I had to be in D.C. (or “the District” as the locals call it) for work last Friday so I tacked on an extra night and my husband came up for the weekend. We went to the National Gallery Museum on Friday afternoon and spent Saturday walking about 8+ miles to visit all the major Memorials on the National Mall and the Tidal Basin. Below is a good overview of the National Mall and the Tidal Basin showing the location of the major sites.
Steve and I started our self-guided tour at the Washington Monument, which is right at the middle of the National Mall. To the east of the Washington Monument are all the Smithsonian Museums with the Capitol Building at the end and to the west of the Washington Monument are the war memorials with the Lincoln Memorial at the end.
We chose to head West towards the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial to visit the war memorials and the Tidal Basin. Turning away from the Washington Monument, the first memorial you will run into is the World War II Memorial, which honors the soldiers of the war in Europe and the Pacific. It sits at the very beginning of the Reflecting Pool and has a fountain the middle with the Atlantic memorial on the right and the Pacific on the left. Each pillar with wreath represents each state of the U.S.
Following that is a lovely tree-lined walk down the Reflecting Pool towards the Lincoln Memorial
From here, I suggest veering to the right of the Lincoln Memorial to walk through the Vietnam War Memorial. This Memorial was designed by Maya Lin, who was Vietnamese, and was the subject of some controversy because of that. I personally like the starkness of the black granite walls built into the earthen hillside, which are etched with the names of the fallen soldiers.
Once you walk through the Vietnam War Memorial, circle back and walk up the steps to the interior of the Lincoln Memorial to see Mr. Lincoln himself. This also gives you some wonderful views of the Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument from the top. The Gettysburg Address is also etched on the walls here.
Once you’ve been through the Lincoln Memorial head back down the front steps and turn right towards the Korean War Memorial. This was actually one of my favorite memorials, which is hauntingly beautiful with the statutes of the soldiers moving across a field of green. There is also a blank granite reflective wall with etchings of soldiers in it which appear and disappear like ghosts.
Keep walking back down the other side of the Reflecting Pool towards the Washington Monument again but you will now take a right towards the Tidal Basin and cross the street. The first Monument on the shore of the Tidal Basin is the Martin Luther King Memorial. I loved this Memorial. You enter through a stone cut, as if you are entering a mountain and on the inside is a stone monolith with a thoughtful engraving, “Out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope.” On the front of the monolith is a statue of MLK. Surrounding the memorial are engravings of various meaningful quotes from Dr. King regarding equality, humanity and kindness towards others.
You continue along the banks of the Tidal Basin towards the Jefferson Memorial at the opposite end. In the springtime, this is the site of the cherry blossoms blooming. It was very cold and windy this day and we missed peak foliage season for autumn but the trees were still quite lovely.
As you continue along the Tidal Basin, your next stop is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. Another really interesting Memorial, this one was much bigger than I expected. It’s broken into four different parts, which each represent his four terms as President, taking you through the Great Depression to World War II. At the end is an imposing statue of him with this favorite dog, Fala the Scottish Terrier. Fala was by FDR’s side all the time and he once even gave a famous speech about him now known as “The Fala Speech.” Fala is the only presidential pet to be memorialized by the U.S government. I also own a Scottish terrier (Miss Begbie) so I have a special affinity for Scottie dogs and had to get my picture with Fala.
Keep walking past the FDR Memorial and you finally reach the end at the Jefferson Memorial. This Memorial was built with a dome to mimic his home at Monticello in Virginia. Inside is a large statue of Jefferson with engraved quotes of his on the walls regarding democracy, including the full text of the Declaration of Independence.
Walking this entire circuit took us about 3.5 hours and we went at a leisurely pace. The path is flat the entire way (except for climbing stairs at the Memorials) so just wear a pair of sensible shoes or sandals and you’ll be fine. A few other key things to note is that all of the monuments are handicapped accessible with elevators hidden in the base in case you can’t go up/down steps. There are also sign posts and maps all along the route so you can’t get lost and there are plenty of public restrooms along the way as well. I stopped in one and have to say that the public restrooms were very clean and modern so no worries about gross port-a-potties or anything.
You get a wonderful sense of the arc of American History by seeing all of these monuments and memorials, including the good, the bad and the ugly of it. We thoroughly enjoyed the day, the sights, the fresh air and exercise. If you ever visit D.C., I highly recommend doing a day to see these sights and then coming back the next day and hitting the east side of the National Mall to visit the Smithsonian Museums, of which there are several. One thing is for certain – you will not lack for things to do in D.C.!