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Sightseeing Tours in Washington, D.C.

If ever there was a "do it yourself" city, it's D.C. The Metro system is safe and easy to navigate and most of the major sights and museums are concentrated in a single area. Armed with a Metro map, a guide to the Mall, and a comfortable pair of shoes, you can do it all, all by yourself.

Nevertheless, sometimes a guided tour just makes more sense, especially when it comes to experience, insider knowledge, and a parking pass. So consider one if your trip matches one of the situations here.

If this is your first trip . . .

The Metro might be the most convenient way to get around, but it is notably lacking in city views. If you'd like to get the lay of the land with ease, Old Town Trolley Tours and the Tourmobile buses operated by the National Park Service offer hop-on, hop-off convenience and are perfect for your first day in the city.

A bike tour, with a company such as Bike the Sights, offers a gentle ride with show-stopping scenery. Visitors might also consider D.C.'s enormously popular bike-share program, Capital Bikeshare, which has taken off in recent years for the convenience of having its bikes all over the city. To use the program, you must first purchase a membership, available in increments of 24 hours (for $7), three days ($15), 30 days ($25), or one year ($75). Additional charges are then added depending on how long you actually use the bike. If you want a more automated journey, Capital Segway, City Segway Tours, and Segs in the City all offer guided rides around the major tourist sights. They average between $70 and $80 for a two-to-three-hour tour, but prices, services, and durations differ between companies.

If you want an insider's look . . .

Arranging constituent visits to the sessions of Congress is one of the duties of your representative and senators. Contact their offices (www.house.gov and www.senate.gov) in advance to arrange your visit. If you are a visitor from another country, your embassy in D.C. can make the arrangement for you, given enough notice.

Several other government buildings, like the State Department, require advance reservations for a tour.

If you just can't get enough . . .

Mad about political gossip? Hear the juicy bits from Washington's rumor mill with Gross National Product's Scandal Tours, featuring stops at the Tidal Basin, where a powerful congressman and his stripper girlfriend ran afoul of the law, and the Watergate, where the country's most infamous burglary led to the fall of a president. Or, for a more extensive history lesson, take a multiday tour with Smithsonian Associates, for a walk through the battles and strategies that shaped Civil War history. Stops include such historic sites as Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia, Antietam National Battle Field in Maryland, and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, site of John Brown's last stand.

If you want a new perspective . . .

You know what the Potomac looks like from the city, but have you ever seen the monuments from the river? Thompson Boat Center offers hourly and daily rentals on canoes and kayaks. Pack a lunch and paddle over to Roosevelt Island for a picnic. A double kayak rents for $20/hour or $45/day, while a canoe goes for $14/hour and $35/day. Sunfish are also available for those who want to let the wind do the work.

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