6 Washington, D.C., Tours First-Time Visitors Should Experience

Locals say these tours are a must for those wanting to experience Washington, D.C.'s iconic sites.

U.S. News & World Report

6 Washington, D.C., Tours First-Time Visitors Should Experience

Tourists pass the US Capitol building on a tour bus July 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Hop on a bus to catch the views of the city.(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

A tour is sometimes the best way to get a feel for a new city. This is especially true in the nation's capital, where there's so many historic attractions – but not always enough time to visit them all.

"The biggest mistake most visitors make is they try to see all of D.C. in a day," says Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of the city's tourism organization, Destination DC. "If your time is limited, and you only have time to do one or two things, I'd recommend a guided tour, to get up close to the monuments."

If you can, take a twilight tour – it really captures the essence and beauty of the city, Ferguson says. "Every single memorial at night takes on a different light and feel," he observes.

To get a comprehensive look at what the District of Columbia has to offer, local experts recommend these six tours for first-time visitors.

Old Town Trolley Tours

This popular tour allows you to choose from several different routes – touching on points of interest in and around the National Mall, like the National Portrait Gallery and Ford's Theatre. You can hop off to explore must-see attractions along the route and then hop back on the next trolley to continue the tour. "It's a terrific way to pack in a great deal of sightseeing with the added bonus of getting all around town," says Erich Hosbach, director of sales and marketing at The Graham Georgetown hotel. The drivers serve as guides – and the ones with big personalities can make a tour extra fun for visitors.

Old Town Trolley Tours offers seasonal packages and promotions. Children younger than 4 ride for free.

Big Bus Washington DC

Another flexible hop on/hop off option, Big Bus offers at least four types of tours and stops at more than 40 landmarks around the city. The Classic tour, for example, stops at all the city's top attractions, and includes admission to Madame Tussauds wax museum. Visitors should consider this tour option if the weather's good and they want to ride on a double-decker bus to catch views of the city, says Julie Saunders, head concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC.

Prices for adults and children vary by tour. The Patriot tour is the least expensive option: $39 for adults and $29 for children.

USA Guided Tours

USA Guided Tours is a good pick if you're looking for a smaller bus and a more personalized tour, says Kitt Vidnovic, senior concierge at The Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown. It offers several tours, including the DC at Dusk night tour, and private and group tours. On the Best of DC-VIP Tour, you can bypass long lines and enjoy priority access to places like the U.S. Capitol Building and National Archives. Depending on the season, this tour includes a boat cruise along the Potomac River. The DC Highlights tour offers a half-day excursion to some of the city's main attractions, like the Vietnam Veterans and Lincoln memorials, and a view of the White House. Pickup service is available at select hotels.

Prices vary depending on the tour. For adults, the VIP tour costs $125, and for the DC Highlights and DC at Dusk tours, the price is $54. Discounted prices are available for children younger than 12, and admission is free for those younger than 3, provided they can sit on a parent's lap during the tour.

Segs in the City

Segs in the City is a good option for people who aren't able to walk long distances – you can rent Segways and zip around the nation's capital, says Joaquin McPeek, director of communications with the District of Columbia's Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. The company starts all its tours at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on Pennsylvania Avenue in the city's Northwest quadrant, and offers a variety of "safaris," or trips. A good pick for first-time visitors is the Discover DC Safari, a two-hour excursion that includes the U.S. Navy Memorial, the FBI's headquarters, the U.S. Botanic Garden and the Washington Monument. Segs in the City also offers a sunset tour and a tour that visits the monuments on the National Mall.

Tours range from $40 to $80 per adult. The Discover DC Safari is $60 for adults. The minimum age for Segway riders is 16 in D.C.

See DC Today

This tour company offers five-hour day tours, three-hour moonlight tours and individualized private tours. "What's so great about them is they'll tailor a tour based on what a guest requests, and what they want to get out of a tour in D.C.," says Bria Del Villar, concierge at the Rosewood Washington, D.C. The moonlight tour includes night views of the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Capitol Building, the White House and other popular attractions.

The five-hour day tour is $60 for adults and $35 for children ages 3 to 12. The three-hour night tour is $50 for adults and $30 for children. Private tours are $120 per hour – and guests must book a three-hour minimum for up to six people.

Bi-Partisan Tour Company

Bi-Partisan Tour Company(Courtesy of Bi-Partisan Tour Company)

Small groups looking for an interactive, customized experience should look to this tour company, Hosbach says. It offers bus tours, walking tours and private tours (that can involve walking, public transportation, vans or bike rentals) of the nation's capital, and also has specific tours for students. Try the March for Freedom walking tour, which passes through the memorials of the Tidal Basin, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thomas Jefferson memorials, and the city's famed cherry trees.

For the bus tours, day tours cost $85 for adults and $65 for children younger than 18. Evening bus tours are $55 for adults and $40 for children. Walking tours are $60 per hour, with a two-hour minimum, and the cost of the private tours vary.

To experience more of what Washington, D.C., has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.

Jennifer Lubell, Contributor

Jennifer Lubell writes about real estate and travel trends for U.S. News & World Report. Much ...  Read more

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