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I won’t even pretend to hide my bias. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C. is my favorite memorial in the entire city. I will never forget the utter speechlessness as I walked through the gorgeous outdoor memorial on the National Mall. Informative and inspiring, this memorial to a past president is quite simply amazing.
The first time I visited Washington, D.C. in 2013 I was completely overwhelmed. From my very nice room at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill I would walk along the National Mall exploring the Smithsonian Museums, monuments, and memorials. I downloaded the map from the National Park Service’s National Mall and Memorial Parks website so at least I knew where I was going.
I eventually ended up at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and then I returned every day for the rest of my trip.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
The most fascinating thing about the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is that it’s a chronological display of Roosevelt’s presidency. Of course, that means you need to start at the beginning. The first time I visited I started at the end and walked backwards. Travel tip: don’t be like me.
The “beginning” of this open-air memorial is located near West Basin Drive SW, just around the corner from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. The beginning of the memorial is where the rather nice visitor center is located, offering a welcome respite from the hot and humid summers and bitter cold winters. There are public restrooms located inside along with a gift shop and the cancellation stamp for the National Parks Passport.
At the “end” of the memorial are more public restrooms beside the Japanese Pagoda. Along the way through the memorial are a few paths leading to the Tidal Basin and you are under no obligation to travel in any particular direction. But for the best experience, start at the beginning.
Walk Through Roosevelt’s Presidency
The FDR Memorial starts off with a bang. A bronze statue of FDR in his wheelchair, surrounded by nothing but empty space and the backdrop of a dark stone wall, it just might be the first time people realize Roosevelt couldn’t walk. In 1921 he became seriously ill while on family vacation. He was incorrectly diagnosed with polio and the illness left him paralyzed from the waist down the rest of his life.
Quotations from Roosevelt are etched into the stone walls. Bronze statues depicting moments in time from his presidency are scattered throughout. The rumble of waterfalls and fountains echo through the chambers. It was the one memorial in all of D.C. where I sat on a bench just to enjoy the ambiance.
Getting to the FDR Memorial
As with everything in Washington D.C. I recommend getting there on foot or by using public transportation. There are some pretty easy options. However, if you simply must drive there is parking nearby. Here are a few ways you can get to the FDR Memorial.
If you drive, you can park along Ohio Drive SW between the John Ericsson Memorial and Ohio Drive Bridge. It’s actually a rather beautiful place to park right alongside the Potomac River. Depending on where you park along the street it could take anywhere from 5-15 minutes to walk to the “beginning” of the FDR Memorial.
My favorite way to get to the FDR Memorial is the DC Circulator. The Circulator’s Red Line bus loops around the National Mall between Union Station and the Lincoln Memorial, including a stop halfway between the FDR Memorial and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. My top recommendation for visiting the FDR Memorial is to drive, walk, or start at Union Station, buy a day pass for the DC Circulator, and ride through the city to the FDR Memorial.
The closest Metro station is the Smithsonian Station. It’s a good walk from there to the FDR Memorial, but also one of my favorite walks. You can walk either way around the Tidal Basin; one direction leads the Thomas Jefferson Memorial while the other to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.