The 15 Best Washington, D.C., Tours

The nation's capital has more to offer than free museums and tons of history.

U.S. News & World Report

The 15 Best Washington, D.C., Tours

Best Washington D.C. Tours

The White House, one of D.C.'s iconic sights, is one of the many you'll see on a tour with D.C. By Foot.(Courtesy of Alan Karchmer)

With lots of free attractions and historic sites in a relatively compact area, Washington, D.C., is a tourist's delight. Even so, there's no better way to get to know the nation's capital than with an expert. U.S. News gathered expert recommendations and traveler opinions to create this list of the top 15 tours in Washington. Whether your interests include architecture, history or food, the following tours let you get to know the city like a local.

D.C. By Foot – National Mall Tour
D.C. By Foot's National Mall walking tour is a two-hour stroll that includes stories about famous landmarks like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument. Travelers praise the tour, saying it is chock-full of information and that the guides are engaging. D.C. By Foot is a pay-what-you-want tour: it's free, though it is assumed you will tip your licensed, freelance guides. Tours depart daily at 2 and 7 p.m. and reservations are required. The company also conducts a slightly shorter Scavenger Hunt at the Mall tour, which is geared toward kids, and a bevy of other tours around the city.

Segs in the City – Discover DC Safari
Segs in the City offers new and seasoned visitors an overview of Washington's most memorable sites with its Discover D.C. Safari. After a lesson on Segway use and safety, guides lead tourists on a 2 1/2-hour ride past the Capitol, the Smithsonian, war memorials and the White House. Visitors say the guides are informative and friendly. Others say riding the Segways is a great way to beat the heat while seeing top attractions during a hot Washington summer. Tickets cost approximately $65 for adults. Participants must be 16 or older and weigh at least 100 pounds to ride. Tours are generally offered multiple times a day March through November. For more Segway fun, check out the company's Best of D.C. Safari or its seasonal cherry blossoms tour.

Old Town Trolley Tours of Washington D.C.
According to travelers, this hop-on, hop-off tour provides an easy and convenient way to visit Washington's major attractions. Plus, with live commentary provided by onboard guides, the trolley provides more than just transportation. The trolley stops at 17 different points, making it a cinch to access sites around the city, including the National Mall. One-day Silver Pass tickets cost approximately $45. Trollies run daily from 9 a.m. to about 4:45 p.m. The Gold and Platinum passes include a tour of Arlington National Cemetery and other perks. Old Town Trolley Tours also offers specialized Arlington National Cemetery tours, as well as the Monuments by Moonlight Tour, among others.

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Bike and Roll DC – Monuments Bike Tour
A great way to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, the Monuments Bike Tour from Bike and Roll DC takes you on an approximately three-hour guided tour to see the main monuments along the National Mall and the Tidal Basin. What's more, the entire tour takes place on sidewalks, paths and trails, so you never have to worry about navigating city streets. Plus, you can hop off to take photos and explore sites during the roughly 4-mile adventure. Visitors say the tour is perfect for families thanks to the engaging guides and manageable pace of the route. Tickets cost approximately $45 for adults and $35 for kids ages 12 and younger. The Monuments Bike Tour rides once or twice daily from March through mid-December. If you can't get enough of the monuments, Bike and Roll D.C. also offers a Monuments @ Nite Bike Tour as well as Segway tours, among other options.

This sandwich is one of the many tasty treats you could eat on Mangia D.C.'s Georgetown Food Tour.(Reza Venegas/Courtesy of Mangia D.C.)

Mangia DC Food Tours - Georgetown Foodie Tour
Eating your way through Georgetown, one of D.C.'s toniest neighborhoods, with Mangia D.C Food Tours is a delightful way to get acquainted with the area. On its approximately 3 1/2-hour Georgetown Foodie Tour, you'll visit up to five restaurants for tasty samples, plus a wine or spritz pairing. Your guide will give you an overview of the area's cultural and political ties, as well as point out historic landmarks. Foodies say the tour is both filling and educational. Mangia D.C. limits tours to 14 people, which makes for an intimate group – another point of praise for reviewers. Tours run year-round Wednesday through Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets cost approximately $70. Looking for more local eats? Mangia also offers an Italian Food Tour in Washington's Dupont Circle neighborhood.

