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How to See Washington DC’s Monuments in a 3-Hour Walking Tour

The Jefferson Memorial

The Jefferson Memorial

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.

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln 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 workweek, 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 workday if you can get there then the rest is on foot so give it 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.

NPS Parking at East/West Potomac Park

NPS Parking at East/West Potomac Park

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.

Parking lots on Ohio SW Drive

Parking lots on Ohio SW Drive

Walking Route to Monuments and Memorials

Walking Route to Monuments and Memorials

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.

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

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.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

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.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

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.

World War II Memorial

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.

World War II Memorial

World War II Memorial

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.

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Washington Monument from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial

Washington Monument from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial

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.

Vietnam War Memorial

Vietnam War Memorial

The Three Soldiers at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The Three Soldiers at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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.

Korean Veterans War Memorial

Korean Veterans War Memorial

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.

© 2018 Bill De Giulio

Comments

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 01, 2020:

This was a visit that was planned ahead knowing that we would be driving through D.C. on a Saturday afternoon. We didn’t have a lot of time, but we wanted to see as many of the monuments as possible.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 01, 2020:

I had no idea that you could see all of these monuments in only 3 hours of walking. That is good to know should we ever get up that way. I had seen photos of most of these but had never viewed the one to FDR. Thanks for sharing your photos with us.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 01, 2019:

Thanks Greg. D.C. is a great walking city.

Greg on September 01, 2019:

This tour is very well planned and enjoyable. You can do it in 2 hours if you have a time crunch. Highly recommended.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 25, 2019:

Thanks, Scott. It was one of those trips where we were driving up the east coast and decided to take a break as we were going through DC. Turned out we saw quite a bit in just 3 hours. You never know when an idea for a hub will present itself.

Enjoyed your Ireland hubs. We will get there soon.

Scott S Bateman on July 25, 2019:

Bill, I have visited DC several times and made it to most of the monuments. Your monument tour article is the most useful one I've seen yet -- informative, easy to read, full of good photos and mindful of how much time anyone needs if they are on a tight schedule.

I only wish I had written it. :)

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 05, 2018:

Hi Linda. Thank you. It really is a wonderful place to visit and between the monuments, museums, and historical sites there is so much to see. Even though we we’re just passing through we managed to see quite a lot in 3 hours.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 05, 2018:

Hi Flourish. Haha, yes, I had my eye on the clock the entire time we we’re there. We did see people out in the Tidal Basin on paddle boats, it looked like fun. We were about 4 weeks too late for the Cherry Blossoms, which would have been nice, but much more crowded.

I do love the Smithsonian Museums, but they will have to wait for another time. There really is so much to see in DC. Thanks for stopping by, have a great day.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 05, 2018:

Hi Randi. It's very difficult to get to everything in D.C. in one visit. There is still a lot for us to get to. That really is the beauty of visiting Washington D.C. as there is always something interesting to see and do. Thanks for stopping by, have a great day.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 05, 2018:

This sounds like a great place to visit. I didn't realize that there were so many attractions in the area. The monuments look very interesting. Thanks for the tour, Bill.

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 05, 2018:

Loved this! I can almost hear you say, "Chop, chop! No dawdling.

We're on the clock!" That's the way I like to tour -- get there, see it but don't waste time. Your photos were fantastic, too. I live about two hours south of D.C. and have had frequent occasion to visit. If you ever get a chance to visit the Holocaust Museum, I recommend it for its impact. My family has also had the chance to go out on a small paddle boat in the lake near the Jefferson Memorial during Cherry Blossom season. It was beautiful. We went early on a Sunday before it was too overrun with the crowds, although crowds during the festival are huge. We've also been able to tour the White House during Christmastime thanks to our Congressman. I have terrible memories of the Smithsonian with my father reading everything and taking forever and refuse to go near the place, but lots of other people love it.

Randi Benlulu from Mesa, AZ on July 05, 2018:

I have been to DC as s child and then once again as an adult. I wish I had this article to guide me. We only got to about half of what you listed. Thsnk you!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 04, 2018:

Hi Bill. A happy 4th of July to you also. There is so much to see in D.C. that I think you would need weeks to get to everything. This quick visit was a chance to see a number of the memorials and monuments, and then it was back on the road. I must say that standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking out over the Relecting Pool toward the Washington Monument is a sight I won’t soon forget.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 04, 2018:

I love D.C. I've only been there once, but spent three days trying to see everything I wanted to see and failed miserably with that goal. Still, it was spectacular. Seeing the Lincoln Memorial brought tears to my eyes....just an unreal experience.

Happy 4th of July my friend!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 04, 2018:

Hi Claudia. So true, many of these monuments did not exist when I made my first visit to DC many years ago. Many of the new ones I had not seen so this was a great opportunity to see most of them.

I actually do remember when you could park at the Lincoln Memorial, but that was a long time ago. Parking was my biggest concern with this visit but the NPS lots near the Jefferson Memorial are perfect. It was a great afternoon and we got to see a lot in just 3 hours.

Thanks for stopping by, glad you enjoyed the memories.

Claudia Mitchell on July 04, 2018:

Hi Bill - I had to come check this out because I'm originally from Arlington VA so I know this area very well. I still love going back as my brother is not too far from the city. What's interesting is how many of these monuments weren't there when I was growing up. I've been to a couple of the new ones since I left, but not all.

We used to be able to park all around the Lincoln Memorial and behind it are steps down to the Potomac River where every summer military bands would hold weekly evening concerts. They were always lots of fun.

Still one of my favorite cities and I miss it often. Thanks for the memories.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 04, 2018:

Thank you Heidi. Yes, somewhat appropriate to publish this one on the Fourth of July. Enjoy the holiday.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on July 04, 2018:

What a perfect post to look at today, July 4th! That walking tour would be a great way to celebrate the USA. Beautiful photos, as always!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 04, 2018:

Hi Mary. It’s an easy break if driving through the Washington DC area. With all of the hours spent driving it’s an opportunity to stretch the legs and see some amazing monuments. If you know where to park it becomes comes less intimidating driving into DC.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on July 04, 2018:

This is a useful guide as many of us from Canada usually drive to Florida and back again so this would be a very engaging stop. I had been there before but have not visited some of these places.