Before leaving for our bit trip around the world we called Washington, D.C. home for nearly 10 years. In that time we’ve shown countless of our own friends around the city and dodged thousands if not millions of other tourists in the process. One of the worst things I can think of to do with an out-of-towner is to visit the monuments and memorials during the day. Buses choke the arteries and walkways are literally clogged with camera toting tourists. I much prefer the quiet safety of the night, where I can wander at my own pace and take far more stunning photos.
Touring Washington, DC at Night
Probably because I attended George Washington University, I tend to begin my walk toward the monuments on campus and from the Foggy Bottom neighborhood. (This also happens to be a great area to rent a Washington D.C. apartment if you’re looking for one.) It’s a quick walk from the Metro down to the Mall but don’t go straight to the famous Abe Lincoln Memorial, stop at Einstein first along the way.
Einstein sits off to the side of the Mall, across the street actually, at the corner of 21st street and Constitution Avenue in front of the National Academy of Sciences. You can climb on him and even talk to him. The floor in front of Einstein is a map of the sky and if you stand on Polaris, the North Star, and whisper something to Albert, you’ll even hear something in return.
Next up cross the street at 22nd and walk to Abraham Lincoln via the Vietnam Memorial. At night the depth of the wall is more poignant and if you’re there during the winter when there are no leaves on the trees take a look at the reflection of lights against the wall: in one direction you’ll see a pathway illuminated toward the Washington Monument and in the other direction the pathway will be lit toward the Lincoln Memorial. There are phone books nearby to look up names and where they are located on the wall itself as it’s not in alphabetical order but instead in chronological order, by date of death. During the day, the wall will be bustling full of people running every which way but at night the quite solitude of the wall is a power unto itself.
Next up is the Lincoln Memorial. When you get your pictures of the Washington Monument and the Capitol all lit up at night you can thank me for telling you not to bother going during the day. Whatever you do, don’t walk east toward the Washington Monument from here, instead walk southeast and visit the Korean War Memorial – super creepy in the dark – and continue southeast toward the MLK Memorial and the Roosevelt Memorial. (NOTE: The MLK is new since we left DC, I haven’t been to it yet so I can’t really tell you much about it.)
At some point in history FDR said that if a memorial was to be built to him it should be no larger than his desk. Someone followed his advice and put that memorial far from the Mall on Pennsylvania Avenue. Later, someone else decided to completely snub that advice and build something for him that would take several acres of space. Ultimately one of D.C.’s most beautiful memorials was built of stone, statue and waterfalls. There are four main sections of the memorial as you pass through, one dedicated to each of his four terms as president, and what ultimately comes through to me is not a memorial to the man that was our longest serving president but instead a memorial to the people who lived during that time: the people who survived the Great Depression and went on to fight and win World War II.
When you walk out the far end of the FDR Memorial you’ll be quite close to the Jefferson Memorial. One of the most popular places to get engaged in the country it was placed in such a way that it has a perfect line of sight to the White House. The idea is that Jefferson was a ‘President of the People’ and it his job to remain watchful over whomever happens to call the White House home. It is a beautiful space and just like with the Lincoln Memorial you can thank me later for telling you to visit at night rather than with the hordes of tourists during the day.
Lastly, it’s time to walk due north, back toward the White House but stopping at the Washington Monument on the way. At night you will have zero chance of being able to enter the monument, you have to fetch those tickets very early in the morning and that’s up to you to set the alarm clock, but you will have it all light up in all its glory. I always walk up to the Monument and lay down on my back with my feet on the Monument itself. It feels surreal, as if I can climb to the top…but obviously I’m just taking a break because I’ve just walked about 3 miles. If you’re up for a little more of a tour head back to the west just a little bit to visit the World War II Memorial. You should then head north toward the White House, security is always changing so it’s a crap shoot as to how close you’ll be able to get but usually you can reach the fence on either side. If you’re up for some dinner, head east into downtown.
Here’s a map of the suggested route:
View DC Monument Tour in a larger map
This post was brought to you by Wimdu.com who is gracious enough to offer us several free vouchers to raffle off next week. Stay tuned for more on that and how to win some money toward a free place to stay.