Destinations

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Washington DC

A smorgasbord of history.  More than just our nation’s capital, the Memorials, Museums, and Government Buildings are the medium by which one generation communicates to another our nation’s stories, struggles, and sacrifices as we continue to define and refine our ideals of freedom.

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Sites and Experience Highlights in Washington DC.... (click for more)
Below are highlights of what could potentially be an endless list. For the sake of simplicity, we’ve listed sights in groupings of how they are typically visited and how much time groups typically spend at each. It will help to think of your tour day in blocks: 3 hour mornings, 4 hour afternoons, and 2-3 hour evenings. Of course, no tour is typical, and we don’t want any of our groups to feel that they are typical, but these suggestions serve as a solid frame upon which to add your own uniqueness. 

Capitol Hill  (one full morning or afternoon)

  • The Capitol is the legislative branch of the U.S. government with the Senate and the House of Representatives chambers flanking the grand dome. Public tours are processed through the new visitors center and typically include the Rotunda, Statuary Hall, and the Crypt. To also visit the public galleries of the House or Senate, the group must obtain free passes from either their Representative or Senator’s offices that flank the Capitol.
  • The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library by the number of its holdings contained in several different buildings. The Thomas Jefferson building is the one to see as its architecture, sculpture, frescoes, mosaics, and exhibits are all designed to be a celebration of human discovery and creativity.
  • Also on Capitol Hill, the Supreme Court is home to our Judicial Branch. The outside is an impressive ancient-styled temple to showcase the legacy and supremacy of the Law. Timing may also permit entering the building to hear a curator lecture in the actual Supreme Court Chamber. 

The Presidential and Military Memorials  (2-3 full evenings)

As these memorials are typically visited based on proximity to each other and while they can be visited at any time, we typically go in the evening while most of the other buildings and museums are closed. 
 

Presidential Memorials:

  • Washington Monument is a 555-foot marble obelisk in the middle of the National Mall that honors the nation’s first president. Timed tickets provide an elevator ride to the 500-foot viewing platform. For those without tickets, the best views of the monument itself are from the other memorials.
  • Jefferson Memorial is located across the Tidal Basin and is surrounded by the famous Japanese cherry trees. The Romanesque structure provides an elegant view over the water particularly at night.
  • The Lincoln Memorial bookends the 2-mile stretch of the National Mall along with the Capitol on the other end. Overlooking the reflecting pool on one side, and Virginia on the other, it appropriately honors the President who preserved the Union during our nation’s toughest trial, the Civil War. While it honors the man himself, the unity of the nation and emancipation, it is only fitting that it has also become a gathering place for subsequent generations to raise the voice of justice and equality.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial is one to be experienced rather than merely viewed. Its chambers and plazas located on the Tidal Basin, use touchable inscriptions, statues, and fountains to chronicle how the man and the nation persevered through the trials of the Great Depression and World War II.

 Military and War Memorials: 

  • World War II Memorial, though a more recent arrival to the National Mall, is located prominently in the middle to show how the nation’s obligation and sacrifice to human liberty extend beyond our oceans. Divided into Pacific and Atlantic theaters, it is united by a memorial wall symbolizing the over 400,000 American lives lost.
  • Korean War Memorial is near Lincoln Memorial and features statues of 19 soldiers making their way through unknown terrain in front a wall of reflected faces of service personnel. It is particularly striking at night.
  • Vietnam Veterans Memorial: The stark silent wall of over 58,000 names originally met with much controversy, but now is one of the most popular memorials as it effectively conveys the costs and emotions of a confusing war that brought trauma to both the frontlines and the homefront.
  • Marine Corps Memorial: The iconic image of six soldiers raising a flag atop Iwo Jima serves as a memorial to the Marines in all wars. Located across the Potomac in Virginia, it also provides great views over DC.
  • Air Force Memorial overlooks the Pentagon and DC with its flared prongs flying into the sky, portraying honor on the ground for the sacrifices in the sky.
  • Navy Memorial often gets overlooked surrounded by more prominent sites on Pennsylvania Ave, but its worth a stop to admire its water encircled map of the world.
  • Pentagon September 11th Memorial is built at the site where the Pentagon was attacked on 9/11. Strategically organized benches for each 184 innocent lives lost are even more poignant at night. Note, there is no bus drop-off at the Memorial, so long walks are required to visit it. 

Arlington National Cemetery  (one full morning or most of an afternoon)

This is the final resting place of honor for over 300,000 military personnel who dutifully served our country. It is a place of honor for Two US presidents—John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft are buried here. The crew of the Challenger space shuttle, civil rights leader Medgar Evers and film star Audie Murphy are among the many honored here. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, containing remains of unidentified soldiers from World Wars I, II, and the Korean Conflict, is guarded 24 hours a day. The changing of the guard ceremony is a moving tribute to them. Arlington house, the home of Robert E. Lee until the outbreak of the Civil War, is located on the cemetery grounds.  
 
Mount Vernon  (one full morning or afternoon)
George Washington’s preserved home and plantation is an ideal tribute to the practical man who spent many years away from his beloved home in service to the country as commanding General and first President. Managing his estate was what he excelled at and preferred over the entanglements of power and politics. A tour of the house, grounds, historical interpreters and education center provide an intimate and hands-on look into Washington and his world of the late 1700’s. Nearby, the recreated Gristmill and Distillery can also be added to a Mount Vernon visit.  
 
