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Washington DC Sightseeing Pass Review: Is it Worth it?

Washington DC Sightseeing Pass Review: Is it Worth it?

Besides being home to the seat of democracy, the United States capital is full of sights to behold for travelers from across the fifty states and all over the world alike.

From Capitol Hill to the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial to the International Spy Museum, and much, much more, Washington DC contains some of the top attractions of America.

First-time visitors will be eager to hit all the sights without worrying about different tickets, tours, and breaking the bank. Those problems can be solved by certain destination passes offered at tourist hotspots which basically act like a master ticket or discount pass for individual attractions included with it.

In Washington DC, one of the top choices for something like this is the Sightseeing Pass offered by Sightseeingpass.com. But, is the pass really worth it? Can you save money or time by making this purchase in advance?

Let’s take a look at the pass in detail below and decide if it will get you to the best DC highlights at the lowest cost and most convenient way in our Washington DC Sightseeing Pass review.

Methodology

My technique for reviewing the Washington DC Sightseeing Pass is based on my personal experience from dozens of trips to our nation’s capital.

As a relatively frequent visitor and someone who does need to watch the budget, I think I can provide a fair perspective on what you should see and what value the pass brings.

With this logic, a fellow traveler should be able to make a good decision about whether they should get this destination pass or not, and if so, which version is best for them.

What is the Washington DC Sightseeing Pass?

The Washington DC Sightseeing Pass is a digital pass that a visitor would purchase and store on their phone before starting their trip.

Theoretically, you could decide to make the purchase spontaneously while standing on the National Mall; but most travelers will be more comfortable preparing something like this in advance.

The only other pass that Washington DC’s tourism website advertises is the Ivy Pass Whiskey Tasting Passport, which is not exactly a competitor and instead will take you to Mount Vernon plus the distilleries of the area.

That could be a really cool thing to do, not only for whiskey-lovers but also for history buffs who want to see the sites of the Whiskey Rebellion of the late 1700s.

There are two options to consider: the DAY Pass and the FLEX Pass, depending on the type of traveler you are and what you want to do.

The DAY Pass

The DAY Pass is advertised as best for first-time visitors who want to see as many Washington DC sights as they can, as well as families who want to see the city at their own pace and at ease with the hop-on, hop-off bus tour.

The DAY Pass is either valid for two or three days, and costs $104.30 or $139.30, respectively. Once you purchase it, you have up to 12 months to activate it by simply using it at one of the attractions it includes. Once you do that, the two or three-day clock starts.

The pass has a ton of inclusions that will get you in the door to attractions and tours for nothing. You simply scan your pass at the door in place of a ticket. Besides that, certain DC restaurants and stores offer discounts to pass holders.

Here are some of the attractions that this pass includes entrance to for free:

Besides these, the pass also gets you various discounts at restaurants and shopping in the city. It’s all tied together with the Sightseeing Pass mobile app, which can give you all of the information on your pass and help you plan your activities. 

As you can see, the DAY Pass has a ton of value. You’ll see the full price of each of those activities if you were to pay without the pass to prove it.

The FLEX Pass

This option works very similarly to the above, but as the name implies allows for a bit more flexibility in choosing only what you want to see.

If you aren’t on a big trip that has time for everything, or you’ve been to DC before and just have a few things on your list, this could be the better money-saver for you.

The FLEX Pass gets you on the hop-on, hop-off bus for a day, and allows you to choose one, two, or four specific attractions that your pass will get you into. The price varies based on that – for example, if you chose two attractions, the pass is $64, if you choose four it’s $89.

Besides the price flexibility of this option in adding only what you need, you also have time flexibility. Your attractions can be used over 60 days, once each.

Besides your day on the Big Bus, here are the activities that you can choose from to visit for free. Note that it’s the same list as the DAY Pass, but you must choose in advance and in a limited amount!

  • Spirit of Mount Vernon Cruise
  • George Washington’s Mount Vernon
  • The International Spy Museum
  • Unlimited Biking tours: 
    • Monuments & Memorials Bike Tour
    • All-Day Bike Rental
    • Washington DC Capital Sites Bike Tour
  • Madame Tussaud’s DC
  • Potomac Riverboat One Day Water Taxi
  • Scavenger Hunts – Washington DC
  • Spirit of Mount Vernon Cruise
  • Urban Adventures – American Politics & Debate on Capitol Hill Bike Tour

The FLEX Pass also gets you the same discounts at shopping and dining as the DAY Pass; as well as access to the Sightseeing Pass mobile app for planning and information.

