Visiting the Washington Monument is a must-do for all Washington, D.C. visitors.
From its peak, the Washington Monument provides a 360-degree bird’s eye view of Washington, D.C., as well as portions of Virginia and Maryland.
Because Congress passed a law in 1910 limiting the height of buildings in Washington, D.C., there are very few buildings that offer this bird’s eye view of DC. And none are as tall as the Washington Monument.
Visiting the Washington Monument will be one of the highlights of your trip to DC. Read on for tips to make the most of your experience.
1. A little background
But first, some (super fun) facts!
- Why it was built: The Washington Monument commemorates the first U.S. president, George Washington.
- Historic drama: The Washington Monument was built between 1848 and 1884 (with some finishing touches taking until 1888). There was over a 20-year break in construction due to lack of funds and the U.S. Civil War.
- Different stone colors: When construction started again after the 20+ year break, the original rock quarry was no longer in operation. So the builders had to find another rock quarry. Eventually, three different rock quarries were used to build the Washington Monument.
- Prior claim to fame: The Washington Monument was the tallest building in the world from 1884 to 1889. The Eiffel Tower took over this honor when it was completed in 1889.
- Current claim to fame: At approximately 555 feet tall, the Washington Monument is still the tallest building in DC, more than a century after it was built.
- Earthquake damage: The structure was slightly damaged by an earthquake in 2011. It was closed for three years for repairs.
2. How to get tickets
You’ll need tickets to gain access to the internal elevator that goes to the top of the Washington Monument.
You can get these tickets in two ways:
- Same-day tickets: Don’t do this. This requires showing up at the Washington Monument Lodge (a small, whitish building just east of the monument) at 8:30 AM. Then you have to hope that there aren’t tons of people in line in front of you. Even if you do get tickets, you are at the mercy of whatever times are left for that day.
- Advance tickets: This is the way to go. For a whopping $1 (yes, that’s a single dollar), you can reserve advance tickets for the date and time of your choice. Simply head over to Recreation.Gov and make your reservation.
3. Time of day to go
Advance reservation times are every 30 minutes starting from 9 AM through 4 PM.
I went at 4PM in February, with the hopes of getting some nice lighting with the early winter sunset time. Instead, sun glare made it difficult to see the western-facing view.
I recommend reserving a time during midday (which will vary depending on the month) so that you don’t get a glare from the sun to the east in the morning and to the west in the afternoon.
Don’t worry about it ever being too crowded. The National Park Service has implemented policies that limit the number of tickets distributed each day. Plus, people move through the building pretty quickly.
4. What to leave at home
Most of the items prohibited at the Washington Monument are pretty standard – don’t bring explosives, weapons, ammunition, etc. No open food/drink containers or animals (except service animals) are allowed, either.
Strollers are prohibited, as well as bags larger than 18x16x8 inches (46x40x20 cm). For reference, this is about the size of an under-seat bag when flying.
These items are prohibited at many of the buildings along the National Mall, so it’s a good idea to just leave them at home.
5. What to bring
I recommend bringing the following when visiting the Washington Monument:
- Small backpack, no bigger than 18x16x8 inches (46x40x20 cm). Check out the best travel backpacks here.
- Camera equipment: There are no restrictions against photos, videos, or even selfie-sticks, so bring your favorite camera equipment.
- Portable charger: You’ll be using your camera equipment and phone a lot when visiting the Washington Monument (and the rest of DC). Bring a portable charger just in case you run out of battery.
- Umbrella: The only covered area at the Washington Monument is a small alcove right at the security entrance. And the National Park Service Rangers prefer that you not stand there (for good security reasons). Make sure you bring an umbrella.
- Sunscreen: Just like an umbrella, you should bring extra sunscreen to the Washington Monument since you’ll be exposed to the elements.
- Comfortable shoes: Even if you’re just going to the Washington Monument and not visiting the rest of the National Mall, it’s still quite a walk from the road up to the monument. Wear some comfortable shoes.
6. How to get there
Here are a few ways I recommend getting to the Washington Monument:
- Metro: The closest Metro to the Washington Monument is the Smithsonian Station Metro stop. The monument will be directly behind you as you exit the Metro.
