Guide to Visiting the Washington Monument [2019 Update]

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The Washington Monument is one of the most iconic landmarks in the world. People from all around the world flock to the National Mall for the chance to see it in person. But who can blame them? It’s even more inspiring in person than it is in photographs. The centerpiece of the Washington DC skyline and the quintessential backdrop for cherry blossoms in the springtime and fireworks when it comes time to celebrate our independence. So if you are planning on visiting the Nation’s Capitol, here’s your guide to everything you need to know about visiting the Washington Monument:

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The Washington Monument at sunset

How to get there:

The Washington Monument is conveniently located in the heart of the National Mall.  There are several ways to get there but the official address is:

2 15th St NW
Washington, DC 20024

Once you’re in the area, you won’t miss it. It’s actually a law that no other building can be taller than the Washington Monument. Just look up and you’ll find it! It’s the tallest structure in the entire city standing at 555 ft and 5 inches.

Traveling By Car: Northwest DC is not difficult to navigate but there will probably be some traffic depending on the time of day you want to visit. If by car is the way you plan on getting around, plug in the Tidal Basin Paddle Boats into your GPS for the most central and easiest place to find parking in the National Mall.

And it’s a good idea to download the Park Mobile app before you go. You can use it anywhere in the city and it allows you to pay for parking on your phone. All you need is your credit card and license plate number. It’s super easy and convenient in case you decide you wanted to extend your stay at the Washington Monument. #notspon

Traveling by Metro: If you are not traveling by car, the easiest way to get around the city is by metro. The closest metro station to the Washington Monument is the Smithsonian station that can be accessed through the Orange, Blue or Silver lines. Make sure to take the Mall exit for easiest access and from there it’s about a 0.7-mile walk. But if you need to get there faster, there’s always scooters or city bikes everywhere to hop on.

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Get your Tickets:

There are two ways you can get tickets to go to the top of the Washington Monument:

  1. Same-day tickets are available every morning at the Washington Monument Lodge located along 15th street in front of the monument. The tickets are free as long as the time slots are available.
  2. If you want to make sure you can secure tickets for the date you are visiting, you can book them online or call the ticketing office. There is a processing fee of $1.50 per ticket but it’s worth it! For the phone number and more ticketing information, click here.

What to expect when you go up:

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View out the window at the top of the Washington Monument

Once you get your tickets, try to be at the base of the Monument about 10-15 minutes ahead of your ticketed time. You never know what could happen but this buffer allows you to explore the grounds a little bit or even talk to a park ranger if you have any questions about the monument itself. There will be signs near the entrance with your ticketed time close to the benches for you to line up and wait for your time to go up.

As soon as you enter, you have to go through a security checkpoint and get your bags scanned, similar to an airport security screening. It goes quickly but you do have to wait for everyone else who has the same timed ticket to go through security before you can go even further. Once you’re are all done, you are escorted through what looks like a bank vault. It’s actually very cool. You’ll see some words by George Washington himself and up the elevators, you go. With the elevator restoration, you’re up at the observation deck at 550 feet in the air in no time. Don’t be surprised if your ears pop like you’re on an airplane too.

The doors open and you are immediately greeted by a park staff member who’s there to answer any questions you may have while you’re on the observation deck. The best part is that you’re allowed to circle the observation deck for as long as you’d like. There is no time limit and you’re free to visit each of the windows for as long as you like. I would be mindful of the people around you though. There are limited windows and if there are a lot of people on the observation deck with you, there will be a small line behind you.

To give you some reference, the windows are small. You can probably fit 2 people at each window at a time comfortably. 3 would be cramped unless you have a small child. At the base of each window is a platform for what I’m assuming shorter people or children to be able to see out of the window. If you’re really tall, you’ll probably have to crouch down to see. But once you’re at each of the windows, look up! You’ll see the flashing red light that you see outside of the monument. I don’t know… I think it’s pretty cool to see all the inner workings. LOL.

And then at each window, there will be a guide to point out all the major landmarks you are seeing out that particular window. Here’s a basic rundown of the views to expect:

The first set of windows you’ll see is facing east and which is of the Mall, Smithsonian Museums and the US Capitol.

The north side will show you the Ellipse, White House, the Basilica of the National Shrine, and most of the city of Washington DC.

