Which Washington DC Bus Tours Are Best? (Updated for 2021)

This post compares the various Washington, DC bus tour options available to you.

We included hop-on-hop-off tours, more premium shuttle bus services, and even a free, self-guided option.

This post was updated in April 2021.

Let’s get rolling! 

 

Disclosure: While we think you should take our free walking tours, we understand they may not be best for everyone. Therefore, we have compared available DC bus Tours. While our recommendations are always unbiased, we may receive a small share of sales through some of the links below at no cost to you. See the full text.

HOP-ON-HOP-OFF DC BUS TOURS

There are a lot of great services in Washington DC which offer commentary and transportation to all of the most popular and historic sites in the area.

These bus tours allow you to jump off at any stop and get a closer look at any landmark you want to see.

These services typically provide both reliable transportation and either live or pre-recorded commentary (in up to 11 languages) about the locations you will be visiting.

 

Hop on Hop off Bus Washington DC

 

Prices start at about $40-$50 for an adult ticket and $25-35 for children. Each ticket is available for either 1 or 2 days, and the 2-day tickets often include additional attractions or activities.


Old Town Trolley

These open-air but covered historic trolley cars take you around the city with a driver/guide narrating the entire way.

 

 

They provide plastic window coverings for less than ideal weather, and some of the newer trolleys are raised so you’re sitting above the cars.

From this vantage point, it’s a lot easier to see all of the notable sites around Washington, DC!  

Hotel Shuttle Service is provided at select hotels and times. Tours are only in English.

You’ll have the option to hop on or off at over a dozen different locations on two loops and explore the area at your own pace.

While the blue loop will take you around the National Mall to see all the memorials and downtown DC, the red loop is essentially a shuttle that provides transport to and from Arlington National cemetery.

 

Old Town Trolly DC Route Map 

You can then hop on another of their vehicles for a trolley tour of the cemetery, but this costs extra.

For more on how to visit Arlington National Cemetery once you’re there, check our Guide to ANC.

They also offer a 2.5-hour Memorials by Moonlight tour that begins at Union Station.

Ticket Prices

$49/Adults | $33/Children

  • Includes 24-hour access to the blue loop.
  • Includes shuttle to Arlington National Cemetery.
  • Free for kids 3 and under with parental figure.

You can also upgrade to include the tram tour of Arlington National Cemetery (though we also offer a 2 hour Arlington Cemetery walking tour where you get more in depth information) or add on a cruise during the summer months.

Hours

  • 9 am – 5 pm daily
  • Buses run every 30 minutes
  • Arlington National Cemetery shuttle:
    • 9 am – 4 pm (Oct-Mar)
    • 9 am – 6 pm (Apr-Sept)

Reviews

This tour company has earned a 4 ½ out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide. (read the reviews)

Thousands of passengers have had an excellent trip while on the Old Town Trolley, and that’s definitely a good sign.

Although some guests have left negative feedback, few of their complaints indicate a common problem that anyone should be concerned about.

A majority of reviewers have said that their guides provided a wealth of valuable information and made the journey very enjoyable.

 


Big Bus Tours

Big Bus, which operates double-decker, open-top brown buses, is a company you may have seen in other cities throughout the world.

This tour has three different loops around the city depending on which areas you want to see.

There are many connection points that will allow you to hop on and hop off any of the lines!

 

 

The red loop is their official tour of the National Mall, including stops at all the major Smithsonian museums, monuments, and memorials. 

This loop features live, English speaking guides along with alternative pre-recorded commentary in 8 different languages.

The blue loop will take you to the Arlington National Cemetery and Pentagon City. This is a recorded commentary tour, and it is also offered in 8 languages including English.

The yellow loop goes to Georgetown and even further Northwest to the National Zoo and National Cathedral. Commentary is only available in English. (this route has been discontinued but we offer Georgetown walking tours! )

 

Click on map for a larger view

Big Bus DC Route Map
 

There are a few different ticket options for the Big Bus Tours.

Passes come in 1 or 2 days versions. All 2-day passes include free admission to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum (currently closed due to COVID restrictions, please check before purchasing)

The Deluxe 2-Day Pass also includes a Potomac River cruise.


Ticket Prices

Classic Tour: $50/Adults | $40/Children

  • 1-day hop-on-hop-off bus tour.
  • Included in Go DC tourist discount pass.
  • Free for kids 4 and under with parental figure.

