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Smithsonian Journeys Travel Adventures has a five-day "Spirit of Washington, D.C." tour that includes guided tours of the Freer Gallery, National Gallery of Art, National Museum of American History, and National Museum of the American Indian led by Smithsonian historians; a tour of the Library of Congress; and a narrated coach tour of the city's monuments and memorials, including a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. Monograms Travel offers itineraries of D.C., some including Boston and/or New York, as well as "The Historic East," a driving tour of D.C., Virginia, and Philadelphia. All trips include a full-day guided trolley tour and free time. Mayflower Tours offers a seven-day "Washington, D.C. and Williamsburg" tour that includes four nights in D.C. with visits to the U.S. Capitol, two Smithsonian museums, The Newseum, Arlington Cemetery, and monuments, as well as stops at Mount Vernon and Jamestown; springtime trips take in the Cherry Blossom Festival, too. Tauck Travel also has a "Williamsburg and Washington, D.C." itinerary, which includes two nights in D.C. and a reception at the Spy Museum. WorldStrides, which specializes in educational student travel, has "Discover D.C." programs that are designed to enrich the study of U.S. history and government.
Mayflower Tours (800/323-7604. www.mayflowertours.com.)
Monograms Travel (866/270-9841. www.monograms.com.)
Tauck (800/788-7885. www.tauck.com.)
WorldStrides (800/468-5899. www.worldstrides.org.)
Collette Vacations (800/340-5158. www.collettevacations.com.)
Road Scholar, formerly Elderhostel, offers several guided tours for older adults that provide fascinating in-depth looks into the history and beauty of D.C. The nonprofit educational travel organization has been leading all-inclusive learning adventures around the world for more than 30 years. In addition to the programs listed here, Elderhostel also has several other world studies and history programs in D.C. All Elderhostel programs include accommodations, meals, and in-town transportation.
Presented in conjunction with the Close Up Foundation, the nation's largest nonprofit citizenship education organization, "Monumental D.C." is a four-night program that includes seminars on many of the figures memorialized on and near the National Mall. Prices start at about $996 per person.
"Spies, Lies and Intelligence: The Shadowy World of International Espionage" is a fascinating exploration of the country's intelligence operation. Retired CIA agents share secrets of high-profile spying cases on this three-night trip that costs about $743 per person. Highlights include visits to the International Spy Museum and the NSA Cryptologic Museum.
"Independent City Discoveries: Washington, D.C." is a look at the city locals know, and includes visits to historic neighborhoods and museums and lectures on the city's history and culture, as well as a wine-and-cheese reception at a private home. This four-night program starts at about $799 per person.
Road Scholar (800/454-5768. www.roadscholar.org.)
Day Tours and Guides
We recommend any of the tours offered by the Smithsonian Associates Program, A Tour de Force, and Anecdotal History Tours of D.C. For price and convenience, you can't beat the Old Town Trolley Tours or Tourmobile buses, which take you to all the major historical and cultural landmarks in the city (Tourmobile includes Arlington National Cemetery, too, a great way to visit without having to walk). What's great about those tours is that you can get on and off as you please and stay as long as you like at any spot; you can reboard for free all day long.
From April through October, Washington Walks has two-hour guided tours that are interesting and, at $10 per person, affordable. From February to November, join a free tour of the monuments and memorials with DC by Foot. And on hot summer days, hop onboard Capitol River Cruises for a cool look at the city from the water.
For families we recommend the bike tours (or Segway tours if all kids are over 16), the DC Duck tour (younger kids will get a kick out of the quackers that are given to all riders), a mule-drawn barge ride on the C&O Canal, and any of Natalie Zanin's historic strolls, especially the Ghost Story Tour of Washington.
Bike the Sites Tours has knowledgeable guides leading daily excursions past dozens of Washington, D.C., landmarks. All tours start at the Old Post Office Pavilion. Bicycles, helmets, snacks, and water bottles are included in the rates, which start at $40. Their Capital Sites and Monuments night tours cost $45 and there's even a Blossoms by Bike tour for $32 during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. The Adventure Cycling Association, a national organization promoting bicycle travel, recommends tours around the region.
Adventure Cycling Association (800/755-2453. www.adventurecycling.org.)
Bike the Sites Tours (202/842-2453. www.bikethesites.com.)
Capital Bikeshare (877/430-2453. www.capitalbikeshare.com.)
Capital City Bike Tours (624 9th St. NW, Washington, DC, 20001. 877/734-8687. capitalcitybiketours.com.)
