Tour Extravaganza Offers New Way to Explore the Hill

Weekend Will Feature More Than 80 Free, Guided Walks and Bike Rides Around D.C.

Posted April 23, 2008 at 5:54pm

For those looking to learn more about Washington, D.C.’s heritage and culture while enjoying the spring weather, a series of tours this weekend could hit the spot.

“WalkingTown D.C.” features 80 free tours — some on foot and some by bicycle — on Saturday and Sunday, aimed at highlighting the history of different neighborhoods across the city. There are 17 new offerings this year.

“It’s a fun spin on learning the heritage of new areas,” said Reshma Sinanan, marketing and membership director for Cultural Tourism DC, a nonprofit coalition.

Many of the offerings highlight attractions on Capitol Hill. A Capitol Riverfront trip, for instance, will help participants get acquainted with the neighborhood surrounding the Washington Nationals’ new ballpark. The tour will include a visit to industrial buildings used by the Navy to manufacture ammunition and to a barn formerly used to store trolleys, known as the “Blue Castle.”

Other tours will wind through the Southwest waterfront area, the Congressional Cemetery and the Hill’s alleyways, which were used to hitch horses and to house the poor in the late 1800s and early 1900s. One trip will cover the history of Eastern Market and the effort to recover from the fires that ravaged the neighborhood gathering spot last year.

The tours will run anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours, Sinanan said, with the bike trips tending toward the longer side at two to three hours.

They will be led by both amateur and professional guides, Sinanan said. She added that amateur tour guides are typically longtime residents who know the neighborhood’s history from watching it change over the years.

Most of the tours don’t require reservations; participants just need to meet the tour group at the designated starting area before the tour begins. However, some of the more popular ones require reservations, which can be made by e-mail or over the phone.

One of those tours, Embassy Row, walks the group up Massachusetts Avenue and relates the stories of the families that once owned the mansions in which many embassies are now housed.

“Imagine fabulous wealth, parties and scandals of the past while glimpsing the life led by Washington’s diplomatic community today,” the Web site states. This and other tours will have American Sign Language interpreters.

Sinanan said the event has grown in popularity over the years. Last year, she said, 3,500 people showed up throughout the weekend. She is expecting just as many people this time around.

Participants must bring their own bicycles for most tours, Sinanan said. One will offer rentals at a discount, though, because it is being led by the company Bike and Roll.

The tour, “Capital Sites@Nite,” is three hours and will cover major sites in Washington including the Capitol and the monuments and memorials around the National Mall by night. The tour starts at the Bike and Roll kiosk at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest and runs from 4 to 7 p.m.

Sinanan said she hopes the event will bring people together to enjoy the city and fully experience its heritage and culture.

The event has become very community- oriented, she added. In some areas, neighbors will join together to form a tour guide group to take participants around the neighborhood together. It is very informal and friendly, she said.

“At the end, you might end up at someone’s house for iced tea and a bathroom break,” Sinanan said. “It’s a very relaxed event.”

For more information, visit culturaltourism