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A Parent's Guide to the Washington D.C. Monuments and Memorials

At Mom 'n Dad Co., we want to make your life easier as a parent when it comes to exploring downtown D.C., so I've compiled this list of the top monuments to see and tips for your adventure.

Kelly O'Lone
Kelly O'Lone

Table of Contents

As a child, I remember my aunt picking me up from the airport and saying she would take me to "the mall." My response? "Montogomery Mall!!!" My teenage- self clearly needed a refresher course on the National Mall and the many monuments that call it home.

Since I now call the D.C. area home, I want my kids to understand how exciting it is to live near places like the Washington Monument, the WWII Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, etc.

At Mom 'n Dad Co., we want to make your life easier as a parent when it comes to exploring downtown D.C., so I've compiled this list of the top monuments and memorials to see and tips for your adventure.

Visiting the National Mall

Photo by the National Park Service 

It's okay if you are like young Kelly and need a refresher course on the National Mall, which is a beautifully landscaped area administered by the National Park Service.

Simply put, the National Mall is an expansive open space, perfect for little ones to run around and admire the sites. While the Mall is always open, it can get congested, so it's best to visit in the morning if you are looking to avoid crowds.

The Mall sits directly between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, making it easy to go from one monument to the next. You'll also find the World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and Vietnam Veterans Memorial within steps of the Mall.

Now, let's take a closer look at the top monuments and memorials you don't want to miss with your family.  Whether you're visiting the area or want to play tourist for a day, you'll make wonderful memories with your crew.  

Washington Monument

Photo by Yeon Choi on Unsplash

One of the most iconic sights in D.C. is the Washington Monument, which has a clear 25-mile view from the observation deck. The Washington Monument, or the "giant pencil" as my 8-year-old called it, underwent several years of renovations, mainly due to a 2011 earthquake, but it also closed for elevator repairs, security upgrades, and other necessary improvements.

Getting There: The two closest Metro stops to the Washington Monument are Federal Triangle and Smithsonian, both on the Silver, Orange, and Blue lines.

Hours: The Washington Monument is open daily from 9 am - 5 pm, except for December 25, July 4, and part of July 3. It's highly recommended to get your tickets in advance because only a small number are available on a first-come-first-serve basis.  

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Photo by David Tato on Unsplash

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial honors the third president of the United States with a 19-foot bronze statue and various texts from Jefferson across the walls. If you direct your kids to the southeast wall, they can learn some of the most famous words from the Declaration of Independence, beginning with "We hold these truths to be self-evident..."

Getting There: Your best bet is the Smithsonian Metro, which is located on the Orange, Blue, and Silver lines.

Hours: The open-air Memorial is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; however, rangers are on duty daily from 9:30 am - 10:oo pm.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

Photo by the National Park Service via Facebook

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (FDR) honors the United States' 32nd president and is situated between the Martin Luther King, Jr and Jefferson memorials and first opened in 1997. The FDR Memorial includes bronze sculptures of Roosevelt, his wife, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and his loyal pup, First Pet Fala.  

You can have your children find the four "outdoor rooms," which symbolize Roosevelt's four terms as president. The memorial is popular during Cherry Blossom season, as it is located on the Tidal Basin.

Getting There: You can easily get to the FDR Memorial by getting off at the Federal Triangle or Smithsonian stops, using the Blue, Orange, or Silver lines.

Hours: You can visit the FDR Memorial anytime, but National Park Rangers are available from 9:30 am - 10:00 pm for questions.

Lincoln Memorial

Photo by Josue Aguazia on Unsplash

Your kids will love running up to the Lincoln Memorial while passing by the beautiful Reflecting Pool and then look in awe at the 19-foot-tall, 175-ton statue of the 16th president of the United States. You can have your kids count all 36 columns at the Memorial, representing each state of the U.S. at the date of Lincoln's death.

Getting There: To get to the Lincoln Memorial by Metro, get off at Foggy Bottom or the Smithsonian via the Blue, Orange, or Silver lines.

Hours: The Lincoln Memorial is open 24/7, but rangers are on-site daily from 9:30 am - 10:00 pm.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Photo by Elizabeth Villalta on Unsplash

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial sits next to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and is within view of the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials. The Memorial is a great opportunity to teach your children about the prominence Dr. King was in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The Memorial opened in 2011 and is the first to honor a man of color, and is only the fourth non-president.  

Getting There: The closest Metro stop to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is the Smithsonian stop via the Orange, Blue, and Silver lines.

Hours: You can view the Memorial 24 hours day/7 days a week, but park rangers are available daily from 9:30 am - 10:00 pm to answer questions.  

National World War II Memorial

Photo by Friends of the National World War II Memorial via Facebook 

The National World War II Memorial is a breathtaking sight and honors the 16 million men and women who served during WWII. In addition, the memorial has 56 beautiful granite columns, representing unity among the 48 states, D.C., and seven federal territories. You also don't want to miss the 4,048 stars that pay tribute to the lives lost in the war (each star represents 100 Americans).