The Smithsonian Institution  (a half day, ha-ha)
There are 20 museums and 9 research centers that make up the Smithsonian, but most groups find their interest and energy exhausted just by sticking to the big ones on the National Mall. A half day is barely adequate to see The Museum of American History, The Natural History Museum, and The Air and Space Museum, but if one is so inclined, they could also poke their head into the Museum of the American Indian, the Hirshhorn Museum of Modern Art, The Arts and Industries Building for temporary exhibits, The Smithsonian Castle, African Art Museum, International Gallery, and Sackler and Freer Galleries of Asian Art. If more time is allowed on the schedule, there are more museums located off the beaten path (not on the National Mall): American Art Museum / Portrait Gallery in Chinatown, the National Zoo in Rock Creek Park, the Renwick Gallery by the White House, or the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space museum located about one hour outside DC at Dulles Airport.    
 
The White House  (1 hour)
A walk around the perimeter of the secure grounds of the most famous home in the world will afford up close views of the North Front and Lafayette Park on one side, and the South Portico, South Lawn and Ellipse on the other. To get inside is another story; that must be arranged by limited availability with your Representative or Senator. About a quarter of our groups get it. So good luck! 
 
Ford’s Theatre  (1 hour)
The site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination is both memorial to the man and working theater with rotating shows. Timed tickets permit entrance into the museum and into the theatre to see the balcony as it was decorated in 1865. Across the street, the same ticket permits entry into the Peterson House where Abraham Lincoln died.
 
Our nation’s safe house for preservation of important documents and records has on permanent display The Declaration of Independence, The US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Magna Carta. Long lines and security make this a hard one to time. 
 
Depending whether the group visits one of the smaller exhibits like Daniel’s Story or visits the Permanent Exhibit which requires reservations or tickets, this could a short or long visit, and it could be a tamed or graphic visit. Either way, it is an essential example of how knowing history helps us know how to make a better future. 
 
An internal tour of the BEP allows visitors to see the process by which our paper currency is printed. The bullet proof glass enclosed platforms let you see and smell the money, but the only money you get to touch is that which is in your own pocket when you get to their gift shop (which sells you money for more than it’s worth). By reservation only for groups. 
 
Newseum  (2-3 hours)
This museum of news and media uses film footage, photography, and historic printed materials to show the importance of free press and free speech. But more than just a review of how great events are reported, the Newseum is very interactive. Visitors can experience the 4-D film, act the news anchor in front of green screens, and play computer challenges. 
 
Though built entirely in the 20th Century, the National Cathedral transports one into the 14th Century gothic and it’s sculpture and stained glass tell the stories the Bible and American history. A tour of the world’s sixth largest church is by appointment only, and the trip there and back takes in the Embassies along Mass Ave and some of DC’s nicest residential neighborhoods. 
 
This basilica, the largest Roman Catholic Church in the Western Hemisphere, is a mix of Romanesque and Byzantine styles with modern décor, and is located by Catholic University. 
 
Pentagon  (2 hours)
Tours of the headquarters of the Department of Defense and the world’s largest office building are by reservation only.
 
This memorial is encircled by marble walls containing the names of officers who have died in the line of duty. Each mid-May is Law Enforcement week when the new names of the fallen are added. 
 
For the more “sophisticated” travelers, the traditional West Building, modern East Building, and outdoor Sculpture Garden contain works by all the big names of European and American art. Located on the National Mall, it can be done in conjunction with the Smithsonians.
 
Several interactive floors review the history of crime, detective work, and penalty. America’s Most Wanted is filmed in the basement.
 
This museum covers the role and history of espionage, from the Revolution to the Cold War, and from Hollywood to DC. 
 

Additional Highlights
 
There are many more memorials, museums, and statues to visit in DC, most of which probably won’t be specifically included in an itinerary, but as time and traffic permits, can be added as they are relatively brief stops that typically do not require reservations:
 
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Albert Einstein Memorial, Union Station, Japanese American Memorial, Canadian Embassy, US Botanical Gardens, National Building Museum, Old Post Office Pavilion, Freedom Plaza, Washington Navy Yard, George Mason Memorial, African-American Civil War Memorial, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Theodore Roosevelt Island and Memorial, Old Town Alexandria, George Washington Memorial Masonic Temple, Georgetown University, Constitution Gardens, Folger Shakespeare Library, DC’s World War I Memorial, National Harbor Maryland, National Geographic Society. 
 
Let us know if there’s something we didn’t list here that you’re interested in. We love groups that surprise us with something out of the ordinary.
 

Evening Activities 
  • Potomac River Dinner Cruise: Spirit and Odyssey Cruises are fine dining dinner-boat cruises that take in the cooler air on the Potomac and views along river banks. 
  • Alexandria Ghost Tour: Creep through the darkest night following the lantern light of your 18th century guide hearing stories of ghosts, spirits & legends of Alexandria. And you’ll be abandoned in a graveyard! 
  • Theatrical Performances: Enjoy a performance at Ford’s Theatre where Lincoln was assassinated, or in the Kennedy Center. Maybe catch a show in the round at the Arena Stage.
  • Sports Events in season: Catch a professional baseball game with the Washington Nationals or Baltimore Orioles.
Washington DC Tour Logistics - Guides, Transportation, Hotels & Meals... (click for more)

Our guides maintain a 24 hour presence with the group from the time you arrive till the time you leave, so in addition to being your educational expert, they will also be navigating you through the logistics of transportation, meals, and hotels. While each guide has their own style and strengths, they strive to be flexible to the group’s needs and maintain the difficult balances between reverence and fun, promptness and leisure, information and action, being decisive and being accommodating. Some sites only allow their resident guides or rangers to lead/talk to groups, but other than that our guides are available to instruct as much or as little as you desire (Yes, sometimes our guide’s passion for the subject outlasts the mental energy reserves of the group).

