Secretly, though, we envy them. We see them clustered on the Metro and eating breakfast at coffee shops near their downtown hotels, and we wish we were the ones preparing for a day of sightseeing in the Nation’s Capital — instead of running late for our 9 a.m. meeting.
Stop wistfully wishing: Whether you’re a lifelong Washingtonian, here only for a summer internship or still unpacking after a recent move, all of this — the monuments, the memorials, the museums — is yours, too. And there’s no better way to acquaint (or reacquaint) yourself with Washington than with a guided tour.
We think you’ll be surprised by how much you’ll learn when you allow yourself to be a tourist in your own town, whether by land, by sea or by Segway. Climb aboard as we test out some of the District’s most popular tour options.
— Alex Baldinger
Open Top Sightseeing
“There’s Washington, and there’s D.C.,” is a common refrain about the nation’s capital, and there’s a lot of truth to that: There is the Capitol, the museums and the monuments, and then there are neighborhoods with local flavor, where fourth-generation Washingtonians and fresh transplants rub shoulders in restaurants and bars hidden within gorgeous federal architecture. Open Top’s double-decker tour gives you a clear sightline of both.
The red buses loop through Washington on three “lines”: The red line circles the Capitol, stops at the museums, gives you the best view of the under-construction Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. The short blue line heads to Arlington Cemetery. But it’s the yellow line that can expose tourists to at least a smidgen of that real D.C.; it rolls into Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan, points out the shenanigans at the Mayflower and stops at Georgetown’s murky canal. (You can switch lines without having to pay more.)
Despite a lack of great insider trivia, the ride to the many top stops is a boon in the humid summer months; just be sure to invest in a guidebook, too, for the full experience.
Something I learned: Foggy Bottom was once home to breweries; in fact, the Kennedy Center’s famous perch once housed Heurich Brewery.
Who would enjoy?: Anyone who wants to try to squeeze in all of their Washington sightseeing into a day or two, and people with mobility issues or who aren’t used to doing a lot of walking.
If I were giving my own tour: I’d weave in more history and detail. The red line tour seemed to miss the chance to tell riders the story of the Washington Monument’s construction, and Ford’s Theatre felt like a bus depot rather than a historical location. This recorded tour is awfully thin, and Washingtonians will not help but notice that it skims over significant stories while offering minutiae about rather insignificant places.