While planning a school trip to Washington, D.C., the number of museums, memorials, and monuments can seem overwhelming. While you could let a NationsClassroom representative create an itinerary for you, most teachers like the ability to customize and select itinerary items that best suit their students.
Out of all the attractions in Washington, D.C., here are the top ten we think all student groups should experience while on tour.
1. The U.S. Capitol Building
At the opposite end of the National Mall from the Washington Monument is the U.S. Capitol Building. The home of the legislative branch offers an incredible tour for student groups and serves as a great backdrop for group photos. The Capitol Building tour runs about 45 minutes and includes stops in the National Statuary Hall and Rotunda. If you're interested, NationsClassroom can try to arrange a time for your students to meet with your state representative or senator while visiting.
2. Arlington National Cemetery
A visit to Arlington National Cemetery is often one of the most impactful stops for students on their school trips. A NationsClassroom tour guide will lead your students through the cemetery to visit the Kennedy grave sites, Arlington House, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Many student groups use this chance to participate in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown.
3. National Holocaust Memorial Museum
The National Holocaust Memorial Museum is a carefully curated museum dedicated to preserving the memory of those who were killed during the Holocaust. For middle school students, this museum can be especially powerful after or during a study of books like Milkweed, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, or The Diary of Anne Frank. The museum also organizes to have Holocaust survivors visit the 'Survivors Table' to share their stories with museum visitors.
4. The National Archives
The National Archives in Washington, D.C. is the only place students can view our nation's founding documents. In Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, visitors are able to view the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. A 1297 Magna Carta original is also on display in the Records of Rights. A visit to the Archives is typically a quick one, so we encourage all student groups to make it a priority to stop by after visiting a nearby Smithsonian.
5. Monuments and Memorials
There are monuments and memorials all around Washington, D.C., but we especially encourage groups to make time to visit the main memorials around the National Mall. Typically during the evenings after many of the museums have closed, a NationsClassroom tour guide will lead your group to the numerous memorials and explain their significance and history. Some of the most popular monuments and memorials are the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, the World War II Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial.
6. National Museum of African American History and Culture
One of D.C.'s newer museums, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has become a very popular museum for student groups since it's opening in 2016. The museum itself is seven stories high and has twelve galleries, so a visit here typically lasts between 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The museum tour begins on the lowest floor and works its way up, beginning with the history of slavery in America and ending with cultural galleries that "showcase African Americans’ creative talents and artistic vision through film, theatre, television, and music."
7. Mount Vernon
George Washington's Mount Vernon is less than 30 minutes from Washington D.C., and is a definite must-see for student groups. Beginning in the Museum and Education Center, visitors view several exhibits and galleries that highlight George Washington's life, and there is also a short film to watch in their small theater. A large portion of your visit will be a house and grounds tour that leads students through the Washington's home and farm. There is currently an exhibition focusing on the enslaved people who lived and worked at Mount Vernon, so save a little time to explore that exhibit as well.
8. Museum of American History
Called 'America's Attic', the Museum of American History has over 1.7 MILLION objects in their collection. From the gowns of past first ladies, to Bert and Ernie Muppets from Sesame Street, the museum has an exhibit for everyone. You can choose to explore the museum on your own, use one of the museum's 'scavenger hunt' guides, or visit a few highlights together as a group. Regardless of how you visit, make sure to add this museum to your itinerary!
9. Ford's Theatre and Petersen House
Ford's Theatre is the famous theatre where John Wilkes Booth fatally shot the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Across the street from the museum stands Petersen House, where Lincoln passed away a few hours after he was shot. Groups should arrive and visit the downstairs museum in Ford's Theatre first before visiting the main theater. Many groups elect to watch a park ranger give a presentation in the theater before crossing the street to visit Petersen House. Student groups can also spend an evening at Ford's watching a performance.
10. The National Air & Space Museum at the Udvar-Hazy Center
While the National Air & Space Musuem location on the National Mall is currently undergoing a massive renovation, their secondary location in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center remains open. The Udvar-Hazy Center actually houses 90% of the Smithsonian's Air & Space collection. Since it's only 25 miles from Washington D.C., we think it's well worth the visit. The Udvar-Hazy center also features an IMAX theater, flight simulators, and the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower.
What attractions do your students most enjoy in Washington, D.C.? Are their attractions you would add to our top 10 list?
Interested in creating your own itinerary for a Washington D.C. student trip? Contact one of our Student Travel Consultants today to get started!