There will be a guide for each motor coach, should the group size require more than one coach. We use only experienced drivers in newer model coaches that come with AC, DVD/TV, reclining seats, and restrooms. While the motor coaches will greatly cut down on the time and walking one would have to do using Metro or driving and parking their own vehicle, there are many restrictions on where coaches can drop, pick-up and park, and as many buildings and monuments are near each other, walking will still be a necessity and usually a pleasure.
 
Our hotels are also high quality, with such familiar names as Marriott, Sheraton, and Doubletree. As much as possible, we use centrally located hotels to avoid lost time waiting in suburban traffic in the mornings. Privately hired night security will monitor the floor or floors where the group is sleeping so the group leaders can sleep with more peace of mind that no one is disturbing the group, nor are they disturbing each other or leaving their rooms.
 
We pride ourselves on using meals of high caliber in both food quality and setting. Breakfast is typically hot buffet-style at the hotel before departure. Lunches are usually more flexible and often are not specifically scheduled in the itinerary, allowing the guide and group leaders to choose the timing and location of lunches as the itinerary unfolds, and letting the group rub shoulders with DC’s bustling locals. Dinners are typically by reservation with reserved group seating and options within a set menu to expedite service. Depending the location, dinners are often in historic inns or event-themed dining.

For more information regarding packing lists, preparations, academic goals, fundraising, hometown connections, teacher tips, and other logistics of group travel, please visit our Traveler Resource Center.

Understanding the changing Seasons of Washington DC... (click for more)

WHEN TO GO?

Crowded sites, long lines and sweltering humidity often prompt our groups to ask us, “When is the best time to go to DC?” While there is no set-in-stone “best” or “worst” time to go, there are trade-offs with every season.

The best balance of less crowds and agreeable weather would be the Fall (October – mid November with late October typically being the peak of fall foliage) but there’s a reason less groups come then. It’s early in the school year and it’s hard to work around sports schedules. If you’re able to do it, we highly recommend the fall.
 
Conversely, Spring is a more convenient time for school groups to come, and come they do. You can expect heavy school crowds from mid-March to mid-June. Early April is particularly crowded with Spring breakers and Cherry-Blossom gazers. Weather is particularly unpredictable in the spring; but you should expect at least one day of rain on your trip. The trees start blooming in late March, and the heat and humidity set in around late May. In May and June the various military bands do free concerts and demonstrations around the city. Consider coming Memorial Day weekend; while the city is crowded, it’s more from families and veterans than from school groups, so the city takes on a more ceremonial and reverent air, particularly at Arlington, but also in the parades and concerts.
 
Some groups try to beat the crowds in January and February when day temperatures linger between 30 and 50 degrees. Weather usually is not a big deterrent and most kids are excited if it does snow, and it’s nice to be able to waltz into many of the buildings without lines or reservations. The biggest drawback is the outdoor scenery: Many of the fountains in the memorials are not turned on until mid-March. The landscape is more gray with leaf-less trees and the daylight shorter (but conversely, some of our June groups are disappointed that they didn’t get to visit the memorials at night when it doesn’t get dark till 9:30).
 
So, weigh your own schedule with the pros and cons, pick your dates, but even then take nothing for granted. Prepare yourselves for the wonderful mystery of weather and the fluctuations of a living, security-conscious government that can both thrill and frustrate our best-laid plans.
Other Nearby Destinations to Washington DC.... (click for more)
Many groups make Washington DC the core of a larger trip by adding one or more other historic destinations in the East. While three full days are needed to do DC justice; the destinations below are listed with their driving time one way from DC and extra days needed to experience them.
 

Colonial Virginia  (3 hours drive, 2 days)

A great way to begin a trip as this is where the nation began, at Jamestown. Williamsburg takes you back to the 1770’s for a nice pace and hands-on rustic experience for a group before hitting the bustle of DC. Yorktown is where our Independence was won. Also make time for Richmond or Charlottesville on the way to/from DC

Civil War Battlefields  (within 2 hours, day trip from DC)

Gettysburg, PA was the deadliest battle and turning point of the Civil War and now is the most monumented battlefield on earth. It is the most popular day trip out of DC, but even closer there are Antietam, MD, Harper’s Ferry, WV, Manassas, VA, and Fredericksburg, VA.

Philadelphia  (3 hours, 1-2 days)

Original buildings abound where our founding fathers walked, slept, worshipped, argued and birthed our nation. Sites include Independence Hall, Liberty Bell, Franklin Court and the Constitution Center. Nearby is Valley Forge and a little further Lancaster (Amish Country)

New York City  (5 hours from DC, 2-3 days)

While NYC has it’s own treasures of American history, a trip here from DC will definitely take on a whole new pace and energy. Canyons of sky-scrapers, lights of Broadway, famous shopping, film sets, and an international nexus for both the poor, the posh, and the powerful; it truly is the Capital of the World.

