Panoramic Views from the Top of the Washington Monument

IMG_5522Earlier this week, we enjoyed a wonderful visit with family who made the long journey from Washington (state) to Washington (DC). In a city with so much to see and do, it’s always hard to pick and choose between DC’s numerous museums, monuments, historical sites, parks, and so on. We tried our best to give our relatives as full a DC experience as we could with limited time (and without completely exhausting them), and that included a trip up to the top of the Washington Monument.


At 555 feet and 5 and 1/8 inches, the Washington Monument was the tallest building in the world at the time of its completion in 1884, nearly 90 years after George Washington’s death. The Monument held its distinction of World’s Tallest Building until the Eiffel Tower was completed about five years later. Today, it remains the tallest building in Washington, DC.

Whether you are a tourist or a local, taking the tour of the Washington Monument should be on your agenda at some point while you are in our nation’s capital. Tickets are required but free, and you have two options for getting them: you can stand in line outside the Washington Monument on the morning that you would like to visit and hope to be let in, depending on the number of people who have the same idea; or, better yet, you can order advance tickets online or by phone and show up at the time for which you have reserved your spot on the tour. This option comes with a service charge of $1.50 per ticket, but is completely worth it, as you will skip the line and be guaranteed entry on the day that you want to visit. If you plan to visit between March and September, you will need to reserve your tickets well in advance. I reserved ours for this week back in November, and even then, most slots were already taken.


If you order your tickets online or by phone, you can either pick them up at will call prior to the start of your tour time, or have them mailed to you.

We arrived at the Monument promptly at the time shown on our ticket. After a quick check through security, we, along with a handful of other people, were escorted into the Monument’s elevator, which holds about 20 people. While in the elevator, a park ranger told us a brief history of the Monument’s construction.

In the Monument’s very first elevator, it took passengers about ten to twelve minutes to reach the top. On our visit, we traveled for just over one minute.


The Washington Monument stands tall against a bright blue sky on the morning of our visit. Photo credit: M.

We learned that the Washington Monument took nearly 40 years to complete. Construction began with the first cornerstone laid on Independence Day, 1848. It continued until 1858, when funding for the Monument’s construction was depleted. The Monument stood, incomplete, for the next 18 years, until President Grant authorized federal funding to finish the project. When construction resumed, the original stone that had been used thus far was no longer available, and so, a stone slightly different in color had to be used for the remainder of the building. This is why there is a slight difference in color partway to the top.


The Monument’s capstone is made of marble and weighs 3,300 pounds. It is topped with a 9-inch pyramid of cast aluminum. Source:

Once we reached the top of the Monument, we were among about thirty other people. The space is small and cramped, and explains why only a certain number of people are admitted at a time. With a total of eight windows (two on each of the four walls), the top of the Washington Monument offers beautiful panoramic vistas of the entire city. We were fortunate to have visited on a clear day, as we could see quite far in all directions. M. took several photos during our tour, trying to capture the views as well as possible. Bear in mind that the photos below were all taken through windows.

The view from the Monument’s east window stretches to the U.S. Capitol and beyond. You can see the National Mall lined with the Smithsonian museums on either side, as well as the Department of Agriculture buildings (with the red roofs) on the right.


The National Mall is undergoing quite a bit of construction between the Washington Monument and the Capitol.

The south windows of the Monument offer beautiful, far-reaching views of the Potomac River, the Tidal Basin and Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Hains Point, and the Virginia (right) and Maryland (left) banks of the river.


Seeing this view reminds me of the Marine Corps Marathon course, which takes runners around Hains Point and is one of the toughest parts of the race, thanks to typically high winds and few spectators in this section.


The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is one of my favorite buildings in all of DC. Behind it, at the top of the photo, you can see one of the runways at Ronald Reagan National Airport.

The west view from the Monument shows the other side of the National Mall, stretching from the Washington Monument to the Abraham Lincoln Memorial and across the Potomac River, into Virginia.


The Reflecting Pool is currently under construction between the World War II Memorial (the circular area) and the Lincoln Memorial. The tall buildings in the upper right side of the photo constitute the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia.


The Memorial Bridge is just over a third of a mile long and connects DC and Virginia. It also provides a straight walk or drive from the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington National Cemetery.


The Foggy Bottom neighborhood sits just north and west of the Washington Monument (right side of the photo). It is home to The George Washington University, the Kennedy Center, and many government agencies, including the U.S. Department of State.

Finally, the north windows of the Washington Monument provide a fantastic view of the White House, the Ellipse, and northwest DC all the way up 16th Street.


Long ago and far away when I lived in the District, I used to ride the bus up and down 16th Street (the main road cutting through the city in this photo) every day going to and from work.

Following our tour at the top of the Monument, we walked a few steps down to the 490th step, where we waited for the elevator to take us back down to the ground level. While we waited, we perused the photo gallery on the walls. Our trip down the Monument took a bit longer, as the elevator slowed along the way and its windows defogged, revealing views of some of the Monument’s most notable stones while a park ranger provided narration.

As we traveled downward, my thoughts drifted to George Washington. Knowing that he came from rather humble beginnings, put his country before himself, declined the opportunity to serve a third term as president in a time monarchies were the norm, and ultimately returned to farming at his beloved Mount Vernon following his presidency… what would he think of such an impressive monument standing in his honor? Would he like it, or would he think it too grand? I think the Monument’s height and simplicity represent Washington’s strength, fortitude, and humility quite well, but I wonder what Washington himself would think.

In total, our visit to the top of the Washington Monument took about one hour. Before you dismiss it as something reserved only for tourists who are offloaded by the dozens from one of DC’s many tour buses, consider making the time for an important piece of our country’s history and what is sure to be a most memorable experience. You will be glad you did.

Thank you for reading!

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