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Sightseeing Tours

If ever there was a "do it yourself" city, it's D.C. The Metro system is safe and easy to navigate and most 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 by yourself.

Nevertheless, sometimes a guided tour makes more sense, especially when it comes to insider knowledge and a parking pass. So consider one if your trip falls into any of the categories below.

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 Tourmobile buses operated by the National Park Service offer multiple routes, 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 bike-share program, Capital Bikeshare. To use the program, you must first purchase a membership, available in increments of 24 hours (for $7), three days ($15), one month ($25), or one year ($75). Additional charges are added depending on how long you actually use the bike, but the system is best suited for short trips around the city—not long hauls on the surrounding bike trails—as the costs rise quickly beyond 90 minutes to between $12 and $16 per hour. For a more automated journey, Capital Segway, City Segway Tours, and Segs in the City offer guided rides around the major sights and average between $65 and $80 for a two-to-three-hour tour.

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. If you are a visitor from another country, your embassy in D.C. can make the arrangement for you with enough notice. Several other government buildings, like the State Department, require advance reservations for a tour.

If you just can't get enough

Hear the juicy bits from Washington's rumor mill with Gross National Product's Scandal Tours. Now entering its 27th year, the tour features 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. For a walk through the battles and strategies that shaped Civil War history, take a multiday tour with Smithsonian Associates. 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

Have you ever seen the monuments from the Potomac River? Thompson Boat Center offers rentals on canoes and kayaks. Pack a lunch and paddle over to Roosevelt Island for a picnic. A double kayak rents for $20 per hour or $45 per day, while a canoe goes for $14 per hour and $35 per day. Sunfish sailboats are also available.

Updated: 2014-09-23

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