Boston  (9 hours from DC, 4 from New York, 2 days)

Walk the Freedom Trail in the footsteps of the Revolutionaries in downtown Boston. Follow the footsteps of the Minutemen and hear the “Shot heard ‘round the World” at Lexington and Concord. Join the first New England settlers at the Mayflower II and Plimoth Plantation.

New York City

The “Big Apple” is often called the Capital of the World, and justly so as not only is it the home of Wall Street, Broadway, 5th Avenue, the Statue of Liberty and the United Nations, but its magnitude as an immigration portal means just by walking the busy streets, you’ll rub shoulders with an amazing melting pot of humanity.

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Sites and Experience Highlights in New York City... (click for more)

The sites of New York City are too numerous to list, and for many visitors, their most memorable experience might be a celebrity sighting, a hot-dog stand, or a flamboyant street performer. But below is a list of the highlights most visitors come to see.


 Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island:

 A short ferry ride takes you to these two great symbols of America as the land of opportunity and freedom. The best views of the Statue of Liberty are front the ferry and the island itself, but reserved tickets (limited availability) allow visitors to climb up to the pedestal platform. Nearby, Ellis Island served as the primary US Immigration processing center during peak years, but is now restored as the US Immigration Museum. There’s a good chance that some of your own blood flowed through here, as an estimated 1/3 of Americans can claim ancestry through Ellis Island.


 Lower Manhattan:

A walking tour of Lower Manhattan takes in NYC’s earliest and most recent history. This is where the first European settlers began colonizing at the mouth of the Hudson River, but it is also where some of NYC’s most modern buildings and corporate giants are located. Battery Park and Bowling Green both make for natural retreats from the surrounding hub-bub, as Trinity Church and Saint Paul’s Church offer historical and spiritual sanctuary. Stand on Wall Street in front of Federal Hall where George Washington became the first President of a struggling nation, and look upon the New York Stock Exchange where that nation now struggles with volatile prosperity. A reverent stop at the September 11th Memorial is a must, where one will be able to walk around the memorial fountain footprints of the World Trade Center towers attacked on 9/11.  The underground museum takes people back to the tragic day that changed our history.  The new One World Trade Center “Freedom Tower”, is the tallest building in the US at appropriately 1776 feet tall, and visitors can go up to the One World Observatory.


Mid-Town Manhattan:

 Mid-Town Manhattan is a shopping and entertainment section with the Garment District, Macy’s famous department store, Madison Square Garden and the Empire State Building all within a few blocks. The elevator trip and view from the Empire State Building’s viewing platform is justifiably romanticized and is a must see while in NYC.

Times Square. Stand in the middle of the crossing created by Broadway and 7th Ave and you’ll know this is the spot where “the city never sleeps.” This is the neon, marquis-lit Theater district filled with megastores, theme restaurants, and mostly comical street peddlers. It’s also where the nation celebrates the New Year.

Rockefeller Center is another hub of “as seen on TV” activity. One can take the NBC Studio Tour, or come early and try to snag a second of celebrity in the background shots of NBC’s Today Show. The view from Top of the Rock is perhaps the best in the city, day or night allowing you a full view of central park. Tours are also available of the nearby Radio City Music Hall.

5th Avenue is home to some of the most prestigious stores in America, but also to many other theme stores within reach of the common folk. This stretch of “shopping on steroids” is invigorating to some, but to those whom it merely overwhelms, there are peaceful retreats to be found in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the largest gothic Catholic cathedral in the US, and in tranquil Central Park.

Central Park: Right in the heart of Manhattan, the grid pattern of streets give way to this oasis of winding paths, rolling lawns, gardens, ponds, and playgrounds. While tourists may hire a horse carriage, pedi-cab, or rowboat, New Yorkers love this recreation retreat even more on foot. Warmer weather brings out many entertaining street musicians.

Grand Central Station is NYC’s busiest commuter hub but is also lined with shops and a food court. Choose a spot in the main hall and feel like you’re sitting on a rock in the middle of a cascading river.
The United Nations, though within Manhattan on the East River, is actually international territory. Tours are available of this headquarters established in the aftermath of WWII to establish global cooperation in dealing with conflicts and disasters.
South Street Seaport has a long history as a shipping port, but today is renovated as a historic landmark and shopping / dining mall with great views of the East River and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Brooklyn Bridge: a walk across the pedestrian and bike path provides great views over the East River, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Chinatown and Little Italy are overlapping neighborhoods with Chinatown’s expanding cheap shops, exotic food stands, and cafes dominating the area in recent decades, but Little Italy maintains its character along restaurant-lined Mulberry Street.

Greenwich Village and Washington Square are surrounded by many cafes and the buildings of New York University. It has been a breeding ground for artist, musicians, writers, and reformers, and remains a popular neighborhood for people with a contagious creative vibe.
Harlem is a neighborhood in Uptown Manhattan that went through various ethnic transitions to become an epicenter for African-American culture in the 20th Century, and today is experiencing another economic and multi-ethnic renaissance.
Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The Met” is a massive museum in Central Park with painting, sculpture and archeology from around the world.

