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In a super historic city like Washington, DC, taking a sightseeing tour is a must! With so many famous monuments and important political landmarks to see, it’s worth taking a tour so that you can learn about the significance of each site.
We really enjoyed doing Washington, DC sightseeing tours when we were in the city. They taught us a lot and helped us see places like the Capitol Building, the Lincoln Memorial, Georgetown, the White House, and the National Archives! That’s why we’ve rounded up the very best Washington, DC, guided tours so you can make the most of your visit to this iconic US city.
Not only have we done plenty of sightseeing tours in Washington, DC, but we’ve also visited all of the major attractions that the tours go to, so we know which tours visit the best places (and which ones don’t!).
Our Top Choice
We think that this VIP sightseeing tour is the best way to see all of Washington, DC’s highlights! It even includes a Potomac River cruise, which was one of our top experiences in the city. You get skip-the-line entry to the city’s top attractions which saves so much time, and you learn a ton about US history and politics along the way. The full-day tour starts at $129 USD and can be booked here with free cancellation up to 24 hours before.
Best Sightseeing Tours in Washington, DC
1. DC Monuments and Memorials Night Tour
One thing we did struggle with in Washington, DC, was the heat, which is why we think that this night tour is such a great one to do.
You’ll also be in a luxurious, air-conditioned minibus for most of the tour, so you’ll stay nice and cool throughout. If you hate traipsing around in the heat, then this is such a great way to see Washington, DC. Don’t worry, you will get out of the bus and walk around the attractions, but you don’t need to be concerned about overheating.
Plus, seeing all of the memorials and historic buildings lit up at night is really cool! You’ll see the Lincoln Memorial and Thomas Jefferson Memorial lit up with floodlights and learn all about them from your professional guide.
And this isn’t a stuffy sightseeing tour, either. The guides have tons of energy and will have you laughing the entire way, which makes it stand out from other Washington, DC, guided tours. The tour lasts for 3 hours and the time flies by so quickly!
With this tour, you’ve got a choice between riding in a luxury minibus for $64 USD per person, or a glass or open-top bus (depending on the season) for $94 USD per person. The tour departs at 7:30 pm from the U.S. Navy Memorial Plaza, so you could even do a river cruise during the day and still have time for this sightseeing tour at night. If you’re coming during the middle of summer, this is a fantastic way to beat the heat.
2. Washington, DC in One Day: Guided Sightseeing Tour
If you don’t have long in Washington, DC, this guided tour will allow you to see everything all in one day. We think that this one is a great all-rounder that’s suitable for travelers of all ages, and it doesn’t require a ton of walking.
We also like this tour’s itinerary a lot. It really does tick off all of the most important sites, including the White House, the US Capitol, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. All in just 6 hours – you won’t miss out on seeing anything!
You’ll also get guided walks around certain sites including the Capitol Building, the White House, and the Washington Monument for a more in-depth experience. But we think that the best thing is that between April and October, this tour includes a sightseeing cruise down the Potomac River.
We did a sightseeing cruise while we were in DC and absolutely loved it. So we think it’s a huge perk that one is included with this tour. You get to see DC’s landmarks from a different perspective, and we can’t recommend it enough!
The tour leaves at 10 am from the U.S. Navy Memorial. You’ll be in an air-conditioned bus, so you don’t need to worry about the DC heat too much. This is a great way to see DC if you’re short on time because you’ll get to check off all of the major attractions and enjoy a cruise, which was one of our favorite experiences in the city.
The tour costs $89 USD per person or you can choose to upgrade to a glass-top bus for $99 USD per person instead. Note that lunch is not included in the price, but you’ll have time to get lunch while in Georgetown Waterfront Park. We loved visiting the attractions in Georgetown, so we think you’ll enjoy this stop, too.
To explore as much of Washington, DC as possible in one day, book this tour in advance here.
3. Best of DC – Plus US Capitol and National Archives Reserved Entry
This VIP sightseeing tour gives you a super comprehensive overview of Washington, DC, which is why we picked it as our top choice earlier!
