News & Politics

Best of Washington: How to Entertain Houseguests

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Playing host to houseguests comes with the territory when you live in Washington. Here are some best bets to keep visitors—and yourself—entertained.

Best Tours

Best two-wheeled tour: Have fun—and cover a lot of territory in two to three hours around the Mall, the White House, and Capitol Hill—on a Segway. Three good tour companies are City Segway Tours, Segs in the City, and Capital Segway. You must be at least 16 to operate a Segway. Tours cost around $70.

Best walking tour: Hear history laced with anecdotes on a monuments tour conducted by DC by Foot, an entertaining stroll around the Washington Monument, National World War II Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and Korean War Veterans Memorial. The 90-minute tour is free; guides work for tips. In July and August, tours set off from the corner of 15th Street and Constitution Avenue, Northwest, at 10, 2, and 6 (no tours on Mondays). No reservations needed.

Best do-it-yourself tour: Lead your own bus tour for $1 a person using the District’s red Circulator buses. On Saturdays and Sundays, a Mall route heads east on Constitution Avenue and returns west on Independence Avenue. One ticket includes three hours of on/off privileges, and you can use cash or Metro’s SmarTrip cards. Buses are scheduled every ten minutes, but hours vary. For schedules and a map of stops, see

Best specialty tour: An official tour inside the US Capitol requires tickets (via congressional offices or the Capitol Visitors Center), but no reservations are needed for the Capitol Historical Society Walking Tour of the Capitol grounds. Steve Livengood, chief guide for the Capitol Historical Society and a former Hill staffer, covers architecture, landscaping, and political history. Meet him at the top of the Union Station Metro escalator Mondays at 10 am (March through November). The cost is $10 a person; if you join the society for $35 a year, tours and programs are free for you and a guest.

Best tour at your own pace: Want your visitors to feel like VIPs? Hire a private guide through the Guild of Professional Tour Guides. Members charge $40 an hour, with a four-hour minimum. Tours are tailored to your interests and move at your pace. Some guides will line up a limousine as part of the package.

Sights You Haven’t Seen Yourself—or Been to in a While

Best new museum: Exhibits at the National Museum of Crime & Punishment cover the history of crime, law enforcement, forensic science, and justice. The museum is particularly popular with teens. Admission is $20 for adults, $15 for children, but discounts are available if you purchase in advance at

Best history: If you haven’t been to George Washington’s estate, Mount Vernon, in at least three years, there’s a lot new to see. An orientation center and museum contain an extensive collection of artifacts related to the life and times of America’s founding father. Adults $15, children ages 6 to 11 $7; discounts are listed at

Best city view: The former Hotel Washington’s rooftop bar will be reborn when it opens this month as POV atop the new W Hotel. The awnings have been raised to enhance sweeping views of the White House and beyond. Drinks and appetizers are available, and the terrace connects to an indoor lounge with big windows, an option for inclement weather.

Best for a quiet walk: The National Park Service maintains hiking trails and a monument to Theodore Roosevelt on 88½-acre Roosevelt Island. To get there, drive west across the Roosevelt Bridge, then north on the George Washington Parkway; the parking-lot entrance is immediately on the right. Another option: Paddle over in a canoe or kayak rented from Thompson Boat Center in Georgetown.

Best for more-vigorous exercise: On the Maryland side of Great Falls National Park, the 4.7-mile Billy Goat Trail loop rewards hikers with views of river rapids. There are a few challenging rocky spots, so the hike is recommended only for fit adults and children ages five and up (though section A may be too hard for some kids). You can reach the trailhead across from Old Anglers Inn in Potomac.

Best picnic spot: Bring a blanket and picnic to Gravelly Point, a few hundred feet from a runway at Reagan National Airport, for up-close views of plane bellies and landing gear.

Best way to see more planes: At the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, near Dulles airport, visitors marvel at the massive display of airplanes and spacecraft. The collection includes the Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima; an SR-71 Blackbird spy plane; and the Enterprise space shuttle. Parking is $15, but admission is free.

This article first appeared in the July 2009 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from that issue, click here.