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  • Writer's pictureNick Burgess

The Best Historical Landmarks In Washington DC

Updated: Jul 1

So you read our article on the best airports to use when flying into Washington DC and decided "right, that's it! I'm finally booking my trip." You made the arrangements and want to go sightseeing. Good for you! You're about to land in my favorite city in the world to see some incredible history right there in front of you.


But the question remains: where do you start? We're here to break down the best historical landmarks in the nation's capital: Washington D.C.


1. The White House

The White House, located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW (SW is actually a McDonalds that receives an enormous amount of mail meant for the White House), is perhaps the most iconic building in Washington, D.C, if not the world.

This residence and workplace of the President of the United States has witnessed countless historical events, including once being burned to the ground. Visitors can contact their local Representative to take guided tours of the White House, exploring rooms rich with history and significance. 


2. The U.S. Capitol Building 

Personal politics aside, the United States Capitol Building continues to be the seat of the federal government and a symbol of American democracy. Located on Capitol Hill, this iconic building is where the U.S. Congress meets. Visitors can tour the Capitol to see the Rotunda, the National Statuary Hall, and the Crypt, learning about the legislative process and the building’s long history. 

the us capitol building featuring my wife and i and a christmas tree
The Capitol at Christmas

Fun fact: if you contact your Representative or Senator about a tour, you can score a guided tour of the building including hard-to-see areas. Shoutout to Senator Raphael Warnock for hooking my family up with a guided tour of the building!


3. Lincoln Memorial 

The Lincoln Memorial is a tribute to Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, who guided the country through the American Civil War. Located on the western end of the National Mall, this grand monument features a larger-than-life statue of Lincoln seated, gazing over the Reflecting Pool towards the Washington Monument. The memorial is a site of numerous historical events, including Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. 

4. Washington Monument 

Standing at the center of the National Mall, the Washington Monument is an iconic obelisk honoring George Washington, the first president of the United States. This towering structure offers panoramic views of the city from its observation deck. It’s a must-visit for anyone interested in the rich history of the nation’s capital. 

5. The National Mall 

Look, we're cheating a little bit here, but the National Mall is the heart of Washington, D.C., home to many of the city’s most significant historical sites and museums. Stretching from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall is a sprawling green space where visitors can explore the nation's history through its monuments, memorials, and museums. 


6. Smithsonian Institution Museums

We're cheating again! But we promise it's worth it. The Smithsonian Institution, a group of museums and research complexes, offers an unparalleled opportunity to explore American history, art, and culture. The National Museum of American History, the National Air and Space Museum, and the Natural History Museum are just a few of the highlights within the Smithsonian complex, each offering unique exhibits and collections. And if you'd like to venture out of downtown D.C, the Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport is something to behold.


7. Vietnam Veterans Memorial 

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, located near the Lincoln Memorial, is a poignant tribute to the soldiers who served in the Vietnam War. The black granite wall, inscribed with the names of more than 58,000 fallen soldiers, is a somber reminder of the war’s impact. This memorial is one of the most visited and emotionally powerful sites in Washington, D.C. 

vietnam veterans memorial in washington dc

8. Arlington National Cemetery 

Across the Potomac River in Virginia, Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for thousands of American service members, including President John F. Kennedy. The cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a must-visit, where visitors can witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony, honoring unidentified soldiers who have died in combat. 


gravestones at arlington national cemetery

9. Library of Congress 

The Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, is housed in three buildings on Capitol Hill. It’s a repository of the nation’s most significant documents, including the original Star-Spangled Banner and the papers of the founding fathers. You can also find the most preserved Gutenberg Bible on record, which has its own section of the library. The Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building is a marvel of architecture and design, offering a glimpse into the nation’s literary and historical treasures. 

the lobby of the library of congress
The lobby of the Library of Congress

10. Supreme Court 

The Supreme Court of the United States, located just across the street from the Capitol, is where the highest judicial decisions in the country are made. Visitors can tour the Supreme Court building, sit in on oral arguments, and explore exhibits that detail the history and impact of the court’s rulings. 

