Skip to main content
search search search search search search
Rite of Passage student tour group photo in front of Washington Monument

Rite of Passage

For many of Rite of Passage field trips, this is students’ first time to the nation’s capital.

For many of Rite of Passage field trips, this is students’ first time to the nation’s capital.

Day 1

Welcome to Washington, DC! For many of Rite of Passage field trips, this is students’ first time to the nation’s capital. AEF is excited to show everyone what makes DC the greatest city in the world.

While many visitors to Washington, DC don’t leave the monuments and museums around the National Mall, this special field trip starts in the middle of the city at President Lincoln’s Cottage. Don’t worry, we’ll get to those monuments and museums soon.

The Cottage was used by President Lincoln and his family as an important retreat from the excitement and summer heat of Washington, DC. Most importantly, while there, Lincoln visited with wounded Civil War soldiers at the nearby hospitals, spent time with self-emancipated Black Americans, and developed the important words of the Emancipation Proclamation. Students on the Rite of Passage trip will travel back in time and work through these tough decisions during the tour and educational programming at the Cottage.


All that time travel has made everyone hungry and there is no better place for lunch in Washington, DC than the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl. Celebrities, Presidents, locals and tourists alike have all flocked to the Chili Bowl for over 62 years for its flavorful and authentic food, family-friendly atmosphere and rich history. Family owned and operated, you'll probably see the family behind the counter at Ben's original location on U Street!

Ben's Chili Bowl in DC's U Street neighborhood - Where to enjoy all-American eats in Washington, DC


Travel to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the performing arts powerhouse and living memorial on the banks of the Potomac River. Every day, tour guides take you through the massive Grand Foyer, Opera House, and theatre spaces, pointing out the art and architecture that make the Kennedy Center one of DC’s most treasured living landmarks.

The John F. Kennedy Center Washington, DC


After the tour, it’s time to take our seats for an afternoon matinee of Shear Madness. The world’s longest running play, this comedy-whodunit takes place today in the Shear Madness hairstyling salon and is chock full of up-to-the-minute spontaneous humor. During the action, a murder is committed, and the audience gets to spot the clues, question the suspects, and solve the funniest mystery in the annals of crime. The outcome is never the same!

Shear Madness at the Kennedy Center


Travel down the Potomac River to the home to the nation’s longest continually operating open-air fish market! In addition to its historic market, spend some free time exploring the beautiful waterfront and its many attractions. The Wharf has transformed into one of DC’s most exciting waterfront destination, home to shops, restaurants, hotels, and live entertainment through the year.

Recreation Pier at The Wharf


Experience the iconic landmarks from a whole new perspective from the deck of a City Cruises dinner cruise! Reserve a table or an entire room for the perfect way to end your first day in DC with a gourmet prix fix dinner and dancing to a live DJ.

Day 2


Day 2 starts off right with a healthy boxed breakfast from Le Pain Quotidien. Convenient individual or group boxed catering with a variety of breakfast, lunch, and dinner selections are the perfect on-the-go meal for groups.

Pain Quotidien Penn Quarter storefront


While most people know the National Archives as the home to the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, did you know it holds more than 15 billion records!? While they are not all stored at the monumental downtown building, you can visit our country’s most important founding documents and learn what makes the work of the National Archives so vital.


Across the street from the Archives is the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. The 6.1-acre space, adjacent to the Gallery’s main West Building, features walking and seating areas and 17 sculptures taken from the Gallery’s collection. We recommend taking a moment to enjoy lunch from the Garden’s café amongst the trees, flowers, and beautiful works of art.


On the walk to our next stop, we always recommend at least one photo outside on the National Mall with Washington Monument. Did you know you can travel to the very top? The minute-long ride up 50 stories to the top of the world's tallest free-standing stone structure includes a video from the National Park Service about what to expect. From the observation deck, you can see nearly 25 miles into the horizon in every direction, the best view of the city and surrounding monuments!

Washington Monument Grounds on the National Mall - Monuments and Memorials in Washington, DC


It’s on to the newest museum on the Mall, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. There’s so much to see at the museum, both inside and out. The beautiful metal covering the building pays homage to the intricate ironwork crafted by enslaved African Americans found across the southern United States. The four-level museum opened in 2016 and is the only national museum solely dedicated to the documentation of African American life, history and culture.


Both housed in the historic Old Patent Office Building, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery have something for everyone. The National Portrait Gallery gives visitors a chance to meet fascinating Americans from more than 225 years of history though photography, painting, video, and sculpture.


Whether you’re into fresh oysters on the half shell or a mouthwatering cheeseburger, enjoy dinner across the street at Clyde’s of Gallery Place. A DC institution since the 1960s, Clyde’s is a perfect place to for your group to enjoy dinner after a day of museums and site seeing or grabbing a beverage if you’re having a grown-up field trip!


Walk next door to Capital One Arena and take seats for a Washington Wizards game. Join diehard fans as they cheer on stars Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porziņģis as the Wizards will aim to reach the playoffs for a third straight season!

Day 3


No field trip to DC is complete without a visit National Statuary Hall, the Old Supreme Court Chamber, the Old Senate Chamber, and of course, the iconic Rotunda of the US Capitol Building! You can get guided tour tickets from the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center or contact your Member of Congress. Be sure to also spend some time outside, enjoying the beautiful architecture of the Capitol as well as the hundreds of species of trees throughout the Capitol Grounds. While you’re there, have lunch at the Capitol Visitor Center Café!


Did you know the U.S. Library of Congress is the largest library in the world? The library houses more than 164 million items, from books to photos to recordings to maps to…much, much more! It also serves as a museum, with numerous exhibits inside the incredible Thomas Jefferson Building. Gilded Age architecture makes its interior a visual masterpiece, a work of art worthy of housing the immense amount of knowledge that it holds, and perfect for that Instagram selfie with friends!


The National Museum of the American Indian boasts one of the world’s most expansive collections of Native American objects, photographs, artifacts and media, representing over 1,200 Native cultures and communities, and is dedicated to amplifying Native voices throughout its contemplative exhibitions and colorful activities. The building (designed entirely by Native architects) is one of DC’s most visually striking, with its curvilinear structure and limestone material designed to resemble rock formations affected by wind and water over thousands of years.


The International Spy Museum interactive exhibitions and installations put *you* in the life of a real life spy thriller, while you gather intelligence, solve puzzles and learn the tricks of the trade. The Museum holds the foremost collection of spy artifacts in the world with first-person accounts from top intelligence officers and experts.


Big Bus Washington, DC picks up right outside the Spy Museum for a sunset monuments tour that cannot be beaten! Experience the city’s iconic monuments, memorials, and museums as they are lit up at night with experienced tour guides helping you get the most from your experience. Recorded tours are provided in eight languages.