The Washington Monument is one of the most iconic landmarks in Washington D.C. Standing at 555 feet tall, it offers incredible 360-degree views of the city from the observation deck at the top.
It took four trips to Washington DC, but I finally managed to get a ticket. The first few times, the building was under construction and the third time, I didn’t prioritize it. What I didn’t realize was how cool it would be to walk inside.
How to Tour the Washington Monument
In order to tour the Washington Monument, you need to get tickets.
This past MEA break, we got to Washington DC and my son mentioned he wanted to go up the Monument. Thankfully I was able to make it happen, even without advanced planning.
Brief History of the Washington Monument
The Washington Monument was built to honor George Washington, the first U.S. president and commander of the Continental Army.
Planning began shortly after Washington’s death in 1799. In 1833, the Washington National Monument Society formed to raise funds. Architect Robert Mills was chosen to design an obelisk surrounded by columns and statues.
Construction started in 1848 but halted in 1854 due to insufficient funds and the Civil War. When it resumed in 1879, the design was simplified to an unadorned obelisk.
The cornerstone was laid in 1848 using the same trowel as Washington used for the U.S. Capitol cornerstone. Memorial stones were donated from states and countries.
Completed in 1884 at 555 feet, it was the tallest building in the world until the Eiffel Tower surpassed it. The exterior is marble and granite, the capstone aluminum.
The monument has endured damage over time requiring repairs. The most extensive restoration occurred from 1998-2001 when it was fully scaffolded.
Today it remains an iconic D.C. landmark, offering panoramic views from its observation deck to over 600,000 annual visitors.
How to get tickets to the Washington Monument
The Washington Monument is managed by the National Park Services and is free to enter. You can reserve tickets online, 30 days in advance of the tour. To run the site, they charge a $1 service fee for online reservations.
I highly recommend you reserve your tickets exactly 30 days before you want to visit. Tickets are released at 10:00 a.m. and sell out in minutes. To improve your chances, create an account beforehand.
Same Day Tickets for the Washington Monument
If you can’t secure tickets, don’t stress out. Same day tickets are also available.
Located just in front of the monument, on 15th Street, you’ll find the Washington Monument Lodge. Tickets are distributed on the back of the building starting at 8:45 a.m.
People start lining up around 8 a.m. or earlier. We arrived 30 minutes early and managed to secure tickets for the 9 a.m spot. I found many people sending one or two people in their group out early to secure tickets for a later time.
Each person, 16 and over can get up to 6 tickets. Tickets sold out within an hour. During peak season, Summer
Your timed ticket is a 30-minute window. We got to the ticket window a little after 9 a.m. and were still able to get 9 a.m. tickets.
Afte that, head over to the Washington Monument around the flags. There are two lines, one for the current window, and one for the next timeslot.
Be prepared to go through airport-style security screening. You’ll need to remove all watches, belts, coins, phones, keys, etc. before going through the metal detectors.
Photography is allowed once you’re through security.
When my Husband and I asked each other what the most intense security was we went through in DC, my husband thought this was it. Keep in mind, we also went into the White House, the FBI and the US Capitol.
What’s inside the Washington Monument?
After getting through security, you’ll get a short tour of the monument as you wait for the elevator. One of the most notable things is getting to see the sculpture of George Washington.
French sculpture Jean-Antoine Houdson made the life-size sculpture of Washington in 1788. It was made from a case of the president’s face, making it one of the most realistic statues. This particular one is a copy of the original marble statue in the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.
The Elevator to the top
The high-speed elevator whisks you up 500 feet to the observation deck in just 70 seconds.
Before the fast elevator ride, visitors went up 896 steps. Thankfully that’s no longer required. But the stairs were closed in 1971 due to safety concerns.
The Observation Deck
At the top, you’ll have 360-degree views of Washington D.C. sights like the Lincoln Memorial, White House, Capitol Building, National Mall, Arlington Cemetery, and more.
Each side has two windows. The left most window has a step allowing younger visitors access to the window.
After fishing up your view of the city, take the steps down one floor. Sitting at 490 feet is the museum level. This is where you’ll find out all the details about its construction and artifacts.
Along the way you can view commemorative stones donated by states and organizations during initial construction. The 194 commemorative stones were used as a fundraising tool.
Minnesota is made from Pipestone quarried from Pipestone National Monument.
Each stone is quarried locally and has the donators name carved in. For information on where the stones are located in the monument, check out NPS.gov.
when you Catch the elevator back down, it will slow and dim the lights to spotlight some of the memorial stones as you descend.
Washington Monument Fun Facts
The blocks comprising the Monument are free-standing masonry, meaning there is no cement holding them together.
When the Monument first opened, the original elevator ride took 8-10 minutes to reach the top observation deck. Today’s high-speed elevator makes the journey in just 70 seconds.
There are 896 steps climbing to the top of the Washington Monument for those wanting to take the stairs.
The interior staircases were closed to the public in the 1970s due to vandalism and safety issues. While ranger-led stair tours were once offered, staffing challenges have prevented these opportunities in recent years.
The aluminum cap at the very tip of the Monument represented innovative metallurgy for the time.
DC building height laws restrict most buildings to no more than 160 feet tall. As a freestanding structure, the 555-foot Washington Monument remains the tallest building in the city.
From the observation deck, views span out over 30 miles on a clear day.
When first completed, the Washington Monument stood as the tallest building in the world at 555 feet, until the Eiffel Tower surpassed it in 1889.
A visible color change in the marble indicates where over 20 years of construction halted due to lack of funding. The new marble came from a different quarry.
The Monument incorporates stones from Maryland, Massachusetts, and other sources.
In today’s money, the $1.2 million construction cost equates to over $30 million.
The same ceremonial trowel used by George Washington to lay the Capitol cornerstone was used to lay the Washington Monument’s cornerstone.
The original design envisioned 30 columns surrounding the Monument and statues of Declaration of Independence signers.
How early should I arrive to the Washington Monument?
Aim to arrive at least 30 minutes before your ticket time to go through security.
How long do you need to visit the Washington Monument?
Plan for at least 1 hour up and back down, plus time at the top.
Can I take photos?
Yes, photography is allowed once you clear security. Tripods are not permitted.
Would I recommend visiting the Washington Monument?
Yes, we had a fabulous time visiting. It was an impulse decision to see it and I’m so glad my son asked to go. If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend it.