Tips for a Great Visit to a Historical Site

mount-rushmore-902483_640Whether planning a family vacation this summer or taking your group of students on a trip, consider a historical site.  From military forts or battle fields to recreated villages and caves, there are some great historical places all over the United States that each have a unique story to tell.

Researching a few sites before your trip will help you decide where you want to go and how to get there. Consider how much time you have to visit. You can probably visit Jane Adam’s Hull House in Chicago in under an hour, but visiting Colonial Williamsburg, in Virginia, will require more time to see and experience everything.

Also consider what your family or group is interested in or what they are studying. Maybe your soon to be fifth grader will be studying Lewis and Clark and you want to follow part of the journey the explorers took west. It is important that everyone have some vested interest in the trip to avoid those nagging phrases: Can we go now? This is boring.

Once you’ve decided on a place to visit and how you are going to get there, some more research is required. This may sound like homework, but get the family or group excited by previewing what they are going to actually see on their trip! Plus, it is important to learn about the facilities especially if handicap accessibility is a must and what kind of services are provided. Is there a restroom, food, or a playground available on site? Can you take photographs? Are there any special events happening on the day you plan to visit?

And researching a site beforehand will lead to a richer experience. Historians always do as much research as possible before visiting their field research site. Being familiar with the site helps them know what to look for and avoid missing possible clues as to what happened years ago at the site.

If your group is large, divide them up and assign each smaller group one important aspect to research before the trip, and then share their findings with the others.

They’ll want to find out:

Why and how did the place became a historical site?

Who are the people or characters associated with the site?

What was happening during the time period?

After the kids share the information they gathered, help them come up with questions they might have about the site.

Which brings us to this question: Do you join the guided tour, do the self-guided tour, or neither?

Some sites don’t give you the option. But if a guided tour is available, it is often worth it. However, there are some factors that can make a guided tour enjoyable or dreadful, consider the following when making your decision:

Is the group too large? It can be hard to hear the guide when part of a large group, or someone might block your view of the items you came to see.

How long is the tour? Check your time. You might consider the self-guided tour if time is an issue.

Is there something you came specifically to see? If you are only interested in seeing the room where that famous author stayed, again consider the self-guided tour. This way you can focus on what interests you and your group rather than being pulled away to see something else.

No matter what you choose, think about the goals and interests of those visiting the historical site and with a little upfront research you can’t go wrong!

The following are some excellent resources to consider for research:

The Library of Congress

The National Archives

National Register of Historic Places

The Smithsonian Institute

The Gilder Lehrman Collection

Also try the Historical Society of the city you’ll be visiting.


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