Set Sail! 11 Exciting Boat Experiences on the Potomac River

Tall Ship The Providence now offering tours in Washington, DC

Make the Potomac River your playground this summer! From a narrated tour on The Wharf’s water taxi to an afternoon sailing aboard a replica tall ship, the DMV offers tons of options to get out and enjoy our scenic waterway. If you’re seeking calmer waters, we found a swan ride that won’t rock the boat (for river-devoted fans, this experience is available on the Potomac, too). Ready for your river adventure? Then read on for the best ways to set your summer plans afloat.

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Tall Ship The Providence now offering tours in Washington, DC

photo: Courtesy of Tall Ship Providence

Command a Tall Ship

Captain Jack Sparrow may not have boarded this ship, but the Providence did make a cameo in the Pirates franchise. This reproduction boat is an authentic recreation of an 18th century ship used during the American Revolution. Step on board and you’ll be transported to colonial America with your host Captain John Paul Jones. Tours are available Wed.-Sun. You can set sail with the tall ship every Sat. & Sun. at 3:30 p.m. now through October. Or book a private excursion for up to 24 of your closest mates.



Soak Up History

Learn a little bit more about the coastline of Washington DC, take in the monuments at night or just enjoy the sunset from the water. Reflections DC offers 2-hour narrated tours while cruising the Potomac River. The company’s fleet includes a Boston Whaler that can accommodate 4 guests and a Bristol sailboat that can take up to 5 guests out on a 3.5 hour tour.


Pedal boats at the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC

photo: Courtesy of National Parks

Pedal the Park

Tidal Basin visitors can rent 2-person and 4-person pedal boats from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Pedal-power a swan for an up close view of the Thomas Jefferson memorial (swans are rented on a first come, first served basis).  You can also rent swans at National Harbor for those wishing to  test their pedal-power in open water.

Editor’s Tip: Pre-register online to secure your pedal boats. If you need to alter your plans for any reason, simply email the Boathouse prior to your rental time.


Water taxi docked in Old Town Alexandria along the Potomac River

photo: Courtesy Visit Alexandria 

Taxi to a New Destination 

City Experiences’s Water Taxi offers a unique way to get shuttle your crew from The Wharf, Georgetown, Old Town Alexandria and National Harbor. This riverboat operates Wed.-Sun. and is a convenient (and inexpensive) way to take a narrated sighting tour along the Potomac River. Look for famous sites like the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the John F. Kennedy Center, the Arlington Memorial Bridge and more while you take a quick, 45 minute cruise to your destination.



Picnic on the Water

Courtesy of Float DC

Pack up your picnic basket or grab a picnic to-go from a local restaurant, and you’re ready to enjoy your meal on the water. Float DC offers rentals that are 100% electric, Scandinavian designed, picnic boats for up to 8 people. You won’t want to miss this eco-friendly way to enjoy the beautiful waterways at The Wharf, DC. You don’t need a guide for this one. Anyone over 21 years of age can captain their own boat.


A Pirate Adventure

Sever111 via Pixabay

If it is time to walk the plank, get to National Harbor for Urban Pirates cruises. Families should plan to arrive early for approximately 30 minutes of boarding activities, including pirate costuming and naming. In addition, the Boomerang Pirate Ship’s Family Treasure Hunt cruise departing from Georgetown features a water cannon battle at sea.


Take a Photo Safari

Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

First, sail along the river with Potomac Riverboat Company. Capture tons of family-friendly photos ops in front of the perfect memorial backdrops, including the Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol. Then, dock at George and Martha Washington’s home, Mt. Vernon and spend a few hours exploring the historic house and property with camera in hand.


Hop on a Tube

Harpers Ferry Adventure Center

There’s no better way to beat the heat than to hop on an inner tube and float down the river. Young and old alike will love the flat water tubing experience. Tubes and river shuttles are provided, and you can even rent floating coolers so you can keep snacks and drinks alongside as you float down the river. Because we all know snacks are a must with little ones in tow.


Jump in a Kayak


Skip the heat altogether, and rent a kayak for a sunset-drenched paddle on the Potomac. The scenic beauty and wildlife are even more spectacular during the evening hours. No experience needed, just grab a paddle and plan to float peacefully down the gentle rapids. After you finish your sunset splash, you can stick around for a bonfire with your guides.


Sail on a Schooner

DC Sail

Departing from the Gangplank Marina in SW Washington DC, DC Sail provides sailing opportunities on its 65-foot schooner, the American Spirit, including cherry blossom cruises, sunset sails, boating & baseball excursions, and July 4th fireworks cruises. The wheelchair-accessible boat is a floating classroom and adventure all wrapped into one. Make incredible memories aboard this unique and relaxing vessel.


Stand up on a Paddleboard

Mila S. via Yelp

Stunning views of the Potomac River await National Harbor paddlers in Prince George’s County. Go to Boating in DC’s boathouse to rent a paddleboard by the hour. No experience is needed as they provide a quick lesson before you head out on the water. Rentals include a life jacket and paddle. Wait until sunset to see the Capital Wheel lighting up the sky.


—Meghan Yudes Meyers and Angelica Kajiwara



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