There’s no city richer in American history than Washington D.C.
After all, it was named after our very first president, George Washington. It’s a city full of defining events and historical points that have shaped much of what our country is today.
Every year, the numerous memorials, monuments and museums in Washington D.C. draw tourists from all over the world. These attractions pay tribute to our nation’s heroes and honor prolific figures and stamp important eras in American history.
What makes it so unique from all other American cities is that it is the Capital of our nation and the “seat” of the Government of the United States…. although you won’t be doing much “sitting” while touring all the historic landmarks, museums and sites.
As a Washington D.C. local, I know how overwhelming it can be to decide which sights to visit. So, whether you’re planning your own trip, or just curious about what the capital of the USA has to offer, here are 11 memorials and monuments in Washington D.C. that you simply cannot miss.
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My first recommendation and a great starting point for your tour around the attractions in Washington D.C. would be the National Mall, the most visited national park in the US.
… And no, it’s not that kind of mall with retail shopping, food courts and parking decks. Rather, it’s a large open park with access to the city’s most famous monuments and museums.
A few notable museums to see include the Smithsonian National Museums of Natural History, American Art, American History, as well as Air and Space, and the United States Holocaust Museum, the latter being one of the more emotional experiences that D.C. has to offer.
Besides museums though, from the National Mall you also have several options to see some of the most famous Washington D.C. memorials including the WWII Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Korean and Vietnam Memorials.
Vietnam and Korean War Memorials
The Vietnam and the Korean War Memorials are two of the most respected sites to see in Washington D.C., honoring the soldiers who have given their service and sacrifice in Vietnam and Korea.
The Vietnam Memorial is a long black piece of granite dubbed “The Wall,” inscribed with the 58,000 names of soldiers who lost their lives or remain missing.
The Korean memorial is a 164 foot wall that wraps around a reflecting pool known as the “Pool of Remembrance.” Also eye-catching are the 19 stainless steel sculptures at the memorial, which represent the soldiers from all the branches of the military who fought in the Korean War.
I remember when I was 12, my grandfather (who fought in the Korean War) took us to see these memorials. I remember him taking a moment to himself to remember his fellow comrades, and on other visits, I have always encountered a former servicemen remembering their fellow soldiers.
It’s not uncommon to see war veterans paying their respects when you visit these memorials, which makes the experience even more moving.
The Pentagon Memorial
The Pentagon National Memorial honors the lives lost to the tragic events that took place on September 11, 2001. Around 9:37 in the morning 184 people were killed when American Airlines flight 77 was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon Building. There were 59 people on board the aircraft and 125 in the building.
The memorial was built seven years after the attack, with 184 benches dedicated to every victim. Each bench is inscribed with a victim’s name on the end and organized in a timeline from the youngest to the oldest victim.
The benches are positioned in such a way, so when you read the names of the victims onboard the plane, you face the sky. When you read the names of the victims who were inside the building, you face the Pentagon. It’s a very well designed and beautiful memorial, and definitely one of the most moving memorials you’ll find in D.C.
The Titanic Memorial
While it’s one of the lesser known memorials in the area, I think one of the top things to see in Washington D.C. as far as tributes go is the Titanic Memorial.
This statue honors the men who gave up their lives in order to save more women and children during the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912.
The statue is thirteen feet tall and depicts a well-dressed male with arms stretched out wide.
It reminds me of the famous scene from the movie “Titanic’” where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Jack, is standing on the bow of the ship, arms outstretched and yells “I am the King of the World.” What do you think?
Arlington National Cemetery
Another must see site in Washington D.C. that honors those who have passed is the Arlington National Cemetery, the country’s largest military cemetery.