Premium Tour: $54/Adults | $45/Children

  • 2-day hop-on-hop-off bus tour.
  • Includes admission to Madame Tussauds (currently closed due to COVID)
  • Free for kids 4 and under with parental figure.

Deluxe Tour: $63/Adults | $54/Children

  • 2-day hop-on-hop-off bus tour.
  • Includes admission to Madame Tussauds. (currently closed due to COVID)
  • Includes Night Tour (Thurs – Sun Only)
  • Free for kids 4 and under with parental figure.

Night Tour: $46/Adults | $36/Children (Thurs-Sun Only)

Purchase tickets or learn more.

Hours

  • 9 am – 5 pm daily
  • Buses run every 1 hour.

Reviews

With a 3 ½ out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor, it’s fair to say that Big Bus Tours is a bit of a mixed bag for most customers. 

This rating, while lower than the previous two mentioned competitors, is aligned with what most hop-on-hop-off tours receive worldwide.

 


CitySights DC Bus Tours

Much like some of their competitors, this company offers three different loops which will take you to all the most popular areas in Washington DC.

The red loop covers all the monuments and memorials, the yellow loop takes you to Georgetown and the National Cathedral, and the purple loop is a shuttle to the Arlington National Cemetery.

 

 

Unfortunately, this service does not include a tour of Arlington Cemetery. Check our guide to ANC for details about touring the historic site.

CitySights DC offers a 24 hour and 48 hours loop option. There are also shorter express options available.

With 41 different stops, the best bet is the 48-hour pass.

These double-decker bus tours offer pre-recorded commentary in 11 languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Mandarin, Japanese, Russian, Hebrew, and Portuguese! 


Ticket Prices

Use the coupon code “TravelDC” to save 15% off the prices below.

24-Hour Pass: $50/Adults | $40/Children

  • 1-day hop-on-hop-off bus tour.
  • Free for kids 2 years or under with parental figure.
  • Included with the SightseeingDC Pass.

24-Hour Pass Combo: $55/Adults | $40/Children

  • 1-day hop-on-hop-off bus tour.
  • Includes admission to one attraction of your choice.
  • Free for kids 2 years or under with parental figure.

48-Hour Pass: $54/Adults | $45/Children

  • 2-day hop-on-hop-off bus tour.
  • Includes admission to Madame Tussauds (currently closed due to COVID. Please check if this is important to you!) 
  • Free for kids 2 years or under with parental figure.

Click here to purchase tickets


Hours

  • 9 am – 5 pm
  • Buses every 10-30 minutes depending on the loop.
  • The yellow loop ends at 4 pm.

Reviews

Unfortunately, this company has a far less stellar record than its competitors. 

Complaints range from poor customer service and guides to long wait times. This definitely isn’t a good sign for a hop-on-hop-off bus tour.

That being said, they do have hundreds of 5-star reviews indicating that negative experiences may not be as frequent as they seem.

Those who did enjoy their experience stated that their guides were highly informative. Positive comments also focus on all of the extras that you’ll receive with their 2 and 3-day tickets.

If you’re looking for a good deal and willing to take a chance, CitySights DC could be a good option.

 


GUIDED SIGHTSEEING BUS TOURS OF DC 

Hop-on-hop-off bus tours are not for everyone, especially if you don’t like waiting for buses or you only have a short amount of time in DC.  

This section compares the various tours available in DC, from a small group (less than 11 passengers) to bus shuttle tours (up to 25-33 passengers) and coach buses (up to 55 passengers).  

 

Washington DC Bus Tours

 

Sometimes, the tours are what is referred to as driver-guide, where your driver doubles as your tour guide, which means that you will explore each attraction on your own.

Other tours offer both a driver and a guide, where the guide will get off the bus with you at each stop and conduct a guided walking tour. 

Many of the options here include hotel pick-up and you will have the same bus and the same driver (and maybe tour guide) for the entire tour.

One of the biggest advantages of these types of tours is that they are usually more in-depth than traditional hop-on-hop-off tours.

They could be of great value if you are short on time, as it will take you much longer to see the same number of sights with the hop-on-hop-off buses.  

This may not be the best option for those who do like to take their time at an attraction.


USA GUIDED TOURS

This company provides a variety of high-quality bus tours that will take you around Washington, D.C. in shuttle buses (up to 33 passengers).

All of their tours include both a driver as well as a tour guide, and your tour guide will get off the bus and give you walking tours of each stop, while your bus and driver wait for you.

