Our Nation’s Political Capital
Home of the Smithsonian Institution
Presidential and War Memorials
More than just our nation’s capital, Washington DC is a smorgasbord of history. The Memorials, museums, and government buildings are the medium through which we understand our nation’s stories, struggles, and sacrifices as we continue to define and refine our ideals of freedom.
The Presidential and Military Memorials
Arlington National Cemetery
The White House
Information About Your Destination
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What to Expect
We customize each expedition to create a unique educational experience for your group.
Our trips include premium transportation, centrally located hotels, and generous, healthy meals.
Our professional expedition leaders seamlessly integrate practical logistics into the content-rich educational program.
See our Standard Tour Features for more details.
Things To Do
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. Of course, no tour is typical, and we don’t want any of our groups to feel that they are cookie cutter, but these suggestions serve as a solid frame upon which to add your own uniqueness.
Capitol Hill (one full morning or afternoon):
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.
Arlington National Cemetery (one full morning/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. 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. 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):
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. If more time is allowed on the schedule, there are 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.
National Archives (1 hour):
Our nation’s safe house for the 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.
Holocaust Memorial Museum (1-2 hours):
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, the Holocaust Memorial Museum is an essential lesson in how knowing history helps us know how to make a better future.
Bureau of Engraving and Printing (1 hour):
An internal tour of the BEP allows visitors to see the process by which our paper currency is printed. By reservation only for groups.
Washington National Cathedral (2 hours):
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.
National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (2 hours):
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.
Law Enforcement Memorial (30 minutes):
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.
National Gallery of Art (1 hour):
For the more “sophisticated” travelers, the traditional West Building, modern East Building, and outdoor Sculpture Garden contain works by all the big names in the European and American art scene. Located on the National Mall, the National Gallery of Art can be done in conjunction with the Smithsonians.
Museum of Crime and Punishment (1 hour):
Several interactive floors review the history of crime, detective work, and penalty. America’s Most Wanted is filmed in the basement.
The International Spy Museum (1 hour):
This museum covers the role and history of espionage, from the Revolution to the Cold War, and from Hollywood to DC.
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 starting point to your trip is Jamestown, where the nation began. Williamsburg takes you back to the 1770’s for a hands-on authentic experience 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 for something closer there is Antietam, MD, Harper’s Ferry, WV, Manassas, VA, or 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, the 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 its own treasures of American history, a trip here from DC will definitely take on a whole new pace and energy. Canyons of sky-scrapers, the lights of Broadway, famous shopping, and film sets; 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 in 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why travel with Academic Expeditions?
Because we care. It’s as simple as that. Our commitment to quality, integrity, and value is the heart of who we are and what we stand for. The level of personalized attention we provide for our groups sets us apart in this industry and is the number one reason why our schools return year after year. Read more on our Why Travel With Us page.
How do you provide security & safety on your trips?
Safety is our highest priority. We work only with the highest quality vendors and will not run a trip if we feel the safety of our clients and guides is compromised. From full-time staff & logistical support, to 24-hr emergency phone access for all travelers, we’ve got you covered. Read more on our Standard Tour Features page.
Are your trips more expensive because of everything you offer?
Actually, no. We are a privately owned company that doesn’t need to answer to stockholders’ bottom lines, and with the advantages of mobile technology, our family-oriented team of versatile professionals avoids corporate overhead costs. This allows us to offer better quality tours at a more reasonable price and value than many of our competitors. We never have, nor ever will skimp on the quality of the goods or services we offer and will strive to keep our prices competitive and affordable.
How serious are you about the educational aspects of your expeditions?
Education is our primary goal. Our unique model learning through travel truly opens our participants’ eyes and minds to new ideas, cultures, and understandings. All of our customized educational content complies with school-based curriculum guidelines and is designed to meet teacher expectations and student learning objectives. Our curriculum is based on national and/or state standards and employs higher order critical thinking and develops real life connections for students.