The American Museum of Natural History is the largest natural history museum in the world and is bustling with artifacts and displays on wildlife, ecology, environment and human culture.

Baseball Stadiums: Depending the season and whether the Yankees or Mets are in town, your group may be able to attend a game at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx or Shea Stadium in Queens.


West Point is up-river a few hours from NYC and one can tour the US Army’s elite training academy


If you’re still looking for more to explore, consider some of these other less visited and off-the-beaten path sites:
Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art, MOMA, New York City Museum, Riverside Park/Grant’s Tomb, Riverside Church, St. John the Divine Church, Chrysler Building, The Flat Iron Building, City Hall, Union Square, Columbus Circle, Bryant Park & New York City Library, The Dakota luxury apartments & Strawberry Fields, Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, USS Intrepid, El Museo del Barrio, Bronx Zoo, Staten Island Ferry, Chelsea Piers, Circle Line cruise around Manhattan.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The largest city during Independence, the “City of Brotherly Love” and the “Keystone State” were the logical locales for our founding fathers from different backgrounds to gather in order to unite, defend, and define our national government and our enduring values.

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Sites and Experience Highlights in Philadelphia.... (click for more)

Independence Hall:

As the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, Independence Hall is one of the most recognizable historical landmarks not only in Philadelphia, but the entire nation. The hall is the centerpiece of a building complex that also includes a room showcasing the original prints and Congress Hall where the US Senate and House of Representatives met for 10 years while Washington, DC was being constructed.

The old Pennsylvania Statehouse bell engraved with the words, “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof” rang to call citizens to the first reading of the Declaration of Independence, and was later dubbed The Liberty Bell by abolitionists and other movements who adopted the bell as a symbol of their fight for freedom. 

Who are “We the People”? Facing opposite Independence Hall, The National Constitution Center is a modern museum that explores and explains the Constitution through high-tech exhibits, artifacts, and interactive displays.

Built and owned by America’s oldest trade guild, Carpenters’ Hall in 1774 hosted the First Continental Congress.

The former site of Ben Franklin’s home contains and underground museum, archeological displays, and a recreated print shop and post office to showcase his versatile life as publisher, politician, postmaster, printer, and inventor.

Known as “The Nation’s Church” because of the famous Revolutionary-era leaders who worshiped here, Christ Church was founded an Anglican parish in 1695. It is also the church where the American Episcopal Church was born.

The Burial Ground is the final resting place for some of our most prominent leaders including Benjamin Franklin and four other signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Known as the oldest residential street in the country, the narrow Elfreth’s Alley boasts nearly 30 tiny houses dating from the early 18th to 19th centuries.

While the legitimacy of Betsy Ross’s flag-making is debated, this house is still worth a visit as an example of colonial living conditions.

Witness the coin-currency making process at the US Mint from an enclosed gallery overlooking the workers and machinery.
The Graff House is the location where Thomas Jefferson, Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, rented a room in 1776, and drafted The Declaration of Independence in three weeks. 
This colonial square served as a burial ground for both American and British soldiers and white and black victims of the 1793 yellow fever epidemic. Today it’s the location of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the Revolutionary War.

The Franklin Institute is a modern science museum reflecting Franklin’s creativity through hundreds of hands-on exhibits, live demonstrations, high-tech theaters and special programs.

This impressive museum houses a collection of more than 400,000 works of art. But many visitors are more familiar with the outside, as they run up the steps just like “Rocky” did in 1976.


Nearby Destinations in Pennsylvania:

Valley Forge: (Outside of Philadelphia about one hour)

It was here that General George Washington forged his struggling Continental Army into a fighting force, during the difficult winter encampment of 1777-78. While no battles were fought here, 2,000 soldiers died of sickness and hardship. Today, the park is a lush, 3,600-acre expanse of rolling hillsides dotted with monuments, recreated cabins, and original homes that served as headquarters.

Lancaster County / Amish Country: (Outside Philadelphia about 2 hours)

Lancaster County’s old-fashioned charm and homespun warmth stems from the well-rooted Amish population of farmers and craftsmen who follow a deeply religious, family-centered lifestyle based on humility and simplicity. Discreetly observe their farms and buggies as they go about their lives while enjoying some of the finest down-home dining and shopping.

If you’re still looking for more to explore, consider some of these other less visited and off-the-beaten path sites:

Philadelphia City Hall, Rittenhouse Square, Gino’s and Pat’s famous Philly Cheese Steaks in the Italian District, Old Quaker Meeting House, Free Quaker Meeting House, First US Bank, Second US Bank / Portrait Gallery, Independence Seaport Museum, Academy of Natural Science, Civil War Library & Museum, Fireman’s Hall, Museum of Jewish American History, New Hall Military Museum, Masonic Temple, Philadelphia Zoo, Fort Mifflin.

Colonial Virginia

Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown make up the Historic Triangle of Virginia, taking you you on an immersive journey from our colonial beginnings up through becoming an independent nation.