While every visit varies, you might have the opportunity to meet a former serviceman at the memorial, which is a fantastic chance for your kids to meet a real-life hero.

Getting There: You can get off at the Smithsonian or Federal Triangle metro stops via the Orange, Blue, and Silver lines.

Hours: The WWII Memorial is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but highly recommend visiting between 9:30 am and 10:00 pm, when rangers are available for questions.

Korean War Veterans Memorial

Photo by Ian Hutchinson on Unsplash

The Koren War Veterans Memorial honors those who fought in the Korean War, and Congress determined in 1986 that the memorial should be built on the National Mall. The memorial has a profound "Field of Service" that depicts soldiers patrolling the site grounds.

You can have your children count the 19 statues or take a moment of silence at the Pool of Remembrance, which has inscriptions for those who lost their lives, went missing in action, and were prisoners during the Korean War.

Getting There: The closest Metro stops are Smithsonian and Federal Triangle via the Orange, Blue, and Silver Lines.

Hours: The memorial is open 24 hours a day, but rangers are on-site daily from 9:30 am - 10:00 pm.

Visiting The White House and the U.S. Capitol

Photo by Tabrez Syed on Unsplash

While the White House and Capitol aren't necessarily considered monuments, that doesn't mean you can't add them to your day downtown. The two prominent buildings are two miles apart, and the best way to get from one place to the next is by bus, taxi, Metro, or walking.

You can take a self-guided tour of the White House, which lasts for 45 minutes, but you must request a tour by contacting a Member of Congress and their Congressional Tour Coordinator. So, you won't be able to take a tour on a whim, and you should definitely plan it out, especially since requests need to be made 21 days in advance.

However, you can always visit the famous address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, for a photo opportunity outside the gates.

The Capitol has a more generous tour schedule, and you can choose a time online, sometimes on the same day. In addition, the visitor center is open Monday - Friday from 8:30 am - 4:30 pm.

Tips for Navigating Through Downtown D.C.

Photo by Jacob Creswick on Unsplash

If you are anything like me, you worry about your kids in a big city. So, I wanted to put together some tips for navigating through D.C. to ensure your visit is enjoyable and safe.

  1. Have a plan before you go. While no one ever plans to get lost, you should discuss where to meet if the unimaginable happens. It's also a good time to teach child safety and to look for police officers or firemen if your kids can't find you. If your kids don't know already, take the time to teach them your phone number or write it down and put it in their pocket.
  2. Wear comfortable shoes. You don't want to start walking around and have your child complain their feet hurt. Even if your child promises they won't complain with their favorite sandals on, don't believe them. If you are going to be walking all day, ensure everyone has comfortable, well-fitted shoes on.
  3. Allow extra time. While you shouldn't plan on getting to D.C. in the late afternoon, you also shouldn't plan on an exact departure time. For example, you never know how long your kids will want to admire the sites or how many bathroom breaks they need to take. So, to avoid any potential issues, always allow extra time to visit downtown.  
  4. Bring snacks and water. While there are various restaurants and street vendors, any parent will tell you it never hurts to have snacks on hand. If you are bringing a stroller, don't forget to stash some water bottles, especially if you visit in the summer.  
  5. Know where the nearest bathroom is. There are free-standing restrooms at almost every major memorial, and if you walk past a museum, you can always pop in there to use the facilities.
  6. Time Your Visit with the Weather. While you can visit downtown anytime, especially in the winter when things are quieter, the spring months are your best bet for the nicest weather and beautiful cherry blossoms.
  7. Consider Taking a Trolley Tour. If the extra walking isn't for the little feet in your family, trolley tours are a fantastic idea. The Washington D.C. Sightseeing Tours are the most popular trolleys and will take you to the top sights. You can also hop on and off, which is nice if you want to see a specific monument or memorial up-close.
  8. Do Some Research First. Since the memorials and monuments have a ton of history attached to their names, it wouldn't hurt to teach your kids some history before you go. When kids have an idea of what they are looking at, it adds extra value and meaning.  

Wrap Up

Photo by Frank Huang on Unsplash

Whether Washington D.C. is in your backyard or you're making a special trip here, it helps to have a plan. There are many monuments and memorials you want to put on your to-do list, and I hope this guide has helped you plan your visit.

Remember, you don't have to do everything in one day, and the metro makes it easy to see the sights whenever possible. While you can drive downtown, I highly recommend utilizing the metro since parking is not always easy to find.

After you visit, let us know what your favorite monument was and if you have any tips to add to our list!

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Kelly O'Lone

Kelly O'Lone is a mom of three who survives motherhood with some help from caffeine, a lot of humor, and her fantastic mom tribe.