- Circulator: These red buses are super cheap (only a $1 per ride!) and an efficient way to get around Washington, D.C.
- Walking: Washington, D.C. is a very walkable city. If your hotel is walkable to the Washington Monument, then walking is one of the best ways to get there.
7. How NOT to get there
Here are a few ways I do NOT recommend for getting to the Washington Monument:
- Driving: Please, I’m begging you, do NOT drive in Washington, D.C. It’s congested, confusing, and unkind to the unfamiliar driver. Plus, there is very, very limited parking at the Washington Monument. You’ll spend a big chunk of your time trying to find parking if you drive to the Washington Monument.
- Bicycling: While I love the (docked) Capital Bikeshare program, I don’t love that there aren’t a lot of dedicated bike paths in the vicinity of the National Mall. Without the bike paths, bicyclists are either putting pedestrians at risk on the paths or putting themselves at risk on the roadways. I’d skip the bikes at the National Mall.
- Dockless anything: Ugh. I do not support anything that can be strewn haphazardly along sidewalks or streets. I turn into a snarling 102-year-old grandparent when I see the undocked scooters or bikes. Be careful! Slow down! Get off my lawn!
8. When to get there
No need to arrive early for your tour reservation. You can arrive at your ticketed entry time. If there’s a line inside the security building, your friendly neighborhood Park Ranger may ask you to wait outside. (Hence the need for an umbrella and sunscreen.)
9. What to expect with security
Security at the Washington Monument is pretty comparable to security at airports.
You’ll get to keep your shoes and coat on, but watches and belts have to come off and go through the security scanner. You’ll also need to put your bag and any electronics through the scanner.
10. Riding the elevator up
After you go through security, you’ll be escorted to the elevator. As you walk through the hallway, notice the mosaic on the floor and the quotes on the wall.
Once in the elevator, you’ll listen to a short video about the history of the monument. It won’t give you a lot of facts, but you can get more information on the Exhibits floor (more on that below).
The elevator ride to the top of the monument takes about a minute.
11. Exploring the observation deck
The elevator will let you out on the observation deck of the monument. Some things to keep in mind:
- Eight windows: There are eight windows around the enclosed observation deck. If someone is already at a window, you can either keep walking until you find a free window or just wait a little bit. People generally don’t stand very long at each window.
- What to look for inside: From the outside of the Washington Monument, you can see flashing red lights at night at the very top of the monument. You can see these flashing red lights inside the observation deck when you look above the windows.
- What to look for outside: You’ll very clearly see the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, U.S. Capitol, and White House from the windows. Some not so obvious things to look for include:
- West Side: Kennedy Center, Key Bridge
- South Side: Ronald Reagan National Aiport
- East Side: Smithsonian Castle, African American Museum
- North Side: National Cathedral
12. Walking through the Exhibits
Once you’ve had your fill of the observation deck, walk down the stairs to the exhibit floor. (If stairs are a no-go for you, tell the Park Ranger, and they’ll arrange for you to take the elevator to the exhibit floor.)
Take your time reading through the exhibits. So many people rushed through these when I visited the Washington Monument. There isn’t a lot to read and all of it is really interesting.
Be sure to check out the display with the lightning rods that formerly sat at the top of the monument.
If anything re-piqued your interest, you’re free to walk back up the stairs to the observation deck.
13. Riding the elevator down
After you’ve visited the exhibit floor, you’ll take the elevator down to the bottom of the monument.
On the way down, the elevator will slow down twice. When it slows down, the opaque windows in the elevator doors will clear and you’ll be able to see the inside of the Washington Monument.
When this happens, you’ll see some of the decorated stones that were donated when the Washington Monument was built.
This is one of the coolest parts of visiting the Washington Monument, so make sure you’re in a spot where you can see the elevator doors.
14. Walk around the monument
After you exit the elevator, you’ll be directed outside of the Washington Monument. But don’t let that be the end of your visit!
Take some time to walk around the base and take in this architectural feat.
Touch the stone, count the flags surrounding the base, and be sure to take lots of pictures from interesting perspectives.
Visiting the Washington Monument is a highlight on my DC experience and I hope you enjoy it, too!