Nearly 20 million people travel to Washington from all over the world each year, and for most, a visit to DC's monuments is the first stop on the list of things to see and do. This number is certainly a strong indicator of just how well-known and well-loved these memorial landmarks and stoic symbols of Americana have become. The White House is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. The U.S. Capitol Building signifies our political foundation and is strikingly beautiful—even when covered with restoration scaffolding, as it has been this year. Honest Abe's seat at the edge of the Reflecting Pool stories tales of our progression to unity during the Civil War. The newly erected statue of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is the most recent addition to the architectural portfolio; and the Washington Monument towers over it all like a tall, skinny, protective father—much like the man himself.
Add to that list the many memorials unmentioned here and you have quite a collection of places to must-see-and-do—and one of the easiest and most fun ways to do so is by bike.
Navigating through the memorials on a bike is made easy, as there is a 15-20 mile partially paved and partially gravel path that weaves throughout them. This allows riders to pick and choose their favorite stops, and to see as much or as little as desired.
Here are our recommendations on how to best experience the capitol's monuments on a two-wheeled tour.
Guided Bike Tours:
If you want to be led by a local expert, sign up for a guided tour that provides bicycle gear and instruction—this is a smart option for groups, those toting children, and for those who don't know the city well and want to be careful while moving through highly trafficked areas. There are tours by day, at sunset, and under the mid-Atlantic night sky. Another great thing about guided tours is the added value of learning about the history of the memorials and what they represent.
Take the guesswork out of mapping your own route by tagging up with Bike and Roll. This outfit is an area favorite because it offers a variety of options that please many, including bike tours (this includes a nighttime bike tour when the monuments are all lit up), walking and Segway tours, and boat excursions around the nearby Potomac River. Capital Sites Bike Tour is another great option. They take visitors to major points of interest around the National Mall while sharing fascinating facts about Washington politics, parks, mysteries, spies, and scandals along the way.
Self-Guided Bike Tours:
Grab your bike, a helmet, and an official bike map of the monuments provided by the city of DC and head out on a self-guided tour. It's a 20-ish mile route that takes you to and among the most prized historical landmarks the capitol city has to offer. Ready to see the best of the best? A typical itinerary starts from the steps of the Capitol Building and has you ride along the U.S. National Mall and past the Washington Monument.
You will then continue on past both the World War II and Vietnam memorials, the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool, and the Iwo Jima Memorial.
The map then heads you along to Arlington Cemetery, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial, Tidal Basin (arguably the best spot to view the cherry blossoms in the spring), Jefferson Memorial, and finally, the White House and Layfayette Park.
For an excellent mid-ride cup of coffee, Peregrine Espresso has three locations in DC, and all offer fantastic espresso drinks and pour over coffees. A mid-ride picnic anywhere in the National Mall is also never a bad idea. And if you're able to extend your ride into the early evening when the sun is setting over the Capitol, you'll be treated to peerless sunset views of the monuments. The marble and granite of the Washington Memorial, in particular, absorbs the sun's rays with a warm golden glow that's worthy of more than a few snapshots.
If you come to DC with hopes of taking in all the history of the nation's capitol as you can, then hop on a bike and get to pedaling. There's a lot to see and do.