Washington, DC tours come in all shapes and sizes. There are no universal best Washington, DC tours but there are the best tours for you. We broke down different tour options to help you make the best and most informed choice for your visit.
Private vs. Public Washington, DC Tours
The first way to break down Washington, DC tours is to split them into private tours and public/group tours.
A private tour is typically your group and your tour guide. These tours are best for visitors who want a personalized experience and 100% of their guide’s attention. It’s also a great option for larger families or groups. In some circumstances it might be more cost-effective to book a private tour than to buy everyone in the group individual tickets.
Many of the Trip Hacks DC tours that we run are private tours. And even if it’s not specifically advertised as such, most tour companies are happy to turn any of their tours into a private tour. Contact them directly for details.
A public tour (sometimes called a group tour) is one where you buy a ticket for everyone in your group and then you share the tour guide with other travelers. These tours are usually best for people who are looking for the most cost-effective option. It is also a great choice for folks who want to meet new people during their travels.
Our Monumental Trivia tour is a public tour. For a solo traveler or a couple, booking a public tour is more cost effective but it means that you won’t have your guide’s undivided attention.
A subset of public tours are free tours (sometimes called “pay what you wish” or “name your own price” tours). Despite having “free” in the name, the expectation is that everyone on the tour will pay or generously tip their guide. These tours are best if you want maximum flexibility as they often don’t require any advance signup. The big downside is that without advance signup there is no way to limit the number of people on the tour and group sizes get very large.
Types of Washington, DC Tours
Once you’ve sorted out whether you prefer a private or public tour, the next decision is how you want to get around to see the sights.
Walking tours are simple. You show up and walk around with your guide to see the sights. They’re great for visitors of all ages. Many walking tours follow accessible routes so they can accommodate kids in strollers or visitors in wheelchairs.
The other beauty of walking tours is that because there is no vehicle to worry about your guide can focus on delivering a great tour and showing you all the details up close. On our monuments tours the guide goes inside all of the monuments with our visitors. This simply would not be possible if they had to stay behind witch a vehicle.
Bus tours come in a few varieties. “Hop on hop off” bus tours (typically run during the day) take visitors from place to place and the guide stays on the bus to tell them about the sights during transit. These give you the opportunity to explore at your own pace. Fixed schedule bus tours (typically run during the evening) are on a schedule and the guide will often get off of the bus to show visitors the sights up close.
Boat tours give you a chance to see the sights from the water. Until recently, duck boat tours took visitors on both land and water; however, their future is uncertain. Boat tours are nice because they offer a different perspective than you get on other types of tours. The disadvantage is that not all sights are visible from the water, or the view is not the best. For example, the Lincoln Memorial is visible from the Potomac River but only the back of the temple. To see Lincoln’s statue you have to visit on foot.
Bikes are fun! Riding from sight to sight is an efficient way to get around. The big disadvantage to bike tours is that the guide is responsible for not just leading the tour, but keeping all of the riders and the bicycles safe. He or she will typically give you information about a sight from a distance, then send the group over on foot to see it up close. Bike tours are family friendly. Kids who are’t quite old enough for their own bike can usually tag along on the back of their parent’s bike.
Segways were supposed to revolutionize how we get around. Instead they only seem to be used in airports and for tourism. Segway tours are ideal for people who want the novelty of riding a Segway. These tours are not family friendly as Washington, DC law requires all riders be at least 16 years or older. Segway tours also are not necessarily less physically demanding than other types of tours, as anyone who has ever purchased a “standing room only” ticket to a game or concert can appreciate.
Golf cart, scooter, skateboard and other tours
Every year new tours pop up to take advantage of a new or hip technology. Be careful with these tours as the often rely on the gimmick of the transportation device to lure customers in rather than the quality of the tour itself. Make sure to read reviews and research first.