Washington D.C., the capital of the United States, is synonymous with the iconic White House. But this district is also where a lot of America’s history has taken place. Notable for the diversity of its neighbourhoods and the constant buzzing of politics throughout the city, D.C. is sure to impress.
A visit to Washington, D.C. is much like stepping into a time machine. You can travel between past, present and future just by visiting a few of the city’s monuments. You’ll also be pleased to know that Washington, D.C isn’t all about politics and history. D.C. has modern landmarks that make it a world-class metropolis.
In this guide, you’ll get to explore the most famous landmarks in Washington, D.C. that nobody should miss. In a city as culturally rich as D.C., you’re sure to discover something fascinating at every turn.
Top 17 Washington DC Landmarks
Table of Contents
- Top 17 Washington DC Landmarks
- 1. The White House
- 2. Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- 3. World War II Memorial
- 4. Korean War Veterans Memorial
- 5. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
- 6. National Mall
- 7. Thomas Jefferson Memorial
- 8. Washington Monument
- 9. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
- 10. Ford’s Theater
- 11. Arlington House & Arlington National Cemetery
- 12. Abraham Lincoln Memorial
- 13. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- 14. The Smithsonian Institution
- 15. International Spy Museum
- 16. The Wharf
- 17. Georgetown
- Final Thoughts on Washington, D.C. Landmarks
1. The White House
This is definitely the first stop every tourist makes and with good reason. It’s the most famous address in the world (after Santa’s, of course). Home to the United State’s current President, the White House has been the president’s official home for over 220 years.
Most of you will have to enjoy a view from the outside as you’ll need to jump through hoops to secure a tour inside. But once inside, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime. During these specialized tours, visitors are allowed limited access to the State Floor and State Dining Room.
2. Vietnam Veterans Memorial
In 1982, artist Maya Lin conceptualized a bold 74 metre (246-foot) black granite wall engraved with the names of the 58,300 soldiers killed during the Vietnam War.
The Memorial receives over 2 million visitors annually, and many leave flowers and mementoes in memory of those lost. Items left at the Memorial are collected daily by the National Park Service who catalogue and store the items.
Now known as “the Wall,” the Vietnam Memorial is one of the most poignant and important places in Washington.
3. World War II Memorial
The World War II Memorial sits on the National Mall at the east end of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. It is a landmark of the city that honours America’s “Greatest Generation.”
The site has 56 pillars that symbolize states and territories that participated in the war. The Freedom Wall within the memorial has 4,048 gold stars – each symbolizing 100 Americans lost in the war.
4. Korean War Veterans Memorial
The Korean War Veterans Memorial pays tribute to the 1.5 million Americans who served during “The Forgotten War.”
The memorial consists of 19 stainless steel soldiers advancing through the trees, making the Korean War Memorial one of the most artistic Washington, D.C. monuments. Each soldier stands over 2 metres (7 feet) tall, collectively representing a platoon on patrol, marching toward an American flag.
5. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
This monument titled ‘The Stone of Hope’ commemorates America’s greatest Civil Rights Movement leader, Martin Luther King Jr. The artist, Master Lei Yixin, sculpted the statue depicting MLK emerging from a block of white granite with his arms crossed.
The concept for this site was influenced by a line from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” The statue is also an inscription wall with fourteen of MLK’s most moving quotes.
6. National Mall
The National Mall encompasses countless memorials and monuments that honour American presidents, heroes and forefathers. This is where the annual Independence Day celebration takes place, as well as various Smithsonian festivals throughout the year.
The National Mall contains all of the United States‘ most treasured national landmarks. The National Mall receives over 24 million visitors annually and is the stage for some of the nation’s most important democratic demonstrations.
7. Thomas Jefferson Memorial
The Thomas Jefferson Memorial was modelled after the Pantheon in Rome, Italy. It is a low dome supported by 54 ionic columns, spotlighting the 5,79 metre (19 ft) bronze statue of the third U.S President, Thomas Jefferson.
According to the artist, John Russell Pope, the design is a reflection of Jefferson’s love of classical architecture. Inside the monument, look for excerpts from Jefferson’s famous speeches, as well as the Declaration of Independence.
8. Washington Monument
Completed in 1884, this monument was built to honour the first president of the U.S, George Washington.
Once the tallest building in the world, this tribute now remains the world’s tallest white stone structure and marble obelisk.