During one-hour rides on mule-drawn barges on the C&O Canal, costumed guides and volunteers explain the waterway's history. The barge rides, which cost $5 and are run by the National Park Service, depart from its visitor center Wednesday through Sunday from April through October.
Capitol River Cruises offers 45-minute sightseeing tours aboard the Nightingale and Nightingale II, Great Lakes boats from the 1950s. Beverages and light snacks are available. Hourly cruises depart from Washington Harbour noon to 9 pm April to October. Prices are $14 for adults and $7 for children three to 12.
Several swanky cruises depart from the waterfront in Southwest D.C. The Odyssey III, specially built to fit under the Potomac's bridges, departs from the Gangplank Marina at 6th and Water streets SW. Tickets are approximately $50 for the weekday lunch cruise, $64 for the weekend brunch cruise, and $93-$120 for the daily dinner cruise. As the prices suggest, this is an elegant affair; jackets are requested for men at dinner. The sleek Spirit of Washington offers lunch and dinner cruises that range from $40 to $87. Odyssey and Spirit, as well as a handful of other companies, offer sightseeing boat tours from the new National Harbour on the banks of the Potomac River in Maryland. Located just minutes from D.C., National Harbour is opening in stages with a convention center, hotels, shops, restaurants, and condominiums.
Departing from Alexandria, the glass-enclosed Nina's Dandy cruises up the Potomac year-round to Georgetown, taking you past many of D.C.'s monuments. Lunch cruises cost $45 Monday through Friday and $50 on Saturday. A Sunday champagne brunch cruise costs $55. Boarding for these cruises starts at 11 am. Depending on the day, dinner cruises start boarding at 6 or 6:30 pm and cost $86 Sunday through Friday and $96 on Saturday. The Nina's Dandy and sister ship Dandy also offer special holiday cruises.
From mid-March through October, DC Ducks offers 90-minute tours in converted World War II amphibious vehicles. After an hour-long road tour of landlocked sights, the tour moves to the water, where for 30 minutes you get a boat's-eye view of the city. Tours depart from Union Station and cost $35 for adults and $16.50 for children ages 4-12; seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.
C&O Canal Barges (Canal Visitor Center, 1057 Thomas Jefferson St. NW, Georgetown, Washington, DC, 20007. 202/653-5190. www.nps.gov/choh.)
Capitol River Cruises (Washington Harbor, 31st and K Sts. NW, Georgetown, Washington, DC, 20007. 301/460-7447 or 800/405-5511. www.capitolrivercruises.com.)
Dandy Cruises (Prince St., between Duke and King sts., Alexandria, VA, 22314. 703/683-6076. www.dandydinnerboat.com.)
DC Ducks (50 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Union Station, Washington, DC, 20002. 855/323-8257. www.dcducks.com.)
Odyssey III and Spirit of Washington (600 Water St. SW, D.C. Waterfront, Washington, DC, 20024. 202/488-6010 or 866/404-8439. www.entertainmentcruises.com.)
All About Town has half-day, all-day, two-day, and twilight bus tours to get acquainted with the city. Tours leave from various Downtown locations. An all-day tour costs $50-$62, half-day and twilight tours cost $36-$46.
Gray Line's nine-hour "D.C. in a Day" tour stops at the White House Visitor Center, U.S. Capitol, World War II Memorial, and Smithsonian museums. The cost is $55 for adults and $30 for children ages 3-11. Another all-day tour, "Mt. Vernon/Arlington Cemetery" includes visits to George Washington's home, Old Town Alexandria, Tomb of the Unknowns, and the Iwo Jima, Pentagon, Air Force, and Jefferson memorials. It is priced at $70 for adults and $45 for children. There's also a 2½-hour tour on Tuesday and Saturday mornings presented in conjunction with the International Spy Museum that showcases more than 25 sites used by infamous spies, with tickets priced at $59.
Gross National Product's Scandal Tours, led by members of the GNP comedy troupe, last 1½ hours and cover scandals from George Washington to George W. Bush. The tours, held on Saturday from April through August at 1 pm, cost $30 per person; reservations are required.
On Location Tours has a 2½-hour tour that visits more than 30 locations used in the filming of movies and TV shows, including No Way Out, The Exorcist, Wedding Crashers, All the President's Men, West Wing, and 24, among others. Tours are offered Saturday beginning at 10 am and cost $40 per person.
On Board D.C. Tours offers a daily six-hour "D.C. It All" tour, where you hop on and off with the guide at 12 locations. The cost is $80 for adults and $50 for children under 12. Their three-hour "D.C. The Lights" nightlife tour costs $50 per person.
All About Town (301/856-5556. www.allabouttown.net.)
