The Best Washington, D.C., Bus Tours

Here's everything you need to know about D.C. bus tours.

U.S. News & World Report

The Best Washington, D.C., Bus Tours

Best Washington, D.C., Bus Tours

See the city's top monuments from the comfort of a bus.(Getty Images)

With a bustling food and arts scene and a rich history that spans both the city and its surrounding neighborhoods, Washington, D.C., boasts plenty of attractions to keep visitors entertained throughout their stay. With so much to do and see, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. A bus tour of the nation's capital may be just the ticket to get your bearings. Four companies, identified by U.S. News as the top operators using both traveler sentiment and expert input, offer a variety of tour options. No matter which company you choose, you'll visit the famous government buildings, monuments, war memorials, museums and other sights for which the city is known.

Old Town Trolley Tours

Old Town Trolley offers a variety of hop-on, hop-off tours of Washington, which permit tour-takers to spend as much or as little time as they wish at each stop. The trolley-style buses frequent 17 stops that are nearby popular destinations like the White House, the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and the Smithsonian museums, among others. They also include live narration by tour guides, which is generally deemed interesting and informative by reviewers. Travelers also agree that the tours are a convenient way to explore the city.

Tours typically run daily except for major holidays and events (such as the Marine Corps Marathon). Buses depart from the company's welcome center between 9:05 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily at half-hour intervals. Old Town Trolley offers three ticket tiers. The silver pass (which costs around $50 per person) grants visitors unlimited rides throughout the city for one day and includes a shuttle to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. For around $90, the gold pass supplements the silver pass service with a round-trip boat cruise along the Potomac River and an additional tour loop through Arlington National Cemetery. Platinum pass holders will enjoy the same perks as gold pass holders, but the platinum tickets (approximately $150) are valid for two consecutive days. Discounted tickets for children are available for all tiers.

DC Trails

DC Trails offers various tour options ranging from daylong excursions to hop-on, hop off outings. Drivers, who double as guides, provide all narration on guided tours without relying on recorded commentary, and reviewers regularly describe guides as knowledgeable, witty and courteous. The 6 1/2-hour Guided City Tour highlights the monuments and memorials around the National Mall, such as the Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Veterans memorials. This tour also stops at the Smithsonian National Air and Space and American History museums. Tours depart at 10 a.m. daily and tickets cost around $65 for adults and $40 for kids 5 to 15. The company's one- and two-day hop-on, hop-off tours run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and stop at 20 popular destinations, such as the White House and the Lincoln Memorial. Though convenient, travelers complain buses arrive infrequently, or not at all, and find the bus stops difficult to locate. Tickets start at $42 for adults and $23 for children ages 5 to 15. DC Trails also runs an evening tour of the city, a tour focusing on African American history and daytrips to Mount Vernon, George Washington's Virginia home.

Big Bus Tours

Big Bus Washington, D.C., Tours also provides hop-on, hop off services. The double-decker buses run three color-coded routes. The red loop frequents 16 stops at various memorials and museums, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Without hopping off, the red loop lasts approximately one hour and 45 minutes. The eight-stop blue loop runs in Georgetown, the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, and the Arlington National Cemetery, among others. Continuous rides on the blue loop last about 90 minutes. The yellow loop serves as a shuttle that picks up passengers at 10 hotels throughout the city. Buses feature either a live English-speaking guide, prerecorded commentary or both.

Buses run daily from around 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and frequent stops approximately every 30 minutes on the red and blue loops; they run every hour on the yellow loop. Tour guides routinely win praise for being extremely knowledgeable as well as entertaining. However, some travelers do complain of buses running late and dislike that D.C. traffic can cause further delays to sightseeing trips. The Big Bus Classic Ticket, which costs about $50 for adults and $40 for children 5 to 15, encompasses all three loops. Travelers can also upgrade their tickets to Premium or Deluxe tiers to take advantage of additional perks like admission to Madame Tussauds, a walking tour of the city (available seasonally) and a boat cruise. Premium tickets start at $54 for adults if purchased online, while Deluxe tickets cost approximately $65 per adult if purchased online. Big Bus also offers a two-hour nighttime tour of the city narrated in English by live guides. Note: Night tours are not hop-on, hop-off.

USA Guided Tours

Tour-takers tend to appreciate trips with USA Guided Tours for their knowledgeable guides and the frequent stops for photos at D.C.'s must-see sights. The company's Best of DC VIP Tour includes tours inside both the Capitol and the National Archives Museum, as well a bus ride past multiple D.C. attractions, including the White House and the National World War II Memorial. Tours last approximately 8 1/2 hours and run daily. Tickets cost around $125 per person and include lunch. From mid-March through mid-October, this tour also features a boat ride on the Potomac. The shorter (5 1/2-hour) DC Deluxe Tour also features a tour of the Capitol and a bus tour around the National Mall, but excludes the National Archives Museum and lunch. Tickets start at around $89 for adults and $69 for children. USA Guided tours also runs a popular nighttime tour of the city. Along the three-hour journey, guides provide insight about the history of the area and take you off the bus at each stop to see the sights. Tickets start at $58 for adults and $44 for children. Though most travelers enjoy USA Guided Tours, others complain the intercom system is too loud and that the guides speak too much about themselves. USA Guided tours also runs themed tours of the city and tours to Virginia locales like Old Town, Alexandria.

Additional tour options:

Looking for more information on Washington, D.C.? Check out the U.S. News Travel guide.

John Rodwan, Contributor

John G. Rodwan Jr. has written about arts and entertainment, food and beverages, hospitality ...  Read more

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