The center of the US government, law, and politics, and full of iconic commemorations to important historical events, there really is no better place for a field trip than Washington DC!
Especially if you want to teach your students about how a government functions, and the importance of carrying the lessons of history into the modern day.
But with so many places to visit in the nation’s capital, where do you start? Read on to discover the 18 best Washington DC field trips!
The Arlington National Cemetery contains many historic memorials and is designed as a tribute to veterans, with one of the most famous tributes being The Tomb of the Unknowns.
It’s an honor to witness the changing of Tomb Guard sentinels, which occurs daily.
2. Capitol Hill
The core of representative democracy, the U.S. Capitol is an essential field trip in Washington DC!
You can take a tour of Capitol Hill, where students can speak to Members of Congress or Senators, or be taken on a tour of the beautiful monument.
Tours provide information about the uses and functions of the U.S. Capitol.
Once you’ve finished your tour of the U.S. Capitol, follow the underground passage to the Library of Congress, the biggest library in the world where you can view important documents such as a draft of the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson, one of the last three Gutenberg hand-printed Bibles surviving today, and many more galleries showcasing fascinating exhibits.
Most famous for being the theater where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Ford’s Theater offers exhibitions and tours surrounding the subject of the assassination.
You can take a complete tour of the historic site including exhibits, the museum, and Petersen House, where Lincoln was last seen alive.
Head north of the National Mall to pay a visit to the National Archives, home to some of the most crucial documents in US history like the Bill of Rights, the Charters of Freedom, the US Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Emancipation Proclamation.
Newseum takes you on a journey through the world of news, and this starts before you even step foot in the building, as you are guided through the headlines of today.
Once inside the building however, you can read historic newspapers containing stories about the revolutionary war, view an actual piece of the Berlin Wall, record your own news segment, and learn about US history through the years as reported and portrayed via a variety of media outlets.
As well as their incredible collection of interactive exhibits, the Newseum also provides educational programs to field trip groups.
The Smithsonian is a collection of 19 museums that provides students many opportunities for learning a huge range of subjects.
The Smithsonian museums include the National Museum of African American History & Culture that takes you through the history of the transatlantic slave trade, Jim Crow, the civil rights movement, and the inauguration of the US’ first African American president – Barack Obama, the National Museum of the American Indian that tells students about the colonization of the United States, and the culture and history of Native Americans in both North America and South America, and the National Air & Space Museum.
Cheetahs, elephants, gazelles, giant pandas, gorillas, red pandas and Sumatran tigers are just some of the 2,000 animals that call the National Zoo home!
Students can take part in educational discussions with zoo staff, as well as watch them feed the animals. Plus, it’s totally free to visit.
Students can learn about espionage history at the International Spy Museum, and see fascinating exhibits such as the Enigma cipher machine that deciphered Nazi codes, a KGB poison dart umbrellas, and props from the James Bond movies.
The Kennedy Center hosts many theater and musical performances throughout the year, and is home to the Washington National Opera, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, and the National Symphony Orchestra.
A free, guided tour is also available, where students can learn about the architecture and history of the theater, or you can treat your students to a performance at the theater they’ll never forget.
The National Mall is home to some of the most famous monuments and memorials commemorating US troops, leaders, and historical events.
Students can learn all about important moments in history by visiting war memorials such as the National WWII Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Celebrate famous leaders, the courage of America troops, and other aspects of US history all the while enjoying views of the scenic Potomac River.
12. Supreme Court
The highest federal court in the country, tours of the first two floors of the Supreme Court are available to students, where they can learn all about the role this judicial branch plays in the US government, and they can even sit in on oral arguments that are available to the public.
Plus, you can learn about the architectural history of the Supreme court, and its judicial functions.
A visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a sobering, important experience for older students, reminding them to never forget the lessons of such a horrific event.
The aim of the museum is to open the public’s eyes to what hatred looks like and how to challenge it, promote and protect human dignity, and ensure genocides like the Holocaust never happen again.
14. White House
Arguably one of the most famous buildings representing the US government, the White House is an essential part of any Washington DC field trip.
You can walk through the black iron gates that protect one of the most iconic houses in the world, and even take a tour of the public rooms and the President’s office.
However, you must get in touch with your senator or representative 3 months before you plan to visit.
Frederick Douglass became the first African American to purchase a home in the Old Anacostia neighborhood, and the nine-acre estate of Cedar Hill is open to the public today.
You can take a tour of the 21-room Victorian mansion and learn about Douglass’ work to abolish slavery. Plus, Cedar Hill has one of the most beautiful, inspiring views of Washington DC.
16. Mount Vernon
Situated just south of DC near Alexandria, Virginia, Mount Vernon was the home of George Washington and provides insight into what life was like on an 18th century plantation.
We recommend taking the Slave Life Tour to see what life was like for the slaves of the plantation.
17. Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial is awe-inspiring due to its size and what it represents.
It features the large, iconic sculpture of Lincoln, two of his most famous speeches inscribed on the walls, and a stunning view of the National Mall, the reflecting pool, and the Washington Monument.
The Lincoln Memorial has been the setting for many iconic moments in history, such as Martin Luther King, Jr’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.
The Washington National Cathedral is a spiritual center for people of all faiths.
Students can be taken on a tour by a Cathedral docent, who will tell them all about the architecture, artwork, and history of the cathedral.
Tips For Planning Field Trips In Washington DC
Advise Students To Dress Appropriately
When teachers take students on field trips like this, they want their students to experience all that DC has to offer, which means busy days on your feet, so we recommend advising your students to wear comfortable, durable footwear.
We also recommend advising students to bring light, small backpacks, and to be mindful of security checks when entering government buildings – of which there are many in DC!
So the smaller your bag and the easier it is to handle, the better. Plus, packing lightly means your bag can be checked quicker.
Students should also be advised to wear light jackets or sweaters, as many venues make use of air conditioning that can make the rooms chilly, especially when visiting during the spring, fall, or winter.
Don’t Pack Your Days With Activities
A field trip to Washington DC is a massive commitment for teachers, parents, and students, so it’s natural you’ll want to get the most out of it!
But since there is so much to do in DC, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the options.
We hope our article has given you a good idea of what is on offer, and what would be the most beneficial for your students, but it’s important to not overload your students with information, and give them time to soak in and reflect on what they’ve learned.
A good itinerary should include opportunities for downtime, as well as learning. Give your students some free time to explore DC with their friends, so they can relax and create more great memories.
We hope our article has inspired you to plan a field trip to Washington DC!
There really is no better place to teach your students about American politics, history, and American culture and society as a whole.
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