11. World War Two Memorial

The World War Two Memorial is the newest memorial on this list, having been built in 2004 after President Bill Clinton approved funding and construction in the late 1990's. Fundraising for the memorial was lead by former presidential candidate Bob Dole, FedEx founder Fred Smith, and Hollywood stars Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks who got involved following the development of the series Band of Brothers. The memorial has a tribute to every state in the union, including stars for each member of the armed services who sacrificed their lives during the war.

Pro tip: go during the summer months to see the reflection pool in the center of the memorial.


12. The National Archives 

My personal favorite on this list, the National Archives is home to the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. These foundational documents of American democracy are displayed in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, allowing visitors to connect with the nation’s history in a profound way. There's just something about seeing the originals of the images in your history books.


13. The Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery 

Housed in the Old Patent Office Building, this museum offers a rich collection of American art and portraits of influential figures in U.S. history. The galleries feature works from the colonial period to contemporary art, highlighting the diversity and evolution of American culture.

To us, the most fascinating concept at the Portrait Gallery is that it's not necessarily the official portrait for each president; it's the image the museum feels is most indicative of their time in office. For example, while Ronald Reagan's portrait is his official portrait, George W. Bush's portrait is a painted portrait of a casual Bush at Camp David, Barack Obama's is his famous "HOPE" campaign poster, and Donald Trump's is a TIME Magazine cover during his second impeachment.


14. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial 

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, located near the Tidal Basin, honors the legacy of the civil rights leader. The memorial features a striking statue of Dr. King emerging from a granite stone, symbolizing his pivotal role in the struggle for equality. Quotes from his speeches are inscribed on the memorial’s walls, offering inspiration to all who visit. 

15. National Museum of African American History and Culture 

This Smithsonian museum is dedicated to documenting African American life, history, and culture. It offers a comprehensive look at the African American experience, from the transatlantic slave trade to the civil rights movement and beyond. The museum’s exhibits are both powerful and educational, making it a must-visit for anyone interested in the nation's history. 


16. The National Museum of the American Indian 

The National Museum of the American Indian, another Smithsonian institution, is dedicated to the history and culture of Native Americans. The museum’s exhibits showcase the diversity and resilience of indigenous cultures, highlighting their contributions to American history. 


17. The Korean War Veterans Memorial 

The Korean War Veterans Memorial, located near the Lincoln Memorial, honors the soldiers who fought in the Korean War. The memorial features 19 stainless steel statues representing soldiers on patrol, along with a Wall of Remembrance inscribed with the names of those who were killed, wounded, or missing in action. 

18. The United States Botanic Garden

The United States Botanic Garden, located near the Capitol Building, is a living plant museum that showcases the diversity of plant life. The garden’s conservatory features tropical, desert, and subtropical plants, while the outdoor gardens display native plants and seasonal blooms. BY FAR the coolest thing at this exhibit are the natural monuments; wood manipulated to grow in the shapes of the monuments listed above.

the us capitol building made out of wood, on display at the united states botanic garden
A naturally grown exhibit of the U.S Capitol Building

Conclusion

Washington, D.C., is a remarkable reflection of American history, with its streets adorned by iconic monuments and memorials honoring the nation's founding fathers, such as the impressive Washington Monument and the dignified Lincoln Memorial. These landmarks not only serve as tangible reminders of the past but also as powerful symbols of the ideals and values that have shaped the United States.


Additionally, Washington, D.C., boasts a multitude of museums and historic structures that provide visitors with a deeper understanding of key moments in American history. The Smithsonian Institution, with its array of museums, offers a comprehensive view of various aspects of the nation's past, ranging from art and culture to science and technology. The National Museum of African American History and Culture serves as a moving tribute to the struggles and achievements of the civil rights movement, displaying artifacts and narratives that shed light on the ongoing quest for equality.


Exploring Washington, D.C., feels like embarking on a journey through time, where each turn reveals a new chapter in the nation's story. The city's cobblestone streets echo tales of the Civil War, while its majestic government buildings stand as symbols of democracy's enduring principles. Whether you wander through the historic neighborhoods of Georgetown or immerse yourself in the collections of the Library of Congress, you are sure to discover a treasure trove of historical wonders that exemplify the resilience, diversity, and spirit of the American people.

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