For a tourist, a bike is the ideal way to get around Washington, D.C. You can cover much more ground at a faster pace, yet still have the pleasure of still seeing things up close and in person. Traffic and parking hassles disappear, and you always have the option to stop when and where you want when you see something interesting. To get you started, here's a guide to bike riding in Washington, D.C.
Seeing the Sights By Bike
The main place to visit as a tourist in Washington, D.C., is certainly the National Mall. This is a two-mile (3 km) long strip of open space between the U.S. Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial that houses the most well-known and significant collection of American monuments and memorials in the U.S. Sites include the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the WWII Memorial, the Smithsonian museums and much more.
Roughly rectangular, the National Mall lies between Independence and Constitution Aves. on the north and south and goes from the Potomac River on the west to Capitol Hill on the east. A spur to the north includes the White House and its grounds and a second addition on the northeast corner goes to Union Station.
Is walking it possible? Sure, though it would take you perhaps 45-60 minutes to go from one end to another. That's at a decent pace without stopping to look at anything. Would a bike be much better? You bet. The mall features several different options for riding, from hard-packed paths or sidewalks to riding on-street, where you'll find many other cyclists sharing space with drivers who are generally courteous and observant of people on bikes.
You can easily spend a couple of days biking around the mall, checking out the many museums and monuments. Your feet, your wallet (no parking or tolls, remember?) and your schedule will all thank you for the convenience offered by taking it all in on a bike.
If you have concerns about your fitness level, certainly check with your doctor first but also realize a five mile bike ride spread out over a half or full day is generally going to be no sweat for most people. It's basically flat in the heart of DC, and it's certainly worlds easier than walking that distance.
Where to Get a Bike
Generally when you travel somewhere there are a number of options on where to find a bike. Specifically, however, in D.C., for renting a bike I recommend Bike-N-Roll for several reasons. First, the company has convenient locations in both DC, situated just 1.5 blocks north of the National Mall, at 12th Street NW at the Old Post Office Pavilion, and in Alexandria, which has a very popular old-town area ideal for riding and sight-seeing. Second, their staff is helpful and friendly, glad to handle questions about their bikes and getting them set up to fit you just right. Plus, they're full of tips for riding in DC and special insider suggestions of places to go that are off the radar for most tourist. Rates are reasonable, too, with bikes starting at $10 for two hours' rental, with half-day, full day and weekly deals available as well.