Gray Line (301/386-8300 or 800/862-1400. www.graylinedc.com.)
Gross National Product (202/783-7212. www.gnpcomedy.com.)
On Board D.C. Tours (301/839-5261. www.onboarddctours.com.)
Old Town Trolley Tours, orange-and-green motorized trolleys, take in the main Downtown sights and also head into Georgetown and the upper Northwest in a speedy two hours if you ride straight through. However, you can hop on and off as many times as you like, taking your time at the stops you choose. Tickets are $35 for adults, $18 for kids 4-12. Tourmobile buses, authorized by the National Park Service, operate in a similar fashion, making 25 stops at historic sites between the Capitol and Arlington National Cemetery. Tickets, available at kiosks at Arlington National Cemetery, Union Station, and the Washington Monument, are $27 for adults. Tickets for just Arlington National Cemetery are $7.50 for adults. Tourmobile also offers three seasonal tours including a "Twilight Ride Through History Tour," "Mt. Vernon Tour," and "Frederick Douglass Tour."
Old Town Trolley Tours (202/832-9800. www.trolleytours.com.)
ANC Tours (202/488-1012. www.anctours.com.)
A Tour de Force has limo tours of historic homes, diplomatic buildings, and "the best little museums in Washington." Tours are led by Jeanne Fogle, a local historian. In business since 1964, the Guide Service of Washington puts together half-day and full-day tours of D.C. sights, including some off the beaten path. Nationally known photographer Sonny Odom offers custom tours for shutterbugs at $50/hour, with a four-hour minimum.
A Tour de Force (P.O. Box 2782, Washington, DC, 20013. 703/525-2948. www.atourdeforce.com.)
Guide Service of Washington (734 15th St. NW, Suite 701, Washington, DC, 20005. 202/628-2842. www.dctourguides.com.)
Sonny Odom (2420F S. Walter Reed Dr., Arlington, VA, 22206. 703/379-1633. www.sonnyodom.com.)
Anecdotal History Tours (Washington, DC. 301-294-9514. www.dcsightseeing.com.)
Segway and Scooter Tours
Rest your feet and glide by the monuments, museums, and major attractions aboard a Segway. Guided tours usually last about two hours. D.C. city ordinance requires that riders be at least 16 years old; some tour companies have weight restrictions of around 265 pounds. Tours cost around $60-$70 per person and are limited to six to 10 people.
City Scooter Tours rents scooters and wheelchairs for self-guided tours. Three-day rental prices start at $175 for scooters and $165 for wheelchairs.
Capital Segway (202/682-1980. www.capitalsegway.com.)
City Segway Tours (877/734-8687. www.citysegwaytours.com.)
City Scooter Tours (888/441-7575. www.cityscootertours.com.)
Segs in the City (800/734-7393. www.segsinthecity.com.)
Government Building Tours
Special tours of government buildings with heavy security, including the White House and the Capitol, can be arranged through your representative or senator's office. Limited numbers of these so-called VIP tickets are available, so plan up to six months in advance of your trip. Foreign visitors should contact their embassy in Washington, D.C., as far in advance as possible. Governmental buildings close to visitors when the Department of Homeland Security issues a high alert, so call ahead.
Don't miss the stunning Capitol Visitor Center, which opened in 2008. Before your tour of the Capitol, you can watch orientation films, view historical documents from the Library of Congress and the National Archives, learn about the history of democracy through interactive touch-screen displays, walk alongside statues of notable historical figures, and see models of the Capitol and the Dome. The center, which also features a gift shop and cafeteria, is open daily from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. To avoid delays, order Capitol tour tickets online (if you haven't reserved through your House or Senate member). There will be a few same-day passes available at the kiosk outside the Capitol and at the information desks in the Center's Emancipation Hall. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where U.S. money is made, has tours that begin every 15 minutes from 9 to 10:45 and 12:30 to 2 on weekdays (as well as 2 to 3:45 and 5 to 7 in summer). The free tours are popular. During the peak season from March through August, tickets are given out on a first-come, first-served basis at the ticket booth on Raoul Wallenberg Place (formerly 15th Street). The booth opens at 8 am and closes as soon as all tickets have been handed out; lines form early and tickets go quickly, usually by 9 am. From September through February, tickets are not required; you line up at the Visitor's Entrance on 14th Street.
Foreign dignitaries are received at the Department of State's lavish Diplomatic Reception Rooms, but everyone else can get a peek on weekdays on 45-minute tours that begin at 9:30, 10:30, and 2:45. Grand halls showcase exceptional and rare 18th- and 19th-century furniture, a must for decorative arts fans, but not so much for kids. Reserve three months in advance to be sure of a spot.
