How to See Washington DC’s Monuments in a 3-Hour Walking Tour
Over the course of the last few years, I have had reason to drive up and down the East Coast on a number of occasions. Sometimes it has been driving from New England down to the Carolinas or Florida, and at other times it has been a one-way trip from Florida up to New England. Each time I make this journey, I think about stopping someplace interesting to break up the trip, but because I always seem to be time constrained, inevitably I stop nowhere and just get the drive over with. On my most recent drive, however, which happened to be from Florida up to New England, I managed to finally fit in a meaningful break and spent a few hours in Washington DC.
If you find yourself planning a drive up or down the east coast of the United States and want to spend a few hours in our nation’s capital, I have the perfect walking tour of Washington DC that will get you to all of the major monuments. It will cost you a mere $6 to park, about three hours of your time, and you will then be back on the road to your destination.
Monuments Visited on This Walking Tour
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
World War II Memorial
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Korean War Veterans Memorial
George Mason Memorial
Plan for Traffic
The one catch with this walking tour is that I timed our visit so that we would be in the Washington DC area late on a Saturday afternoon. Certainly this walking tour could just as easily be done on a Sunday afternoon or pretty much at any time on a weekend day. During the normal work week all bets are off due to traffic, but for those of you who have no choice but to be passing through the area on a work day if you can get there then the rest is on foot so give a shot. I will add that even though we arrived in Washington DC at about 3:30 pm on a Saturday afternoon, the traffic was still horrendous, so perhaps this is to be expected no matter what the day.
What you will want to do is to utilize your GPS and punch in any of the following: the Jefferson Memorial, Ohio Drive SW, or East/West Potomac Park. Along this stretch of Ohio Drive SW are a number of NPS parking lots. From the map below you can see that there are three good size outdoor parking lots here. I chose the one closest to the Jefferson Memorial (where the Cuban Friendship Urn is located), but they are all within a few minutes of each other so it matters not which one you select. These lots do require a small fee to park, so find a ticket machine and get the full three hours, which I believe is the maximum you can get. The cost is $2 per hour so expect to spend $6 for parking. You are now on the clock, so head for the Jefferson Memorial without delay.
Stop 1: The Jefferson Memorial
The Jefferson Memorial was one of the monuments that I had never been to. I must say that it is impressive, and its location on the Tidal Basin makes for a very picturesque setting. The Jefferson Memorial is also much larger than I had envisioned. I’m not sure why this surprised me as I have seen plenty of photos of the monument, but it’s bigger than I thought it would be. The map above will give you the walking route that we followed. You can certainly modify this to your liking but if you follow this route the distance traveled is about 3.7 miles and will take approximately an hour and fifteen minutes, at least according to Google Maps. When you factor in time spent at each monument, taking pictures, various walking speeds, etc., you can see that about three hours is a good estimate. We did not rush through this and we spent a fair amount of time at the Vietnam Memorial looking for a specific name so most folks will be able to complete this before your parking expires.
Stop 2: The FDR Memorial
From the Jefferson Memorial, you will want to follow the path along the Tidal Basin to your left. This will take you to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. The FDR Memorial is also quite large and spread out over a large area. It’s a very serene and peaceful area with waterfalls and a number of notable displays from his time as the 32nd president of the United States.
Note: There are restrooms located here, which you will also pass on your return so it’s a good location for a pit stop.
Stop 3: The MLK Memorial
After leaving the FDR Memorial, get yourself back on the path around the Tidal Basin and you will come upon the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. The MLK Memorial is beautiful and was carved from white granite. It’s one of the newest monuments in the NPS having opened to the public on August 22, 2011. From the MLK Memorial, you have a wonderful view of the Tidal Basin, Jefferson Memorial, and the Washington Monument. The entire route around the basin makes for amazing photo opportunities, so don’t forget to bring your camera.
Stop 4: The Japanese Lantern
From the MLK Memorial continue on the path around the basin for a short distance until you come to the Japanese Lantern. This marks the spot of the very first cherry blossom tree planting, which took place in 1912. There are now thousands of these beautiful flowering trees in and around the Washington DC area. This particular walk would be amazing to do during the peak Cherry Blossom bloom, but it will certainly be much more crowded at that time. From here you will want to cross Independence Avenue, be careful as it can be a busy road. Straight in front of you on the Mall will be the World War II Memorial.
Stop 5: The World War II Memorial
The World War II Memorial is another architectural masterpiece and incorporates 56 granite pillars surrounding a plaza with a fountain at its center. Each pillar contains the name of one of the 48 states at the time of the conflict in addition to Washington DC, Guam, Hawaii, Alaska, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the US Virgin Islands. The WWII Memorial is also fairly new—having been dedicated in 2004—and sits at the east end of the Reflecting Pool.
Stop 6: The National Mall
From the WWII Memorial, you can take a quick stroll up to the Washington Monument if you would like. We did not do this on our visit as it’s pretty much visible from everywhere and I had already been there. Instead, we walked down along the Reflecting Pool to see Abraham Lincoln. I really think that one of the best views in DC is the view from the top of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. You have the Reflecting Pool directly in front of you with an image of the Washington Monument painted on the still water. In the distance are the World War II Memorial and the Washington Monument. It really is an awe-inspiring image and makes for a great photo opportunity.
Stop 7: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial
When you are done at the Lincoln Memorial head to your left facing the pool and you will find the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Unlike many of the other monuments that are towering structures, the Vietnam Memorial design is much more subdued. The two black granite walls are made up of 144 panels containing the names of the over 58,000 service men and women killed during the conflict. I must say that the Vietnam Memorial is a very somber site and locating the names of family, friends, classmates, etc. can be a very emotional experience.
Stop 8: The Korean Veterans War Memorial
From the Vietnam Memorial retrace your steps back across the Lincoln Memorial and follow the signs to the Korean Veterans War Memorial. This was another first for me, and this memorial is quite different from the other war memorials in that it contains 19 statues of soldiers. In addition to the statues, there is a pool of remembrance and a beautiful mural wall containing 41 panels with photos from the Korean War. The 19 statues were designed to represent the diverse ethnic background of Americans who served in the conflict.
After visiting the Korean War Memorial, it’s time to head back as your three-hour parking window is most likely getting close to expiring. You can walk back along the mall and cross Independence Avenue at West Basin Drive SW. This will put you back near the MLK Memorial and from here simply retrace your steps along the Tidal Basin back to the parking lot. You will notice that there is another memorial near the parking lot that is currently under construction, the George Mason Memorial. Originally opened in 2002, the monument is currently being renovated with a projected completion of late 2018.
I hope you enjoyed this walking tour of Washington DC. If you find yourself just passing through the area and want a quick tour of some of our nation’s finest monuments rest assured you can do this in a mere three hours. The parking is easy to find, cheap and is located just off of Interstate Highway 395. Washington does know how to do monuments, so don’t miss out on a great opportunity.