There is one fact about school trips to Washington DC that rings true for all teachers and students.
First-time trip leaders and even 20-year veteran group leaders will agree with me.
One day school trips and five day trips have it in common.
It is obvious from the initial stages of planning to the drive home from Washington DC.
The fact is…there is never enough time.
There is never enough time to explore the 70+ free attractions or even the 20 paid activities that are worth the admission price. The city is overflowing with culture, history, and architectural grandeur. Students soak it up by the barrel but will not be able to take it all in.
Trip priorities must be set and tough choices made. Do you choose a lightning-fast highlights tour or opt for more quality time at fewer attractions?
If you have never planned a school trip to Washington DC, how do you choose? How do you know how much time to spend at each location?
It isn’t easy, but the guide below is here to help. We list the average student time spent at each location by one bus of students (30-50 students).
Factors to Keep in Mind
- Let me emphasize that this is an average. Depending on your curriculum and interests, you may find more or less time is more suitable for your group.
- If your group is larger than one bus of students, add an additional 20 minutes per bus for all locations with security.
- Factor a minimum of 20 minutes for transportation between each site, whether it be walking or driving.
Average Student Time Spent at Washington DC Memorials
(1.5 – 2 hours) These three memorials are situated around the beautiful Tidal Basin. We recommend making one stop to visit all three memorials. Buses can drop your group off at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and pick up again at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Walk between the memorials for a picturesque tour experience.
(20 minutes) With a convenient bus drop off location, the World War II Memorial can be visited by itself at any convenient point during your trip. Groups may opt to walk from this memorial to the Lincoln Memorial along the Reflecting Pool (add 15 – 20 minutes).
(1.5 hours) Like the memorials around the Tidal Basin, these three memorials are conveniently located close to each other. We recommend visiting all three in one stop. Bus parking is located near the Korean War Veterans Memorial and along Constitution Avenue near the Vietnam Memorial (time of day depending).
(15 minutes) The Marine Corps Memorial is located in Virginia near Arlington National Cemetery. We recommend visiting this memorial before or after your visit to Arlington. There is convenient bus drop off/pick up at the memorial.
(45 minutes) The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial is located at the Pentagon (on the side of the crash site) in Virginia. Student groups typically spend 15-20 minutes exploring the memorial. Convenient bus parking is not available at this memorial. Buses can park in the Pentagon parking lot, although at a fair distance from the memorial. Buses can also park at the Pentagon City Mall and the group can walk to the memorial from the mall. With either option, it will take approximately 15 minutes one-way to walk to the memorial.
(1.5 hours +) The Washington Monument can be viewed from all angles throughout the city. If your group requests tickets to go inside the monument, please know that it can be a lengthy time investment. Groups must arrive a minimum of 15 minutes before their scheduled ticket time. However, it is not uncommon for the daily times to be running behind schedule. You may also incur an additional wait time. Students must then go through security and metal detectors. Once inside the monument, a elevator transports students 6-8 at a time to the top. There is only one elevator to take guests up and down. After your view at the top, students will be transported back down by the elevator.
Average Student Time Spent at Washington DC Museums
(1-5 hours) With so many Smithsonian museums to choose from, students groups tend to focus on the big three: National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of American History, and the National Museum of Air and Space. We recommend groups to spend 3-5 hours on the National Mall, breaking into smaller chaperone groups and exploring the museums at your own pace. The bus can drop the group off at the Air and Space Museum and pick up at the American History museum or vice versa. A minimum of 45-60 is recommended for each museum. Students will go through security at each museum, including a bag check and metal detector.
(1-3 hours) Pre-ordered permanent exhibit tickets are required for student groups. Students will go through security upon entering the museum. Plan 1.5-3 hours for the permanent exhibit, depending on the maturity of the students and how focused your curriculum was on the subject matter. Tickets are not required for Daniel’s Story. Plan 1 hour for security and Daniel’s Story only.
(2-3.5 hours) With 14 major galleries, 15 theatres, and 6 floors to explore, the Newseum definitely warrants a 3 hour visit.
(1.5-2 hours) Student groups average 1.5-2 hours at the International Spy Museum.
Average Student Time Spent at Government Buildings
(2 hours) The average length of a Capitol tour is 1 hour. Buses are able to drop off in Garfield Circle at the bottom of Capitol Hill. Plan for 10-15 minutes to walk up Capitol Hill to the visitor center entrance. Factor 15-20 minutes for security. The average length of a Capitol tour is 1 hour. If you would like to explore Exhibition Hall as well, plan an additional 20 minutes. Buses will pick up in Peace Circle at the bottom of Capitol Hill. Plan for 10 minutes to walk down the hill.
(45-60 minutes) Due to their close proximity, we recommend visiting the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson building before or after your tour of the Capitol. You can take the underground tunnel between buildings. If you visit the Library of Congress first, you will need to go through security both at the library and upon entering the Capitol. If you visit the Capitol first and take the underground tunnel to the library, you will only need to go through security at the entrance to the Capitol.
(10-60 minutes) Most groups opt to view the outside of the Supreme Court building only. However, if you wish to visit the inside you will go through security. Due to their close proximity, we recommend visiting the Supreme Court building before or after your visit to the Capitol and/or Library of Congress.
(20-30 minutes) Tickets to tour the White House are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain and must be requested up to 6 months in advance through your Congressman. Most groups opt to visit the North side of the White House along Pennsylvania Avenue to take group photos, walk through Lafayette Park, and see the exterior of the Blair-Lee House.
(40 – 80 minutes) This is the average time for groups that have preordered timed entry passes. Waiting time for groups choosing the public line will vary significantly depending on the time of year. Students are required to go through security to enter. Your group may choose to only see the Charters of Freedom (Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, Constitution) or may opt to stay longer and explore the many other interactive exhibits.
(60 minutes) Students are required to go through security. The tour is approximately 40 minutes in length.
Average Student Time Spent at Historical Places
(2-4 hours) There is much to see and explore at Mount Vernon between the mansion tour, estate grounds, and education center. Touring the mansion takes 45 minutes on average. Factor an additional 30 minutes one-way to drive from the National Mall to Mount Vernon.
(1.5-2.5 hours) Groups walking to the Memorial Amphitheatre, witnessing the Changing of the Guard, and visiting the Kennedy gravesite average 1.5-2 hours. Groups wishing to visit the Taft gravesite, Arlington House, and Women in Military Service for America Memorial must plan additional time.
(45-60 minutes) Groups *not* seeing a show spend an average of 45 minutes at the Kennedy Center walking the outdoor terrace and taking pictures throughout the beautiful building.
(1-2.5 hours) The zoo is a great place for students to stretch their legs after a long trip on the motor coach and to see the famous pandas.
(75 minutes) Groups visiting the museum, theatre, and Petersen house take about 75 minutes on average. If you tickets also include a park ranger talk in the theatre, plan to spend an additional 10-15 minutes. Preordered tickets are definitely advised for student groups.
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