Today’s visitors can whisk to the top of the 50-storey monument via elevator, during which time you’ll watch a video from the National Park Service on what to expect. From the observation deck, you’ll witness a breathtaking panorama view of D.C.
9. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
The Roosevelt Memorial is the largest presidential memorial on the National Mall. Through four unique outdoor rooms, the memorial pays homage to 12 years of American history and the country’s longest-serving president.
Each room represents one of FDR’s terms as President during the Great Depression and World War II. Alongside FDR stands First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and their beloved Scottish Terrier dog, Fala.
10. Ford’s Theater
The Ford’s Theater is more than a Washington historic site. It’s a working performance venue and a world-class museum. This is also the famous theatre where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865.
Here, you can see artefacts related to the assassination conspiracy, and explore Lincoln’s presidency and the Civil War through insightful exhibits. You can also take a walking tour of the neighbourhood around the theatre with a costumed historical figure from the Civil War.
11. Arlington House & Arlington National Cemetery
High on the hill above Arlington National Cemetery sits the Greek Revival-style Arlington House. This is the former home of General Robert E. Lee and his wife, Mary Anna Custis Lee. The house stands as a lasting memorial to Lee for his role in promoting reunion after the Civil War.
Arlington Cemetery has been the final resting place for soldiers killed in battle since the Civil War. Sprouting from the earth are rows of identical marble headstones that form an intricate geometry. Notable burials include John F. Kennedy and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The cemetery is also a symbolic resting place for deceased soldiers whose remains have not been identified. This includes the Space Shuttle Challenger crew and those who lost their lives in the Pentagon on 11 September 2001.
12. Abraham Lincoln Memorial
The Abraham Lincoln Memorial is as inspiring as it is imposing. It is the most glorious monument in America and a top Washington, D.C. historical site.
Built in honour of the 16th American President, Abraham Lincoln, the huge neoclassical memorial houses a 5.79 metre (19 foot) statue of Lincoln. This imitates the president’s gigantic presence and height – he was 1.93 metres tall (6 feet). Lincoln’s statue looks out over the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument lost in thought.
Honest Abe’s two most famous speeches are etched into the walls of the monument. The Memorial has also become a symbolic centre for race relations in the United States. Dr Martin Luther King Jr delivered his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the monument to a crowd of over 250,000 people.
Tip: If possible, visit the memorial after dark, when the crowds are fewer and the monument has a calmer atmosphere.
13. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The Museum’s interactive collection contains more than 12,500 artefacts and receives over 1.5 million visitors annually. This emotional museum provides a compelling interpretation of Holocaust history.
The Museum’s “Hall of Remembrance” is a sombre memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, with guests lighting candles or chanting the names of those who lost their lives at this time.
14. The Smithsonian Institution
Called the “Nation’s Attic,” the Smithsonian spans over 19 museums, 21 libraries, 9 research centres, and even a zoo.
The Smithsonian Institution’s collection contains more than 150 million items, and entry to any of the Institution’s galleries is free.
15. International Spy Museum
Did you know that there are more spies in Washington, D.C. than in any other city in the world? The International Spy Museum is an interactive exploration of the history and tradecraft of modern espionage.
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Each visitor receives an undercover identity and a secret mission. Your mission is to gather as much information about the world of espionage as you can.
16. The Wharf
The Wharf is a multibillion-dollar mixed-use facility. It features restaurants, hotels, shops, parks, concert venues, and a marina. The Washington residents use this as a full-service entertainment district.
The Georgetown neighbourhood is a famous Washington, D.C. landmark. This area dates to 1751, predating Washington’s establishment as the nation’s capital by about 40 years.
Georgetown features historic buildings such as the Oak Hill Cemetery Chapel and the Old Stone House, the city’s oldest home. The neighbourhood also has a canal, a historic university, and an entertainment district that residents love to visit.
Final Thoughts on Washington, D.C. Landmarks
This guide covered 17 of the capital city’s famous landmarks but it has barely scratched the surface of what the district has to show you.
From political landmarks to museums based on espionage, it’s obvious that Washington, D.C. is worth a visit. When you’re there, be sure to take your time and explore the city for all that it has to offer. Nearly all of the city’s attractions are free or subsidized by the federal government, so take advantage of this presidential treatment.
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