One thing that sets this tour apart for us is that you not only get to see all of the highlights, including the White House and the Lincoln Memorial, but you also get skip-the-line entry to the National Archives Museum and a chance to tour the US Capitol Building. Many Washington, DC, sightseeing tours don’t give you the chance to explore these two landmarks due to time restraints, but on this VIP tour, you’ll bypass the queues and go straight inside.
It’s really impressive just how much you get to see in a single day without feeling rushed or like you’re skipping over anything.
Plus, we love the fact that this tour includes a sightseeing cruise on the Potomac River during the summer months. We loved the cruise that we did, and we think that no trip to DC is complete without one, so it’s fantastic that this tour will arrange it all for you. It’s also such a relaxing way to take in the sights!
The tour costs $129 USD per person and lasts for 8.5 hours, so it’s a full-day experience. You really do get to experience the best of DC on this tour, so although we do highly recommend it if you’re short on time, we still think it’s worth doing if you have a ton of time in the city. The itinerary is so well curated, and the skip-the-line access to attractions will save you a ton of time. Plus, if you want to splurge a little, you can upgrade to a glass-topped bus for only $10 USD extra.
4. Private Washington, DC City Tour
If you’re looking for a private sightseeing tour, then this one fits the bill perfectly. It’s a half-day tour that allows you to beat the crowds while still ensuring that you get to see all of Washington, DC’s most important and iconic sights.
This tour lasts for 4 hours and begins at a time and place of your choosing, so you don’t need to worry about waking up early or finding a meeting point.
You’ll be chauffeured around Washington, DC, in a luxurious SUV, which will keep you nice and comfortable, not to mention cool during DC’s sweltering summers. You’ll see world-famous political and historical sites including the White House, the US Capitol, and Arlington National Cemetery, where around 400,000 war veterans are buried as well as former US President John F. Kennedy.
The itinerary also covers DC’s most famous memorials, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Pentagon Memorial. As you explore these memorials, you’ll learn so much about different parts of US history and events that shook not just the country, but the world. Since it is a private tour, you can also request that your guide customize your tour and switch which landmarks and sites you visit.
This tour costs $495 USD for a group of up to 5 people. This price may seem a little steep at first but if you have 5 people, then it works out to less than $100 USD each, which we think is pretty good value for a guided sightseeing tour in a major US city. Larger groups can reserve a Mercedes Benz Sprinter for $650 USD for a group of up to 14 people.
If a private tour sounds perfect for you, you book this tour in advance to take advantage of the buy now, pay later option.
Related Read: Private tours allow for a much more personalized experience – check out our favorite private tours of NYC next!
5. African American History Tour with Museum Admission
We like this African-American history tour because it will teach you so much more than you’ll ever read in a guidebook – or even a history textbook! The history of African-American people and culture in the USA is often overlooked in traditional education and official resources, but this tour will take you through the journey from the arrival of the first African-Americans at Jamestown right up to the recent Black Lives Matter movement.
You’ll visit significant sites like the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and U Street, which was once the center of African-American culture and nightlife in DC. Jazz greats performed here, and the area was actually known as “Black Broadway.” We think that this is such an interesting place to visit – and one that you won’t get to see on most other Washington, DC, sightseeing tours.
You’ll also visit the White House and the Lincoln Memorial, and drive by famous sites like the Jefferson Memorial and even the FBI headquarters!
This history tour begins at 10 am and ends at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where you’ll go on a journey through time to learn about how African-American people have shaped US history. There are so many interesting artifacts to see that this museum almost feels like a time capsule, and it’s just fascinating to explore.
This tour is a half-day experience, lasting 3.5 hours, and it includes entry to the museum, where you can spend as long as you like after the guided portion of the tour concludes. We like that the entry to the museum is reserved for you because you sometimes have to remember to reserve a spot days or weeks in advance during DC’s busy summer season.
The tour costs $89 USD per person, and we think it’s such a great way to immerse yourself in the often underappreciated history and culture that has played a pivotal role in shaping the United States. Tours are available every day except Monday and Tuesday.
Why We Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
6. Washington, DC Moonlight Tour of the National Mall & Memorials
Sightseeing during the day can be a hot and sweaty affair in Washington, DC, and it’s also just nice to see the city lit up after dark. So if that sounds like your kind of thing, then we recommend this moonlit sightseeing tour of Washington, DC!
This is a 3-hour tour, so we think it’s perfect if you don’t have the energy (or the inclination) to go on a full-day tour, but still want to see all of the highlights. This tour will take you to the National Mall and some of the city’s most famous memorials including the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial. It’s cool to see these at night because we think they look extra imposing when lit up by floodlights.
There are also photo stops at the city’s most famous sites, including the White House and the Capitol, and we especially love the fact that this tour ends close to the city’s bustling nightlife hub, so it’s easy to go grab food and drinks afterward – maybe even with newfound friends from the tour!
The tour begins at the corner of 9th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW at 7:30 pm, so you have plenty of time to explore Washington, DC, and grab an early dinner before beginning. Make sure you arrive 30 minutes in advance to get checked in and settled on the bus though!
This tour costs $69 USD per person. It’s super well-reviewed and such a great way to enjoy a more comfortable sightseeing experience if you struggle with the heat. Plus, the guides make the entire experience so much fun. All in all, we think that this is a great way to kick off an evening in DC. For $94 USD, you also have to option to add on tickets to the Washington Monument, the African American Museum, or the Air and Space Museum to use on the following day.
You can check out the different options and book this nighttime sightseeing tour of DC online here.
7. DC Monuments and Capitol Hill Tour by Electric Cart
If you want something a little different than your typical bus sightseeing tour, then we think that this electric cart tour is such a fun way to see the city!
One thing that we like about this tour is that it’s a small group experience with a maximum of 7 people. This means that if you’re traveling with a few others, you might even end up getting a private tour! We also think that the novelty factor of the eCruiser means that this would be a great tour for families with kids or teens.
This is quite a short and sweet tour at 2 hours long (which again makes it ideal for families!), but you’ll see all of the top spots during that time, such as the Capitol, the White House, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Washington Monument.
At multiple points throughout the tour, you also get to hop off the eCruiser and explore on foot for a while. It’s nice not to have to wait for an entire bus to load and unload at every stop, so you can get around much more quickly. Your guide will regale you with tons of info that’s not just about DC’s history and politics, but also lesser-known facts about what life is like here for locals.
This tour costs $56 USD per person during the off-season and $78 USD per person from March to October. Private tour options are also available during the off-season. You can choose to depart at either 10 am or 2 pm with a meet-up at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. It’s so much fun that the 2 hours will just fly by!
The tour is very popular, so make sure you get a spot by booking in advance here.
8. Washington, DC Monuments by Moonlight Tour by Trolley
We love the fact that this Washington, DC trolley tour allows you to see the city old-school style – and after dark! It really does deliver a unique experience because pulling up outside the US Capitol Building on a trolley is not something you get to do every day.
We think that evening Washington, DC guided tours are great because you get to avoid the daytime crowds, and the temperature is cooler at night. We also love the fact that with this tour you get to explore on an open-air trolley because it enhances the experience. Plus, there will be lots of entertaining commentary on board that will not only share historical information but also lots of amusing anecdotes and spooky ghost stories!
And of course, this tour will take you to see a ton of significant cultural sites, including the Supreme Court, Capitol Hill, the Jefferson Memorial, and so much more. It’s a comprehensive tour of DC’s historical highlights, and it’s well-paced so that it feels exciting, but not rushed. It’s definitely a fun way to do some sightseeing!
The tour begins at 6:30 pm at the Washington Welcome Center, and you’ll want to make sure to arrive 30 minutes in advance to check-in.
This tour typically costs $60 USD to $70 USD per person, but you might end up paying more if you don’t book in advance. Prices can go up to $90 USD, so we recommend planning ahead and securing your place at least a few weeks beforehand. Then, you can pick the cheapest option available during your trip.
When you book this tour through Viator here you can cancel or change the date for free up to 24 hours in advance, so you’ve got nothing to lose (and up to $25 USD to save!).
