Things to Do

You’re Already Walking Outside a Ton. Why Not Learn Some History?

A local company's restarted walking tours offer an opportunity to be a tourist in your own town.

Participants on the Capitol Hill Scandals tour. Photograph courtesy Canden Arciniega.
Coronavirus 2020

About Coronavirus 2020

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Summer is canceled, but you can still play tourist, get some steps in, and, at the same time, help people in one of the Washington area’s hard-hit occupations: Tour guides, who saw their busiest season evaporate┬áthis past spring.

DC’s phased reopening means┬áCanden Arciniega, a manager and tour guide for Free Tours by Foot, has been able to restart some of her tours with an eye toward attracting locals as customers. All tours observe social distancing precautions: Participants and guides will wear masks, of course, and you’ll have to certify that you haven’t had any Covid-19 symptoms or a positive coronavirus test in the last 14 days before you sign up.

Once you’re enrolled, you can download an app that lets you hear the guide on your phone through headphones. Public tours are limited to small groups (though, Arciniega says, the public tours have generally had one family apiece sign up, so they’re effectively private tours) and there’s a very flexible cancellation policy. Also: “We say that the guide will not high five, fist-bump, or hug anybody, which is not normally the case on a tour anyway, but we get some people!”

Public tours (pick a date on this page to see what’s available) include a “Ghosts of Georgetown” tour and a historic Georgetown walk, a Lincoln assassination tour, and explorations of Oak Hill Cemetery and the National Mall. Arciniega says her group dropped plans for a White House scandals tour when the area around Lafayette Square became Black Lives Matter Plaza: “We decided not to invade that space,” she says.

Arciniega is also offering private tours. Kate Denson, a minister and social justice educator, leads a gentrification tour of H Street, Northeast, that Arciniega says “isn’t really a tour. It’s a conversation. There’s lots of discussion and talking, and it kind of makes you uncomfortable, but that is the goal.” (They’re trying this one as a public tour over the next few Fridays.) Bob Burnette leads hiking tours of Teddy Roosevelt Island and Rock Creek Park that cover history going back long before Theodore Roosevelt existed. And if there’s another neighborhood you’d like to explore, Arciniega says to just send her an email–“there are enough tour guides in DC that there are very few uncovered areas,” she says.

Public tours cost $26 a person, and private tours are $175, though Arciniega says to get in touch if that’s too expensive and she’ll try to work something out between you and a tour guide. “It’s such a great opportunity, because you don’t have the ability to spend the summer in Paris,” she says. “So you might as well come learn about the city that you live in.”

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.