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Washington, D.C. is a city quite literally designed to impress sightseers. Each of the city’s seemingly endless monuments, museums, and government buildings has its own stories to tell. A great tour guide can help you uncover Washington, D.C.’s stories, get a sense for the lay of the land, and even see some parts of the nation’s capital that you’d never know to look for. So whether you're interested in learning more about the history, culture and beautiful sights of this incredible city by foot, bike, boat or even Segway, we have you covered. Read on to see which Washington, D.C. tours to book before you visit.
Best Hop-On/Hop-Off Tour: Big Bus Washington, D.C. Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
With one and two-day options, this comprehensive network of tour bus routes lets travelers hop on at any one of over 40 spots and cruise around the city in an open-top bus. A guide, as well as some recorded audio, will give you all the details of every sight you pass by. When something strikes your fancy, hop off and take your time exploring until you’re ready to re-board. The Big Bus takes you to all of the major downtown spots, including the White House, the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian, plus Georgetown, the National Zoo, Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon.
Best Short Tour: Washington, D.C. Duck Tour
If you’re just looking to get the lay of the land and perhaps a bit of background information on the bigger sights, this 90-minute tour does a great job of that, and all on a quirky amphibious duck boat. The tour starts on land at Union Station and zooms around the National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol and more. Then it splashes into the Potomac River, where you can get a totally different perspective on the city and its grand buildings. It’s a fun and surprisingly thorough introduction to the city and is particularly recommended as an activity for the first day of your D.C. visit.
Best Bike Tour: Washington, D.C. Monuments Bike Tour
Pedal through flat, fantastically bike-friendly D.C., which features a series of dedicated bike lanes that wind their way between the city’s major monuments and administrative hubs. Even at a leisurely pace, this three-hour guided tour lets you enjoy the efficiency of bicycle transport while still visiting nearly every major D.C. sight, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and the National WWII Memorial. The tour company provides a comfy hybrid bike that is fitted to you (trailers are available for kids too young to ride) as well as bottled water and a snack.
Best Segway Tour: Washington, D.C. Segway Night Tour
Ever wanted to ride one of these funny little two-wheeled self-propelled scooters? This is a great way to give them a try and to see the D.C. sights at the same time. This three-hour tour includes a training session where you’ll learn to ride the Segway, after which you’ll be on your way, rolling through the city in the evening. You’ll pass all of the city’s major monuments, breathtakingly lit up for nighttime, plus see fascinating historical locations such as Ford’s Theater, all of which will be highlighted by your knowledgeable guide. Tour groups are kept intentionally small, so your guide can give you personal attention and you’ll be able to hear them easily, even as you roll.
Best Boat Tour: Washington, D.C. Odyssey Dinner Cruise
D.C. is famously laid out upon the banks of the Potomac River, and the view from the water is simply gorgeous, especially at night. This three-hour, evening dinner cruise combines nighttime views with a gourmet three-course meal, with entrées including jumbo lump crab cakes with Cajun cream sauce and braised beef short ribs with Idaho potato and horseradish mash. After dinner, guests can dance away the evening to a live band. The boat itself is glass-topped and includes an open-air observation deck, from which you can see the Kennedy Center, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, all of the presidential monuments, as well as Arlington National Cemetery and the Reagan National Airport.
Best History Tour: African-American History City Tour with Reserved Museum Entry
History buffs, listen up. This dense, data-filled, four-hour tour explores the vibrant history of African-Americans in Washington, D.C. and, by extension, in the United States as a whole. The minibus tour includes stops at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Howard University, the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, Metropolitan AME Church, Freedom Plaza, the M.L.K. Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
After the guided tour, participants are granted entry to the newest addition to the Smithsonian Institution, the widely-acclaimed National Museum of African American History and Culture. (Note that tickets to the latter can still be difficult to obtain; booking this tour is a good way to nail down guaranteed entry.)
Best Private Tour: Private Night Tour of Washington, D.C. With Dinner
This three-hour tour begins with a hotel pick-up from your knowledgeable tour guide, who’ll whisk you up Pennsylvania Avenue to see the glowing Capitol Building, looming over the city from Capitol Hill. From there, you’ll visit the White House, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, the Iwo Jima Memorial and so many more. The personalized nature of the tour means you can ask questions relevant to your own interests and existing knowledge base, make extra-long stops anywhere you want, and just get the extra attention that you wouldn’t get on a large group tour. At the end of the evening, your guide takes you out for a late dinner at a favorite local spot.
Best Pub Tour: Haunted Evening D.C. Pub Tour
Perhaps you’ve seen plenty of the city’s monuments and would rather do something a bit different. This guided tour combines the frivolity of a pub tour with the spookiness of a ghost tour, making for a fun, potentially tipsy experience that gets you a bit off the standard tourist path but still teaches you a good bit of history. The tour stops at at least four separate pubs, starting and finishing at the famously haunted Occidental Grill and Seafood. A drink tab isn’t included, but each pub stop (interspersed with short walk-and-talks through the Lafayette Square neighborhood, which includes the White House) lasts for about 20 minutes, so there’s plenty of time to tipple.
Best VIP Tour: U.S. Capitol, National Archives, Lincoln Memorial & More
If you want the VIP treatment, book this full-day tour that offers reserved, priority entrance to both the U.S. Capitol, where you’ll get a guided tour through the country’s central legislative building, and the National Archives, where you can view the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. A coach takes you around to all of the city’s major sights and attractions throughout the day, with stops and guided mini-tours at several additional monuments, including the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Navy Memorial. From March until October, the tour includes a one-hour Potomac boat cruise, where lunch is served. (In colder months, there’s a stop for lunch in Pentagon City). This tour is thorough, dense and comfortable — an ideal option for those who don’t mind forking out a bit more to avoid tedious lines and waiting.