This post is a guide to visiting the Abraham Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, including tips on parking and a self-guided tour. Be sure to also check out our Lincoln Assassination Night Tour.
PLAN YOUR VISIT
Visiting the Lincoln Memorial is a must-do while in Washington, DC! It is the most visited memorial in the city, with 6 million people coming to see it every year. It is completely free, of course, and there are no tickets required. In this section, we cover the memorial’s hours, the best times to come, accessibility, ways to get here, and parking.
A great way to experience the Lincoln Memorial is on one of our tours. Both our National Mall and our DC in a Day Tours include a stop at the Lincoln Memorial. See our schedule of tours.
As with most of the memorials in Washington DC, the Lincoln Memorial is open 24-hours a day. While the public may visit at any time of day, the National Park Service Rangers, who administer the memorial, are on duty to answer any questions between 9:30 am and 11:30 pm each day.
National Park Police officers make rounds through memorial park 24 hours a day. To reach the memorial rangers by phone, dial 1-202-426-6841.
There is no one best time to come. Many come at twilight to catch the evening sun on the Washington Monument and watch the Lincoln Memorial light up. However, this can be very crowded, particularly during tourist high seasons. Mornings are also very nice, and if you arrive before 10 am, you essentially have the memorial to yourself.
Saturdays and Sundays tend to be relatively busy the whole day.
WHERE IS THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL LOCATED?
The Lincoln Memorial address is 2 Lincoln Circle Circle, NW, Washington, DC 20037 (map). Click on the map for directions to the memorial from anywhere in D.C.
Its location is the only downside of the Lincoln Memorial, as it is not near any Metro station and parking can be limited.
The closest Metro station to the Lincoln Memorial is Foggy Bottom (Blue-Orange-Silver). It’s about a 15 to 20-minute walk (directions), depending on your speed from the Metro station to the Lincoln Memorial.
There is only one exit at Foggy Bottom which lets you out on 23rd Street. Just come out of the metro, make an immediate right turn onto 23rd Street, and follow that down until you see the memorial.
Alternatively, you can also reach the memorial via Smithsonian Metro (Blue-Orange-Silver). This will take you 25 minutes (directions), but you will also be passing the Washington Monument and World War 2 Memorials.
If you are planning on utilizing the hop-on-hop-off bus tour in D.C. then be aware that all companies stop at the Lincoln Memorial.
You could also utilize the Circulator Bus, which is a public bus designed for tourists and a great deal if you aren’t looking for commentary along the way.
The bike share program, Capital BikeShare, which is very useful for visitors to the National Mall has a bike station conveniently located just to the southeast of the memorial. There are also bike stands for rented or personal bicycles located just northeast of the memorial.
The Lincoln Memorial is free of charge and is fully wheelchair accessible. There are ramps leading from street level to the basement of the memorial, where an elevator to the statue chamber is located. The entrance is on the southeast corner of the memorial. There is no need to take any steps to reach the statue. There are restrooms and water fountains here as well. There are no metal detectors or security stands at the Memorial.
PARKING NEAR THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL
Free parking can be found all along Ohio Drive (green lines), just to the south of the Memorial. Just be patient, as visitors are coming and going frequently, so you will eventually get a spot there.
There is additional free parking just below the Jefferson Memorial (green circle). The farther away from the Lincoln you park, obviously the longer a walk you must make.
Therefore, it makes good sense to plan to visit the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the George Mason Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial all in one visit.
You can view all of the available commercial parking lots in the area and purchase a spot at one of them in advance through a website, ParkingPanda.com.
TOURS OF THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL:
We also have a GPS-enabled audio tour of the National Mall, which includes a stop at the Lincoln Memorial.
The Memorial’s perimeter has 36 Corinthian order columns, one for each of the thirty-six states that made up the Union when Lincoln died. There are two rows of state names. The lower level contains 36 states (matching the columns).
Starting from the left is Delaware, the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Next is Pennsylvania (the second), and so on and so forth. Interspersed between each state on the lower level is a wreath of northern laurel on top of the southern pine.
Despite laurel and pine being abundant in both the northern and southern states during the American Civil War, it would seem to be a subtle acknowledgment of the Union’s victory over the Confederacy.
The upper row lists the 48 states of the United States of America in 1922, the year of the Memorial’s dedication. Just above this row, one can see eagles, Roman victory tripods with garland festoons. On the plaza level, closest to the roadway, you will find a large bronze plaque commemorating Alaska and Hawaii becoming the 49th and 50th states of the union.
