Visit the United States Naval Academy

It’s got a college feel to it but there’s a lot more to the US Naval Academy than just a school.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Visit the United States Naval Academy

With its beautiful heritage buildings and collections of important artefacts, the US Naval Academy looks at first glance like a mix between an Ivy League university and a historic landmark

But as you'll find out when you visit the US Naval Academy, there's a tough training regime for the students who come here as they prepare to join the military.

Here's everything you need to know about the Naval Academy Visitor Centre in Annapolis, Maryland.

“You can’t park here,” the man with the crisp uniform and shaved head tells me. “This is for official naval vehicles only.”

It’s about as strict and direct as the guards get here at the Naval Academy Visitor Center. I leave the car in a nearby street and walk back in.

An officer takes a cursory glance at my ID and then I’m inside, left to my own devices, free to wander as I wish.

I had expected more security. This is, after all, the training ground of one of the armed forces of America – the prestigious United States Naval Academy, known colloquially as ‘The Yard’.

Visiting US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, USA

On the shore of Chesapeake Bay, the school almost looks like it could be a yacht club. The sun is shining today and pleasure crafts cruise by, those on board waving to those of us on land.

The whole city of Annapolis, Maryland, feels a bit like a resort town and the mood feels far more relaxed and leisurely than I expected.

Looks can be deceiving, though. For the students at the US Naval Academy, this is no vacation.

There will be four years of intense challenges that will test them psychologically and physically.

Visiting US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, USA

It’s summer holidays today so the Yard is relatively quiet, although a few people in uniform occasionally march past.

At the Naval Academy Visitor Center, I’ve joined a tour to learn a bit more about the buildings and the school’s history. Bob, our guide, is an old Navy man himself but didn’t come through the Naval Academy.

“But I did do the country a great service,” he tells us in his introduction.

“I was on the boat that looked after Elvis Presley.”

There are a few chuckles from the group.

“Thank you, thank you very much… for your service,” someone replies, to more chuckles.

Visiting US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, USA

As we stroll through the grounds and tour some of the buildings on this visit to the US Naval Academy, Bob explains life as a student here.

Life for a Naval Academy student

For the 1300 new admissions each year, their time starts with a six-week intensive boot camp over the summer. They then join the other three grades for the formal schooling at the academy.

Over the four years, they need to concentrate on their studies, which include military subjects as well as maths, science, engineering and some humanities (everyone graduates with a Bachelor of Science).

They are also required to participate in at least one sport, with a focus on teamwork and pushing personal boundaries.

Visiting US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, USA

As with any military organisation, rank is important. The younger students have to respect their seniors and there are a number of ways this manifests itself.

There are certain doors that only the older students can use, for instance. And with rank comes privileges – like a car spot on campus and permission to wear civilian clothes off-campus.

Visiting US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, USA

Despite the difficulties everyone at the US Naval Academy faces, there’s no denying it is a beautiful place. I don’t imagine they will ever be posted somewhere quite as nice again.

It was founded in 1845 on this land and, although the area has expanded and new buildings have been constructed and others restored, it has a sense of heritage.

Visiting US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, USA

It’s quite incredible that members of the public are able to get such good access to these buildings and that we can see this history for ourselves.

But perhaps it is for that precise reason – that there is so much history and heritage – that the authorities have made the US Naval Academy open to the public. If it was just a boring modern college, there might not be any point.

Things to see at the US Naval Academy

If you join a tour (which I recommend) you’ll likely be taken to all the main sights at the US Naval Academy. If you’re just exploring on your own, you’ll still be able to see some of them.

Although there are quite a few small memorials and buildings in the Yard that may be of interest if you are looking for something in particular, these are the top sights:

US Naval Academy Museum

Although the academy is all about training the future of the US Navy, there’s also a big emphasis on its history here. That’s best seen at the institution’s own museum.

The US Naval Academy Museum has a collection of artefacts, videos, and audio that tell the story of the people who’ve served at sea. As well as the development of the US Navy, there are also exhibits about the history of sea power in general.

Across two levels in Preble Hall, the museum has a range of things to see, from exhibits about the academy itself to its impressive collection of model ships (the largest in the world, apparently!).

