The Best Way to See the Smithsonian? On a Segway, of course | At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian
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The Best Way to See the Smithsonian? On a Segway, of course

The staff tries its hand at Segway-ing...and never wants to stop

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Courtesy of Smithsonian Tours by Segway

Every year, some 25 million visitors flock to the National Mall to take in the museums and monuments. And they bring with them all kinds of gear: matching T-shirts in all the colors of the neon rainbow, back packs and fanny packs stuffed with maps and sunscreen, Tevas not worn since that ill-fated camping trip of ’05. But one visitor reigns supreme: the Segway rider. Standing a solid foot taller than everyone else atop their super-advanced, two-wheeled machines, the Segway riders zip confidently by, turning heads as they do.

Some look on in amusement, others in jealousy. But with the wind in his helmeted hair, the Segway rider hardly notices. He’s too busy delighting in the pastoral pleasures of the Mall and learning all kinds of tidbits on his 1.5-hour long Smithsonian Tours By Segway excursion

After you pick up your Segway PT (personal transporter), watch an informational video with some hilariously tragic stick-man skits that make you feel better about your building nerves and practice riding around in the shadow of the American History Museum, you too can be on your way to an educational and futuristic experience that will inspire awe and envy in others.

As your tour guide will tell you, “There are many ways to move about our Capital, visiting the Smithsonian properties and the historical monuments, but there is simply no better way to see these sites than via Segway PT.”

Indeed. The two-wheeled wonder-thing was first unveiled in 2001, the product of maverick inventor Dean Kamen. Equipped with tilt and gyroscopic sensors, the vehicle can sense your every shift of weight. Want to head forward? Just push your hips forward ever so slightly and feel the wind pickup against your face as you speed off–though not faster than 12 miles per hour; the Segway PT has a built-in speed limit and will warn you as you approach it. Turning is as easy as pushing the handle bars side to side. After a few minutes on the Segway PT, you’ll wonder why we haven’t all converted to a life lived on two wheels.

As you loop up and down the Mall and around the majestic Capitol building, your tour guide will tell you lots of informative and fascinating things, like:

  • During the Civil War, President Lincoln viewed the Union troop movements across the Potomac River from the tall north tower of the Castle.
  • In the 1970s, the Castle was home to a pair of barn owls who lived in the west tower, named “Increase” and “Diffusion”.
  • During the Civil War the War Department quartered troops in the Capitol for several months. A year later the Capitol served as a hospital for the wounded.
  • While the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, there is technically a higher court in the same building–the basketball court.
  • Over 400 Indian tribes were consulted for their opinions on the design of the American Indian Museum, which succeeds in honoring the natural and built environment.
  • The large West glass wall of the Air and Space Museum functions as a giant door for the installation of airplanes and spacecraft. Natural History and Air and Space are the most visited museums in the world.

The three-hour tour includes a tour of the monuments and White House as well. And since you’re not going to want to ever get off your electronic steed, you might as well sign up for the three-hour tour.

Even the hard-working staff of Smithsonian magazine learned a few things on a complimentary tour, including discovering a tranquil garden tucked alongside the Department of Health & Human Services, and we are now trying to determine how exactly we can expense a couple dozen Segway PTs for office use.

This could be you:

Tours are offered three times a day and prices range from $62.54 to $83.74, depending on the length.

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About Leah Binkovitz
Leah Binkovitz

Leah Binkovitz is a Stone & Holt Weeks Fellow at Washington Post and NPR. Previously, she was a contributing writer and editorial intern for the At the Smithsonian section of Smithsonian magazine.

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