Most visitors to the memorial will go straight inside, totally oblivious to features of the memorial hidden in plain sight. However, these are actually important symbols.
They are Roman fasces, wooden rods tied together by leather, and the victory tripods found on both sides of the grand staircase. The first was a symbol of authority for Roman magistrates and were included to convey a similar executive authority of Lincoln.
The fasces found on the exterior of the memorial has an American flair with 13 rods (13 colonies) and an American bald eagle atop the ax. The fasces is also a symbol of unity; the individual rods, like the states, are weak, but unified, they are strong.
In fact, this symbol of the fasces is so important, you will also see them inside on the walls and on the Lincoln statue itself. During World War 2, fasces would be very controversial, as the fascist government of Italy would choose fasces for both their name and flag.
The second is the victory tripods, an ancient Roman symbol of victory. These are adorned with Americana, tobacco, corn, and eagles. Learn more about the secret symbols of the Lincoln Memorial.
In the center of the last landing, before reaching the statue chamber, you will find an engraving “I have a Dream. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963. This marks the spot where Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous speech.
Be sure to check out the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the Tidal Basin, a 10-minute walk from the Lincoln.
Constructing the Lincoln Memorial was truly a national effort and includes items from many different states, combining to form the whole, just as Lincoln would have wanted.
Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
The reflecting pool at the base of the steps is a well-known site in DC and is part of the Lincoln Memorial. Reflecting pools are common at memorials – the still water represents calmness and serenity. It is a place of contemplation and reflection.
It is also in a direct line with the Washington Monument so perfectly reflects most of the monument. Lore says that the only way you could see the entire monument reflected is if you were level with Lincoln’s eyes but don’t climb up and check for yourself!
How long is the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool? It is 2,029 feet long which is about a third of a mile. The reflecting pool is not as deep as it looks. It is only 18-30″ deep depending on how close to the center you are. Which means Jenny really did run through during the filming of Forrest Gump!
Unfortunately, you cannot re-enact that scene. The reflecting pool is new! The entire pool was built in 1922 after the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial. In 2010 the entire pool was dug up and rebuilt. Previously, the pool was filled with city water that would turn stagnant and would be leaked through small cracks in the foundation. The new pool is the same size but has a small current to keep the water from becoming too still and is piped in from the Potomac River.
STATUE AND INTERIOR:
One of the most recognizable statues in the world, this colossus Abraham Lincoln will impress you. From the bottom of his feet to the top of his head, he measures 18 feet (5.5 m). If he were standing, he would stretch to 28 feet (8.5 m).
Due to the enormity of the statue, Lincoln’s head is approximately 20% larger in proportion to his feet, otherwise, the human eye would see a head to small for the body.
Lincoln sits in a curule chair, a chair in ancient Rome that symbolized power and authority and was reserved for a magistrate. Old Glory, the 36-star American flag of the Civil War is draped around the back of the chair.
Now take a look at the ends of the chair. At first glance, these two identical carvings appear to be the bindings of books. However, they are the fasces that you may have noticed outside. The difference here is that we are inside of the memorial. As with the inside of Rome’s walls, the ax is prohibited.
The sculptor, Daniel Chester French, wanted to convey the two main qualities of Lincoln that he felt were important, Lincoln’s thoughtful and compassionate nature (emancipation) as well as his forceful nature (prosecuting the great war).
If you look away too fast, you might not notice that Lincoln is asymmetrical. Look closely and you will see that one side of Lincoln (your right) is tense while the other side is relaxed. Take a look at his face, eyebrows, hands, and feet as well as his clothing. Notice the differences?
To Lincoln’s right (contemplative and thoughtful) is his most enduring speech, the Gettysburg Address, a short and poetic speech that recalled the ideals of representative government defined by the American Revolution and placed these preservation of these ideals the cause of the Union in the Civil War while calling for a new birth of freedom.
Because the aim of the memorial was to celebrate the reunification of the northern and southern states over the emancipation of slavery, the symbols and images of the latter are secondary.
Click the image to enlarge.
Directly above the Gettysburg Address is the painting entitled Emancipation, painted by Jeles Guerin. According to the National Park Service, “Jules Guerin represents emancipation using allegorical images. At center, the Angel of Truth breaks the bonds of slavery. The seated figure to the left holds the sword of Justice and the scroll of Law. On the right sits Immortality attended by the standing figures of Faith, Hope, and Charity.”
Don’t miss – When you are climbing the stairs, be sure to check out the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr gave his famous “I have a Dream” Speech. A marker is carved into the landing where he was standing.