The 22 Most Memorable Washington DC Landmarks

Girls Who Travel | The Most Memorable Washington DC Landmarks

Are you planning a visit to the United States capital? Washington DC, a city named after the first President of the United States, George Washington, is a great place to visit, with lots to do and lots to see. So much history of the United States is commemorated in this city, in so many ways. There are presidential memorials, and memorials for those who served in the wars of the past. There are museums galore, and you have the opportunity to see the places where the federal government operates. In this article we’ll cover all notable Washington DC landmarks you can’t miss!

The 22 Most Memorable Washington DC Landmarks

A trip to Washington DC is always a good idea! However, it’s a popular tourist destination and it can get rather crowded. To avoid that, visit during the off season: September through November, and March through May. Pro tip: September doesn’t just mark the end of the summer heat and crowds of tourists, but also the beginning of autumn with its changing leaves which provide a gorgeous backdrop to the famous sights.
Some tours need to be booked well in advance (we are looking at you, White House!), and some monuments are open 24/7 and, even better, free to visit. In that sense, Washington DC is a great destination for budget travelers.

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1. The White House

Girls Who Travel | The Most Memorable Washington DC Landmarks

The White House is undoubtedly the most famous and well-known sight to see in Washington DC. But did you know that it is also one of the least visited national monuments in the US? This seems unlikely, given its popularity, but it is true. While hundreds of thousands of visitors admire the place where American presidents live and work, access is limited due to security concerns. Maybe you are content with seeing the famous place from the outside. If you would love to do a tour, you will have to submit a request through a Member of Congress and their Congressional Tour Coordinator. This request needs to be put in no more than 90, but a minimum of 21 days before the tour date – so plan your visit to the nation’s capital well ahead of time! Admission is free. Visiting from another country? Contact your country’s embassy in DC to submit your request for this coveted tour. While it seems like a lot of hoops to jump through, the tour is well worth it. Admire the state dining room, the public rooms in the East Wing, and the White House rose garden.

2. The National Mall

Girls Who Travel | The Most Memorable Washington DC Landmarks

The National Mall is a 2 mile stretch located centrally in Washington DC where you will not only find some of the most iconic Washington DC landmarks, managed by the National Park Service, but some of the most famous and memorable landmarks in the whole country. There’s the Lincoln Memorial located on its west end, and the US Capitol a the east end, with lots of things to do in between, which we will cover in depth in the following paragraphs. The monuments located along the National Mall are: the Lincoln Memorial, The Washington Monument, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, the Tidal Basin, the Lockkeeper’s House, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Mall, the World War II Memorial, and the Constitution Gardens.

3. Lincoln Memorial

Girls Who Travel | The Most Memorable Washington DC Landmarks

Lincoln – who? Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the US, and, among other accomplishments, the man who ended the American Civil War and abolished slavery. On April 14, 1865 Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth while attending a performance at a theater. Ah, that guy! That guy deserves his own memorial, and it’s spectacular. Head to the western end of the National Mall to see this national memorial, managed by the National Park Service, built in the form of a neoclassical temple. Inside you will see a huge statue of the man himself, with an epitaph above, and interior murals. One version of the Gettysburg address is engraved on the south wall of the Lincoln Memorial.

Girls Who Travel | The Most Memorable Washington DC Landmarks

It’s hard to miss, but make sure you have time to admire the reflecting pool. There are many reflecting pools in Washington DC, but the one that is part of the Lincoln Memorial is the largest of them all.

4. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States. He’s the only president to ever serve three terms, and he did so from 1933 – 1945. He’s best know for his New Deal, a series of regulations, programs, and reforms enacted between 1933 and 1939 to offer support for the economy, relief for those unemployed, and reform the financial system after the Great Depression. A monumental task that earned him a memorial on the National Mall! This memorial is especially interesting. It is designed as a timeline. Start at the northernmost end of the memorial and work your way around learn all about Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

5. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial honors this man’s struggle for equality, justice, and freedom. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most prominent figures of the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1950s and 60s. Visit the memorial to see a granite statue of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Stone of Hope, based on a line of King’s most famous speech ‘I have a dream’: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

6. Washington Monument

Girls Who Travel | The Most Memorable Washington DC Landmarks

The Washington Monument is a 555 foot tall obelisk made of marble honoring one of the Founding Fathers and the United States’ first president, George Washington. He was the man who led the Continental Army to victory over Great Britain and presided over the Constitutional Convention, to then go on and become US president. The massive obelisk surrounded by the American flag represents the greatness of George Washington in the city named after him. Upon its completion in 1854, the Washington Monument was the tallest building in the world. Today it is one of the most famous landmarks in Washington DC and towers over the city, and so can you! Take the 898 stairs up to the top, or, if you don’t want to exhaust all your energy, since you surely have planned a jam-packed day, ride the elevator to the top of the tallest building in DC!

7. Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The Vietnam War was very controversial in the US. If you are interested in learning more about it before you visit, take a look at our article listing the 39 best books about Vietnam, many of them insightful stories about the war and the armed forces.
But no matter which view you take, there were a lot of men and women who served and lost their lives in Vietnam. Because this war was so controversial, there were four requirements for the design of this memorial: it was supposed to be reflective and contemplative in nature, harmonious with the surroundings, designed to contain the names of the dead and missing, and devoid of political statements. Go see the beautiful result for yourself!

8. Tidal Basin

In 1881, the District of Columbia was so severely flooded that some parts were only accessible by boat. When the flood receded, engineers dredged the Potomac River and filled tidal wetlands with sediments, creating West and East Potomac Park. But the flood made clear the need for a tidal basin. Today, the Tidal Basin is a designated national treasure, and thousands flock to it to see the cherry trees surrounding it in bloom in the spring. In fact, the very first time I myself visited the United States, in 1996, I was there to see it! It’s an impressive and incredibly beautiful sight. The best time to visit for this purpose is the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

9. Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Thomas Jefferson is a man with lots of fame to his name. He was a founding father of the United States, he helped write the Declaration of Independence, and he was the third President of the United States, among other things. So it’s only to be expected that the man got his own memorial at the National Mall! He was a lover of architecture, and that is reflected in the beautiful design of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. This memorial features columns supporting a circular structure with a low dome. Lots of granite and marble where used in the build, making it an imposing structure worthy of Mr. Jefferson. Inside you’ll find a 19 feet tall Jefferson statue made of bronze, surrounded by Jefferson quotes.

10. Korean War Veterans Memorial

Sometimes, freedom requires a collective sacrifice. The Korean War Veterans Memorial honors those who contributed to the freedom of South Korea in the 1950s. Wander through the 2.2 acre site, with the Pool of Remembrance at its center. It honors the the 54,269 American casualties of the Korean War.

11. World War II Memorial

The National World War II Memorial honors the 16 million American service members who served in World War II, and those 405,399 who made the ultimate sacrifice. It also recognizes the victory these brave men and women achieved to restore freedom and end this terrible war. The ceremonial entrance to this one of DC’s historic landmarks is flanked by 24 bronze bas-relief panels telling America’s story in World War II. A pool with water that shoots up in the air is ringed by granite columns representing each state and territory of the United States at that time. There are two victory pavilions, as well as a wall of 4,048 gold stars remembering those who fell during the war.

12. United States Navy Memorial

The U.S. Navy Memorial honors those men and women who have served or are currently serving in the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and the Merchant Marine. The visitor center provides a wealth of information about America’s sailors past and present through exhibits, multimedia experiences, and 740,000 stories.

13. Arlington National Cemetery

Just across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital you’ll find Arlington National Cemetery. You can drive over there, if you came to visit Washington DC landmarks by car, or use the area’s very good public transportation system and hop on Metro’s Blue line to get there. Here, the men and women who served the United States are laid to rest in a very beautiful and peaceful setting. Here you will find one of the most well-known historic landmarks: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It’s been on top of a hill overlooking Washington D.C. since 1921, and memorializes the unidentified service members of World War I. The tomb is a neoclassical, white marble sarcophagus. In 1958 and 1984, unidentified service members of other wars found their final resting place at this iconic landmark as well.
While you’d think that it gets quite busy with three million visitors annually, there are some rules that ensure it’s a place of respect and dignity. First, you are asked to speak quietly. Many people come here to mourn loved ones they have lost. Make sure to not disturb them. Be respectful when exploring the cemetery. Do not run, skate, bike, or bring your dog. Only stay on the designated trails, and do not disturb the graves. If you encounter a funeral procession, step aside and do not encroach on an active funeral. If you decide to attend a public ceremony, such as a public wreath ceremony, show respect to the flag. When a flag is used in a ceremony or service, or a bugler plays Taps, civilians should place their right hand over their heart. Military service members and veterans may salute. Alcoholic beverages and food aren’t allowed to be consumed on the grounds, but you can bring bottled water (also available at the welcome center) to stay hydrated, especially if you visit during the scorching summer months!

14. United States Capitol

Girls Who Travel | The Most Memorable Washington DC Landmarks

Located on the aptly named Capitol Hill, the U. S. Capitol Building is home to the country’s legislative branch of the federal government – the Congress. The good news is, you can get a tour of this seat of power, and not just admire this architectural feat from the outside. And it is MUCH easier than getting a tour of the White House! The United States Capitol Visitor Center is open from Monday to Saturday from 8.30 am until 4.30 pm. Professional tour guides start a new tour every 10 minutes, but the last tour is at 3.20 pm. You get to see the Rotunda, the Crypt, where you get to see 40 smooth Doric columns of sandstone, and the National Statuary Hall. While you aren’t required to make a reservation, it is highly recommended. Click here to do so.