It is the final resting place for more than 400,000 military veterans and immediate families from major wars dating back to WWI and the Korean and Vietnam Wars to more recently those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Two U.S. presidents are also buried here – John F. Kennedy, and William Howard Taft
One of highlights to see in the cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is the grave of an unnamed soldier who fought in WWI. Dedicated in 1921, the tomb is a very sacred site and is surrounded by guards 24/7. It honors all those who have lost their lives in war that have never been identified and remain unnamed.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial
The longest memorial attraction in Washington D.C. is dedicated to the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
He was the 32nd president of our nation, the longest-serving president, and is seen as one of America’s greatest leaders.
His memorial represents his optimistic courage he shared with the American people during the Great Depression, The New Deal and WWII.
When visiting, be sure to start at the northern end of the wall. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial is designed to be viewed as a timeline as you walk along the sculptures that represent each of his terms. There is even a statue of his pet dog, Fala, the only presidential pet honored in such a way.
The Jefferson Memorial
Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States, best known for writing the Declaration of Independence.
An advocate for national independence and liberty, Jefferson is often looked to as one of “America’s Founding Fathers.”
The Jefferson Memorial is a beautiful memorial with a white marble interior and pink marble floors, and was designed to honor Jefferson’s ideas of beauty, science, learning, culture and freedom.
Located on the National Mall’s Tidal Basin, at night it’s a really pretty scene with the light of the moon reflecting the memorial in the water – a definite must-see memorial when you’re visiting Washington D.C.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
Another powerful attraction to visit in Washington D.C. is the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. It’s the first memorial that honors not a president or war veteran, but a ‘regular’ American citizen.
Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most prominent figures during the civil rights movement, and this sculpture in his image honors his legacy in the fight against racial inequality.
You’ll notice the statue appears unfinished. This was intentional, and represents his unfinished work and his life as “incomplete” when he was assassinated.
The memorial is surrounded by two walls with MLK Jr’s most famous quotes inscribed on them including one of my favorites “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that”.
In the spring, the cherry blossoms bloom around the memorial making it a truly gorgeous site, and one of the top must-sees in Washington D.C.
You probably know that the Lincoln Memorial is one of the most visited and well known tourists attractions in Washington, D.C… but maybe you didn’t know it was also where Martin Luther King delivered his most famous “I have a Dream” speech on the top steps overlooking the reflecting pool.
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States and one of the most beloved. Not only did he bring about the emancipation of slaves, he also established the US Department of Agriculture, and signed the National Banking Act, which established a national currency.
Today, the Lincoln Memorial consists of a 19ft statue of Lincoln posing in a chair, gazing out towards the Washington monument serves as a symbol of freedom for all.
The Washington Monument
The Washington Monument was built to honor our first president George Washington and stands for the respect and gratitude of our country. It was once even the tallest “building” in the world.
A fun fact I like to share is (if you look closely), the monument is actually two different colors.
This is because production on the original structure was halted for two decades when there were not enough funds to finish building the monument.
However, when production resumed, the original stone couldn’t be matched… and so a darker stone, coming from a different quarry, was used to finish construction.
When you look at the monument it appears to have a shadow, but a little less than halfway up the structure, you will see the two different shades in stone where the bottom half is a lighter color than its darker counterpart. Can you see it?
Last but certainly not least, no visit to our nation’s capital is complete without seeing the White House.
It is (of course) the most popular attraction in Washington D.C.
This iconic building has served as the home and workplace of every U.S. president since 1800. There is so much history within in the walls of the White House from the furnishings and architecture to presidents past. Some would even say it is haunted!
You can book a free tour of the White House and view some of the 132 rooms including the China Room, Map Room, and State Dining Room to name a few!
Tickets must be booked in advance, but if you are not able to tour inside, you can still walk outside around the beautiful well tended grounds. There are plenty of photo opportunities to snap a pic of the President’s home!
PRO TIP: The North Lawn provides the closest view of the White House without going inside the building. Selfie anyone?
Did we forget any of your favorite memorials and monuments to visit in Washington D.C.?
Let us know and leave any comments if there are any more attractions in Washington D.C. that you would add to our list!