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

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 or 3.5 Miles
Author: irene
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • U.S. Navy Memorial & Naval Heritage Center
  • Washington Monument
  • National World War II Memorial
  • Vietnam Veterans Memorial
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • Korean War Veterans Memorial
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial
1
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.

Tip:
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
2
Washington Monument

2) Washington Monument (must see)

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.

Tip:
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
3
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.

Tip:
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.
4
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.

Tip:
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
5
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.

Tip:
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
6
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.

Tip:
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
7
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.

Tip:
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
8
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.

Tip:
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
9
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.

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

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Federal Buildings Walking Tour

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Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
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Gardens and Parks Walking Tour

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.6 Km or 2.9 Miles
Souvenir Shopping Part 1

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Nightclubs Tour

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Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 6.9 Km or 4.3 Miles
Art Galleries and Museums Tour

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Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
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Washington D.C. Introduction Walk

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Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.9 Km or 3.7 Miles

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