This activity pass is a great way to see the sights of DC at your own pace and around your interests, and as the price breakdowns show, there is definitely value in it.

See Related: GoCity Amsterdam Review: Is it Worth it? 

The Short Version: Sightseeing Pass Washington DC Review

Now that we’ve seen what it’s all about, I will just tell you briefly: the Sightseeing Pass is a great deal for the right traveler to Washington DC.

You’ll have to read the specifics as we describe them below to see if you fall into this category of ‘the right traveler’. The pass makes sense for you if you plan to visit certain activities, have the right amount of time, and like the types of tours and activities that are offered.

But, if you are a big walker and an independent traveler who just wants to see things on your own, it’s not necessarily a great money-saver for you. So, read on to see if it makes sense for your trip.

See Related: CityPASS New York vs New York Pass: Which is Better?

Pros and Cons

As usual with these types of destination passes, the Sightseeingpass.com Washington DC Pass has some positives along with some negatives. It’s not necessarily right for every traveler, but can be great if your interests, budget, and time constraints align.

Pro: Wide Range of Options Provide Flexibility For Your Trip

If you are thinking that your super-short or extra-long stay in Washington DC might mean this pass isn’t for you, that’s not necessarily true.

If you are on a business trip with just a bit of time, you’ve been to DC before and just want to see a few things that you haven’t before, or if you’re in a generally similar situation, the FLEX Pass could be perfect for you.

If this is your big trip to DC and you want to do it all in the time you have, the DAY Pass could save you some serious money. Plus, with the choice of a two or three-day itinerary, you can add another layer of choice and flexibility.

Great Hotel Near the National Mall: The Hilton Washington DC National Mall The Wharf

Pro: Popular Attractions, Historical Tours, and Niche Tours Included Free

The pass covers most of the big things to see in Washington DC. Between the tours, entry tickets, and stops with commentary on the Big Bus, you’ll be able to check off some of the most important things to see in DC from your list.

Some of the places you’ll see are clearly listed in the inclusions we saw above. But within those tours and activities are visits to important memorials like the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

Of course, you’ll also hit government sites like the scenic National Mall, the United States Capitol Building, and the White House.

But even besides the typical things you might see from a Washington DC itinerary, you have the option to do some very cool historical and niche experiences.

These would be things like bike tours, political debate tours, and even scavenger hunts around the city. It’s always cool to try something interesting outside of the typical tourist route.

Great Hotel Near the White House: The Westin Washington DC City Center

Pro: Multiple Fun Ways to Visit American History Sites & Monuments

Of all the things in Washington DC that we’ve mentioned so far, some of them can be seen in several different ways depending on how you want to plan your days and how active you want to be.

For one, you have access to the Big Bus Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour which provides you guided commentary all around the city and on more than 40 attractions. In fact, the guide even hops off with you for a quick guided walking tour at the Lincoln Memorial and the Korean War Memorial.

But if you’d rather do something more than enjoying the city by bus, you certainly have options. Take one of the bike tours offered for free with an expert guide, or simply rent the bike for a day and do it yourself. Alternatively, see the sights from the Potomac River on the Water Taxi Tour.

Great Hotel Near the Potomac: Mandarin Oriental Washington DC

Pro: You Can Avoid Public Transportation by Using the Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour

To add to the value of the hop-on, hop-off bus tour, you don’t have to just think of it as a sightseeing tour option. In fact, the three loops that you have access to (if you choose this over the Panoramic Night Tour) basically cover anywhere you might want to go in the city.

So, don’t worry about buying metro tickets or ordering Uber’s on the day that you have access to the Big Bus. You can activate your pass for the bus at the Union Station stop and buses run roughly every hour.

Great Hotel Near Union Station: YOTEL Washington DC

Pro: Save on Shopping, Select Restaurants & Even on a Rental Car

Besides the free entry to the activities on the list, buying the pass gets you some discounts around the Washington DC area. Stores like Bloomingdales, various luggage storage services, and shopping centers like Tyson’s Corner Center offer 10-15% off for pass holders.

On top of that, one of the most valuable perks on the ‘discounts’ side of the card is the car rental benefit. At the Advantage Rent A Car agency at the Reagan National Airport, pass holders receive 10% off their rental plus extra drivers for no fee.