Should you Book your Sightseeing Tour in Washington, DC, in Advance?
Yes! We’ve done multiple Washington, DC sightseeing tours, and every single one that we have done has been full. This is especially true during the summer, which is peak tourist season.
Washington, DC, is one of the most popular places to visit in the United States. It’s also close to other cities with huge populations, such as NYC, so lots of people come on day trips! We recommend that you book in advance.
Viator is a legit company owned by Tripadvisor and they offer free cancellation on all of the tours we listed above up to 24 hours in advance. It’s worth booking through Viator to secure your place to ensure that you don’t miss out. You can also change the date if necessary. We’ve done this many times before, and it’s always so seamless – that’s why we love using them!
Is a Washington, DC Sightseeing Tour Worth it?
Yes, absolutely! A Washington, DC, sightseeing tour is the best way to get around the city and see all of the top spots in one day. DC is quite spread out and getting around on your own can be tricky and time-consuming. Going on a tour makes things so much easier.
Plus, going on a tour ensures you’ll visit all of the must-see highlights. The guides also know the attractions well and what the best times to visit are, so you can get in as quickly as possible. Some tours, such as this one, even arrange reserved entry in advance so that there’s no need to queue at all!
Related Read: If you’re interested in seeing more historic sites, read all about the best sightseeing tours in Philadelphia, another city with a lot of US history!
Where to Stay in Washington, DC
Now that you’ve learned all about Washington, DC, sightseeing tours, you’ll probably need a place to stay! This city has loads of options. To help you narrow it down, we’ve highlighted our top choices. We’ve included everything from budget hostels to luxurious hotels, so you’re bound to find something you like!
Pendry Washington DC – $$$
For the ultimate luxury and convenience, opt for the Pendry Washington DC. This 5-star hotel has free bikes, an outdoor pool, a hot tub, a fitness center, a rooftop bar, and a large terrace overlooking the wharf. Plus, it’s just a 5-minute walk to the docking port for river cruises if you decide to add one to your itinerary (you might even see your boat from your window!). The rooms are spacious, modern, and super comfortable.
There’s a wide range of room options, ranging from $260 USD to over $1,000 USD, depending on what you choose. However, you’ll find the best deals when you book your stay in advance.
Hotel Madera – $$
Hotel Madera is a great mid-range accommodation in the heart of DC. You can have a taste of American comfort food and cocktails at their on-site restaurant – or grab a complimentary glass of wine at the bar. It’s located close to many bars and restaurants and is just a 5-minute walk to Dupont Circle. Rooms are quite large and well-equipped, and some come with balconies to view the city.
Prices start at $170 USD which is a great value for what you get! Snag this deal by booking online here.
Duo Nomad – $
Duo Nomad is our top choice for budget accommodations in DC. It’s a clean place with complimentary breakfast, a garden, a terrace, and a shared lounge to meet other travelers or relax after a day of sightseeing. It’s located just off Capital Hill. Prices run from $39-$59 USD for a bed in a shared dorm. However, if you’re two people traveling, get a 2-bed shared dorm, and voila – it’s your own private accommodation!
Don’t get Caught without Travel Insurance!
We never travel without travel insurance! We’ve had a few instances during our travels when one of us has ended up in the hospital, and travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance, we both have policies with them whenever we travel.
They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!)The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!) While most travel insurance companies left people stranded, SafetyWing fully reimbursed us for our last-minute, pricey flights!
Also, because it is so affordable, there really is no excuse not to take out a policy. Check prices and get a quote online here with SafetyWing (you can even take out a policy if you’re already traveling!)
Thanks for reading!
There’s so much to see in Washington, DC, because of its role as the capital of the United States! It’s worth taking a sightseeing tour so that you don’t miss any of the best spots. There are tons of tour options, and we hope that our experience going on so many tours in DC has helped you narrow it down to the ones that are just right for your interests.
If you have plans to visit other US cities, make sure to check out all of our blogs about destinations in the USA. Here are a few blogs below to get you started: