Being the nation's capital and far from being uninteresting, Washington, D.C. may seem like a no-brainer when it comes to fun and educational attractions. Yet, the sheer number of attractions can be overwhelming for even the best planners. Here is our pick for the top sites, landmarks, monuments and museums that you should see on your next student trip to Washington, D.C.
1. National Mall
This gorgeous and all-inclusive destination is the first stop on many itineraries simply because it's near everything. It's also home to some of the city's best and brightest memorials and monuments including the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial among others. A perfect, open meeting place for your group, the National Mall is also flanked by several Smithsonian museums, perfect for a day trip spent touring.
2. Smithsonian Castle
Otherwise known as the Smithsonian Institution Building, the Castle is basically the museum complex's informational center. However, it's fantastically designed architectural style makes it a rare sight, even in D.C. Like the rest of the Smithsonian's, admission is free to enter the Castle, and once you're inside you can find museum exhibitions on a number of subjects ranging from the history of the Smithsonian to the Castle building itself. You can also find information on the other Smithsonian museums in the area, pick up brochures, and schedule a tour of your chosen museum.
3. National Air and Space Museum
Spread over 23 galleries, the National Air and Space Museum is perhaps the best in the country for capturing the historic and scientific evolution of aviation and space exploration. Here you can find the iconic Spirit of St. Louis plane flown by Charles Lindbergh, the Apollo 11 command module, as well as a number of historic planes among other fascinating exhibits. Also, check out the IMAX Theater and Planetarium to get a better understanding of the universe and how scientists are endeavoring to explore its depths.
4. National Museum of Natural History
This world-renowned building features exhibitions following the evolution of man, the planet, and how we perceive natural history as a species. Take a journey from the beginning of time when humans first walked, when dinosaurs roamed the planet, and even zoom into the future of DNA identification, scientific discoveries, and more. Museum highlights include the Dinosaur Hall, the Hall of Human Origins, and the Hall of Mammals with exhibition collections including the Hope Diamond, ancient Egyptian sarcophagi, a magnificent 8-ton mammoth African elephant in the rotunda, and much more.
5. White House
Of course, what visit the capital would be complete without a stop at the president's home? Though tours are subject to change based on the White House schedule, self-guided and guided tours are offered free of charge and lead you through a variety of historic and iconic rooms used by the president and his family.
6. National Zoological Park
Also known as the National Zoo, this Smithsonian institution is a leader among zoos for animal care, exhibit design, and public participation. This is one of four U.S. zoos to house giant pandas along with endangered black-footed ferrets, Cuban crocodiles, and the scimitar-horned oryx, a species that is now extinct in the wild. Other animals to visit include your favorite African lions, Asian elephants, western lowland gorillas, red pandas, Sumatran tigers, and more. The best part is that this gorgeous zoo is completely free!
7. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Documenting the horrific happenings of WWII, the U.S. Holocaust Museum confronts social hatred, genocide, and war with poignant memorials to those who lost their lives in the WWII conflict, pleading with the world not to enter into that kind of hatred again. Exhibitions follow the chronological timeline from the first Nazi occupations and concentration camps to genocide around the world in places like Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime and more. This museum is perhaps not suitable for all ages but a recommended stop for high school age students and older.
8. International Spy Museum
Intensely fun and surprisingly accurate, the International Spy Museum was founded with the help of several former spy organization directors from MI-5 to the CIA. Check out exhibits on real-life spies during WWII, the gadgets and the tools they used to crack codes and go undercover. Also see exhibits on James Bond villains with collections including artifacts from the movies like Goldfinger's shoes and author Ian Fleming's typewriter.
9. Ford's Theatre and Petersen House
The historic theater where John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln is open for visitors. Renovated and refurbished to look as it did in the late 19th century, Ford's Theatre offers historic tours of the theater's rooms along with a performance by the play company. Included in the price of admission is a tour of the Petersen House across the street. This is where the president was taken after the fatal wound rendered him unable to move to the White House or hospital. The Petersen House remains as it did, down to the bed the president passed away in and the artwork hanging on the walls.
10. Capitol Hill
Iconic for the gigantic U.S. Capitol Building, Capitol Hill also holds the Library of Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. Come by after your tour of the National Mall and learn about the Capitol Building whose cornerstone was laid by George Washington in 1793. Visit the Capitol's underground visitors center and museum and then travel upstairs to visit the Old Senate Chamber, National Statuary Hall, and the Capitol Rotunda among others. Tickets are required as this is a popular attraction.
This interactive museum was based on illuminating the stories behind journalism, news, and the brave men and women who bring the truth to light. This massive seven-story building features galleries on the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, a 9/11 Gallery and the news stories that covered the attack, the Berlin Wall Gallery featuring a piece of the iconic wall, as well as several theaters showing films on the importance of the free press and the freedom of speech.