Jefferson Memorial Lake

An Unforgettable DIY Washington DC Bike Tour Around the Mall at Sunset

Last updated on August 16th, 2019

Washington DC has some of the weirdest perceptions like “everything is free”. Truly, you will be amazed and the number of things you can just walk into without being charged. But then when you try to eat, sleep or get around everything costs double what it normally would. Tours are a perfect example. There are plenty around the city. You can take a Bus, Bike, Scooter or Segway to see all the historical sights. But what if you could do it yourself? Oh yeah, you can! Here is how I took at DIY Washington DC Bike Tour of the best monuments for less than $8 per person.

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The DIY Capital Bike Tour

Start by finding a reputable but inexpensive bike rental company. Biking is a great way to see just about everything! My preferred rental company and by far the cheapest is through Capital Bikeshare. They have a 30 min time limit but you can’t beat their price for $8 pass for 24hrs. You can rent scooters too, but they cost a little more.

Washington DC is so much fun to see, especially at night when everything is lit up. That’s why I recommend starting at dusk to see it all. The other benefit to going at night is because you’ll have the sidewalks to yourself. The other alternative is to do it at daybreak.

You can start just about anywhere in the tour, depending on what you want to see, but here is the route we did, and it ended up getting some of the most amazing lite.

Stop 1: Get Your Bike

First things first, pick up a bike at the station right out front of the Washington Monument. Don’t worry, we’ll end our tour here too so you can get pictures before or after. Go west toward the WWII Memorial. I started my journey around 7 pm in May and found the light to be perfect.

Capitol Bikes on the Washington DC Mall

Stop 2: WWII Memorial

The WWII Memorial is one of the most recent additions to the Mall. Located between the Washington Monument and the reflecting pool, the monument was not as accessible by bike. And during dusk, with it’s proximity to water, it was a little buggier. But still impressive to see. The area will still be busy, so hang on to your bikes, and walk them over.

WWII Memorial in Washington DC
Image Source: Pixbay

Stop 3: Korean War and Vietnam Memorial

The Vietnam Memorial is right next to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Dock your bikes at the nearby stations and wander around the memorial. At the time of my visit, the Rolling Thunder bike rally was holding a candlelight visual so I wasn’t able to get too close to it. Normally the memorial is light up at night. At around 7 pm you’ll have some great reflective light.

Vietnam Memorial wall at night
Image by HarmonyRae licensed under Creative Commons.

Stop 4: Lincoln Memorial (just after sunset)

Try and time your visit as the sun is going down. This way you’ll get the full effects of the reflecting pond. After that, go around the Lincoln Memorial. It’s something that most people don’t realize you can do. Walking around the columns you’ll be able to get a view of the entire capital.

Lincoln Memorial
Reflecting Pond at the Washington Monument
Lincoln Memorial Abe
Sunset at the Lincoln Memorial

Stop 5: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Pick up a bike again at the bike station just south of the Lincoln Memorial off of Donald French Dr and head east on Independence Avenue. At this point of the night, most people are going back to their hotels for the night so you’ll have the sidewalks to yourself. Cross the street at West Drive and walk your bikes to the Martin Luther King Memorial. It’s feet from the sidewalk, so you won’t have to walk far.

Martin Luther King Memorial
Image Source: Pixbay

Stop 6: FDR Memorial

This is where things get tricky. Follow the next sidewalk around the Tidal Basin. There is a series of sidewalks you can bike on that goes through the trees. And another set right up next to the lake. The lake one is not intended for bikes, so pick the one to the right. You’ll wander right into the Japanese Pagoda area and the FDR Memorial. Watch out for the signs telling you to walk your bikes. It kinda sneaks up on you when it’s dark.  There is a bike dock a near Ohio Drive and West Basin Drive if you want to spend more time there. Otherwise, you should be able to walk your bike through the monument.

The FDR Memorial at night

Stop 7: Thomas Jefferson Memorial

The crown jewel of the entire ride is Thomas Jefferson Memorial. There is a bike dock outside of the monument. If you are getting close to your 30-minute time limit, this is a good place to dock. I enjoyed this memorial more than Lincoln because there are little to no crowds here. It was beautifully done and gave some of the best views of the city.

Jefferson Memorial
Inside Jefferson Memorial

Stop 8: Washington Monument

Grab a bike again from the same place you dropped them off and continue around the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. By this time you’ll be able to see the Washington Monument again all lit up. You can either conclude your tour here as you’ve made the full loop or continue on a few blocks north to the White House.

Washington Monument Daylight

Stop 9: The White House

The White House can be bike around completely for a look at both the front and the back. Stay on 15th Street and turn right onto Pennsylvania Ave. Then back south on 17th street and around to see the back. At this time of night, there will not be many people on the street.

White House at Night

Image by The White House licensed under Creative Commons.

CapitalBike Share Tips at Night

Before you leave a dock, take note of the time you left. You’ll have 30 minutes per ride, then you’ll have to doc the bike, and take another one out after 1 minute. Unless you are familiar with the area, I recommend planning on getting to your next dock within 20-25 minutes in case you have troubles finding it. You can download the Capitol Bikeshare app to help you navigate.

In DC, they limit light pollution and rely on the memorials to light up the streets. That means, there is little to no sidewalk lights. This makes things a little harder around the Tidal basin area.  Take things slow and make sure you have a flashlight just in case. The Capital Bikeshare bikes have a flashing light on the front that helps, but is more so people and see you. There were times we ended up using our phone’s flashlight to help us navigate around.

Do not let go of your bike around the Washington Monument. This time of night is when everyone is tired after a long day, there are little to no bikes available. Even if you end up having to spend a few extra dollars to keep the bikes, it’s worth it.

Traditional Tours Options

If you are really not into biking or are directional you can check out these tours:

Washington DC Guided Night Tour By: USA Guided Tours. You’ll see the same stuff but on a bus.

Washington DC Monuments by Moonlight Electric Cart Tour By: Washington DC Urban Adventures. This is a more private adventure

See the City Segway Tour By: Capital Segway Tours. These are just too fun to not do.

Daylight version of the bike tour try out Washington DC Monuments Bike Tour By: Bike and Roll DC.

Only have an hour

If you don’t want to do a full blown DIY Washington DC Bike Tour, just do a miniature version. Hit up the 4. Start at the Washington Monument and work your way to the Lincoln Memorial. Stopping at the WWII Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial Wall. Have fun and enjoy some more of the best parts of Washington DC.

Taking a self-guided tour is a great way to save a few dollars and see the things that are important to you. There is no rush unless you are trying to get your biked docked, and you can keep going if things don’t interest you. But in DC, it’s hard to go wrong. If all else fails, you always can always UBER back at any point.

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