25 Famous Washington, DC, Landmarks You Absolutely Must See

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The United States Capitol Building is one of the famous Washington, DC, landmarks
There are many world-renowned landmarks in DC, like the US Capitol Building

A visit to Washington, DC, 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, DC 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, DC, 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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25 Famous Landmarks in Washington, DC

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Cherry blossom trees and a huge white obelisk across a body of water on a nice day
The Washington Monument was built to memorialize President George Washington

Washington Monument

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.

☂️ Explore the Washington Monument on a tour

A Neoclassical white building with a green garden facing a pool with red roses
For over 220 years, the White House has served as the president's official residence

The White House

The White House has the most famous address in the world - 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue - which is, of course, the home of the United States President. Surely the most renowned site in Washington, DC, the White House, has been the president's official home for over 220 years.

During tours of this National Historic Landmark, 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.

☂️ Discover The White House on a tour

A white marble statue of a bearded man sitting on a throne with writing on the wall
The Abraham Lincoln Memorial is a popular tourist attraction in Washington, DC

Abraham Lincoln Memorial

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.

A large white building with many columns and a dome with trees and a front lawn
You can soak in a piece of history when you visit the Jefferson Memorial

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Among the many famous monuments in Washington, DC, the Jefferson Memorial may be the most beautiful. It is one of the many monuments that contribute to Washington, D.C.'s nickname as the The City of Monuments.

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.

A white building with a dome, several statues, some people, and a pool in front
The United States Capitol has a 288-foot dome and was built in 1800

United States Capitol

There are many important buildings in Washington, DC, but none like the U.S. Capitol building. Built in 1800, it stands at the city's center with its 288-foot neo-classical dome visible from across the skyline. It is definitely one of the most well-known landmarks in the USA!

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.

A black granite wall engraved with names next to a bunch of red flowers
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors the soldiers who died during the Vietnam War

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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, DC.

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.

Several bronze statues lined up in front of a door and two in front of a kitchen
Get a glimpse of the past at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

The most sensitive of the presidential monuments in Washington, DC, 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 U.S.'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.

Stainless steel statues of soldiers in a field of bushes with trees in the back
The Korean War Veterans Memorial features 19 seven-foot-tall stainless steel warriors

Korean War Veterans Memorial

Nineteen stainless steel soldiers advance through the trees, making the Korean War Memorial one of the most artistic Washington, DC, 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.

The National Mall

The National Mall tops this Washington, DC, landmarks list as it contains all of the United States' most treasured 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 Mall is the stage of the nation, holding everything from presidential inaugurations and Fourth of July festivities to classical concerts and sporting events.

If visiting with your partner, strolling along the mall makes for a perfect Washington, DC, date idea too!

☂️ Discover the National Mall on a tour

A pool with many ducks in front of a temple-like building with people on the steps
Take a break from the hustle to unwind next to the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

One of the most famous places in Washington, DC, 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.

Cherry blossom tree with white flowers and a white statue of a man in the background
The MLK Memorial, opened in 2011, honors the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

With so many historical sites in Washington, DC, 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.

At the site, 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 14 of MLK's most moving quotes. They stress the primary messages of Dr. King: justice, democracy, hope, and love.

Rows of gravestones on the grass, colorful flowers, a balloon, and a pinwheel
Many US soldiers who died in battle have been laid to rest at Arlington Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

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.

☂️ Explore Arlington National Cemetery with a tour

A red brick and stone wall with a "United States Holocaust Memorial Museum" sign
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is an important DC landmark

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Adjacent to the National Mall, this emotional museum provides a compelling interpretation of Holocaust history.

With over 1.5 million visitors annually, the landmark'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 belongings of victims.

The "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.

☂️ Discover the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on a tour

A red sandstone castle next to green grass, trees, and a brick path
The Smithsonian Institution's collection features over 150 million items

The Smithsonian Institution

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 an attraction for you!

A modern red and black building with a "Spy Museum" sign
The International Spy Museum has many fascinating exhibits on espionage

International Spy Museum

Washington, DC'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.

A Greek-style stone building with columns next to a street with people on it
The National Portrait Gallery has portraits of famous US figures

One of the most famous galleries in the United States is the National Portrait Gallery, which was founded in 1962. The venue is known for showcasing the portraits of numerous influential figures, with a total of 23,000 works in the gallery's collection.

Notably, you can see the portrait of every US president when visiting the gallery. Other individuals whose portraits are on display include Harriet Tubman, Frida Kahlo, and Juliette Gordon Low.

Exploring the gallery will take an hour or two. Guided and self-guided tours are also available.

☂️ Discover the National Portrait Gallery on a tour

A museum exhibit with an elephant in a room with stone walls and high ceilings
The National Museum of Natural History is one of the best museums in the world

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Another outstanding Smithsonian attraction in DC is the National Museum of Natural History. Opened in 1910, the attraction houses an array of exhibits relating to the natural world.

Displays cover wildlife found in the world today and conservation efforts. You'll also find exhibits covering the ancient world, including those on dinosaurs, Ancient Egypt, and human evolution.