 

 

In a sense, these are premium tours. Having both a driver and a tour guide means more cost to the company, and this is reflected in their prices.  

For some, this enhancement is well worth the premium paid, especially considering the reviews.  

With the exception of their night tour, most of their tours are 5 hours or longer.

TIP: They also offer tours in New York City and you are entitled to a discount if you book tours in both cities.  


Reviews of USA Guided Tours DC

When we said these tours were high quality, we weren’t lying: this company has a 4 ½ out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide. 

Having the tour guide to guide you through the memorials is by far the biggest hit.


Tickets

DC Highlights Tour

This is their base tour. It begins at 10 am daily and lasts for 4 hours.  

This part-bus, part-walking tour includes guided stops at the U.S. Capitol Building, the White House, Washington Monument as well as the Lincoln and MLK Memorials and the Vietnam War and Korean War Veterans Memorials.  

They also offer a combination of this tour with a tour of Arlington National Cemetery for an additional $25/adult.


Discover DC

If you want to explore pretty much every notable monument and landmark in D.C. and take a 1-hour cruise on the Potomac River, then consider the Discover DC Tour.

This 6 hour tour will take you to all locations listed on their Highlights Tour plus: the World War II Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.  

There is a lunch break included on the tour as you are cruising on the Potomac. During the winter, the Potomac cruise is substituted by a visit to the Pentagon City Mall food court.

TIP: If you are planning on visiting NYC, you will get 30% off the Discover NYC Tour (normally $84) if you purchase it at the same time as your Discover DC Tour.

You will need to call USA Guided Tours to confirm your NYC tour date.


VIP Exclusive Washington DC City Tour

This 8-hour tour is actually the Discover DC tour above with a VIP add-on at the beginning and the end.

You’ll meet your guide early for reserved tickets to tour inside the US Capitol Building.

The 45-minute tour and film have reserved tickets so you don’t have to worry about it being sold out.

After your day of sightseeing and boat cruises (summer only), you’ll be dropped off at the National Archives, again with reserved time tickets so you don’t have to worry about waiting in line.

UNTIL FEDERAL BUILDINGS REOPEN, THIS TOUR DOES NOT INCLUDE ENTRANCE INTO THE US CAPITOL OR ARCHIVES.


DC Bus TourSkyview Convertible Bus Tour

On this convertible minibus – think open-top minivan – you get to experience a guided tour with panoramic views without the glare of a window in the photos!

A 4-hour guided bus tour takes you through both the highlights of Washington DC but also Old Town Alexandria and National Harbor, with its great view of the DC skyline and a chance to ride the Capital Wheel.

  • $69 – Adults | $59 -Child (3-12)
  • Time: 10am-4pm
  • Starting / Ending Location: Navy Memorial, Pennsylvania Ave NW
  • Lunch and tickets to the Capital Wheel not included but you’ll have a break at the National Harbor to do both if you choose.
  • Free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance
  • Purchase your Skyview Convertible Bus Tickets.

BI-PARTISAN TOURS

Bi-Partisan Tours uses much smaller buses (Sprinters) which seat no more than 11 passengers per trip.

With fewer tourists to look after, it’s a lot easier to make sure that everyone enjoys their experience.

Although you won’t have a tour guide get off the bus with you, these driver-guides do pride themselves on offering a unique and interesting look at Washington, DC.  

With the smaller groups, comes higher prices, but this will seem like a good trade-off for some.

They do offer limited hotel pick-up and drop-off, which is a nice bonus.

They also offer a nighttime tour.  


Tours + Prices

Morning DC Small-Group Bus Tour.  4 hours.

The Morning DC Tour is sort of an early bird deal, giving you a chance to experience the best that Washington D.C. has to offer for a discounted rate.

You’ll visit historic sites such as the White House, the US Capitol, the Abraham Lincoln Memorial, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

Each stop lasts about 10-20 minutes, giving you the opportunity to learn all about American history while seeing some of the greatest American landmarks up close!

  • $60 for Adults
  • $48 for Children
  • This tour is also offered as a nighttime tour.

Dynamite Day Tour  6 hours.  

If you want to spend a bit more time exploring the nation’s capital, consider the Dynamite Day Tour instead.

Running for approximately 6-7 hours, this trip will take you to several additional historic locations such as the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court, and Embassy Row. 

  • $81 for Adults
  • $57 for Children

Tours are available every day, rain or shine.  They also offer a nighttime tour.  


