Guide to Washington, DC: Can’t-Miss Monuments

The Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Jefferson­ Memorial are Washington’s most prominent public monuments, but there are plenty more within walking distance of one another on the National Mall. Here’s our quick guide to which to plan a trip around.

By: Sophie Gilbert

Washington Monument
At 555 feet tall, the imposing Washington Monument—erected in 1884 in honor of the first President—is hard to miss when you’re out and about downtown. The obelisk’s interior is temporarily closed to visitors due to damage from last year’s earthquake, but you can still walk around it.

Lincoln Memorial
Modeled after a Greek temple, the Lincoln Memorial was designed by architect Henry Bacon and finished in 1922. Sculptor Daniel Chester French worked on the 19-foot-tall statue of Lincoln that sits inside, which, contrary to urban legend, does not have the face of Robert E. Lee secretly carved on the back of the President’s head.

Jefferson Memorial
One of the most visually striking monuments, the Jefferson Memorial’s design was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and is similar to the rotunda at the University of Virginia that Jefferson himself designed. A 19-foot bronze statue of Jefferson by Rudulph Evans stands inside, and Jefferson’s writings, including the Declaration of Independence, are carved into the walls.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Taking up more than seven acres, the FDR Memorial is one of the largest and most moving in Washington. Finished in 1997, it incorporates a number of different elements: statues of Roosevelt, his wife, and even his dog, Fala, as well as water features, a breadline scene depicting the Great Depression, and an inscription bearing FDR’s most famous words: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Vietnam Veterans Memorial
The memorial wall has a bold, eye-catching simplicity—it consists of the names of 58,272 servicemen who were killed or went missing during the Vietnam War, carved into walls of dark granite. It was created in 1982 by architect Maya Lin, who won a competition to design the memorial while still in college. The memorial also features the Three Servicemen statue, designed by Frederick Hart, and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial by Glenna Goodacre.

Korean War Veterans 
Memorial
This memorial was dedicated in 1995 by President Clinton, and includes 19 statues of soldiers sculpted by Frank Gaylord, each more than seven feet tall. The statues are reflected in a 164-foot wall of black granite, which bears the images of soldiers in uniform. The memorial is especially evocative at night.

World War II Memorial
Open since 2004, the World War II Memorial sits at the eastern end of the Reflecting Pool, across from the Lincoln Memorial. Circular in shape, it consists of 56 granite pillars, 
each inscribed with the name of 
a US state or territory and the 
District of Columbia.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
DC’s newest monument was dedicated to the clergyman and civil-rights activist last year. Designed by ROMA Design Group, it bears King’s likeness carved into one of three giant rocks, evoking the line from his “I Have a Dream” speech: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

DC War Memorial
It’s small and easy to miss, but the DC War Memorial just off Independence Avenue is worth a trip because it’s one of the oldest on the Mall, completed in 1931. It honors the 499 DC residents who lost their lives in World War I.