History Buff? How To Travel the East Coast Like A Pro

Love US History? Want a vacation that is jam-packed with historical sights? History teacher and travel enthusiast Tim Donnelly visited with us and gave us his best advice for planning a history-filled vacation that is sure to please even the most avid history fan.


WS: The East Coast of the US is chock full of historical places, but what are YOUR favorites as a teacher and as a buff?

TD: My Top 5 East Coast Cities For History Teachers and History Buffs (in alphabetical order) are:

Boston = Boston is the cradle of the American Revolution!  Walk (and make various stops along) both the Freedom Trail and the Black Heritage Trail.  Pay your respects at the amazingly-detailed Robert Gould Shaw and 54 Massachusetts Regiment Memorial, located across Beacon Street from the State House.  Book a drinking/walking tour with Ye Olde Tavern Tours.

Charleston = Oh man, the whole city is steeped in history, especially if you're a Civil War buff.  Along those lines, visit where the Civil War began: Fort Sumter.  Charleston is also a "haunted" city, so if you like your history served with a dash of ghosts on the side, then consider a haunted walking tour.

New York City = See the New York Historical Society & Museum, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.  A visit to the Tenement Museum pairs nicely with a trip to Ellis Island. Also worth a visit are the Museum of the City of New York, and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. If you can, check out the African Burial Ground National Monument and the American Museum of Natural History.

Philadelphia = Visit the Italian Market for both history and food! Of course, The Liberty Bell and National Constitution Center are big sights as is Independence Hall.  Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is interesting and creepy! Try a  Grim Philly Twilight Tour, which is a "Rated R" adults-only walking tour that details the seedier side of Philly's history.

Washington, D.C. = Do not miss the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  I always try to stop at Ford's Theater and Peterson House.  Another museum that is interesting and informative are the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of African American History and Culture is a do not miss!  And, of course, the various memorials and monuments along the National Mall are spectacular. Consider seeing the monuments during the day and at night as they evoke a different “feel” at different times. Lastly, paying your respects at Arlington National Cemetery is a "must do" in DC, even though it’s technically located in Virginia.

WS: Any tips for first time visitors to the spots you mentioned?

TD:  If tickets are required, then get them ahead of time.  Be aware of potential closures, policies, and rules/regulations.  Hire a local guide to escort you.  Sure, there are podcasts and self-guided tours that you can easily upload to your mobile devices, but there is nothing like a local, experienced, knowledgeable, enthusiastic tour guide (who can also provide suggestions for other, less-touristy, "this is what the locals do" things in that particular city).

WS: Any final thoughts?

TD:  There are so many great things to see on the East Coast that I couldn’t possibly include them all. But, don't try to do too much.  Embrace, breathe, and enjoy (like Rick Steves says, "Always assume you will return.")

Great advice for any trip! Thanks a bunch to Tim for taking the time to share his expertise!