15. Library of Congress

Library lovers rejoice! In Washington D.C. you have the chance to visit the largest library in the world – the Library of Congress. Gasp! Its is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office, with millions of books, maps, newspapers, audio recordings, and more on file. To visit, you are required to obtain a free timed-entry pass, which you can get here. The library is closed on Sundays and Mondays, and is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10 am until 5 pm, and on Thursday from 10 am until 8 pm. Wander these great halls of knowledge!

16. National Archives

The National Archives and Records Administration preserves the history of the United States by collecting public records that tell the country’s story. A great place to visit for people who love history! The National Archives Museum is open every day from 10 am until 5.30 pm, except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Last admission is at 5 pm. Admission is free, and no reservations are needed.

17. Smithsonian National Air And Space Museum

The National Air and Space Museum is a must for every woman visiting Washington DC! I went ages ago – in 1996, at the tender age of 15, but I was absolutely fascinated! You can easily spend a whole day at this interesting place, and it is undoubtedly one of the 9 best air museums USA has to offer.
Here’s what you need to know: The museum is open daily from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm, except on December 25. Because this is one of Washington DC’s most popular museums, it’s necessary to reserve free timed-entry passes ahead of time. Click here to reserve yours now!
What will you see? There are aircraft and space artifacts from many decades. Some of the most memorable exhibits are Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega 5B, Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1, and the Wright Flyer. Visit the IMAX theater, and enjoy experiences such as ride simulators, interactive flight simulators, or even a spacewalk with the virtual reality Transporter Experience!

18. Washington DC Smithsonian Museums

Girls Who Travel | The Most Memorable Washington DC Landmarks

The National Air and Space Museum is just one of 17 fabulous Smithsonian museums, galleries, and a zoo in Washington DC. No matter where your interests lie, one of these could be just right for you! There’s the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Zoo, the Smothsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery, the National Air & Space Museum, and the National Air & Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Smithsonian Institution Building, also called The Castle, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of Asian Art, the National Postal Museum, the National Museum of African Art, and the Anacostia Community Museum. If one or more of these sound interesting to you, check out details such as opening hours, the price of admission, and more here.

19. National Gallery of Art

Alongside the Smithsonian museums you’ll find another museum worth your time: the National Gallery of Art. Its collections trace the development of Western Art from the Middle Ages to today, and it’s got one very special treasure:the one and only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas! On top of that you can wander through the attached sculpture garden.
The Gallery is open daily from 10 am until 5 pm, and admission is free.

20. African American Civil War Memorial

The African American Civil War Memorial is was dedicated to the United States Colored Troops who fought in the Civil War. The memorial itself is a wall with the names of the 209,145 service members who served in the Civil War. Across the street is a bronze statue and a museum which commemorate these African American soldiers.

21. Washington National Cathedral

Girls Who Travel | The Most Memorable Washington DC Landmarks

The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, better known as the Washington National Cathedral, is an iconic historic building. It is a cathedral of the Episcopal Church which has played a role in many important national ceremonies, such as presidential inaugurations, and sometimes funerals. It is an active house of worship, and therefore sightseeing hours vary. The best thing you can do is pick a day and check availability here. General sightseeing tickets are $15 USD for adults, $10 USD for kids between 10 and 17, for seniors, students, educators, active military, and veterans. Kids under the age of 5 do not have to pay admission. A tour led by a knowledgeable docent is free with your general admission ticket, and it’s recommended to book a ticket ahead of time. You also have the opportunity to book a private tour, an insider access tour, a thematic tour, or a tower climb.

22. Georgetown Historic District

The Georgetown Historic District in Washington DC is a national historic landmark. It is situated along the Potomac River and isn’t just a historic neighborhood with lots to see, but also the city’s commercial district. Walk along the cobblestone streets, admire the federal style architecture, and have an amazing meal! You can also kayak on the Potomac River, tour the Tudor Palace, run up the super-steep infamous steps from the movie The Exorcist, do a self-guided Jackie and John F. Kennedy walking tour, and shop, shop, shop!

If you want to visit all these 22 Washington DC landmarks, you might have to spend a week or more in the capital. But you can just pick and choose what suits you best! No matter which historic landmarks you visit, you are guaranteed to learn a lot and have a memorable visit!


Jenny grew up in Germany. All she ever wanted out of life was to leave and have adventures. Jenny always traveled as much as the budget would allow, and when she met her husband traveling became a full-time thing. You can follow Jenny on her blog and Facebook.

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