How To Climb To The Top Of The Washington Monument

As soon as you make a Day trip to DC from NYC, the central axis of the tour will undoubtedly be to visit the National Mall as it is the place where most of the city’s museums and historical monuments are concentrated. At each end of this location is the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol, but right in the middle is one of the most majestic memorials in the entire city, the Obelisk – Washington Monument, which we will talk about today.

History of The Washington Monument

The Washington Monument's Stairwell

This monolith is about a 170 meter high piece of architectural art that pays tribute to the first president of the United States, George Washington, as one of the most iconic figures in the history of the country.

At the end of the 18th century, the president wisely led the North American troops during the independence war. He won by working lightly armed and without expert men, granting him total respect from the entire American community. So much so that they wanted to proclaim him “king” of the nation, to which he refused.

In 1789 he obtained the position of president and began the first of his 2 terms, a period during which he created a solid government, providing support to the national bank, the army and the navy. All for the needs of the community, therefore, as a result of his exploits and his fight for the country, since 1783, the congress began to plan the creation of a monument in his honor. They proposed “that an equestrian statue of George Washington may be erected in the place where the residence of the Congress is established” although, at that time there was not yet a definite place for this purpose.

In 1797, the population requested that George Washington remain in the presidency for a third term but he refused, he retired to his rest home and died there 2 years later.

After his death, the congress decided that the ideal would be to create another type of monument, perhaps a tomb inside the Capitol but, as a result of a lack of funds and the contradictory decision of the family, disagreements were created that forced them to search for a new option.

Finally, in 1833, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the former president, different projects were started to gather donations and thus build the National Monument to Washington; about two years later they had raised nearly $ 30,000 so they announced a contest to submit a design for the monument.

In 1848, Congress donated 150,000 m2 of land to develop the project, an area perfect for its great view of the Potomac River and that, thanks to its height, could be seen from almost anywhere in the city and also, when being a public land, it would be protected from any type of visual obstruction.

Construction of The Monument to Washington

The obelisk was designed by Robert Mills, an important architect who devised and began the work on July 4, 1848, when the first stone of the obelisk was installed after a ceremony by the Masons, an organization to which the former president belonged. The architect did not have the opportunity to see his work completed as he died in 1854, the year in which the first stage of construction was halted when donations ran out.

The construction took 40 years to complete since the state could not cover all the costs of the work, therefore they chose to request, to different states, stone donations so that they felt part of the construction, reducing costs. This change made the obelisk have different types of marble in its structure, causing, after the first 50 meters of height, some color changes that are noticed on its surface. On December 6, 1884, the last stone was laid.

Until October 9, 1888, the obelisk was open to the public, where they could access to the top and appreciate the best panoramic view of the city.

It may not appear to be a very striking monument at first glance, but the importance to the country goes beyond its appearance and focuses on what it means. In any case, its 169,294 meters high and its marble and stone structure give it such an impressiveness that it is still considered the tallest stone structure in the world.

Interesting Facts About the Washington Monument

  • Until 1889 it was considered the tallest structure in the world, until the construction of the Eiffel Tower was completed.
  • The Washington Monument is an obelisk taller than those erected in some cities in Europe and Egypt.
  • The Washington Monument has 893 steps to the top.
  • In 1888 about 55,000 people went up a month, currently it exceeds 800,000 visitors a year.
  • In 1966 the monument was inscribed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • In 1982 the monument was taken as “hostage” by a protester who claimed to have explosives on him.
  • In 2005 a fence was installed to allow the passage of pedestrians and cyclists, but prevent the passage of vehicles.
  • During 2005, 2 false bomb threats were obtained at the facility.
  • From the base to the viewpoint there is a height of 152 meters.
  • In 2011, after a strong earthquake, the monument had to be closed to the public as several cracks occurred and it took 2 years to recover the structure.
  • At the base there are 50 flags that represent each of the states.
  • It weighs more than 70 million kilos.

It is possible to climb to the top of the obelisk

how to get to the top of the Washington monument

It is possible that during your next Washington D.C. one day tour from New York you will be able to climb or get to the top of the Washington Monument, the advantage is that now it has an elevator that will help you avoid the fatigue of climbing more than 500 steps to reach the terrace, but if you are a sports lover and time is not pressing, we invite you to go up on your own and write a “check” on your list of things to do.

