Washington’s unmissable landmarks and historical sights

Take in the iconic monuments, murals, and memorials around Washington at these top 15 landmarks.

The US capital, Washington DC, is packed with iconic landmarks, from memorials to fallen war heroes monuments of the country's Founding Fathers.

It all starts with the Washington Monument at the historic National Mall, the central point for monuments and memorials commemorating everything from World War II to Martin Luther King Jr.  Follow the Potomac River down to Mount Vernon or head to Downtown Washington's Penn Quarter to visit the infamous Ford's Theater, where Lincoln was assassinated.

But whether you're visiting DC with your kids, or on a trip with your romantic partner, don’t miss these top 15 landmarks in Washington.

Historic and architectural landmarks in Washington

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1. Journey into the White House’s storied past

The White House is steeped in stories that have shaped the nation. Its regal facade and iconic interiors are a testimony to countless historical milestones. A visit here is like stepping into the pages of American history itself. Fun fact: the original White House was burned down by the British in 1814.

Insider's tip:

A tour of the White House is the best way to learn about all its fun facts. You can request a White House tour at least 3 weeks in advance (it's free) but if you're not an American citizen you will need to contact your embassy in DC and request the tour through them.

Address and opening hours:

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500, United States. Tours are available 9:30 AM-12:30 PM Tuesday to Saturday, excluding Federal holidays.

Explore The White House

2. Discover the grandeur of the US Capitol

One of Washington's prime historic landmarks, the US Capitol is the heart of the nation's legislative power. With its neoclassical architecture, it paints a picture of the rich tapestry of American democracy. In the Capitol, laws are crafted, debates are held, and the nation's course is charted.

Highlights:

Make sure to check out the intricate details of the Capitol's awe-inspiring dome, made from 8,909,200 pounds of cast iron and boasting 108 windows.

Address and opening hours:

E Capitol St. and 1st St. NE Washington, DC 20004, United States. Open Monday-Saturday 8:30 AM-4:30 PM.

Explore the United States Capitol

3. Take in the majesty of the Lincoln Memorial

A cornerstone of Washington landmarks, the Lincoln Memorial is a tribute to Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, and the man who held the Union together during its greatest trial. The imposing marble statue of Lincoln invites reflection on the ideals of freedom, justice, and equality.

Highlights:

Find inspiration in the inscriptions of Lincoln's famous speeches on the memorial's walls.

Address and opening hours:

451 Indiana Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001, United States. Open 24 hours.

Explore the Lincoln Memorial

4. Stand in awe of the Washington Monument

As one of the most recognizable structures in Washington, the Washington Monument is a towering tribute of marble, sandstone, and granite to George Washington, the nation's first President. The elegant obelisk is the tallest building in the city and stands as a testament to Washington's leadership and character.

Insider's tip:

Go to the observation deck at the top for breathtaking views. The best time is late afternoon before closing time as the sun starts to set.

Address and opening hours:

2 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20024, United States. Open daily, 9:00 AM-5:00 PM.

Admire the Washington Monument

5. Experience the charm of the Mount Vernon Estate

Nestled in the verdant landscape of Virginia, the Mount Vernon Estate was the beloved home of George Washington. Experience the serenity of this tranquil estate, and explore the mansion, its gardens, and the surrounding plantation, all carefully preserved to reflect their 18th-century appearance.

Insider's tip:

Take a tour of the estate and visit the estate's treasures like the New Room, the Key to the Bastille, and family portraits.

Address and opening hours:

3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy, Mt Vernon, VA 22121, United States. Open daily, 9:00 AM-5:00 PM.

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6. Explore the intriguing US Treasury Building

The US Treasury Building is a pillar of American financial history where major economic decisions are made daily. Discover one of Washington's most stunning architectural landmarks and an impressive representation of the Greek Revival style.

Highlights:

Don't miss the burglar-proof vault on the second floor, built in 1864 using a unique decorative cast iron wall designed to deter the most determined burglars.

Address and opening hours:

1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW #1428, Washington, DC 20220, United States. Tours are available every other Saturday at 9:00 AM and 10:30 AM.

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7. Experience the majesty of the Library of Congress

With a collection that surpasses 170 million items, the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world. It's a monument to human knowledge and one of Washington's historic landmarks.

Highlights:

Witness the grandeur of the Main Reading Room, adorned with 10-foot-high allegorical figures atop marble columns.

Address and opening hours:

101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20540, United States. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10:00 AM-5:00 PM.

Explore the Library of Congress

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8. Venture into the solemn beauty of Arlington National Cemetery

The hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400,000 active-duty service members, veterans, and their families. Walking through the cemetery is a journey through American history, with every tombstone telling the unique story of those who sacrificed everything for their country.