Capital Segway Tours
Seeing all of Washington's landmarks on foot is an ambitious goal, but if you swap walking for riding a Segway, you'll be able to glide to most of them. Highlights on this approximately two-hour tour include the White House, the National Archives, the Smithsonian, the Washington Monument and the Capitol. Every rider receives a radio headset, which makes it easy to hear the guide's descriptions. Tour-goers say the guides are great and that the tours provide the perfect overview of the city, which in turn helps visitors decide where they want to spend more time. Participants must be 16 or older and weigh at least 100 pounds to ride. Tickets start at $60. Tours run year-round and are offered several times a day, weather permitting.

Walk of the Town – Monumental sTOURies
Walk of the Town is a one-man show run by "semiretired" former teacher Tim Stewart. On his Monumental sTOURies tour, Stewart walks travelers to major sites, such as the White House, President's Park and the Lincoln Memorial, among other top attractions. Over the four-hour tour, Stewart shares historical facts and stories about the area's monuments. Stewart earns rave reviews from visitors, who praise him for his vast knowledge, humor and lessons in history. Tours are free; Stewart works for tips only. Tours start at 10 a.m., though the schedule varies. You can also arrange private, for-fee tours with Stewart.

Carpe D.C. Food Tours – U Street
Carpe D.C. Food Tours' U Street tour is purportedly the company's most popular, which makes sense because the U Street neighborhood is one of the liveliest in the city. Your guide will take you to five locally-owned restaurants for hearty samples. As you make your way along U Street, you'll learn about the neighborhood's history, architecture and jazz heritage. Foodies find the history lessons surprising and informative; some love the information almost as much as the food. Tours, which are limited to 12 people, venture daily at 11:30 a.m. year-round. Tickets cost approximately $90 per person. Carpe D.C. also offers food tours of Georgetown and Old Town Alexandria.

Mount Vernon is an important Virginia landmark that is easily accessible from Washington. (Courtesy of Buddy Secor)

D.C. Trails – Day Trip to Mount Vernon
See Mount Vernon – George and Martha Washington's famous abode – with D.C. Trails Tours & Charters. During the 4 1/2-hour tour, you'll travel by open-top minivan through the streets of Alexandria, Virginia's Old Town district and learn about the city's history while en route to Mount Vernon. Visiting the plantation itself is a self-guided experience. You'll have plenty of time to explore the property while interacting with re-enactors in period clothing. You can also wander through Martha's gardens at your leisure. Tourists say the expert drivers, who offer their own fascinating tips and tidbits about the area, are a bonus. Tickets start at $56 for adults and $28 for children ages 5 to 15 and include the entry fee to Mount Vernon. Tours depart daily at 10 a.m. and noon. D.C. Trails also conducts sightseeing tours in D.C.

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D.C. Design Tours - Dupont Circle & Embassy Row Tour
D.C. Design Tours focuses on Washington's eclectic architecture and design. On its approximately two-hour, 2-mile Dupont Circle & Embassy Row Tour, you'll explore the area while an experienced guide identifies and describes significant properties, such as the Brewmaster's Castle (Heurich House), the Embassy of Indonesia (Walsh-McLean House) and the Woodrow Wilson House. You'll also hear a good deal of history and some juicy gossip about some of the nation's movers and shakers. Tour-takers rave about the hidden gems and stories the guides reveal. Public tours cost about $35 per adult and $20 per child. D.C. Design Tours also guides visitors through surrounding neighborhoods, such as Capitol Hill and Georgetown.