To have a successful visit to the monument, we recommend you to take into account the following:


The Washington Monument has its doors open every day of the week except on July 4th and December 25th. The access to the terrace is from 9 am to 5 pm, the last allowed ascent is at 4 pm. During the summer season it is open until 10pm.

If you go on a Washington DC day trip from NYC, keep in mind that access times to the observatory may vary depending on the weather.


The entrance to the Washington Monument and its observatory is FREE, but it is a very popular plan among tourists and locals, therefore tickets are sold out in a short time. Although the ticket offices open at 8:30 am, in high season it is common to see lines from 7:00 am, so it is likely that before noon the tickets are already sold out.

If you want to avoid lines and possible disappointments, we recommend making an online reservation for your tickets, you can do it up to 3 months before your visit and you can book up to 6 tickets at a time. This service has a cost of $ 1.50 per ticket and you can choose the time of your visit in advance.

This option is perfect to ensure access to this plan, especially if you travel during high season. For a better experience, we recommend you to book your ticket for the afternoon hours, just when the sun begins to fall, so that you can see the panoramic view of the city during the day and at night, in less than an hour, you can even appreciate wonderful sunsets. *

IMPORTANT! Due to the pandemic, the visit to the monument is suspended until further notice.

* Another option:  When you can’t get tickets online or at the ticket offices, if you’re lucky, you can go to the school groups that visit the monument between March and June. Schools often reserve more tickets than they actually require, so when they have left over, instead of throwing them away, they give them away by standing right at the base of the obelisk. If on your next Day Trip to Washington DC from New York you find a group of children dressed alike, and you still do not have tickets, do not hesitate to ask the guides of those groups for excess tickets, it will be worth it.

Security measures:

Before the pandemic, it was mandatory to go through a security filter before entering the monument, so it is essential that you be there about 30 minutes before the time stipulated on your ticket.

Once you get to the obelisk, look for one of the security employees, dressed in a green shirt and beige hat, who will join you to the security or the waiting area, in case you arrive very early. 10 people enter at the same time.

It is worth mentioning that the waiting area is outdoors, therefore you should go with everything you need to accommodate the weather.

NOTE: There is no storage area in the monument, therefore you must take only the implements you need. What you cannot enter will be discarded.

Remember that you cannot enter with:

  • Food
  • Baby carriages
  • Large backpacks or bags
  • Weapons

How long is the visit to The Washington Monument?

climb top Washington monument

From the time you arrive at the National Mall until you leave it can take an hour, including the time it takes to pass the security filter, the elevator wait time (there is only 1 elevator available), etc. If you are one of the few people who visit the temporary exhibition, it can take an additional 20 to 30 minutes.

As you go up 152 meters in the elevator, in about 2 minutes, a ranger will give you a brief summary about the history of the monument and some curious facts.

What to See from The Observation Deck of The Washington Monument?

As soon as you exit the elevator you will have the possibility to walk freely on each side of the monolith, from there you will be able to observe:

  • The White House
  • Downtown Washington
  • The capitol
  • Smithsonian museums
  • The memorial to Thomas Jefferson
  • Part of the state of Virginia, weather permitting.
  • The memorial to World War II
  • The Abraham Lincoln memorial

You will also find a museum, on the next floor, where you will find images and information about the construction and maintenance of the obelisk. You will also see information about the times that the monument has been at risk from natural events, such as the 2011 earthquake or strong storms.

During the descent in the elevator, the guard will turn off the lights so that you can detail the memorial stones, those that were donated by different states and civic organizations during its building. To get a good photo, we recommend you to avoid being in the center of the booth.

Will you be one of the lucky ones to climb to the top of the Washington Monument? We hope that, on your next Washington 1 day tour from New York, you will have the opportunity to create the best memories and photos to show your friends and family. If you require advice to prepare your vacation, contact us, we will be happy to help you plan your visits to the United States.

We have everything prepared for your vacations in New York.  Check our tours and trips and get ready to live the best experience of your life.

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