Reviews of Bi-Partisan Tours

It would appear that most of their customers really appreciate the personal touch because Bi-Partisan Tours has a 5 out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor and Viator (read the reviews).

Every other review is 5 stars, and many of them refer to these bus tours as a “must do.” Several passengers felt that this was the best tour in Washington, DC.

Everyone seems to love their tour guides, and it’s not hard to see why when they can provide more of a personal touch thanks to smaller group sizes. 

 


SIGNATURE TOURS 

Similar to USA Guided Tours, this well-reviewed tour company offers a shuttle bus with both a driver and a tour guide.   

With the good reviews come higher prices. This company offers a 3-hour as well as a 6-hour version of a highlight tour.

They also offer free cancellation up to 24 hours before your tour.


Ticket Prices

3 Hour Morning Tour (daily at 10:30 am)

6 Hour Day Tour

Reviews of Signature Tours

The tickets are one of the more expensive for this type of tours, but Signature Tours has one of the highest ratings of all the services on this list.

With a full 5 out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (read some of the reviews), you can feel fairly secure about a ticket purchase from this tour company.

 


ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY TROLLEY

Arlington Cemetery Tours (operated by Historic Tours of America) is the only company permitted to offer vehicle tours of the cemetery.

 

 

They offer both open-air trams and enclosed vehicles for varying weather conditions.

Several tour companies listed above also offer combination tickets that include an ANC tour. 

If you choose a bus tour ticket that doesn’t include the cemetery, then consider taking our walking tour as well as reading our GPS-enabled audio tour


Ticket Prices:

Reviews of Arlington Cemetery Trolley

It looks like most of the guests who have taken this tour enjoyed themselves, as the company currently has a 4 out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor. 

Fortunately, few of the complaints had anything in common, so it’s not likely that these issues are indicative of a larger problem.  


USA GUIDED TOURS

If you’re hoping to experience both Mount Vernon and Arlington National Cemetery, this company offers a combo tour that includes a visit to both locations.

Clocking in at a total of 6 hours, the trip begins with a journey to George Washington’s estate and finishes off with a guided walk-through of ANC. 

Prices are a lot higher than a trolley ticket, but you’ll also get a lot more bang for your buck.

USA Guided Tours currently has an overall rating of 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor. The majority of reviewers absolutely adored this trip to Mount Vernon and Arlington.

Some guests even indicated that their tour guides managed to keep younger visitors entertained throughout the excursion.

This combo package is especially popular among families and couples.

 


DC DUCKS

Sadly, DC Duck tours have closed!


NIGHT BUS TOURS OF DC

There is something truly beautiful about seeing the famous monuments and historic locations in Washington, DC all lit up at night. 

 

 

Thankfully, there are a lot of night bus tours offered by the services listed above. For those that we have listed above, we won’t repeat the company overviews.  

Tours range from large group double-deck open-top buses to smaller, more intimate (and more expensive) shuttle buses.  


USA GUIDED TOURS

DC at Dusk

USA Guided Tours is one of the better-reviewed bus tour companies in DC.

The DC at Dusk Tour has both a driver and a tour guide and your tour guide will join you for guided strolls through each stop, which is helpful as sometimes the sights cannot be fully experienced from the road. 

This is a premium service with a maximum of 30 guests per tour and thus reflected in the prices.  

The tour stops at and includes guided walking tours at the following locations:

  • US Capitol Building
  • White House
  • World War II Memorial
  • Jefferson Memorial
  • Martin Luther King Memorial
  • Korean War Memorial
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • Vietnam Memorial

Hotel Pick Up can be arranged via select hotels, otherwise, you can meet your tour at the Naval Memorial conveniently located downtown on Pennsylvania Ave NW – there is a Metro station right there on the Green/Yellow lines.

  • 3-hour tour departing at 7:30 pm.
  • Free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance
  • $58 for Adults (additional fee for hotel pick up)
  • $44 for Children (additional fee for hotel pick up)

Purchase your tickets here.


BIG BUS DC NIGHT TOUR

This two-hour tour begins just after the sun goes down, allowing you to see what the nation’s capital looks like after dark.

Unlike their other offerings, the Big Bus Night Tour includes a live guide that will explain the significance of every landmark on your journey.  

The night tour is not a hop-on-hop-off tour like their day tours, rather you will see most of the sights listed on their page from the bus.

