Touring the town

While tours of the Capitol area abound, it’s a rare staffer who takes the time to see the area from a vacationer’s vantage point. But with summer in full swing, visiting friends and family might be what it takes to get Capitol Hill aides out of their slacks and blazers and into fanny packs and sunglasses. To help find the best Washington tours, The Hill took to exploring the Capitol region from the platform of a Segway, the seat of a bike and the open top of a double-decker bus.

City Segway Tours

If you like a leisurely pace, City Segway Tours might not be for you. Quick stops for snapping pictures and receiving cursory history lessons are the few stationary moments on the tour. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have something special to offer.

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In roughly three hours of winding between streets and sidewalks, riders get to take close — albeit short — looks at about 30 of the city’s major attractions. Once you get comfortable on the easy-to-handle contraption, the guides don’t mind you carving doughnuts and cruising ahead of the pack between stops. And the small children pointing and squealing as you zip by (“Mommy, what is that?”); the tourists snatching photos of the procession of zigzagging, two-wheeled machines; the glowering professional types weaving hurriedly through clusters of Segways at crosswalks — all add a unique, almost spectacular element of entertainment to the experience.

The downside? You’re on your feet and in the sun for close to three hours, so comfortable shoes and sunblock are essential. The cost ($70 a head, which can add up quick if you’re traveling in a large pack) and age requirement (no one under 16 can go on the tour) might be other deterrents. Tours run several times daily, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and depart across the street from the Ninth and G streets exit of the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro stop.

Bike and Roll

Excepting the occasional squirming through clumps of tourists, pushing up inclines and seats slightly thin in padding, you might find these tours more leisurely than you imagined. Complimentary water bottles and energy bars, 25 gears and tour guides who get you into the shade at about every stop make the approximately 10-mile, three-hour journey seem like a lot less than that. At the same time, the 20-plus sites you hit for quick photos and background commentary aren’t likely to leave you feeling shortchanged.

The expeditions are enlivened by trivia questions and several extended stops (about 10 minutes each) at more famous attractions, allowing you to explore on your own. Fellow tourists who don’t hear your guide’s cautionary bell-ringing soon enough are left to scurry and leap sideways to avoid the swarm of bikes rumbling down sidewalks. Meanwhile, others twist their heads so violently to double-take the site that it’s a surprise their necks don’t snap.

The prices — $40 per adult and $30 per child — make for a cheaper alternative to the Segway tours. Various tours start between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily and depart from the Bike and Roll offices at the old post office building across from the Federal Triangle Metro stop and at Union Station.

D.C. Tours Hop-On-Hop-Off Double-Decker Bus Tours

One thing separating this tour from those above is how much the hop-on, hop-off quality allows you to dictate the speed of your site-seeing. The buses, which run daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., pick up and drop off every 15 to 30 minutes from 10 different locations around the city, starting at Union Station, so you can exit to steep yourself in attractions before catching a ride to the next destination.

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The fact that your eyes and hands are free to soak in the surroundings as you travel is nice, too.

On the lower level, the heavily tinted windows protect you from the sun, but the roaring AC keeping you cool can also inhibit your ability to hear the automated tour guide’s narration. Meanwhile, up top, the view is great (save for the occasional tree branch swiping at you), but it doesn’t provide the amazing photo opportunities you might have envisioned. Limited to the main roads, taking quality pictures from the upper deck without a strong zoom function is unlikely. 

The prices are $34.95 per adult and $17.45 per child with special family rates under $100.00, and most tickets are valid for 48 hours.