The landmarks of Washington D.C. represent some of the most important institutions of power in the country.
Washington D.C. is the capital of the United States and the cradle of our republic. It is within this city that laws are made and votes are cast by elected officials.
Nestled between the states of Virginia and Maryland, Washington, D.C. is also home to some of the nation’s most extraordinary and historical landmarks.
Famous Landmarks in Washington DC
1. United States Capitol
The Capitol building is the epicenter of the United States congress and seat of the legislative branch of government. It’s located at the eastern end of the National Mall on what has become known as Capitol Hill.
The Capitol was envisioned by president George Washington. Construction began in 1793 with the architect Pierre L’Enfant at the helm. The work was completed in 1800.
The Capitol was to be the cornerstone of Washington’s vision to start a new national capital. Until the construction, the congress met in Philadelphia. Washington wanted a neutral spot (not too north or too south). So the piece of land on the Potomac River was chosen.
Through the years, the Capitol has expanded as our country has grown. It now encompasses 175,000 square feet over 16 acres of land. There are 540 rooms.
2. The White House
Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC, the White House is the official residence and office of the president of the United States.
The neoclassical, all white structure has been used in this capacity since 1800. This is also the headquarters and workplace for all presidential staff, press conferences, and official meetings with heads of state from other countries.
The White House was designed by James Hoban, an Irish-born architect. He modeled it after Leinster House, which is where Ireland’s legislature is housed.
The White House was constructed from Aquia sandstone between 1792 and 1800. In 1814, the building was burned during the War of 1812. It was quickly rebuilt and was ready for James Monroe by 1817.
Over the years, extensions and additions have been made to the White House. Today, the 55,000 square foot presidential mansion includes:
- 132 rooms
- 35 bathrooms
- 28 fireplaces
- 8 staircases
- 3 elevators
- swimming pool
- bowling alley
- bomb shelter
- Rose Garden
- a large guest house
The White House is owned and maintained by the National Park Service. The public may book a tour to visit.
3. Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is a research library. It’s primary purpose is to research query requests made by members of Congress.
However, it is also open to the public and anyone with a reader identification may use the library. But only employees and members of congress may take the books from the premises.
The library was established in 1800, with important collections being accumulated. . The official national library has over 171 million items and employs over 3,000.
4. Lincoln Memorial
Located at the west end of the National Mall, this exquisite piece of architecture was built to honor the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Architect Henry Bacon designed the Greek revival structure after a Greek Doric temple.
The memorial includes the infamous 60 foot tall statue of Lincoln seated majestically as if on a throne. Also included were stone replicas of the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s second inaugural speech. There are 36 columns, one for each state at the time of his death.
The monument was officially dedicated on Memorial Day in 1922. Since then, it has been a part of our nation’s fabric, with historical speeches and a host of other activities that represent America’s democracy.
5. Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institute is the world’s largest museum, educational, and research compound. The institute as a whole, is a group of several buildings. Each one focuses on different American historical and cultural concentrations. From natural history to air and space.
The institute itself is referred to as “the castle”. It was completed in 1855 and was the original museum. The castle now serves as the visitor center for the Smithsonian complex and is considered its signature building.
Visitors can see highlights from all the other museums and exhibitions. They can also tour the castle’s impressive 19th century architecture.
Experts and guides are also available to ensure everyone gets the most out of their visit to the vast Smithsonian compound.
6. National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery of Art is located on the National Mall in Washington DC. The gallery is open to the public and is free of charge.
The museum was started in 1937 by millionaire and art lover Andrew Mellon. He donated a large number of pieces and a substantial amount of funds for its construction.
The idea was to have a national art museum to rival those overseas. An American art center, where everyone has the opportunity to visit.
Mellon’s goal was to make sure all people had the opportunity to come together at a central location and experience art and beauty. With the hope that it would be a common bond that brings people together.
Architect John Russel Pope was chosen to design the neoclassical building. The gallery has over 130,000 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculptures, and decorative art. A 6 acre sculpture garden was added to the gallery in 1999. Some of the gallery highlights include:
- Da Vinci’s – Ginerva de Benci
- El Greco’s – Saint Martin and the Beggar
- Monet’s – The Railway
- Raphael’s – Cowper Madonna
- Rembrandt’s – Self-Portrait
- Van Gogh’s – Self – Portrait
- Monet’s – Woman With A Parosol
- Van der Weyden’s – Portrait of a Lady
7. Washington Monument
Located on the National Mall, The Washington Monument was built to honor the first president of the United States, George Washington. It was designed by architects Robert Mills and Thomas Lincoln Casey.
The 555 foot structure, completed in 1884, was the tallest building in the world at the time. The obelisk structure was opened to the public in 1886.
Visitors could walk up the iron staircase to the top. On their way up they could view stones with dedications to the president from various cities, states, countries, and individuals. Today there are 193 stones.
The structure is made of marble, granite, and blue stone gneiss. It remains the world’s tallest stone structure and the world’s tallest obelisk building. Nowadays, visitors can buy a ticket, ride an elevator, and view the entire city from the top.
8. Smithsonian National Museum
Located on the National Mall, this museum is the 18th most visited in the world. Admission is free. The National Museum of Natural History opened in 1910 and was one of the first opened by the Smithsonian.
It holds both research facilities and over 146 million specimens. These specimens include plants, fossils, minerals, animals, human remains, cultural and human artifacts. With over 1.5 million square feet of space, over 325,000 square feet is dedicated to public space and exhibits.
The building itself is designed in the neoclassical style, like most other buildings in Washington DC. This includes the use of white stone, columns, and a dome.
The museum employs over 185 scientists to study natural and cultural resources. The largest group of its kind in the world. Exhibits included The Hope Diamond, The Star of Asia, fossil hall, ocean hall, and plant hall.
There is also a Discovery room, where children (and adults) are invited to take part in hands-on educational activities. The museum is open 364 days a year and admission is free.
9. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
The National Air and Space Museum was established in 1946. The museum opened its doors on the National Mall in 1976. It is the 2nd most visited museum in the United States. The Air and Space Museum is the center for historical research, the science of aviation, astronomy, and space flight.
The museum houses several original aircraft and has them on display for the public. They include the Apollo – 11 Command Module, The Friendship Capsule, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, The Bell X – 1, and the Wright Brothers – Wright Flyer.
Also on display are replicas and originals of Soviet missiles, fighter planes, spacesuits, ballistic missiles, and sections of retired commercial jets.
An observatory is also housed in the museum and has exhibitions revolving around the solar system.
10. National Mall
The National Mall is a term used to describe the public lands around and in between the Capitol building and the Lincoln Memorial. Architect Pierre L’Enfant was commissioned by President George Washington in 1791.
Originally, the mall was supposed to be a simple tree-lined park-like setting that would lead up to the new nation’s Capitol building. But it became much more.
The National Mall is recognized by just about every American. It has been host to everything from iconic speeches and protests to academy award-winning movie scenes.
With over 300 acres of land, it’s home to over 100 monuments and memorials, like the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It’s the centerpiece of many of Washington DC’s most visited buildings, like The Capitol and The Smithsonian Museums.
The Mall is landscaped and run by the National Park Service. The world famous wading pool is at the heart of it all.