Notably, it houses the world's largest collection of natural history specimens. Taking the time to explore this iconic landmark is a must! The venue also hosts after-hours events if you want to visit in the evening.

☂️ See the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on a tour

National Museum of Women in the Arts

The National Museum of Women in the Arts houses a vast collection of works by impressive female artists. Founded in 1981, the goal of the gallery is to highlight the artistic achievements of women across the globe.

Pieces on display include paintings, drawings, and sculptures. There are also displays dedicated to literary works and performing arts. Along with viewing the works, you can learn more about the women who created them.

In total, there are 4,500 pieces in the collection. These works date from the 1500s to today. Some of the women with pieces on display include Louise Bourgeois, Frida Kahlo, and Mary Cassatt.

A white stone cathedral with green trees around it under a blue sky
Washington National Cathedral is a beautiful building worth visiting

Washington National Cathedral

Another of the many famous buildings in Washington, DC, is the Washington National Cathedral. Built in the early 1900s, the cathedral was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Designed in a Neo-Gothic style, the cathedral is breathtaking to see from the outside. As you venture inside, you'll be amazed by the interior design, which features tall ceilings, stained glass, and religious statues.

Washington Cathedral is open for active worship as well, with service dates and times available online. The landmark is located 15 minutes from central DC when driving.

☂️ Visit the Washington National Cathedral on a tour

A Greek-style structure with columns and steps leading up to it
Art lovers must make a stop at the National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art is another renowned attraction located on the National Mall. It comprises the main art gallery and a beautiful sculpture garden.

The gallery was founded in 1937 and houses an extensive collection of over 75,000 works. A range of artistic genres are on display, with works from artists of many nationalities and eras.

In addition, you can view many world-renowned paintings as you wander around the gallery. Just a few of the individuals with pieces on display include Rembrandt, William Blake, and Johannes Vermeer.

Between November and March, there is also an ice skating rink in the sculpture garden.

A fountain with statues in the middle holding up a large bowl inside a park
The vibrant Dupont Circle has many bars and eateries

Dupont Circle

Dupont Circle is a vibrant neighborhood in central DC. It has outstanding bars, eateries, and other entertainment attractions. If looking for fun things to do at night in Washington, DC, heading to Dupont Circle is highly recommended.

For dinner, make a reservation at Obelisk, which serves contemporary Mediterranean cuisine. After eating, visit The Dupont Circle Hotel's bar, Doyle. The stylish and sophisticated bar serves elegant cocktails, sparkling wine, and spirits.

☂️ Visit Dupont Circle with an experience

A stone building with columns and a pointed roof under a blue sky
You can see the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives Museum

National Archives Museum

One of the most important places in Washington, DC, that you can visit is the National Archives Museum. Located inside, you'll find a range of artifacts that are significant to United States history.

Artifacts include the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The Emancipation Proclamation, the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, and the Articles of Confederation are some more of the notable documents housed at the landmark.

Along with these documents, you can see exhibits on US politics, culture, history, and important events. A trip to the National Archives Museum has to be added to your Washington, DC itinerary!

☂️ Experience the National Archives Museum with a tour

A large stone building with columns and arched windows on a clear day
The Library of Congress houses 171 million items

Library of Congress

The official research library of the United States Congress is the Library of Congress. It was founded in 1800 and today holds 171 million items. The library is also the oldest federal institution in the country.

Before exploring the collection, you can admire the building's breathtaking architecture. As you look around, you'll discover a range of rare books and other publications.

You can also visit a library dedicated to Thomas Jefferson. There are library exhibits that cover famous authors and famous pieces of American literature.

☂️ Discover the Library of Congress on a tour

One of the most famous Washington, DC, landmarks is the Pentagon
The Pentagon is one of the most famous Washington, DC, landmarks

The Pentagon

One of the most important buildings in Washington, DC, is the Pentagon. Construction of this iconic structure began in 1941, and it gets its name from having five sides, in the shape of a pentagon.

The government building is used by the United States Department of Defense and is seen as a symbol of the US military. Each of the five sections of the building represents the five branches of the US Armed Forces.

Tours are available, but check the website to see if they are during your visit. These guided tours of the building will allow you to understand more about operations at the Pentagon and how they help with national security.

☂️ Join a tour to see The Pentagon

An old-fashioned theater with red seats and white balconies
Ford's Theatre is best known for being the location of Lincoln's assassination

Ford's Theatre

Opened in 1863, Ford's Theatre is another of the buildings in Washington, DC, with a rich history. The most notable event linked to the theater is the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. In 1865, just two years after its opening, the president was assassinated as he watched a performance.

Today, Ford's Theatre still hosts performing arts productions, which you can purchase tickets for online. There's also a museum to explore, with many exhibits on President Lincoln and his assassination by John Wilkes Booth.

In Summary

This list covered the most famous Washington, DC, sites and attractions. However, it has not even begun to scratch the surface of the many fantastic sites spread across the capital that are worthy of a visit.

If you are only in Washington, DC, 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!

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Written by William Stanto

esthamon1989 FORMER WRITER Nomad by birth, but all over the map. William is from the Midwest.

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