The US Naval Academy Museum is open at the following times:
Monday, Wednesday to Saturday: 9:00 – 17:00
Sunday: 10:00 – 16:00
It’s closed on Tuesday

Admission to the US Naval Academy Museum is free.

Bancroft Hall

Bancroft Hall is the largest building on the grounds and is where all the students live during their time at the academy.

With 4400 residents and 1700 rooms, it claims to be the largest college dormitory in the USA.

Visiting US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, USA

In fact, it’s like a little city with almost eight kilometres of corridors leading not just to bedrooms and recreation areas, but facilities like a bank, gym, and dentist.

The hall is named after the former Secretary of the Navy, George Bancroft, who established the academy during his term in 1845.

The Wright Flyer

Dahlgren Hall is an interesting building. Originally designed in 1903 as an armoury, it’s had quite a few different uses over the years, now mainly used for student dining and special events like class reunions.

You’ll find one of its key attractions on the upper level, strung from the ceiling – the Wright Flyer. It’s only a replica, but it’s still a full-sized and completely accurate version of a naval plane designed by the Wright Brothers in 1911, at the dawn of aviation.

Visiting US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, USA

While you’re in Dahlgren Hall, I recommend taking the time to also look around the impressive architecture and interior design of the building, which evokes a sense of a European train station with its large windows and bronze trusses.


Across the Yard, you’ll be able to spot quite a few monuments and memorials that have been erected on the grounds. They each represent not just significant events but are also symbols of the individuals associated with them.

A few to look out for include:

  • Herndon Monument: Although it was built as a memorial to one of the Navy’s early leaders, Commander William Lewis Herndon, it’s now best known as part of a challenge where students work together to put something on top of it… after it’s been smeared with vegetable oil!
  • The Jeannette Expedition Monument: A memorial to the men who died in 1881 on an expedition to the Arctic, with the shape of icicles part of the design of the cross.
  • The Mexican-American War Monument: This marble monument has four cannons around it and is dedicated to four sailors who died in the Mexican-American War between 1846 and 1848.
  • The Tripoli Monument: One of the earliest conflicts for the US Navy was the Barbary Wars against parts of North Africa, and this memorial is a tribute to the members who died there.

Each of these monuments is an important reminder that what the young people here are training for is dangerous – potentially deadly – and there’s a serious side to everything that takes place in the academy.

USNA Main Chapel

One of the best-known buildings at the Naval Academy is the USNA Main Chapel, right in the centre of the campus.

Constructed in the Beaux-Arts style and opened in 1908, the building is so large that its dome can be seen from many parts of Annapolis.

It’s a beautiful building full of important historical items and memorial stained-glass windows. It’s also home to the world’s largest drawknob organ.

Crypt of John Paul Jones

Beneath the main chapel is one of the academy’s most important sights – the Crypt of John Paul Jones, who died in 1792 and was considered to be the ‘father of the US Navy’.

His tomb is elegant and grand, circular in shape with columns around the outside and a large marble coffin in the centre, covered in what looks like seaweed – an honourable resting place here at the United States Naval Academy.

Visiting US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, USA

For the young students who enrol, they need someone to look up to, an icon they can hope to be like one day.

John Paul Jones may have lived generations before them in a world that was very different. But if they can see how respectfully the great men of the US Navy are treated once they’re gone, it can’t but instil the pride they’ll need out there beyond the walls of the campus.

Visiting the United States Naval Academy

Even though it’s effectively a military institution, it’s really easy to visit the US Naval Academy at Annapolis in Maryland.

The academy – or the Yard, as it’s often called – is open to the public and there’s free entry. The first important thing to know, though, is that you need to have the right ID to enter.

International visitors will need their passports as ID. For US citizens, the list of accepted documents is still quite strict, so I would recommend checking the details here.

As you enter, stop at Halsey Field House, where there’s a good exhibition about the basics of the school.

Then head to the Naval Academy Visitor Center (officially called the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center) where there’s a 13-minute film and a small exhibition area.

Although you can walk through the Yard by yourself and see many of the sights, I would recommend taking a tour. Not only will it show you places you wouldn’t be able to access otherwise, you’ll learn a lot more about the history from the guide.

Visit the United States Naval Academy

The Historical Walking Tour is the standard option that I would recommend. It takes 90 minutes and is run frequently throughout the day. A standard ticket is $14, with various concession options.

