Places to Go - Double Decker Bus Tour! (Washington DC and Arlington, VA)


It feels dorkily exhilarating to spend a day as a tourist in your own town. I'm now convinced that if you have small children there is no better way to do so than Gray Lines' Double Decker hop on hop off bus tour. At the beginning of last summer my friend's daughter, E, saw 101 Dalmatians II and begged to ride on the top of a double-decker bus. When I discovered that Goldstar sells tickets for 50% off Tuesday - Thursday, we decided it would be the perfect end of the summer adventure before kindergarten began. If you miss out on the Goldstar deal, full price 24 hour tickets cost $35 for adults and $18 for kids 4-12 (under 4 are free). Two day passes cost $40 for adults and $20 for kids.


We started the tour in Pentagon City and wow was it fun to cruise the highway on top of a gigantic bus, the kids said it felt like we were on a bus-plane and it really did. The Arlington buses weren't very crowded (as you can tell from the picture above) so it sort of felt like a private tour. Once we entered the city, we had beautiful views of all the monuments and buildings. The bus speaker system broadcasts interesting facts about the structures and places, most of which I had never heard before.


We took the blue line bus to the Lincoln Memorial (three bus routes make up the tour - yellow, blue, and red and, ideally, you'll want to ride them all) where the kids enjoyed running in the grass for awhile and trying to climb all the old trees.


After running around the lawns, we walked to the top of the Lincoln Memorial, where the kids all decided to dance by the side wall. As they were out of the way of the main attraction, I didn't really see a problem with this, but lots of tourists kept looking at us like "what is going on here?" Oh well, as I see it Lincoln needs some people to dance by his side once in awhile, it has to get lonely up there.


After visiting our nation's 16th president, we decided to walk over to the FDR memorial, which was sort of a haul with the kids. On the upside, we ran across the brand spanking new Martin Luther King memorial without even realizing where we were (I find the geography of the National Mall a little confusing in practice). The MLK memorial has been the subject of a lot of controversy here in DC (why use white stone? was he accurately quoted? does he look too angry? etc.) but I found the whole thing so beautiful and tasteful and just lovely, especially the mountain-like entrance. Both my friend J and I almost started crying as we tried to explain to the kids who this man was and why we honor him. Plus, explaining the concept of racism to kids who have grown up in multicultural classrooms with friends of all colors and nationalities is always tricky. It's something they (luckily) haven't encountered yet (and for that I always feel fortunate).


The MLK memorial sits on the Tidal Basin, so we snacked by the water and fed goldfish crackers to the ducks. I always forget how beautiful and peaceful it feels to relax by the Tidal Basin. I wish we went here more often (but the parking, oh the parking).


From the tidal basin we walked over to the FDR memorial. I'd never been there before but my friend, J, insists that it is the most beautiful place in the city and she might be right. It's huge with beautiful waterfalls everywhere (none of my pics of the waterfalls turned out very well, so I highly suggest checking them out yourself). The statue of the men in the breadline almost made me cry (it was an emotional day for some reason). Plus the kids loved climbing on the large rocks placed throughout the monument. By this point the children were exhausted so we hopped back on our tour and prepared for a mellow bus-riding afternoon.


I took a million pictures of monuments, buildings, light, shadows, etc. but these two pretty much capture the day. DC looks so peaceful and lovely from above (I wish this sense of peace existed everywhere in our city). My friend's toddler even fell asleep in her arms. And we drove through parts of the district I'd never even seen before - wow, the National Cathedral really is as breathtaking as everyone says.


As much as we loved seeing the sights, for the kids the highlight of the day was probably the "bus roller-coaster." Once we crossed into north DC the trees branches hung pretty low. So low that we all ducked for cover. A little scary for adults. But for kids "the most fun ever." They shouted, the laughed, they screamed, they made my day.

Seriously, a perfect adventure. And we didn't even need strollers. I now consider the double-decker bus a MUST DO DC ACTIVITY. I can think of few better ways to enjoy a nice fall day.


  1. The FDR memorial is absolutely my favorite.
    Is that a giant flock of Mormons?

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