, however, we also understand that some of you may want to go with a guided tour. If that is your case, here are some guided tours to consider. Be ready to fork out a bit of money, though, as a guided tour of Washington DC typically costs somewhere between US$30 and US$90 per person:

- Board a hop-on hop-off trolley to enjoy sightseeing of Washington DC in comfort listening in the headsets to the prerecorded narration in a variety of foreign languages or a live on-board commentary (English only) from a local guide, and be able get on and off at any of the stops along the route as often as you like. The tickets are valid for one day (Silver or Gold Pass) or two days (Platinum Pass).

- Pedal your way around Washington DC on a 3-hour educational and fun bike tour to appreciate the city's most spectacular sights while stopping at some of them for a bit of rest, watching the surroundings, and learning interesting facts about the attractions en route from a knowledgeable group leader.

- If you want to pay tribute to the late members of the Kennedy clan including, primarily, President JFK himself, or the unknown soldiers fallen in the wars fought by the United States throughout centuries, you would definitely be interested in taking a 2-hour guided walk around Arlington National Cemetery and get insight into some of the chapters of the American history along the way.

- Embark on a culinary quest in one of DC’s iconic neighborhoods to see what makes U Street so delicious, satisfying both your stomach and cultural appetites alike on the tour set to explore great eats, architectural trends and the history of the neighborhood over the past century.

- Discover the historic side of Washington, DC in a different light on the Monuments By Night tour. See the National Mall, White House, Capitol Hill and other landmarks ablaze with nighttime illumination after the daytime sun yields way to the moonlit magic!

- Cap off your Washington DC experience with a sumptuous 3-hour dining adventure aboard a cruise ship sailing along the Potomac River offering postcard-worthy views of the nation's greatest monuments to complement the freshly-cooked 3-course dinner.

Day Trips

If you have a day to spare whilst in Washington DC, why not use it to explore some of the out-of-town destinations like Mount Vernon, Gettysburg PA, or Charlottesville VA. For as little as circa US$55 to US$150 per person you will get a chance to visit George Washington’s plantation estate in Fairfax, Virginia, set foot on the site of the largest battle ever fought on the American soil to this date and where President Lincoln delivered his historic Gettysburg Address, enjoy the picturesque views of the Maryland and Pennsylvania countryside, explore Monticello - the home of President Thomas Jefferson, learn about his professional accomplishments and personal life, as well as see the University of Virginia founded and designed by Jefferson himself, and so much more. For any of these tours you will be picked up from a designated place in Washington DC and transported by a comfortable air-conditioned vehicle to the destination of your choice and back again.