This is a great way to save money on a rental car and especially useful if your trip will extend out of the Washington DC metropolitan area: for example, why not make the trip up to Shenandoah National Park just two hours away? Or see the historical towns in Virginia like Williamsburg?

Great Hotel Near Shenandoah National Park: Holiday Inn Express Woodstock-Shenandoah Valley

Pro: Free Cancellation for a Full Refund if Your Plans Change

We all know (especially nowadays) that stuff happens. Canceled flights, delayed flights, worldwide pandemics… unfortunately plans change, and the travel industry sometimes isn’t friendly about it.

But, that doesn’t have to apply to the Washington DC Sightseeing Pass. At checkout, you have the option to add insurance for 4% of your total. This insurance policy allows a full refund of your passes if you aren’t able to use them, and I’d say it’s worth it.

Keep in mind that the refund won’t apply once you use the pass at your first attraction. Also, if you don’t buy the insurance, you will still have the possibility of extending the validity of your pass for up to 12 months, at the discretion of management.

Great Hotel Near Dulles International Airport: Country Inn & Suites by Radisson Washington Dulles International Airport

Con: Inconvenient Scheduling Policies for Certain Tours

Unfortunately, scheduling isn’t completely smooth sailing for all of the activities and tours included. While it is completely understandable that individual attractions vary in their requirements for advance reservations of a day and time, some policies are quite inconvenient.

For example, the bike tours require that you arrive at the meeting point on the day that you want to take the tour as early as you can to secure a spot. They fill up on a first-come, first-served basis, which can be a frustrating stressor for the DC traveler.

Other attractions have specific days and times that they can be used; such as Thursdays thru Sundays only or Spring thru Fall only. Furthermore, the Spirit of Mount Vernon Cruise is advertised as an inclusion, but it appears that this tour has been closed indefinitely since 2020.

Great Hotel Near George Washington’s Mount Vernon: Best Western Plus Mount Vernon – Fort Belvoir

Con: Pass Doesn’t Include Tours of the Smithsonian Institution Sites

While maybe we shouldn’t complain about lack of access to a single attraction, in this case, it’s not really just one single attraction and it is a significant thing to do in Washington DC.

The Smithsonian Institution is “the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex” and is a very important complex of awesome things in the city. Previously called the United States National Museum, the collections are home to items numbering in the hundreds of millions.

In my opinion, this is an important thing to do in Washington DC, and it’s unfortunately not included in the pass. Don’t worry, as Smithsonian Institution attractions are generally free in terms of admission; but I would have liked to see some sort of guided tour option of some sites included.

Great Hotel Near the Smithsonian Museums: citizenM Washington DC Capitol

See Related: Boston CityPASS Review: Is It Worth It?

Key Features

While we’ve described each in detail, let’s look directly at the key features of each version of the pass as they are displayed on the Sightseeingpass.com site. 

Common Features of the DAY and FLEX Passes

First of all, it’s important to note that the list of attractions to choose from included in both versions of the pass is the same. Below, we have the list of attractions that are unlimited in the DAY Pass and to choose from in the FLEX Pass.

List of Features Offered by Sightseeing Pass
Sightseeing Pass Washington DC Feature List

The same rule applies to the discounts that the pass will get you around town at shopping, dining, and rental cars. The below list is shared for both versions of the pass.

List of Sightseeing Pass Special Offers
Sightseeing Pass Washington DC Special Offers

Sightseeing DAY Pass Features

Below, we can see an easy summary of what you’ll get by choosing the DAY Pass. The main difference is the unlimited sightseeing as compared to the Flex option.

Washington Sightseeing DAY Pass Features
List of Features in Washington Sightseeing DAY Pass

Going to the Plan & Save page will show you potential itineraries to help inspire your trip with the pass. You can choose two or three days, and besides your schedule, you will see your savings as compared to not having the pass; like below.

Washington Sightseeing DAY Pass Itinerary
Washington Sightseeing DAY Pass 3-Day Itinerary

Sightseeing FLEX Pass Features

The FLEX Pass builds some flexibility into your schedule as well as your budget, allowing you to only pay for what you need. Below, we can see that this is the main difference.

Washington Sightseeing FLEX Pass
Washington DC Sightseeing FLEX Pass Features

Likewise, visit the Plan & Save page to see your possibilities when it comes to combinations of attractions. You’ll see samples with one, two, or four attractions plus can build your own and see all the savings.