There’s also the GEM Driving Tour, which takes you around the Yard in an electric vehicle that can hold up to five passengers. It’s run four times a day but you need to book in advance. It costs $35 per person.

Or for something really different, there’s the Anchors Aweigh Music Tour, where you’ll learn all about the academy’s musical history from Retired Master Chief Dave Hanner. It’s only run a handful of times each summer so check the dates in advance. It costs $16 for a standard ticket.

Where is the United States Naval Academy?

The United States Naval Academy is located in the Annapolis city centre. Its official address is 121 Blake Rd, Annapolis, MD 21402, United States.
You can find it on a map here.

How do you get to the United States Naval Academy?

If you’re driving, it takes about 45 minutes from Washington DC or about 40 minutes from Baltimore.
There is no parking at the academy. You may be able to find nearby street parking, otherwise, there’s the Noah Hillman Garage, which is less than a 10-minute walk away.
If you’re walking from central Annapolis, the pedestrian entrances are at Gate 1 (located on Randall St and Prince George St), or the John Barry Gate (on the corner of Craig St and Prince George St).

When is the United States Naval Academy open?

The United States Naval Academy is open on the following dates:
January – February
Monday – Friday: 9:00 – 16:00
March – December
Every day from 9:00 – 17:00

What is the United States Naval Academy entrance fee?

The entrance fee to the United States Naval Academy is free.
There is a cost for the various guided tours, starting from $16 for a standard ticket and $12 for school students (younger children are free).

You can see more information at the official website of the Naval Academy Visitor Centre.

Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to have a picnic on the grounds, but there are a couple of food options, including the Naval Academy Club, which is open to the public for lunch between 11:00 and 14:00 on weekdays.

If you would like to get some souvenirs, there’s the USNA Gift Shop.

Depending on the timing of your visit, you can try to catch the ‘noon formation’ parade that happens at 12:00 every day.

On parade days, you can also head over to Worden Field by 16:00. to watch the full Brigade of Midshipmen perform.

Also, while you’re in this part of the US, you might be interested in a couple of other sights that I think are really cool.

Have a look at the National Cryptologic Museum, which is part of the NSA, and the National Museum of Health and Medicine, which is part of the US Army.

13 thoughts on “Visit the United States Naval Academy”

  1. They surely have a great location and if only I was brave enough as a man to enter the Navy, I would willingly do it. Well, maybe because of my fascination about their well-ironed uniform. Oh well, a girl could wish. 🙂 My brother would love to have that tour.

  2. Is it really bad that I had too look up who John Paul Jones was? Did they ever say why he was buried at the acadamy? All I can seem to gather is that he was an early volunteer in the US Navy before there was a US and eventually went to fight for Russia… it seems odd they would honor him, I must be missing something.

    • If you don’t know who he is, what hope I am supposed to have?
      Although he was British he fought for the US in the American Revolution. He was buried at the academy because of the respect they have for him as a naval commander – he had an extremely good win record and was admired for his bravery, persistence and tactics.

  3. Last year, I spent 6 days in Annapolis getting a private tour of the Naval Academy and attending the Army Navy football game as part of my College Football Travel Tour. I spent hours talking to people. I’ve written about some of my experiences but have a lot more to share. I have a lot of respect for the men and women in the Naval Academy.

    • That would have been really interesting to have spent a bit more time there. I would love to have seen how it all worked in practice. It looked like it would have been quite challenging to keep up with all the demands put on the students.

  4. I know that being a Navy is not an easy thing. I salute to those who chose this kind of career.
    This blog is so interesting! I have a lot of respect for you guys. Keep going and stay patriotic. 😉

    • Thanks for the comment, April. You’re right – it’s not an easy job being in the navy and the people who do it deserve our respect. Regardless of what you think about various military policies, you can never take anything away from the men and women who put their lives in the line.

  5. The USAFA is collectively referred to as the Wing. The USMA is likewise, the Corp. What is the collective name for the student body of the USNA?

    Thank you!

      • They are known as midshipmen.
        My husband and I have been a sponsor family which is basically your local family, where they come to getaway from the campus (known as “the yard”) Lots of pizza, sleep, TV, video games and more pizza are usually included.
        We’ve had midshipmen from Hawaii, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and California.


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