Get to Know D.C. on Foot
Tours Explore Sites Near and Far
U.S. Capitol Historical Society volunteer tour guide Virginia Pace remembers when being a D.C. tour guide was fun.
In pre-Sept. 11, 2001, Washington, Pace would take tourists through the Capitol building and all over Capitol Hill with few limitations.
Since Sept. 11, all of that has changed.
“All of this has made being a tour guide less fun. You’re very limited. There’s no sense in me telling you about something that you can’t see,” Pace said.
Yet, Pace and her fellow tour guides at the Capitol Historical Society and elsewhere are adapting to the security measures so they can still
bring their knowledge of D.C. to groups of tourists each season.
“It’s a wonderful place to be a tour guide,” she said of D.C. “There’s so much to see and so much to tell about.”
The Historical Society walking tour, which is held each Monday at 10 a.m. from March through November, is one of many options for tourists looking to get an insider’s perspective on life in Washington or residents hoping to learn more about the buildings and neighborhoods they encounter each day.
The tour leaves from Union Station and covers nearly all of the Capitol’s exterior grounds. Guides explain the history of the buildings and grounds, architecture, the Capitol Visitor Center project, and tips for tourists looking to get into the Capitol, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress.
There are options, too, for those looking to learn more about the rest of the city. Cultural Tourism D.C. is encouraging visitors to see not only the best-known neighborhoods of the District, but also to travel east of the Anacostia River and explore other communities including Old Anacostia, Deanwood and Marshall Heights.
“Millions of visitors come to Washington, D.C., each year and they see the cherry blossoms, the Smithsonian and the Mall, but what they are not aware of is that there are beautiful places and neighborhoods off the Mall,” said Cultural Tourism D.C.’s Laura Brower. She says her organization is encouraging people to “broaden their sense of what Washington is.”
To that end, the WalkingTown, D.C.: Stroll the City weekend will be held April 16 and 17 with 55 free walking tours of every neighborhood and historical site from Deanwood to Dupont Circle.
Brower emphasized exploring D.C. “beyond the Mall” through walking tours and noted that the guides in many of the tours, especially those east of the Anacostia, are led by residents.
“You’re walking the neighborhood with someone who lives in the neighborhood and loves the neighborhood,” Brower said.
Among the themed tours planned for the weekend are the “Capitol Hill Tails Tour,” in which participants are encouraged to bring their four-legged friends; “Scandals, Scoundrels & Scallywags: The Seamier Side of Georgetown,” in which a living history actor tells tales of nightlife and crime through the eyes of a police officer; and “Penn Quarter: Walking Tour of Whitman’s Washington,” which follows areas Walt Whitman frequented while he was living in D.C.
While many of the tours will continue throughout the spring and summer tourist season, Brower said some of them will take place only for WalkingTown weekend.
“WalkingTown, D.C. is a preview of the walking tours that are available throughout the season if people want to come and sample the tours,” Brower said.
For a self-guided tour, Cultural Tourism D.C., in conjunction with Barracks Row Main Street and the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, sponsors a tour of Barracks Row. “Tour of Duty: Barracks Row Heritage Trail” contains 16 signs, beginning at the Eastern Market Metrorail station, to guide participants through the 90-minute tour. The route travels down Eighth Street Southeast and passes through a residential area before looping back to Eastern Market.
Sights mark the birthplace of John Philip Sousa, home of the first female White House correspondent, the oldest continuously manned Marine outpost in the United States, and the Episcopal church where Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams worshiped.
Washington Walks offers weekly walking tours around D.C. from April through October. Those who can’t get past security at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW can take the “White House ‘Un-Tour’” on Saturday and Sunday mornings to learn about the West Wing, the bowling alley, and all the other trappings of the presidency from the outside.
For a spookier look at the nation’s capital, “The Most Haunted Houses” tour includes the homes of Stephen Decatur and Henry Adams and concludes with a visit to The Octagon, “the most haunted home in the city.” The tour takes place Wednesday evenings.
The family-friendly “Goodnight, Mr. Lincoln” tour of the Lincoln Memorial is designed for children ages 4-9. Visitors are encouraged to attend in their pajamas, as tour guides share stories of the 16th president.