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Sites and Experience Highlights in Colonial Virginia.... (click for more)

Jamestown: (One full morning)

First off, there are actually two Jamestown sites to visit. Jamestown Island is managed by the National Parks Service and is the actual site with archeological preservation and educational displays. Next to it on the mainland is Jamestown Settlement which is managed by the state of Virginia and is a recreated site with demonstrators and lots of hands-on exploration. Most groups go to the Settlement since it is more engaging, but both can be done if time is managed well. Both are described more fully below:
Jamestown Island: This is the actual site of the 1607 colony, the first permanent English settlement in the USA. While little remains today, one can walk the outlines of the old fort, witness on-going archeological digs, step into the current church built upon the foundations of the originals, and gaze over the receding banks of the James River. An on-site museum houses many relics from the archeological digs. There is also a recreated glasshouse demonstrating glassblowing, one of the economic endeavors of the early colony.

Jamestown Settlement:
This extremely interactive site uses historic interpreters, recreated structures, and museum displays to communicate how the confluence of European, Native American, and African cultures came together to create the nation we live in today. The outdoor exhibits are where you’ll spend most of your time. The Powhatan Indian village allows you to enter native dwellings, feel native furs, and maybe even take part in native chores and games. At the waterfront, you can board recreations of the three ships that first brought the English colonist. The Fort contains the English dwellings, church, and workspaces and shows how they tried to survive and defend themselves. There are many other displays and demonstrations available, so come ready to ask lots of questions and get involved.

 


Colonial Williamsburg: (one full afternoon and evening)
Shortly after Independence, Virginia’s capital was moved inland to Richmond, leaving Williamsburg to slowly decay until the 1920’s when it was preserved and restored to become the world’s largest living history museum. A mix of original and recreated structures allows you to step back in time to the early1770’s when Virginia was Britain’s largest and wealthiest colony, and loyal too, but murmurings of independence from dissatisfied patriots can be heard. Walking down its streets, you might run into some familiar characters, such as Patrick Henry, George Washington, or Thomas Jefferson. While the Capitol building and the Governor’s Palace provide a great lesson in history and politics, the other homes and trade shops are a showcase of everyday colonial life. You can visit with trained craftsmen and merchants in such structures as the wig maker, gun smith, the powder magazine, blacksmith, cooper, printer, book binder, silver smith, apothecary, millenary, carpenter, wainwright, coffee house, the jail, and more. You can have a period meal in one of the historic taverns. You can walk the manicured gardens behind the historic homes. You can also visit other historical structures that have never ceased in their original roles: Bruton Parish Church and the Wren Building on the campus of William and Mary, the nation’s second oldest college.

Williamsburg Evening Programs:
Williamsburg provides a variety of evening programs to experience the lantern-lit town at night. The options are:

Lantern Walking Tours: Walking tour of colonial trade shops
Colonial Dance: Dance demonstration and lessons
Papa Said, Mama Said: African-American stories
In Defense of Our Liberty: Musters you into the Continental Army
Discovering the Past: Archeology investigations
Cry Witch: Participatory mock trail
Legends of the Past: Mysterious folk tales in character
Grand Medley of Entertainments: Traveling minstrels and jesters.
Ghost Tour: Unexplained “stories and mysteries” of the past


Yorktown: (on full morning)
Just like Jamestown, Yorktown has two separate entities; one is the battlefield preserved by the NPS, and the other an education center recreated by the State of Virginia, where most groups spend their time. Both can be visited together fairly easily.

Yorktown Battlefield: This is the site of the final major battle of the Revolutionary War and end of Colonial English America. Between September 28 and October 19, 1781, General George Washington and his allied American and French armies laid siege to General Lord Cornwallis’ trapped British army, forcing their surrender. You can walk the preserved fortified lines and batteries, and visit Surrender Field and the Victory Monument.

Yorktown Victory Center: Indoor exhibits walk you through a time-line of the American Revolution, and two outdoor exhibits provide interactive demonstrations: The Continental Army Encampment gives you an inside look at the soldier’s life, living conditions, food, medical treatment, and weaponry. The early-American farm provides a nice contrast to Williamsburg’s town setting, by showing what life was like for a typical middle-class family living off the land, their farm animals and their own resourcefulness.

Connecting Virginia Destinations en route to/from Washington DC.... (click for more)

To and From Williamsburg:
As Williamsburg is usually visited in conjunction with a DC trip, there are several sites that can be visited while traveling to and from DC. These sites will require extra time and perhaps some driving distance, but if planned properly will not require an overnight stay.

Richmond is the current capital of Virginia and thus holds the Thomas Jefferson designed Capitol building surrounded by monuments to the state’s heroes. Apart from being a state capital, Richmond was also the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War as reflected in the White House of the Confederacy and the statues along Monument Ave. Saint John’s Church is the site where Patrick Henry gave his rousing speech which concluded with “Give me liberty, or give me death!”

Pamplin Historical Park & National Museum of the Civil War Soldier is located on the actual battlefield of the Petersburg Campaign of 1865 and contains demonstrators, re-enactors, exhibits, artifacts, and preserved homes to convey the life and times of the Civil War soldier on both sides.

Monticello and Charlottesville will add another half day to your itinerary, but provide a very worthwhile visit to the unique home and plantation of Thomas Jefferson, a testament to his versatility and insatiable curiosity. In Charlottesville itself, the University of Virginia is a lasting legacy of his love for education. Nearby you can also visit the homes of other presidents: James Madison’s Montpelier and James Monroe’s Ashlawn.

Fredericksburg is directly on route to DC and contains the battlefield where Robert E. Lee won perhaps his greatest victory, and hence the North’s most embarrassing loss.

