There are a lot of things to see in Washington D.C. But the one area that everyone wants to see is the National Mall, and the things that they want to see at the Mall are the monuments. The monuments on the National Mall are what you see in most pictures of D.C. and the Mall is definitely the most iconic part of the city.
How to Get to the National Mall
There is only one sane way to get to the National Mall and that is on the metro. The insane way would be to drive and park. Driving inside of the District is crazy because traffic is nuts and parking is worse and will cost you an arm and a leg, if you find it. So take the train and make your life easier.
We came in to D.C. through the Baltimore (BWI) airport where we rented a car, drove around D.C. to Alexandria, VA where we were staying, and then took the metro from the Huntingdon Station into the city.
To get to the monument heavy portion of the National Mall you want to get off the metro at either L’Enfant Plaza (Yellow, Green, Blue, Silver, and Orange lines), Archives (Yellow and Green lines), or Smithsonian (Blue, Silver, and Orange lines). It really doesn’t matter which one, once you come out of the station just locate the Washington Monument and walk towards it.
What You Will See at the National Mall
There are tons of monuments on the National Mall. You will probably not be able to see all of them (we certainly couldn’t) especially if you want to do anything else in D.C. while you are there. For convenience I have divided the major monuments into two sections: the West Mall monuments and the Tidal Basin monuments. All of the major monuments are on the West side of the Mall while if you walk toward the Capitol (on the East end) you will pass most of the museums and eventually the government buildings.
West Mall Monuments
I would suggest starting from the Washington Monument since it is the closest to the metro stops. If you then go down the North side of the National Mall toward the Lincoln, you will be able to loop around and see most of the monuments.
The Washington Monument
To be iconic in a place as memorial saturated as is the National Mall is a feat indeed, but the Washington Monument does that. Towering over the middle of the Mall it provides the center point for the whole experience.
Unfortunately every time I have been in Washington D.C. the Washington Monument has been closed for repairs. The current iteration of repairs will have it closed until Spring 2019, so don’t expect to go inside until then.
You can still walk around the outside of the monument and stare up, up, up at its peak.
World War II Memorial
Just East of the Washington Monument is the beautiful World War II Memorial. This is a fountain surrounded by monuments to each state and memorials to the major battles of the war.
People like to take pictures next to the pillar for their home state.
Another moving feature is the wall of gold stars. Each one representing 1,000 American lives lost in the war.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
From the WWII Memorial there are two ways to get to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. You can either walk down the North side of the Reflecting Pool, or stroll through the Constitution Gardens which will take you past 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial. We chose to walk down the side of the Reflecting Pool and turn right just before reaching the Lincoln Memorial.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial takes the form of a two armed wall making a great fissure in the earth. On the wall are the names of the soldiers who died or were missing in action during that war. It is a very moving memorial, and many people visit to leave behind flowers or other objects near the name of a loved one.
Backtracking West from the Vietnam memorial will take you the Lincoln Memorial. Because of the many events that happen here it is one of the best known and most visited monuments on the National Mall. President Lincoln looks out at you from the columned memorial. You can ascend the steps into his presence and read his words on either side of the inside chamber.
Don’t miss the small museum (and bathrooms) found on the lower floor inside the museum. Also make sure you walk around the outside columns to the back. This will give you some of the best views of the Potomac river and the Guardians of War and Peace on the bridges crossing it.
You should also find the stone step that shows where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Korean War Veterans Memorial
From the Lincoln Memorial just head East on the South side of theReflecting Pool to go to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. This memorial is not as massive or iconic as some of the others but it is very moving. The faces of the statues stare out at you from the reflective wall that shows also your own face and etched faces of those involved in the Korean War.
Note that you cannot exit from the end of the memorial so you should walk up one side and down the other, this lets you see the entire memorial.
District of Columbia War Memorial
Heading East along the National Mall from the Korean War Memorial will take you toward the domed structure that is the District of Columbia War Memorial. This is one of the least visited monuments on the National Mall, so consequently it is nice place to take a rest away from all the annoying school groups.
This memorial was made to commemorate what we now know as World War I, but which at the time they thought was the war to end all wars. It eventually fell into disrepair which is why it fell out of favor with tourists. A few years ago it was fully repaired and restored and it now provides a nice contemplative space away from the more crowded monuments.
Tidal Basin Monuments
Crossing Independence Avenue to the South of the D.C. War Memorial will take you into the Tidal Basin area.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
If you come from the D.C. War Memorial you will immediately enter the MLK Memorial, walking through a split mountain. Like most of the memorials this one is highly symbolic and shows the struggle and triumph of Dr. King’s ideas, but also the unfinished nature of the work.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Leaving the MLK memorial and walking South around the tidal basin will lead you into the FDR memorial. All the tidal basin monuments are large in terms of space, but this one seems to go on forever. All four terms of FDR’s presidency are memorialized in separate areas so just keep walking, you will eventually get through them all.
The photo op with the FDR statue comes at the beginning of the monument, but good luck fighting the school groups to get a picture with him.
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Continue South around the Tidal Basin, cross the bridge and you will eventually reach the Jefferson Memorial. The steps of this memorial go right down to the water. Jefferson looks out from the inside at the top of the steps. This is a great place to sit at night and look out on the National Mall across the basin.
The National Mall contains many, many memorials and monuments. I have covered the most popular ones in this post. Of course we recommend that you visit as many monuments as possible. Walking around the Mall is a great experience. We did it during the spring and it was a little crowded at times. During the summer it can get pretty hot and humid, but is still worth visiting.