Bureau of Engraving and Printing (14th and C Sts. SW, Washington, DC, 20228. 202/874-2330 or 866/874-2330. www.moneyfactory.gov.)
Department of State (2201 C St. NW, Washington, DC, 20520. 202/647-3241; 202/736-4474 TDD. diplomaticrooms.state.gov.)
United States Capitol Visitor Center (202/226-8000. www.visitthecapitol.gov.)
White House Visitor Center (15th and E Sts. NW, Washington, DC, 20230. 202/456-7041. www.whitehouse.gov/about/tours-and-events.)
The Voice of America is the U.S. government's foreign broadcaster, beaming news and current affairs programming around the world in 44 languages. Get a look behind the scenes with tours weekdays at noon and 3 pm. Reservations are recommended and can be made either online or by phone.
National Public Radio leads tours of its broadcast facilities on Tuesday and Thursday at 11 am. Show up 10 minutes beforehand for a security screening. Want to know what goes on in the newsroom of the Washington Post? You can arrange a tour by calling in advance. Guided tours for groups of 10 to 25 are also offered at the Post's printing plants in Maryland (Tuesday, 10 and 11 am) and Virginia (Thursday, 10 and 11 am). Reservations are required and must be made in writing up to four weeks in advance.
National Public Radio (635 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC, 20001. 202/513-3232. www.npr.org/about/aboutnpr/visit.html.)
Voice of America (330 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC, 20201. 202/203-4990. www.voatour.com.)
Guided walks around Washington, D.C., and nearby communities are routinely offered by the Smithsonian Associates Program; advance tickets are required. Anecdotal History Tours leads tours in Georgetown, Adams Morgan, and Capitol Hill, as well as tours of the theater where Lincoln was shot and the homes of former presidents.
DC by Foot offers free tours (the guides work for tips, which makes them lively and entertaining) to the major memorials and monuments. The 1½-hour tours are available year-round; days and times vary by season. Look out for the guides in blue T-shirts (jackets in winter) at the start of the tour on the north corner of 15th Street and Constitution Ave. NW; the tours end at the Lincoln Memorial.
Washington Walks has a wide range of tours for $10 per person, including the self-explanatory "Memorials by Moonlight"; "Get Local," which goes in-depth into one Washington neighborhood; "The Most Haunted Houses," a look at the city's most ghost-filled residences; and "Before Harlem There Was U St.," a walk along Washington's "Black Broadway."
The nonprofit group Cultural Tourism DC leads guided walking tours that cover the history and architecture of neighborhoods from the southwest waterfront to points much farther north: Or, if you'd prefer to explore neighborhoods on your own, their Web site features seven self-guided walking tours, all of which are highlighted with historic markers. You also can check out other cultural events, many free, happening around the city on the Cultural Tourism DC Web site. Spies of Washington Walking Tours, led by a retired Air Force officer and former president of the National Military Intelligence Association, visits sites in Washington associated with espionage over the past 200 years. The approximately two-hour tours cost $12 per person.
Step back in time on one of Natalie Zanin's interactive theatrical tours to visit Washington, D.C. during the Civil War, WW II, or the '60s. Or you can sign up for a Ghost Story Tour, on which Zanin dresses as Dolley Madison's ghost and shares stories of hauntings around the city, including Lafayette Square Park, where Edgar Allan Poe's spirit is said to wander. Tours cost $10 for adults and $5 for children. UC Tours encourages visitors to stroll, strut, and stride on walking adventures including "Black Georgetown Re-Visited," "The Avenue of Latin Liberators," "The Obama Neighborhood," and "Uptown on U Street," among others. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children 8-16.
One of the more popular tours in the city is the U.S. National Arboretum's Full Moon Hike offered about three times a month, excluding July and August. It's a brisk 4-mi walk through the grounds and hills by the Anacostia River, which afford beautiful views of the city at night. It costs $22/person and registration is required.
Cultural Tourism DC (202/661-7581. www.culturaltourismdc.org.)
DC by Foot (202/370-1830. www.freetoursbyfoot.com/dc.)
Natalie Zanin's Historic Strolls (301/588-9255. www.historicstrolls.com.)
The Smithsonian Associates (202/633-3030. www.smithsonianassociates.org.)
Spies of Washington Tour (703/569-1875. www.spiesofwashingtontour.com.)
U.S. National Arboretum (202/245-4521. www.usna.usda.gov.)
Washington Walks (202/484-1565. www.washingtonwalks.com.)
DC Metro Food Tours (202-683-8847 or 800-979-3370. www.dcmetrofoodtours.com.)
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