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Lincoln Memorial from the Washington Monument

The west side will give you views of the World War II Memorial, Reflecting Pool, Lincoln Memorial, and Arlington, Virginia.

Finally, on the south side, you will see the Tidal Basin, Jefferson Memorial, Nationals Park, and the Navy Yards.

All are fantastic on their own and if I had to choose, the viewpoint facing west is my favorite.

Once you’re done with your visit to the observation deck, you will have to go down one flight of stairs to the elevators that will take you back down to the ground level. While you’re waiting for the elevator, you will find images and information about the Washington Monument hung on the walls. When the elevator arrives, you get in but the ride down is slower than going up. This was done on purpose so you can see the details of the stone that makes the Monument from the inside. A voice from the loudspeaker will give you a more detailed account of what you’re actually looking at. But don’t put away your camera just yet. Upon exiting the memorial, you’ll get a fantastic view of the US Capitol framed by the American Flags. It’s one of my favorite views in the city!

Different ways of seeing/experiencing the Washington Monument

Best time to visit

I am fortunate enough to live in the Washington DC area so I get to keep up with all the happenings going on around in the city. This isn’t to show off, but I do consider myself lucky that I was here for the week after the Monument reopened (after the 3-year elevator repairs) because the Monument actually stayed open until 9 pm at this time. I think it was to accommodate all the people who were eager to visit the top but I am grateful because I was able to get tickets for sunset and photographed it during that golden hour light and into the evening hours.

Unfortunately now, the Monument is back to regular operating hours: 9 – 5 pm.

From a photography standpoint, sunset is obviously the best time to photograph the city since it isn’t open during sunrise hours. So with that said, the best time to visit would probably be in November and try to score the 4:30 pm time slot. That will be your best bet for that sunset light. Other than that, there probably isn’t a real “best time” for photography.

But there is the best time of year to consider. So if you’re into it, I’d highly recommend cherry blossom season (usually early April), winter when it snows, or when the leaves start changing colors for the fall. You’ll get some unique shots of the city when it’s the most colorful. I can’t wait to go up at all different times of the year 🙂

Camera gear

To be honest, any camera you have is a good camera. It’s such a unique view that it will be difficult to take a bad picture. So whip out your camera phones or bring your DSLRs, I’m sure you will come out with an Instagram worthy image to share with whatever camera you have.

However, if you are planning on bringing your DSLR, here’s what I’d recommend:

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View of the WWII Memorial from the Washington Monument at sunset

Bring your long lens: I used my 70-200mm and ended up shooting with this lens the most. It’s so cool to zoom in on the details of the city, especially of the people walking around the memorials because they look so small! It’s so interesting to see just how many people are hanging out by the World War II memorial.

A wide-angle is a good idea too! I love how the wide-angle lens allows you to see so much more than the zoom. It really gives you the perspective of just how much is really out there. It gives you angles that are otherwise hard to capture.

Please note that you are photographing through windows the entire time you’re up at the observation deck. They do get smudgy with people touching them and whatnot. I personally didn’t have any problems shooting through them until night time fell and the lights from the outside were shining through the windows which made the smudges even more apparent. If you are having difficulty, I’d suggest putting your lens really close to the window, if not on the window. Also if you had some sort of dark cloth or something to drape around your lens, that may help with a glare as well.

Last but not least, here’s a little video I created to show you what it was like going up top. Enjoy!

So I hope you enjoy your visit to the Washington Monument. It’s one of my favorite monuments in the DC area and I am excited for you to see it for yourself. If you have any additional questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below. I’ll try my best to answer them. Also, if you used this guide and got some cool pictures to share, tag them with #snapdc on Instagram or Twitter. I’d love to see them!

Since you’re in the area here are a few of my favorite places to visit in and outside the National Mall. Plus my 5 favorite places to capture the sunset in Washington.

Last but not least, if you’re interested in more Washington DC photography suggestions, check out my book, Snap DC: Your Guide to Taking Extraordinary Photos of the National Mall and Beyond… It was created for any level of photographer from mobile to DSLR, who wants to cut down the research time and spend their time out doing what they love- shooting.

Snap DC: Your Guide to Taking Extraordinary Photos of the National Mall and Beyond...
  • Pan, Angela B (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 210 Pages - 04/26/2018 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

Happy Snapping!