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.
At 555 feet tall, the Washington Monument—erected in 1884 in honor of the first President—is hard to miss downtown. The obelisk’s interior, after being closed for nearly three years due to repairs, has reopened; tour tickets are available the same day beginning at 8:30 a.m. or in advance through the website.
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.
The memorial’s striking design was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and is similar to the rotunda at the University of Virginia that Jefferson himself designed. Inside stands a 19-foot bronze statue of Jefferson by Rudulph Evans, and Jefferson’s writings, including the Declaration of Independence, are carved into the walls.
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 famous words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
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.
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.
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.
DC’s newest monument was dedicated to the clergyman and civil-rights activist in 2011. Designed by ROMA Design Group, it bears King’s likeness carved into one of three giant rocks, evoking a line from his “I Have a Dream” speech: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
The memorial wall has a bold, moving simplicity—it features the names of 58,286 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 contest 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.
This article appears in Washingtonian’s Welcome Guide.