Highlights:

Look for John F. Kennedy's gravesite, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the moving Changing of the Guard ceremony.

Address and opening hours:

1 Memorial Ave. Arlington, Virginia 22211, United States. Open daily 8:00 AM-5:00 PM.

Explore the Arlington National Cemetery

photo: Ted

9. Step back in time at Ford's Theater

Once an entertainment haven for President Abraham Lincoln, Ford's Theater carries a tragic legacy as the site of Lincoln's 1865 assassination by John Wilkes Booth. Today, it operates as a theater, a historical monument, and a museum, providing a compelling journey into the past.

Highlights:

Explore the original exterior of Ford's Theatre and Peterson's Boarding House, two notable locations from a pivotal moment in history.

Address and opening hours:

511 10th St NW, Washington, DC 20004, United States. Open daily, 9:00 AM-4:00 PM.

10. Indulge in artistic genius at the National Gallery of Art

Housing an impressive collection of art, the National Gallery of Art is an architectural and cultural jewel. Discover exhibits ranging from European masterpieces of the Middle Ages to contemporary art. Find works from Rembrandt to Monet and even a sculpture garden.

Highlights:

Admire Raphael's 'Small Cowper Madonna' and 'The Alba Madonna,' both marvels of Renaissance artistry.

Address and opening hours:

Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20565, United States. Open daily, 10:00 AM-5:00 PM.

Explore the National Gallery of Art

11. Step into history at the World War II Memorial

The poignant World War II Memorial salutes the heroism of American soldiers who served. It is a harmonious tribute to the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment of the American people.

Highlights:

Visit the 56 pillars and dual triumphal arches, signifying US states, territories, and the two major theaters of the war.

Address and opening hours:

1750 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024, United States. Accessible 24 hours.

Explore the World War II Memorial

12. Witness a monumental tribute at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Honoring the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., this memorial is a symbol of the civil rights movement. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial's dedication in 2011 marked the first time a non-president and a person of color has been honored with a National Mall memorial.

Highlights:

Read his iconic speech carved into the rock Stone of Hope.

Address and opening hours:

1964 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20004, United States. Open 24 hours.

Scenic and natural landmarks in Washington

13. Explore the beating heart of Washington at the National Mall

Known as 'America's front yard,' the National Mall is home to some of Washington's most majestic landmarks. Here, history, culture, and democratic ideals converge, and significant events, from presidential inaugurations to civil rights marches, have left their mark.

Highlights:

Experience the rich tapestry of memorial sites dedicated to World War II, Korean War Veterans, and Vietnam War Veterans.

Address and opening hours:

Between Constitution and Independence Ave. SW Washington, DC 20050, United States. Open 24 hours every day.

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14. Experience the tranquil beauty of the Potomac River

The Potomac River is one of the most striking of Washington's natural landmarks. Spanning over 400 miles, it has been a vital route since Native American times and has witnessed the growth of the capital city.

Insider's tip:

The Potomac River makes for a romantic backdrop if you're traveling to Washington DC with your partner, especially in the spring. Set up a picnic under the cherry blossoms or take a cruise from Washington Harbor or other points of departure that provide you with vistas of the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Jefferson Memorial from the unique perspective of the Potomac.

Address and opening hours:

Washington Harbor, 3000-3050 K St NW, Washington, DC 20007, United States. Open 24 hours every day.

Explore the Potomac River

15. Discover an oasis in the city at Constitution Gardens

A peaceful haven within Washington's bustling cityscape, Constitution Gardens is a beautiful 50-acre park designed as a tribute to the nation's democratic ideals. With its lush green spaces and lake, it is one of the most tranquil Washington landmarks.

Highlights:

Explore the park's lake dedicated to the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, and spot the various wildlife species that call this park home.

Address and opening hours:

Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20024, United States. Open 24 hours.

FAQs

What is the oldest historic landmark in Washington?

The Old Stone House, built in 1765, is the oldest unchanged building in Washington, DC.

What are some free landmarks to visit in Washington?

Free landmarks in Washington include the Lincoln Memorial, the US Capitol, the National Mall, and all the Smithsonian museums.

Are there any guided tours that focus on the architecture of Washington's landmarks?

Several guided tours in Washington concentrate on the city's architectural history and design, offering detailed insight into significant landmarks and their unique features.

How can I get the best views of scenic landmarks in Washington?

One great way is a boat tour on the Potomac River, which offers unique views of numerous landmarks. The top of the Washington Monument also provides a panoramic city view.

What are some natural landmarks near Washington worth visiting?

Near Washington, natural landmarks worth visiting include the Great Falls Park, Rock Creek Park, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.