Civil War Battlefields

Our nation’s greatest trial came from within as diverging views came to arms over the preservation of the Union and the future of slavery.  Fields once littered with bodies are now preserved with memorials as lessons for today as we keep refining our national ideals.

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Civil War Sites & Highlights near Washington DC.... (click for more)
All of the Civil War Battlefields listed below are within a two hour drive of Washington DC.  Typically they can be visited as a day trip, or en route to another major city destination, and do not require an overnight stay.  Browse below to see which sites fit your itinerary.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: (half day to full day visit)
 
Gettysburg is the most visited Civil War Battlefield, not just by today’s tourists and history buffs, but by the veterans themselves, who recognized its significance as the turning point of the war, and while they were still living, came and placed their memorials where they fought, making it the most monumented battlefield on earth. On July 1, 2, & 3 of 1863, nearly 200,000 men clashed here, making it the bloodiest battle of the war and the high-water mark of the Southern fight to leave the Union.
 
The 2-hour driving tour on our own bus with a Licensed Battlefield Guide mixes on-bus and on-foot exploration and is a must for any visit. Also recommended is at least an hour in the new Visitor’s Center to see its multi-media film, cyclorama, museum, and gift shop. More time is needed still to visit the National Cemetery dedicated by Abraham Lincoln with his immortal Gettysburg Address. A stop in the town square permits opportunities for small town dining and access to some of the historic buildings and homes.
(Gettysburg is 1.5 hours from DC, 1.5 hours from Lancaster, PA / Amish Country, 4 hours from Philadelphia, 5-6 hours from NYC.)
 
 

Antietam, Maryland: (half day visit)

When the South made their first incursion into Northern territory, the two armies met at Antietam in a bloody all day battle on September 17, 1862, the single deadliest day of the entire Civil War. Considered a draw, the battle was a tactical victory for the North in that the South withdrew from their Northern invasion until their second attempt at Gettysburg. A visit can include a tour of the battlefield by bus and by foot, the Visitor’s Center, or a Ranger program.
(Antietam is in Sharpsburg, MD and is 1.5 hours from DC, 1 hour from Gettysburg, PA and 1 hour from Harper’s Ferry, WV)
 
 

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia: (half day visit) 

While the Civil War battles that transpired in and around Harpers Ferry were not as significant as the larger battles involving larger armies, the controversial events that happened there before the war greatly intensified the coming divisions. On October 16, 1859, the extreme abolitionist John Brown led a raid of the arsenal here in an attempt to spark an armed slave uprising. He was captured and hung, but the opposing characterization of him as madman or martyr exposed the resentment between the North and the South. But more than a Civil War site, Harpers Ferry is a confluence of nature, culture and history. Situated where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet in a mountainous setting, it has been a hub for travel, trade, and recreation for centuries. Many of its historic buildings have been preserved by the Park Service to maintain its historic appearance.
(Harper’s Ferry is 1.5 hours from DC, 1 hour from Antietam, 1.5 hours from Gettysburg)
 

Manassas, Virginia / Bull Run: (2 hour visit)

Just outside of DC, Manassas is the site of the first battle of the Civil War in July 1861. At the time, both sides expected a quick victory and settlement of the question of secession from the Union. But this was not the case. The battle was deadly and sloppy and decided little. In fact, the two sides would meet here again in August 1862 with the same outcome, a Southern victory and a prolonged war. There is a visitor’s center and paths to tour the battlefield and its monuments.
(Manassas is 1 hour outside of DC)
 


Fredericksburg, Virginia: (one hour visit)
 
Halfway between Washington DC and Richmond, the capitals of North and South, Fredericksburg was a logical place for confrontation during the Civil War, but little else was logical about the battle that took place there in December 1862. While the North had greatly superior numbers, their delays and miscalculations against strong positions over open fields resulted in repeated failed attacks. Southern General Lee upon witnessing the carnage from the fortified hills above said, “It is well war is such a terrible thing. Men should grow too fond of it.” Subsequent fighting at nearby Chancellorsville produced a similar result and another Southern victory. At both sites, monuments and footpaths reveal where the major action took place.
(Fredericksburg is directly on the route from DC to Williamsburg and can make for a great stop between the two if the trip is done during daylight hours)
 

Pamplin Park, Petersburg, Virginia (2 hour visit)

Pamplin Historical Park & National Museum of the Civil War Soldier is located on the actual battlefield of the Petersburg Campaign of 1865 just outside of Richmond, the Confederate Capital. As much an educational facility and museum as a battlefield, it contains demonstrators, re-enactors, exhibits, artifacts, and preserved homes to convey the life and times of the Civil War soldier on both sides.
(Pamplin Park two hours from DC and one hour from Williamsburg and can make for a great stop between the two if the trip is timed during daylight hours)

Boston, Plymouth and Revolution

Follow the trail of colonial struggles from the early Pilgrims at Plymouth, along the “Freedom Trail” in the heart of Boston, and the Road to Revolution at Lexington and Concord with the “Shot Heard Around the World.”

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Sites and Highlights in and around Boston.... (click for more)

The Freedom Trail:

Nearly all of Boston’s historic sites related to Independence are conveniently located along the 2.5 mile Freedom Trail which snakes its way around the old city’s patchwork streets. The following major sites will be visited on the route:

The Freedom Trail begins in Boston Common which was established by Puritan settlers in 1634 as the nation’s first public park. Originally set aside for cattle grazing, it is now a retreat for recreation and relaxation inside the city. The Massachusetts State House overlooks the Common.

