Our top Washington, D.C. bike tour recommendation

Looking to maximize your time in our nation’s capital and take in all the monuments and memorials? Here is our top Washington, D.C. bike tour recommendation to make the most of your visit! 

The fountains at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. are beautifully illuminated at night. This is one of the most popular stops on this Washington, D.C. bike tour.
The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. is beautifully illuminated at night.

As Airbnb hosts, we regularly have visitors who come to Washington, D.C. hoping to see all the sights in a single day. Fortunately, that just isn’t possible. I say “fortunately,” because D.C. is blessed with enough monuments, memorials, museums, and more to keep visitors busy for weeks on end.

The Lincoln Memorial is one of the final stops on the bike tour.
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Realistically though, time is often tight for travelers. So for those with just a day or two in our nation’s capital, we strongly recommend a bike tour. This will allow you to cover more ground in a short period of time while benefitting from the knowledge and colorful stories of a local guide.

Recently we played tourist in our hometown, to sample D.C. tours and offer our personal recommendations.

Our top pick is … (drumroll please…):

the Fat Tire Monuments and Memorials Night Tour.

The Trip Takes Us crew on the Monuments and Memorials Bike Tour in Washington, D.C. stops for a photo in front of the Washington Monument
Mandatory goofy family shot early in the tour.

Why does this Washington, D.C. bike tour get our top rating?

Washington, D.C. is, shall we say, a tad hot and humid (during the summer months, this is an extreme understatement). For that reason, we recommend visiting some of the great (and free!) Smithsonian Museums during the day (they close at 5:00 p.m. and typically do not offer evening hours) or doing indoor activities, such as the excellent tour of the U.S. Capitol or a self-guided visit to the National Archives, to escape the mid-day heat. 

Dedicating your evening hours to viewing the outdoor monuments and memorials is triply rewarding. Not only will you keep your cool, but these sights are beautifully illuminated at night and tend to be far less crowded at that time.

Why tour Washington, D.C. by bike? 

The National Mall, which generally covers the area from the U.S. Capitol on the east end to the Lincoln Memorial on the west end, is nearly two miles long and roughly 500 meters wide. It is lined on all sides with numerous monuments, memorials, and museums (to see it all, you will need to do the full 4.5 mile loop). Beyond its boundaries, you will have to travel longer distances still to visit the tidal basin (home to D.C’s greatest concentration of cherry blossom trees, the Jefferson Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (my personal favorite!), and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial). The numbers on your fitness tracker will climb further still if you add the Supreme CourtLibrary of Congress, and White House to your itinerary. Because of this extensive layout, the city lends itself perfectly to a bicycle tour.

The start of the bike tour will bring you to the north side of the White House, viewed here from Lafayette Park
The north side of the White House viewed from Lafayette Park.

Time and duration

The Monuments and Memorials Night Tour runs approximately three hours. The start time will change slightly with the seasons, to accommodate earlier or later sunsets. Please note this tour runs only from March to October. During the cooler months of the year (November to February) you can confidently pick their daytime tour without the risk of melting.

Meeting point

Tours begin at the Fat Tire Tours office at 502 23rd St NW, Washington, DC 20037 (just a few blocks from the Foggy Bottom metro station on the blue, orange, and silver lines), where you will be fitted for a bike, briefed on the tour, outfitted with safety gear and water (as well as a poncho if there is a chance of rain), provided a cubby for any backpacks or bags you don’t wish to bring on the tour, and given the opportunity to slather on some of their sunscreen if you have forgotten your own.

The iconic red bicycles used for Fat Tire Tours
The sturdy red bikes come with a bike pouch that will hold a bottle of water and your cell phone.

Bike route

This particular tour will cover the western half of the National Mall, as well as the Tidal Basin. You will see the White House and Old Executive Office Building, Lafayette Park, Treasury Department, Washington Monument, Lockkeeper’s House, Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, MLK Jr. Memorial, WWII Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veteran’s Memorial, and Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.

About halfway through the bike tour you will reach the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., viewed here at sunset
The city’s newest memorial: Martin Luther King Jr. The unfinished legs symbolize a life cut short.

Skill level

Appropriate for all levels. You obviously do need to know how to ride a bike (don’t laugh, they have had people book bike tours who don’t)! If you can’t ride a bike or would prefer not to, consider a Segway tour instead. The National Mall area is blessedly flat, so you will not have to contend with hills, making this an easy and relaxing cruise around the monuments and memorials. 

Kid-friendly?

Yes. Fat Tire Tours has the appropriate equipment for all ages: baby seats that attach to the back of an adult bike, trailers for pulling kids up to 65 lbs, two-wheeled tandem trailers for kids up to 100 lbs or age 12, and children’s bikes with hand breaks. Teens and up will fit on the adult bikes.

In my opinion, children ages 8 and up would enjoy the tour most. Younger children may not have the attention span for a three-hour activity, even one that offers a lot of variety and opportunities to stretch their legs.

At the final strop on the tour,  you will see the iconic sleek black walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Honoring the men and women who served in the Vietnam War

Safety

As a D.C. local who is familiar with our traffic and someone who was seriously injured when hit by a car while walking in a crosswalk, safety was my number one concern. 

The company provides helmets and safety vests for visibility. More importantly, the route was carefully chosen so that you do very little riding in the street, instead circulating on bike paths or in car-free areas. The mama bear in me felt that the tour was perfectly safe for both me and my children.

The Monuments and Memorials Bicycle Tours in D.C. use many car-free paths for safety.
No cars here. Much of the tour uses pedestrian and bicycle paths like this one.

Accuracy

Have you ever been on a tour in a new place and wondered whether the guides were just making up stories? As D.C. locals, we were in a unique position to assess whether our guide actually knew what he was talking about. I’m happy to report that he did! His commentary included a mix of straight-up history and quirky stories, making it informative and fun. 

Overall bike tour experience 

This was our top Washington, D.C. bike tour recommendation. I thought this was a fun, safe way to cover a lot of ground in a short time (without feeling rushed). Teenager #1 said it was “cool, and there were some things I didn’t know even though I live here” (although he declared the safety vests “lame”). Teenager #2 thought “biking was so much better than walking” to see the monuments.  

The company also offers bike tours in: Barcelona, Berlin, Chicago, Florence, London, Milan, Munich, New Orleans, Paris, Rome, and San Francisco.

We enjoyed the experience so much that we decided to become affiliates.  If you choose to book any Fat Tire bike or Segway tour, please consider using one of the links in this post, so they know that you found them through The Trip Takes Us. Happy pedaling!