History drives on educational vacations for all kinds of travel groups from students to senior citizens but visiting several museums and/or landmarks that charge admission can really add up. When you're traveling on a budget and want to see more than a couple of historic sites, know that there are places - like those below - that are either free or cheap to enter. Start learning and have fun on your upcoming student trip!
Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C.
Almost all of the historic monuments in Washington, D.C. are free to view, and should be, but museums bring everything you need to know into one concise space...with air conditioning. The Smithsonian museums are all free in the nation's capital and rank as some of the best museums in the world for their collections and curation. Try the National Museum of American History where you can find everything from a quilt collection to collected stories from the Titanic's sinking and even George Washington's uniform. Other Smithsonian history museums include the African American History and Culture Museum, the American Indian Museum, and the National Museum of Natural History.
American Civil War Battlefields
The Civil War was an economic and social tragedy culminating in a complete schism of American culture. Brother against brother, father against son, a country rent in two. Though we have pieced our country back together, stronger and better than before, the scars of this pivotal war are still marked across our country's back. Most Civil War battlefields such as Gettysburg and Shiloh cost a small entrance fee while other lesser known battlefields like Stones River in Tennessee are free daily.
We are a reminiscent society and we like to preserve our history for future generations, to learn from past mistakes, and to uphold the noble legacy of previous leaders. The Freedom Trail in Boston leads you through 2.5 miles and 16 historic sites, many of which are free to enter and explore while others charge a nominal fee. See the Granary Burying Ground where Samuel Adams and John Hancock found their last resting place, the Old North Church where two lanterns were hung to alert the colonies that the British were coming by sea, and also the Bunker Hill Monument among others. Most historic trails, including the Freedom Trail, are free to explore but cost money for guided tours. Others include the Oregon National Historic Trail, the Trail of Tears, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, and the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.
Due to our government's policy of transparency, tours of state and federal capitol buildings are free. Most require groups to call ahead and schedule a tour while many have first-come-first-serve tickets. The U.S. Capitol Building starts out in the underground visitors center where you will see an introductory film and museum galleries before heading upstairs to see the Crypt, the Rotunda, and National Statuary Hall. The California State Capitol in Sacramento, the Massachusetts State House, and the Alabama State Capitol stand as excellent historic and governmental landmarks.
You might balk at the idea of visiting cemeteries but you can find a lot of history for free. From the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia to Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia, cemeteries mark significant historic periods, events, and remember legacies. At Arlington, travel groups can visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and see the changing of the guard, pay respects to President Kennedy, and see the memorial arboretum. Other cemeteries include the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia where Confederate President Jefferson Davis is buried, St. Louis Cemetery #1 in New Orleans where Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau is found, and Mt. Auburn in Cambridge, Massachusetts where many notable poets and authors are interned.
Much of American wartime history was fought by sea and while many of the iconic ships have been destroyed, sunk, or otherwise lost, a few still stand as preserved legends. The USS Constitution, aka "Old Ironsides," resides still in the Boston Navy Yard in Boston Harbor and your group can climb aboard for a small donation or view the ship from the pier for free. The USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu is a monument to those fallen during Pearl Harbor and costs nothing for visits although other Pearl Harbor Historic Sites cost a small fee.
From presidential homes to birthplaces of notable Americans, historic homes mark some of the most visited sites in the U.S. While most historic homes like Monticello and Mount Vernon charge admission, you might consider them as worth the money although there are a few which are free. Grant's Farm in St. Louis, Missouri charges no admission (but it does charge for parking) and you can ride a tram through a wildlife park whilst viewing two homes built by the president's own hands on land he once owned, now operated by the Anheuser-Busch company. The Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois requires only a free tour ticket, first come first serve, to tour the landmark home where President Lincoln and his family lived from 1844-1861.