Just beyond Park Street Church, the Granary Burial Ground contains the graves of many of Boston’s distinguished patriots, such as Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, John Hancock, and James Otis, the victims of the Boston Massacre, and the wife of Isaac Vergoose, who is believed to be “Mother Goose” of nursery rhyme fame.

King’s Chapel has the grave of first governor John Winthrop and as it had a mostly Loyalist congregation, it became the first Unitarian Church in America after Independence. Behind it, is the 1635 site of the first public school in America.

While the Old South Meeting House served as a public meeting place and venue for unofficial protest, the Old State House , built in 1713 was seat of the crown’s official government. Today it is a museum of Boston history. The Declaration of Independence was first read to Bostonians on July 18, 1776 from its balcony, overlooking the 1770 Boston Massacre Site.

Faneuil Hall was and continues to be a market and meeting place for public events. The surrounding Quincy Market is the lively epicenter of Boston’s restaurant and shopping scene (a good place to eat your Clam Chowder and buy your Red Sox hat).

The Paul Revere House is the oldest home in Boston, built in 1680 and lived in by Revere at the time of his famous midnight ride. Now a museum, it is a tribute to the man of many professions and many children.

The Old North Church is Boston’s oldest church, and its steeple was the highest point in Boston. Thus it was a logical place to alert the city of Boston of the coming of the British. This is where Robert Newman hung two lanterns to warn riders across the Charles River that the British troops were coming by sea, rather than land.

Continue past Copp’s Hill Burying Ground and cross the Charles River and head up to the Bunker Hill Monument honoring the battle which took a disproportionate toll on the British forces who eventually took the hill. The overlook from the 221-foot granite obelisk rewards you with a great view of Boston.

At the Charleston Navy Yard, the USS Constitution “Old Ironsides,” is anchored. It was never defeated in battle and the oldest commissioned vessel in the US Navy. Also on site, is a naval museum and a WWII era ship.


Other Boston Non-revolutionary Options:

Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher learning in the U.S. and widely considered the most prestigious.
Prudential Building provides 360-degree panoramas from the 50th floor observatory.
Boston Duck Tour is a “quacky” drive around the city’s history and humor in a World War II style amphibious landing vehicle.
Fenway Park is the 1912 home to baseball’s Boston Red Sox and is the oldest sports venue in use in any US sport.
New England Aquarium is home to more than 15,000 fish and aquatic mammals.

Lexington and Concord (about 1 hour from Boston)

The quaint New England towns of Lexington and Concord have set aside and memorialized their sacred ground where armed American militia battled for the first time against British forces that were sent to seize weapon stores in April of 1775. In between these towns, The Minuteman National Historic Park has preserved sections of the route of march, attack and retreat, and the Visitor’s Center explains how the events culminated into “the shot heard around the world.”

Literary Concord: Concord was a hotbed of thought, literature, and art in the 1800’s. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery contains the graves of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Luisa May Alcott, and Daniel Chester French. You can visit: the Wayside where these greats rubbed shoulders, the Alcott’s home inspiring “Little Women,” and Walden Pond where Thoreau built his cabin to live simply and reflect.


“Plimoth” Plantation and Plymouth Harbor (about 1½ hours from Boston)

Plimoth Plantation is the recreated site of New England’s first colonial settlement and contains the 1627 English

Village where historical interpreters actually play characters and interact with visitors in the accent and perspective of their time. They may even put you to work in one of their houses or in their fields. Also on site, is The Wampanoag Village where native American descendants portray native life of the past, but with the language and perspective of today. Nearby in at the original Plymouth site (and within current Plymouth Harbor) is anchored the Mayflower II, a recreation of the original Mayflower which brought the Pilgrims to America in 1620. Aboard ship, there are both modern day guides and in-character historic interpreters. On shore, Plymouth Rock is the traditional site of disembarkation of the Pilgrims.


Salem (about 1 hour from Boston)

Salem was once a seaport that rivaled Boston, but today it capitalizes on its infamy surrounding the Witch Trials of 1692. You can visit the Salem Witch Museum, Wax Museum, New England Pirate Museum, or go on an evening ghost tour. Also in Salem is 1668 home that inspired Hawthorne’s “House of Seven Gables.”


John Adams National Historic Site (about 1 hour from Boston)

The preserved home and burial sites of Presidents of the United States John Adams and John Quincy Adams represent the Adams family legacy and archive their writings and libraries.

The home in Brookline was the birthplace and childhood home of future President John F. Kennedy. The Kennedy library, museum, and educational research complex overlooking Dorchester Bay captures the 35th president’s accomplishments and legacy in video, sound recordings and displays of memorabilia and photos.


Old Sturbridge Village (about 2 hours from Boston, en route to/from New York)

Old Sturbridge Village is a recreated living history village providing the experience of early New England life from 1790-1840. It has historians in costume, 59 antique buildings, three water-powered mills, and a working farm. Visitors can ride a stagecoach, view antiques, tour heirloom gardens, meet heritage breed farm animals, and enjoy hands-on crafts.

Professional Afflilations

Academic Expeditions is an accredited educational travel provider and a member of the major student travel, guiding, and transportation organizations across the country.

 

 

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