I've designed—and tested—the following walking tour of the memorials, ordering the stops in a sequence that I believe makes most sense in terms of logistics and geography. The beauty of it is that you can easily tinker with this tour to suit your own purposes. The Washington Monument is the only site that has limited hours and requires a ticket; otherwise, the memorials are open 24 hours to the public, which means that you can follow this tour at 5am or 5pm, at 2 in the morning or 2 in the afternoon. Some believe the best time to visit the memorials is at night, when they're illuminated in all their imposing white-stone glory and the crowds have thinned. Use common sense, though. The memorials may be lit up, but not necessarily the lanes and pathways leading to them.
Before you start the tour, here's what you need to know:
• Dress for the weather: light clothing, shades, and sunscreen in summer; a hat, gloves, and warm jacket in winter. The Washington Monument and the memorials are mostly set in wide-open spaces, with little to no protection from the elements. The National Park Service manages all of these properties and maintains information about each of them, including upcoming events, at www.nps.gov/nama. Scroll down the page to click on the names of sites.
• Park rangers are on hand from 9:30am to 11:30pm year-round, except at the Washington Monument, which is open 9am to 5pm Labor Day to Memorial Day, and 9am to 10pm Memorial Day to Labor Day.
• Restrooms are located inside the ranger lodge/ticket kiosk at the bottom of the hill from the Washington Monument; in the basements of the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials; at the back of the information and gift shop of the FDR Memorial; in a building beyond the National World War II Memorial information lodge; and at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. Visitors to the George Mason Memorial use the restrooms at the Jefferson Memorial; visitors to the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial use the restrooms at the Lincoln Memorial.
• Eat well before you head off on the tour. The National Park Service prohibits food and drink inside all of the memorials and at the Washington Monument. It allows refreshment kiosks and vendors, but only at a distance. Refreshment and souvenir kiosks are located across 15th Street from the Washington Monument's ticket booth; on Daniel Chester French Drive between the Lincoln Memorial and the Korean War Memorial; on Henry Bacon Drive across the street from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, with another on the other side of the memorial; and in front of the Jefferson Memorial. These are rudimentary services, selling beverages, sandwiches, ice cream, and the like—just enough to refresh you if you're feeling faint. The tour will take about 3 to 4 hours and cover 3 to 4 miles.
• Best times to take the tour: weekdays, evenings, and off season (mid-fall through winter) to avoid crowds, early or late in summer to avoid the heat. This tour starts at the Washington Monument on 15th Street NW and ends at the National World War II Memorial on 17th Street NW. Some believe the best time to visit the memorials is at night, when they're illuminated in all their imposing white-stone glory and the crowds have thinned. Use common sense, though. The memorials may be lit up, but not necessarily the lanes and pathways leading to them.
Starting out: Take the Metro to Metro Center (13th and G sts. exit) and walk west 2 blocks to 15th Street NW. Have breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the Old Ebbitt Grill, which opens early and stays open late. Then walk about 1/2 mile to the Washington Monument.
Return to 15th Street and head up the hill, crossing Independence Avenue SW and following the signs for the Jefferson Memorial. You'll pass the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on your left, the Tidal Basin and paddle boats on your right. This will be your single longest walk on the tour—about a mile or less. Go around the bend to find the:
Follow the memorial's front path back out to East Basin Drive, turn right, and go around the bend to the:
Recross East Basin Drive to find the opening that leads to the Tidal Basin pathway. Follow the path about 5 minutes, enjoy the spectacular view of the Tidal Basin and the capital's skyline, until you see the sign for the FDR Memorial. You'll be entering the memorial the back way, but go ahead and follow the lane and then walk all the way through to the entrance of the:
Now return to the Tidal Basin path and follow it north to reach the capital's newest memorial.
Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial
Walk to the traffic light and cross Independence Avenue. Turn right and walk a short distance to the clearing that leads you back to the D.C. War Memorial, which President Herbert Hoover dedicated in 1931. Continue to the walkway behind the memorial and turn left to follow the main lane toward the Lincoln Memorial. But first, you'll come upon the:
Korean War Veterans Memorial
Next, tour the:
Walk from the Lincoln Memorial toward the Reflecting Pool, but turn left and proceed toward the information kiosk, then right, to follow the path that leads to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. You pass first a life-size sculpture of three Vietnam soldiers by Frederick Hart. Near the statue, a flag flies from a 60-foot staff. Another sculpture, the Vietnam Veterans Women's Memorial, depicts three servicewomen tending a wounded soldier. Continue until you reach the:
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Now, turn back toward the Reflecting Pool and follow the shaded lane about half a mile east, making sure to walk as far as 17th Street, to visit the:
National World War II Memorial
Reward yourself. From here, you should head east on Constitution Ave. to 15th St., and follow 15th St. back to the Penn Quarter and its many restaurants.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.