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)
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)
- 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)
- 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).
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.
Other Nearby Destinations to Washington DC.... (click for more)
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
West Point is up-river a few hours from NYC and one can tour the US Army’s elite training academy
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Valley Forge: (Outside of Philadelphia about one hour)
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:
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)
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)
Antietam, Maryland: (half day visit)
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia: (half day visit)
Manassas, Virginia / Bull Run: (2 hour visit)
Pamplin Park, Petersburg, Virginia (2 hour visit)
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 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:
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.
Academic Expeditions is an accredited educational travel provider and a member of the major student travel, guiding, and transportation organizations across the country.
Contact Us: 917.520.5453 (General Inquiries) / 917.608.4177 (Registrations and Billing)