Washington Sightseeing FLEX  Pass Itinerary
Washington Sightseeing FLEX Pass Savings

Ratings

East-of-Use: 3/5 

I had to knock a few points off of my rating for this one because I didn’t find the information on the website to be immediately easy to locate, and often misleading.

For example, it wasn’t immediately clear to me how exactly the pass worked and I had to spend some time understanding it (so, I hope this review is helpful to you!).

Furthermore, I was disappointed to find hidden information several clicks away that certain activities were unavailable on certain days or altogether.

On the flip side, the ease-of-use of the actual pass once you purchase it is quite convenient: simply scan your phone each time you visit an attraction, and you are in.

Features: 4/5 

You can’t complain too much about what’s included in the pass. Nearly all of the great American history and government sites are included in some fashion, along with some really cool tours and activities.

As we saw, I was disappointed that the Smithsonian sites weren’t included in some fashion, and I wasn’t thrilled with the reservation process of some things. So, a 4/5 seems appropriate here.

Customer Service: 5/5

A bright spot of this pass is the availability of help if you need it.

You can easily find a phone number and email form at the bottom of the site, unlike some service providers which hide this information. Plus, they have a help desk right there in Washington DC (which is also home to Bike and Roll DC).

In addition, the insurance option to get a refund in case of problems is a great thing to offer. It makes it easier for the unsure traveler to feel better about an advance purchase like this.

Value for Money: 4.5/5 

Overall, I think the Washington DC Sightseeing Pass is of great value. The numbers speak for themselves when you see the individual attraction prices side-by-side, and if you plan to do those things anyway, you can’t really argue with the value.

I only remove half a point here for the inconveniences we’ve talked about already, but overall this should be a great money-saving choice for the right traveler.

Alternatives

There is often an alternative or two to these types of passes in the cities they exist in. The Sightseeing Pass is the main choice, but you might be wondering about a few others being advertised as well.

As we mentioned above, Washington DC’s tourism website advertises the Ivy Pass Whiskey Tasting Passport. This is a very particular type of destination pass as its very focused on a niche of tourism, for visitors who want to see Mount Vernon plus the distilleries of the area. It is great for whiskey-lovers and history buffs interested in the Whiskey Rebellion, but not exactly a great choice to see the main sights of DC.

Another pass is GoCity.com’s Go Washington DC Explorer pass. The first thing you may notice about this one is a pop-up quickly informing you that the pass isn’t currently being sold ‘due to Covid-19’ – making your purchase decision an easy one!

However, it’s worth mentioning that this pass could begin sales again and the attractions it offers are similar to the Sightseeing Pass. In fact, many of the tours included are with the same tour companies. But this pass offers a few museums and sights that the Sightseeing Pass does not, which could be interesting for the right traveler.

If the Go Washington DC Explorer pass was actually for sale, we might be tempted to dive deeper into the deal. But for now it’s not an option, and you can keep an eye on their website in case that changes. Note that the default language seems to be Chinese, and you may need to change that in the top right corner.

The Verdict

In conclusion, as someone who has been to the capital many times and loves Washington DC, I would definitely recommend the Sightseeing Pass to a traveler who wants to see at least one, if not a few, of the attractions, included plus take the Big Bus tour. 

As I said in the short version earlier, the pass isn’t for everyone. Make sure it’s compatible with your preferences and your type of vacation. If it is, then there’s really not much of an argument to make against saving money!

FAQ

Is there a Washington DC CityPASS?

Sadly no. We’re huge fans of CityPASS, have made use of them in the past and they can save you money at a bunch of attractions in some of the most popular destinations in North America. Heck, we’ve reviewed them a bunch!

Will there be a Washington DC CityPASS?

It’s possible, although we haven’t heard anything yet. in the meantime, you can still make good use of Sightseeing Pass and Go City (assuming they resume their passes post COVID).

Related Reviews

Related Resources

WASHINGTON DC SIGHTSEEING PASS

Varies
8.7

East-of-Use

8.0/10

Features

9.0/10

Customer Service

9.5/10

Value for Money

8.5/10

Reliability

8.7/10

Pros

  • Wide range of options that provide flexibility
  • Covers popular attractions, historical tours, and niche tours
  • Multiple fun ways to visit american history sites & monuments
  • Can avoid public transportation by using the hop-on, hop-off tour
  • Save on shopping, select restaurants & even on a rental car

Cons

  • Inconvenient scheduling policies for certain tours
  • Pass doesn’t include tours of the Smithsonian institution sites
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