Constitution Ave. and 15th St. NW
HOURS: Memorial Day-Labor Day daily 9 a.m.-10 p.m.;
Labor Day-Memorial Day daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.;
closed Independence Day and Christmas Day
COST: Free, but ticket required;
$1.50 per ticket if ordered online
The 555-foot-tall Washington Monument honors the military service of America’s first president and is the tallest stone structure and obelisk in the world.
Built 1848-1854 and 1876-1874, the monument was first conceived by Robert Mills as a flat-topped obelisk rising from a circular colonnade containing statues of the founding fathers. But funding problems, political turmoil, and the Civil War halted production, and when construction resumed more than 20 years later, Army engineer Lt. Col. Thomas Casey opted for the simpler Egyptian obelisk.
The marble monument, with walls 15 feet thick at its base, bears the distinctive mark of its construction woes; at roughly 150 feet up, its color turns to a creamier shade of white, the result of stone quarried from different locations in Maryland than the original.
The monument is topped with a 5.5- by 9-inch solid aluminum pyramidal shaped capstone, intended to serve as a lightning rod to protect the structure.
At the top, visitors peer out eight small windows that afford 360-degree views of the city, the Potomac River, and the Maryland and Virginia countryside, including the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west. The elevator ride takes roughly 70 seconds, and while visitors are no longer allowed to ascend the monument’s 897 steps, walk-down tours are sometimes offered at the discretion of the National Park Service.
The slow-descent route allows a closer look at the monument’s interior, lined with 192 carved stones honoring Washington, markers that hail from foreign countries, all 50 states, organizations, and private donors. All visitors get to glimpse some of these tributes, though; the descending glass-walled elevator slows as it passes several, including Michigan’s, made of solid copper with a sterling silver coat of arms, and Alaska’s, installed in 1982 and carved from solid jade.
Admission to the Washington Monument is free, but timed tickets must be obtained beforehand by phone or the Internet, or picked up at a nearby kiosk that opens at 8:30 a.m. daily. During peak visiting times, tickets may be gone by 9 a.m., and during the summer, the line forms before 7 a.m.
To order tickets, call the National Park Reservation Service at 877/444-6777 or go to www.recreation.gov . There is a $1.50 fee per ticket as well as a shipping and handling charge. You can order up to six tickets.
On August 23, 2011, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck 84 miles from DC. A number of the obelisk’s stones were dislodged and the elevator was damaged. The monument remained closed through the end of 2011—check for updates before your visit.