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Grand Atlas Tours – Night on the National Mall
Visiting major Washington sites after the sun sets is a special treat. Grand Atlas Tours' Night on the National Mall Tour helps visitors experience the mall in a unique and utterly V.I.P fashion. Tours, which start at a time you choose at a location of your choice, include a private guide and transportation with a driver. Along the three- to four-hour journey, you'll visit landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Capitol and any other spots you wish to see as you can customize your itinerary. Visitors value the knowledgeable guides and excellent service. Prices start at $600 for two people in a luxury sedan. For 12 tourists in a luxury van, tickets start at $800. Grand Atlas offers a variety of private tours, including an afternoon tour of Washington must-sees as well as an Unusual DC Tour that takes visitors to off-the-beaten-path destinations in the city.

D.C. Metro Food Tours – Georgetown Food Tour
During the 3 1/2-hour Georgetown Food Tour, you'll visit up to five local spots in this upscale neighborhood. But you won't just be stopping in for a quick bite. Instead, tour-takers will sit down and be served a specialty of the house – an element foodies love about the tour. Dining highlights might include southern French cuisine, a Korean dish and Italian-American fare. In addition to tasty cuisine, guides will regale you with stories about local sites and landmarks as you walk to the next stop. Tickets cost about $70 per person. Tours are offered Tuesday through Sunday at 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. D.C. Metro Food Tours offers food tours of other Washington neighborhoods, including Dupont Circle and Old Town Alexandria.

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This brewery is a favorite with locals and is one of the places you could visit on the D.C. Original Brew Tour.(Jacob Wagner/Courtesy of Port City Brewing Company)

City Brew Tours – D.C. Original Brew Tour
With a motto of "You Drink, We Drive," D.C. Brew Tours sets the stage for a safe, yet beer-filled day on its Original Brew Tour. During the five-hour tour, you'll be chauffeured around the city in a comfortable van, visit four breweries, get behind-the-scenes tours and enjoy up to 16 different local craft beers. This tour also includes a beer-pairing lunch. Participants champion the expert guides and excellent beers. Get your beer fix during one of four tours on Saturday or at 11 a.m. on Sunday. D.C. Brew Tours limits its excursions to 14 people. Tickets cost approximately $100. Crunched for time? The company also offers a shorter Sip of D.C. Tour as well as an evening Happy Hour Brew Tour.

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Nonpartisan Pedicab – Smithsonian Museums and Pennsylvania Avenue
Being chauffeured around town in a private pedicab with Nonpartisan Pedicab is a novel and comfortable way to see the sights in D.C. You can sit back and relax while an expert guide gives you a personalized tour and does the cycling for you. On the company's Smithsonian Museums and Pennsylvania Avenue tour, you'll follow the inaugural route from the Capitol to the White House, passing 24 landmarks along the way. Tour-takers say the guides are excellent and share plenty of fun facts and history during the two-hour trip. Rates start at $84 per hour for one adult and $94 per hour for two. One small child can ride for free with two adults. Nonpartisan Pedicab offers a variety of tours around the city, including a twilight tour of the monuments and an Embassy Row and Georgetown tour, among others.

Potomac Riverboat Company - Monuments Tour from Alexandria
After you've toured the monuments by foot, why not admire them from the water? The Potomac Riverboat Company offers one-way and round-trip departures from Alexandria and Georgetown. Along the way, you'll see the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Washington Monument, the Arlington Memorial Bridge and more, all while enjoying prerecorded commentary describing the monuments. Visitors appreciate the narration, but note that engine noise sometimes drowns out the recording. Round-trip tickets cost about $30 for adults and seniors and $15 for kids ages 2 to 11. One-way trips last 45 minutes; round-trip journeys span 90 minutes. The company offers several other sightseeing cruises, including one that drops off visitors at Mount Vernon.

Kim Foley MacKinnon, Contributor

Kim Foley MacKinnon, a Boston-based travel and food writer, has been a Travel contributor for ...  Read more

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