Tour planning

Exploring the National Mall in Washington D.C.

Dear traveler,

Welcome to D.C.! We’re excited you’re here! Stop #1: The National Mall.

Once you meet your Tour Director, he/she is going to spend time orienting you to the Mall, sharing their favorite museum highlights and organizing how you’ll spend the rest of your day. There’s a lot to take in and they’ll help you decide what to prioritize!

If this is your first time in D.C., you may want to think about which Smithsonian museums or sites interest you and your group most. Are the Egyptian mummies calling to you from the Natural History Museum? Do you want to see the fastest aircraft ever made? Or perhaps you want to soak in a little sun while strolling through the Sculpture Garden or the Botanic Garden!

For this first day, you’ll want to consider whether you’re going to stick together as a group, split up into a few smaller groups, or if you want your students to wander through the museums on their own before meeting back up at the designated time & place. Your Tour Director will help you coordinate with everyone and remember that they will be there to support you throughout the day & the rest of your trip! We compiled a list of some of our personal favorites—see what strikes your fancy!

  1. Smithsonian National Museum of American History
  2. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
  3. National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden
  4. National Archives
  5. Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
  6. United States Botanic Garden
  7. Food Trucks & Food Court at L’Enfant Plaza

Smithsonian National Museum of American History

You’ll get close to time traveling when you go to see some of our nation’s treasures at the Museum of American History. Visit Thomas Jefferson’s desk bringing yourself back to the year 1776 when the USA gained our independence or admire Michelle Obama’s Inaugural gown from 2013.

Must-Sees:

via National Museum of American History

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

The Museum of Natural History has something for everyone—an insect zoo & butterfly pavilion, a hall of gems, the story of the mysterious Narwhal (think unicorn of the sea, this is a temporary exhibit), Sea Monsters (open through 2020), mummies from Ancient Egypt, and dinosaurs that are even more ancient!

via Smithsonian 

Must-Sees:

  • The Hope Diamond a 45-carat deep blue diamond in the gem & mineral collection
  • Mummies from ancient Egypt, you’ll find 3 human and 16 animal mummies
  • The Hall of Fossils exhibit (opening June 8th, 2019) will feature the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex, triceratops, and Saber-toothed cat

National Archives Visit some of our Nation’s oldest founding documents.

Must-Sees:

  • Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their created with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”
  • Constitution: The supreme law of the United States written in 1787
  • Bill of Rights: protects freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly, and much more

via National Center for Constitutional Studies

National Air & Space Museum: At the Air & Space Museum, you feel like you’ve either gone back in time looking at the 1903 Wright Flyer or fast-forwarded into the future as you take in the lunar rock (which you can touch!). Note: the museum is under construction so there may be some exhibit closures, but the museum favorites will remain on display:

Must-Sees:

  • 1903 Wright Flyer can be found in The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age Built by the Wright brothers in the 1890s, this was the world’s first airplane that flew for a whole 59 second, proving flight was possible!
  • Spirit of St. Louis was the first aircraft to make a transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in 1927, piloted by Charles A. Lindbergh
  • Bell X-1 became the first aircraft to travel faster than the speed of sound in 1947
  • North American X-15 is the fastest aircraft ever made

National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden

If you’re inclined to stay outside and soak in some sun, you can take a leisurely stroll through the Sculpture Garden admiring a variety of plant life, the fountain in the middle (it turns into an ice rink in the winter!), and of course…sculptures!

US Botanic Garden

The United States Botanic Garden is a living plant museum. Stop by the Botanic Garden to see some of the many rare & endangered plants that have a home here.

Food Trucks & Food Court at L’Enfant Plaza

When you’ve seen the sights or simply need to refuel before going back for more, take a quick walk over to L’Enfant Plaza where you’ll find food trucks galore (click here for a list of the trucks there today), a food court with even more options and bathrooms.

Other Food Options

The Smithsonians offer some drinks, snacks, and food options as well. Or for suggestions on traveler recommended D.C. lunch spots check out our lunch guide.

Happy exploring!

—The Explore America Team

Katie Collins

Unsurprisingly, Katie is another EF-er who loves to travel! She appreciates that travel forces you to cut down to the essentials and let go of excess stuff. Wherever she goes she’s looking for fun hikes, restaurants with gushing reviews and local flavors, and the highest place she can get to (think: mountaintop, bell tower, Duomo, jungle gym). Katie spent summer vacations traveling around the US to different National Parks. In college, she was lucky enough to spend a semester in Madrid and returned to Spain later on to walk El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James). She is part of EF Explore America’s Product Management team.

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