A visit to Washington, D.C. is much like stepping into an open-air museum. Everywhere you turn is a monument or historic building waiting to greet you.
Notable for the diversity of its neighborhoods and the near-constant humming of the government machine, D.C. is sure to impress. The city is home to over 75 National Historic Monuments as well as 30 National Parks!
In the list below are the most famous Washington, D.C. landmarks no visitor should miss. However, in a city as culturally rich as this, let your curiosity be your guide, and you will surely discover something fascinating.
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Using the map of Washington, D.C., you can explore all the landmarks.
The National Mall tops this Washington, D.C. landmarks list as it contains all of the United States' most treasured national landmarks. The National Mall receives over 24 million visitors annually and has been the stage for some of the nation’s most important democratic demonstrations.
The landscaped park stretches a length of two miles between the Lincoln Memorial and the US Capitol. The National Mall is the stage of the nation, holding everything from presidential inaugurations and Fourth of July festivities to classical concerts and sporting events.
Completed in 1884, the Washington Monument is one of the most iconic landmarks of Washington, D.C. Standing at over 554 feet tall, this white marble obelisk is the tallest stone structure in the world. It was built in memory of the first American president, George Washington.
After years of renovation, the Memorial reopened to the public in 2019. Be sure to take in the view from the observation deck, with a panorama stretching over 25 miles. Breathtaking indeed.
The White House has the most famous address in the world - 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue - which is, of course, the home of the United State’s President. Surely the most famous site in Washington, D.C., the White House has been the president's official home for over 220 years.
During tours, visitors are allowed limited access to the State Floor, including the Red Room, Green Room, and State Dining Room. The East and West Wing (housing the Oval Office) is strictly prohibited to the public.
Built in honor of the 16th American President, Abraham Lincoln, the Lincoln Memorial is among one of the most famous Washington monuments. The neoclassical temple houses a 19-foot tall statue of Lincoln, seated, lost in thought.
The Memorial has become a symbolic center for race relations in the United States. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr delivered his 1963 “I Have a Dream” on the steps of the monuments to a crowd of over 250,000 people.
Among the many famous monuments in Washington, D.C., the Jefferson Memorial may be the most beautiful.
Situated on a bank of the Potomac River within a grove of Japanese cherry trees (springtime is spectacular), the neoclassical rotunda was inspired by the third American president’s own architectural theories.
Within, visitors will find a bronze statue of Jefferson alongside excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, being its principal author, carved along the walls.
There are many important buildings in Washington, D.C., but none like the US Capitol building. Built in 1800, it stands at the city's center with its 288-foot neo-classical dome visible from across the skyline.
A visit to the Capitol includes entry into the Crypt, Rotunda, and the National Statuary Hall. Visits to the House and Senate chambers require special passes and are not included in the official tour of the Capitol.
In 1982, artist Maya Lin conceptualized a bold 246-foot black granite wall engraved with the names of the 58,320 soldiers killed during the Vietnam War. Initially met with public resistance, the Vietnam Memorial is one of the most poignant and important places in Washington, D.C.
With over 2 million visitors annually, many leave flowers and mementos in memory of their loved ones lost. Items left at the Memorial are collected daily by the National Park Service who catalog and store the items. Several items have found their way into the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.
The most sensitive of the presidential monuments in Washington, D.C., is the FDR Memorial.
Bronze sculptures, inspired by iconic photographs from the Great Depression, deliver a compelling history lesson to visitors. They depict the lives of everyday Americans under the 12-year presidency of one of the US’s most beloved and controversial presidents.
Do not miss the statue of the seated 32nd president together with his Scottish Terrier, Fala. It is a charming reminder of the human face behind national leaders.
Nineteen stainless steel soldiers advance through the trees, making the Korean War Memorial one of the most artistic Washington, D.C. landmarks and monuments. Each soldier in “The Column” stands over 7 feet tall, collectively representing a platoon on patrol.
The Mural Wall adjacent is a 164 foot long, black granite wall depicting ghostly scenes from the war. Each part of the monument forms a haunting portrait of survival and remembrance.
One of the most famous places in Washington, D.C., is the Reflecting Pool. 2,030 feet and only 18 inches deep, the pool reflects both the Lincoln and Washington Memorials. 25 million visitors annually laze around the pool, picnic on the grass, and jog down its walking paths.
The Reflecting Pool has deep symbolic importance for the American people. Swimming in the ornamental pool is strictly prohibited and could result in serious legal troubles.
With so many historical sites in Washington, D.C., the MLK Memorial is one of the city’s newest additions.
Opening in 2011, the Memorial honors the legacy of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. You will find a monumental statue titled the "The Stone of Hope," with the leader emerging, arms crossed, from white granite.
Ringing the statue is an Inscription Wall with fourteen of MLK’s most moving quotes. They stress the primary messages of Dr. King: justice, democracy, hope, and love.
Spanning over 639 acres, Arlington Cemetery has been the final resting place for soldiers killed in battle since the Civil War.
Sprouting from the earth are rows of identical marble headstones that form an intricate geometry. The patterns formed by the graves are a stirring reminder of the cost of war.
Notable burials include John F. Kennedy, his grave marked by an “eternal flame,” and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This is a symbolic resting place for deceased soldiers whose remains have not yet been identified.
Adjacent to the National Mall, this emotional museum provides a compelling interpretation of Holocaust history.
With over 1.5 million visitors annually, the Museum’s interactive collection contains more than 12,500 artifacts. These include replicas of the train boxcars used to transport Jews as well as Nazi propaganda and the personal belongs of the dead.
The Museum’s "Hall of Remembrance" is a somber memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, with guests lighting candles, visiting the eternal flame, or chanting out the names of the dead.
Called the “Nation’s Attic,” the Smithsonian spans over 19 museums, 21 libraries, nine research centers, and a zoo! Its collection contains more than 150 million items, and entry to any of the institution’s galleries is free.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the newest addition to the Smithsonian, charting the history of Black expression in the United States, while the National Air and Space Museum is a popular favorite for visiting families. Whatever your inclination, the Smithsonian has a museum for you!
Washington, D.C.’s Spy Museum is an interactive exploration of the history and tradecraft of modern espionage. Did you know that there are more spies in Washington DC than in any other city on the planet?!
Each visitor receives an undercover identity and a secret mission. Your mission is to gather as much information about the world of espionage as you can.
This is done through the five interactive exhibits before reaching the Debriefing Room, where you receive the conclusion of your mission alongside a performance debrief summarizing your top spy skills.
This list covered the most famous Washington, D.C. sites and attractions. However, it has not even begun to scratch the surface of the many sites spread across the capital that are worthy of a visit.
If you are only in Washington, D.C., for a short time, do not miss the famous North American landmarks on this list, but remember to take your time and explore the city for all that it has to offer.
And remember, nearly all of the city's attractions are free, subsidized by the federal government. Thank you, Uncle Sam!
This article was edited by Loredana Elena.
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