However, the tour does include 1 stop where your tour guide will accompany you to the Lincoln, Vietnam, and Korean War Memorials.  

Reviews of Big Bus’s night tour are better than the company as a whole.

This is probably due to the fact that passengers are guaranteed one bus for the entire evening and will not have to wait for the next bus, as they do with the daytime hop-on, hop-off tours.

2 Hour Tour

NOTE: The night tour is included in the price for the 2 days all-inclusive ticket, which is just $20 more per adult.

Purchase your tickets here.

 


OLD TOWN TROLLEY MONUMENTS BY MOONLIGHT TOUR

In addition to their hop-on-hop-off National Mall and their Arlington National Cemetery trolley services, Old Town Trolley also offers a night tour.

Professional guides will lead you around the city and provide a plethora of information about the history of our nation.

This is not a hop-on-hop-off tour, rather you will make 3 stops with your tour guide, as opposed to Big Bus’s 1 stop, including a stop at the Iwo Jima Memorial.  

Like Big Bus, Old Town Trolley’s night tour gets good overall reviews. Complaints seem to be the chaotic boarding processes and plastic windows, but the vast majority rate this tour very good to excellent.

2 ½ Hour Tour

 


BI-PARTISAN TOURS

DC Bus TourEpic Evening Bus Tour

Discover all of the most significant locations in DC during the evening!  There are a few good points for this tour.

  • First, it’s a small group (up to 11 people) tours.
  • Second, Bi-Partisan Tours is one of the highest-rated tour companies.
  • Third, this night tour visits the Air Force Memorial, which most other companies don’t do, and this stop is a real treat at night.

However, this is a driver-guide only tour, so there is no tour guide to accompany you through the memorials which can be a negative if you have any questions while at the sites since many sites cannot be seen from the coach.

With that said, none of the reviewers seem to have any issues with this aspect and the guided bus portion seems to make up for it.

They do offer hotel pick up and drop off.

As the tour is a small group, they do allow flexibility with the itinerary and are sometimes are able to incorporate a specific request like Embassy Row or the Kennedy Center.

  • 4 hours starting at 7 pm.
  • $60 for Adults
  • $48 for Children

Purchase your tickets here.

 


BUS TOURS TO MOUNT VERNON AND OTHER DAY TRIPS

Several DC bus tour operators offer bus tours to Mount Vernon Estate, the home of George Washington, which lies 16 miles (25 km) south of the District of Columbia.  

 

 

Other tours will visit Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello as well as Gettysburg Battlefield Park.  

Additional popular day trips from DC include Yorktown, Colonial Williamsburg, Harper’s Ferry, NYC, and vineyard and winery tours.


Bus Tours to Mount Vernon Estate

Most Bus Companies have stopped their Mount Vernon Tours at the moment.

There are a few bus companies with regularly scheduled tours from Washington, D.C. to Mount Vernon.  

Expect the tour to last 5 – 6 hours round trip, unless the tour includes a stop in Arlington National Cemetery, which will add 2 hours to the trip.  

Most tours pass through Old Town Alexandria for a quick view.  

Be sure to read our guide to Mount Vernon Estate before you go.  

It is also possible to take mass transit to the estate as well as a boat cruise.

NOTE: Entry to Mount Vernon is included for free with the purchase of the Explorer Pass, a tourist attraction discount pass.  


USA Guided Tours

There is still one option for a private luxury bus or mini van half day tour that includes Mount Vernon and Old Town Alexandria.

This tour includes transportation to and from Washington DC with stops in Old Town Alexandria and Mount Vernon. You’ll have a live guide and a entrance tickets to tour inside the mansion at Mount Vernon.

It has great reviews about the cleanliness of the bus, the professionalism and knowledge of the guide and the quality of the tour stops.

Purchase your tickets here.

 


Self Guided Bus Tour

Use our Guide to the Circulator’s National Mall route as a self-guided bus tour of the memorials and museums.

About the author

Canden is a historian and tour guide in Washington DC with 3 published books about the city. She has written for HuffPost Travel and has been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. She's also been interviewed by the Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. Canden is the host of our podcast, Tour Guide Tell All

With a M.A. in History from University College London and a B.A. in History from Elon University, she is an authority on D.C. history, and has led tours in the city for over 10 years. She currently resides in DC, but has also lived in London and South Korea, and has travelled to 25 countries. Her two children (both under the age of 3) have their passports and own frequent flier accounts.

Tags: