National Mall and Memorial Parks | WASHINGTON MONUMENT

Washington Monument

Washington Monument

WASHINGTON MONUMENT HISTORY

OPERATING HOURS

GETTING TICKETS

MONUMENT TOURS


WASHINGTON MONUMENT HISTORY

The Washington Monument was the first monument erected to a president on the National Mall. Its original design by Robert Mills—a circular colonnade surrounding an obelisk with a statue of George Washington at the top—resembled a mix between the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the monument that stands today. However, the design called for more money than had been raised, so the plan was to construct the obelisk first and perhaps add the colonnade at a later date, which never happened. No statue of Washington was added either, making it the only memorial to a president on the Mall that does not have an actual sculpted figure of the man being memorialized.

Construction on the obelisk began in 1848 and continued for ten years, rising to 156 feet before money ran out. Up until that point it was paid for by private donations only. The monument then sat for another eighteen years before President Grant authorized federal funding to complete the project. If you look closely, you will see that the marble used for the monument is two different shades of color. The change denotes the height of the first construction phase. The monument was finished using marble from a different quarry.

A subtle color change of the marble marks different construction periods

A subtle color change of the marble marks different construction periods

The Egyptian-style obelisk is comprised of over 36,000 heavy blocks of marble stacked on top of each other. No mortar holds the structure together, just the weight of the stones. To date, it is the largest free standing stone monument in the world.

Inside the monument is a steel frame, stairs, and, originally, a steam powered elevator that took twelve minutes to lift tourists to the top. The elevator has since been modernized and a trip takes a little over a minute, but that doesn’t make it any more reliable—the monument was closed for nearly three years starting in 2016 for elevator repairs. During the trip you can see some of the Memorial Stones embedded in the interior walls. These are similar to ceramic tiles and were donated by states, organizations, and even foreign countries.

At the very top of the monument is an aluminum cap called the apex. Though nothing more than the size of a cone-shaped hat, at the time it was the largest piece of shaped aluminum in existence. It was chosen over other metals such as bronze and copper because it would not tarnish the stones below. All four sides of the apex are engraved: two sides with the names of the politicians and architects responsible for the monument’s existence, one side listing the date the symbolic cornerstone was laid (July 4, 1848), and one side with the Latin phrase meaning Praise be to God. In 1934, the monument was repaired by the National Park Service, and an inscription noting the date was added to the side with the Latin phrase. The monument was repaired one other time in 2011 after an earthquake damaged the structure; it reopened in 2014.

Illustration of the apex being installed

Illustration of the apex being installed

The Washington Monument was completed in 1884 and officially dedicated on February 21, 1885. At its finished height of 555 feet, it was the world’s tallest building until the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889. Even today it is the 2nd tallest structure in Washington, D. C. The Height of Buildings Act of 1910 limited building height to 130 feet or the width of the street on which it sits, whichever is the shortest. Any taller buildings, such as the U. S. Capitol, were built before this time. The only exceptions are the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (constructed from 1920-1959) and the One Franklin Square building that was completed in 1989. The only structure taller than the Washington Monument is the Hughes Memorial Tower, a radio tower also built in 1989.

View of the Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial

View of the Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial

OPERATING HOURS

• Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day: 9 AM to 9 PM (last ticket at 8 PM)
• Rest of the year: 9 AM to 5 PM (last ticket at 4 PM)
• Closed on July 4th and Christmas Day
• Ticket office opens at 8:30 AM

The Washington Monument can close at any time due to technical problems or security issues. Before getting up early and heading down to the monument only to find that it is closed, be sure to check the National Park Service’s Washington Monument website. You must look for the tiny, barely noticeable ALERT button on the menu, for the National Park Service doesn’t have the sense to post such important information in plain sight. I was a victim of this on my last visit to Washington, and I wasn’t the only person who showed up claiming there was no notice on the website.

GETTING TICKETS

The Washington Monument is the only memorial on the National Mall that requires a ticket, for inside is an elevator that takes visitors to the top for the best views of Washington, D. C. Tickets are free, and everyone over the age of two must get one. You can get a ticket on the day of your visit at the ticket office at the Monument or online in advance.

According to Recreation.gov, the ticket reservation website, during the summer there are 600 tickets available each day at the ticket office for walk-up visitors and 150 tickets for advance reservation by individuals online (only 15 for each of ten time slots). There are also 605 tickets set aside for large groups (55 for each of 11 time slots), and these tickets are only available online. That puts the total number of tickets available each day at 1,355. There are less tours in the off-season, so per my calculation there are approximately 950 tickets available each day during the off-season.

GETTING TICKETS ONLINE

Tickets for the Washington Monument can be obtained up to 90 days in advance online at Recreation.gov. There are separate reservation pages for individuals and groups. The tickets are free, but there is a small service charge ($1/ticket). Regardless of season, tickets are gone weeks, if not months, in advance. I have tried twice to get tickets up to two months in advance and had no luck, and both times were in the off-season.

Individuals can get up to 6 tickets online. Groups can get up to 55 tickets, and to get more than six tickets at one time you must get them online. Nobody can get more than six tickets at the ticket office. It is possible for groups to get tickets on the day of the tour at the ticket office, but they must send one person for each six group members to stand in line with everyone else.

Only 15 tickets per time slot for individuals isn’t a lot, but I think I found a loophole in the reservation system. On the Individual reservation page you cannot purchase more than six tickets, as expected. Just for kicks, I went to the Group reservation page and figured that if I didn’t request seven or more tickets that I would get an error message. I was not only able to request two tickets without any error message, I made the purchase with no warning and no problems. There was no minimum ticket order. In fact, there’s nothing on the Group reservation page that defines a “large group” or mentions any negative consequences of gaming the system.

You must print your ticket or download it onto your phone and bring it with you. There is no will-call window to pick up tickets if you forget them.

GETTING TICKETS AT THE MONUMENT

Online tickets sure make things easy, but unless you know months in advance of when you will be in Washington, you most likely will find yourself standing in line at the Washington Monument Lodge trying to get a ticket on the day of your visit—no tickets for subsequent days are given away at the box office. If you can find your way to the Monument, you can’t miss the Lodge situated near 15th Street. In addition to serving as a ticket office, the Lodge has an information desk, souvenir store, and a public restroom. The ticket office opens at 8:30 AM, and the first tour for walk-up visitors is at 9 AM (10:30 AM for reserved tickets).

Washington Monument Lodge

Washington Monument Lodge

If you want a ticket, you must arrive early and stand in line, but how far in advance depends on the season and the day of the week. I can tell you my personal experience and the experience of a buddy of mine, but there are so many combinations of circumstances that it is impossible to predict with certainty the time you need to arrive in order to get a ticket. All I feel comfortable in saying is that if you are in line by 7 AM, you should be able to get a ticket. You may find, as I did, that on some days this is way earlier than necessary, but it’s better than getting left empty handed.

Each individual can get up to 6 tickets. As mentioned above, if you need more than six tickets, either order them online or have one person for each six group member stand in line.

NOTE: The METRO does not start running until 7 AM on Sunday, so if that’s how you are getting downtown, I would avoid attempting to visit the Washington Monument on Sundays unless you got tickets online.

Standing in line for Washington Monument tickets

Standing in line for Washington Monument tickets

The following is my account and my buddy’s account of getting tickets.

TUESDAY AFTER MEMORIAL DAY

First, let me make some circumstances clear. Though school is out before Memorial Day where I live in Georgia, school is not out in Virginia or D. C. at this time, so the Tuesday after Memorial Day is just a typical weekday. Furthermore, since this is getting towards exam time, there won’t be many school groups. Thus, while the Tuesday after Memorial Day is not the off season, it’s certainly not the summer, a weekend, or school group season. On top of that, tour times extend from 5 PM to 9 PM starting on Memorial Day weekend, so there are 40% more tickets available than during the off-season. With that said…

I arrived at 7 AM and was 26th in line, and by the time the ticket office opened there were approximately 200 people in line (remember, each person can get up to 6 tickets, so 200 people doesn’t mean only 200 tickets). The people who arrived at 8:30 still got a ticket, and it took them 30 minutes to reach the box office. The attendant told me that on most days all tickets are gone by 9:30 AM, which means people who get there around 9 AM or later typically do not get a ticket. On the day I visited, it took until 10:30 AM to give out all tickets.

The main difference between arriving at 7 AM and 8:30 AM is that the earlier you get there, the more choices of times you have. It took until 9 AM for the first time slot to sell out, so on the day of my visit even those who arrived at 8:30 AM could get just about any time they wanted. This may not be the case on other days (see my buddy’s experience below). The first slots to go will be the earliest times, 9 AM through 11 AM.

Moral to the story: I could have slept an extra hour and still gotten a ticket, but as I said, you can’t go wrong arriving too early.

SATURDAY, APRIL 6 (BUDDY’S EXPERIENCE)

Just wanted to thank you for the tip about visiting the Washington Monument. Because of you we were able to see it. I got there at 7:30 A.M. There were about 100 people in line in front of me. By 8 AM the line was probably 500 people. I got my tickets. The couple behind me were the last to get tickets for the day.

While my buddy reports being one of the last people to get a ticket despite arriving as early as 7:30 AM, he was there when tours ended at 5 PM each day. Tours ran until 9 PM when I visited the day after Memorial Day, so there were 40% more tickets available. This is why those in my line who arrived at 8:30 AM still got a ticket. And as you can see, with 500 people being in line on a weekend in April as compared to 200 when I visited on a weekday after Memorial Day, it appears that regardless of season, weekends are going to be packed. I highly suggest being in line by 7 AM on weekends.

MONUMENT TOUR

Tours of the Washington Monument run every thirty minutes, with the first being at 9 AM (for walk-up guests, 10:30 AM for online tickets). There is no time limit for your stay inside the monument, but you pretty much run out of things to do in about fifteen minutes.

Once you have a ticket, head up to the waiting area at the base of the monument about fifteen minutes prior to your tour time. The reason for arriving early is that the park Ranger will start sending groups of eight people up to the security check point—pockets empty, metal detectors, etc.—so that people are ready to enter come the actual tour time. There is no advantage to being first in line as far as what you will see inside, but you may save a little time waiting in line.

You are welcome to bring a camera of any type with you and a small backpack. No large backpacks, strollers, and the usual forbidden items such as guns, knives, bombs, and open food and drink.

Once inside, an elevator will take you straight to the top viewing area where you will find four small windows, one for each direction on the compass. You may have to wait in line to look out a window because the place is likely to be packed.. The windows are fairly clean, so you can get decent photos out of them.

Waiting to take a photo from the top of the Washington Monument

Waiting to take a photo from the top of the Washington Monument

The White House can be seen out the north window

The White House can be seen out of the north window

Lincoln Memorial and World War II Memorial can be seen from the west window

Lincoln Memorial and World War II Memorial can be seen from the west window

Jefferson Memorial can be seen from the south window

Jefferson Memorial can be seen from the south window

Capitol and Mall (under repair) can be seen from the east window

Capitol and Mall (under repair) can be seen from the east window

When done, you must walk down a flight of stairs to catch the elevator back down to ground level. This is done to avoid a crowd of people fighting to get on and off at the top level in such a compact space (I you are in a wheelchair or cannot walk down the stairs, you can board from the top level.)

Exhibits about the Washington Monument and its construction are located on the lower level, and you can read these while you wait for the elevator. As mentioned, there is no time limit for the tour, so if you want to read all of the information, which takes about 10 minutes, you don’t have to get on the very next elevator.

SCHEDULING YOUR TIME

Not counting the time you spend in line to get tickets, allow one hour for your tour of the Washington Monument. This includes arriving 15 minutes early, taking in the views, and reading through the exhibits.

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Last updated on April 28, 2020
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