Visiting the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Directions, Design Elements, and Tips for Visiting the Famous Landmark

MLK Statue
Steve Dunwell/Getty Images

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., honors Dr. King’s vision and contributions to the civil rights movement. Congress passed a joint resolution in 1996 authorizing the construction of the memorial and a foundation was created to "build the dream," raising an estimated $120 million for the project. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was constructed on one of the most prestigious sites remaining on the National Mall, adjacent to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. It is the first major memorial on the National Mall dedicated to an African American and to a non-president. The Memorial is free to visit and open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Location and Transportation

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is located on the northwest corner of the Tidal Basin at the intersection of West Basin Drive SW and Independence Avenue SW. It has four entrances:

  • Independence Avenue SW, west of West Basin Drive
  • Independence Avenue SW at Daniel French Drive
  • Ohio Drive SW, south of the Ericsson Statue
  • Ohio Drive SW, at West Basin Drive

Parking is extremely limited in the area, so the best way to get to the memorial is by public transportation. The closest Metro stations are Smithsonian and Foggy Bottom (approximately a one-mile walk). Limited parking is available on West Basin Drive, on Ohio Drive SW, and at the Tidal Basin parking lot along Maine Avenue SW. Handicap parking and bus loading zones are located on Home Front Drive SW, accessible from southbound 17th Street.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Wall
Rachel Cooper

About Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister and social activist who became a notable figure during the U.S. civil rights movement. He played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African-American citizens in the U.S., influencing the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968. The Monday following his birthday, January 15, is recognized as a national holiday every year.

The Statue and Memorial Design

The Memorial conveys three themes that were central throughout Dr. King’s life: democracy, justice, and hope. The centerpiece of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is the Stone of Hope, a 30-foot statue of Dr. King, himself, gazing into the horizon (or into the future, some might say). The sculpture was carved by Chinese artist Master Lei Yixin. It's made from 159 granite blocks that are assembled to appear as one singular piece. There is also a 450-foot inscription wall, made from granite panels, that is inscribed with 14 excerpts of King's sermons and public addresses. A wall of quotes spanning Dr. King’s long civil rights career represents his ideals of peace, democracy, justice, and love. The quotes were chosen by a council of historians that was selected by Dr. Maya Angelou, Lerone Bennett, Dr. Clayborne Carson, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Marianne Williamson, and others. Landscape elements of the Memorial include American elm trees, Yoshino cherry trees, liriope plants, English yew, jasmine, and sumac.

Visiting Tips

  • At the entrance to the Memorial, there is a bookstore and National Park Service ranger station offering a gift shop, audiovisual displays, touch-screen kiosks, and more.
  • Visit on a nice day so you can easily read the inscriptions and enjoy the views of the Tidal Basin. If you can't tolerate the crowds, go at night as the memorial is open 24 hours. 
  • Learn more about the history and contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr., through a ranger-guided program offered by the National Park Service. Rangers are on-site to answer questions from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. 
  • Allocate plenty of time to walk along the Tidal Basin and check out some of the other famous memorials in the area.