American history museums have advanced considerably from collections behind glass in dusty hushed rooms. Today many are like theme parks that specialize in time travel. Heritage centers provide an opportunity for the whole family to experience daily life in a different century.
The Freedom Trail is the perfect introduction to Colonial Revolutionary history – if you are wearing comfortable shoes. The Trail covers 16 historical sites and two-and-a-half centuries in only 2-3 hours (a full day if you dare to linger). Starting from the Boston Common Visitor Center at 148 Tremont Street, here are some highlights: America’s oldest public park (1694), Boston Common has been a grazing area for cattle, a camp for the Redcoats during the British occupation, and a place to hang witches. The Granary Burying Ground is the resting place of three signers of the Declaration of Independence – John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Robert Treat Paine – and of Paul Revere. The Old South Meeting House is where the decision was made to destroy tons of taxable tea stored in ships in the harbor, resulting in the Boston Tea Party. But it is Faneuil Hall that is considered the Cradle of Liberty; listen to a historical talk (every 30 minutes) and don’t miss the Faneuil Hall Marketplace, a shopping area with restored 19th-century buildings, right behind the Hall. End with the USS Constitution Museum, where you can learn about the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world (Paul Revere is credited with forging the copper bolts).
Book a themed 90-minute tour accompanied by a costumed historical character online through the Freedom Trail Foundation or follow the red brick painted line at your own pace.
The Price of Freedom: Americans at War takes a look the history of America’s military from the French and Indian Wars to the present conflict in Iraq. The exhibition is a study in the ways in which wars have defined periods in American history. You’ll learn how war affects soldiers, their families, citizens and communities.
On the National Mall in Washington DC, this Smithsonian museum features popular exhibits like “America on the Move”—an exploration of the history of transportation in the United States from 1870 to the present (take a ride in a Chicago Transit Authority train car)—and The Early Sixties feature an artifacts wall honoring both American science and culture.
The museum is open daily from 10 am to 5:30 pm, with free admission. Check the website for special extended hours. Be sure to stop at the Welcome Center for information to find out what special programs are happening that day.