History is both made and told in no menial way in Washington DC. A capital in every sense, this political powerhouse is teeming with iconic national monuments and museums that offer fascinating insight into the American story and spirit through time. Famously described as “a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm” by John F. Kennedy, it also fosters a leading culinary, arts and entertainment scene. A must-do stop on any USA holiday itinerary, let this Washington DC city guide offer a dose of inspiration.
Explore the National Mall from top to bottom
The very heart and soul of America’s identity is rolled out along the green carpet of fresh grassy lawns at the National Mall. A sprawling public green speckled with symbolic American buildings, museums, sculptures and memorials, if you only had one stop in Washington DC it would have to be here. This is where you’ll find the iconic Lincoln Memorial, the US Capitol Building, the Washington Monument – which at 555 feet tall dominates the city skyline – and the world-class Smithsonian, a never-ending collection of the nation’s best (and free) museums. Some of the favourite halls to wander include those of the National Air and Space Museum, the Museum of Natural History and the American History Museum.
Simply wander the colourful neighbourhoods
While it’s easy to get caught up in the long list of sights, the only way to truly experience the powerful, historical and multicultural spark of the city is to simply wander. Soak up the unique identity of each neighbourhood, from the flourishing hub of once-industrial Foggy Bottom, a favourite amongst diplomats and celebrities, to the cobblestone streets and Federal architecture of Georgetown with its beautiful riverside location. Without even trying you’ll find yourself at Dupont Circle, the cosmopolitan heart of the city laden with trendy cafes, shops and galleries, but U Street and Shaw is also fascinating, once the heart of African American culture. Other obvious central locales include Downtown and the Penn Quarter, multicultural Adams Morgan and of course, the Capitol Hill area.
Venture out in the city after dark
The capital doesn’t sleep once the sun goes down. There’s a great line-up of entertainment, eateries and bars that make exploring by moonlight as fruitful as what you’ll experience by day. For a theatrical performance, there’s nowhere better than the historic Washington Theatre, the John F Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts or the Washington National Opera. But you could also duck over to Chinatown to catch a pro basketball or hockey game at the Verizon Centre or, in the summer months, catch one of the many free outdoor concerts that takes over the city. Another fabulous night outing is to head back to the monuments at the western end of the National Mall – they’re open 24 hours a day and at night, they put on a dramatic show lit up in all their glory against a dark and moody sky.
Other DC highlights to tick off:
Old Ebbitt Grill
675 15th Street, Northwest
Since 1856, Old Ebbitt Grill has attracted presidents, politicians and generals, celebrities, journalists and theatre-goers. One of the oldest bars and restaurants in the city, it oozes history and the velvet booths, mirrored bar and the smell of rich mahogany sets the tone just right to soak it up. Dishing up everything from pasta to fresh seafood, this old-time establishment is an absolute must and luckily, it’s easy to catch as its open from breakfast ‘til dinner.
1226 36th Street, Northwest
When in the capital, eat like a president... 1789 Restaurant is a quintessential Washington DC dining experience and if it’s good enough for President Barack Obama, then it should be good enough for any traveller passing through his neck of the woods. Proudly serving sustainable seafood and humanely farmed meats, the menu changes regularly but is always full of delicious hearty fare accompanied by an extensive wine list. The Federal-style home adorned in antiques, beautiful prints and fine silver and china creates an elegant American country-inn feel.
Madam’s Organ Blues Bar
2461 18th Street, Northwest
Full of funky tunes, Madam’s Organ Blues Bar is popular for its nightly line-up of live music ranging from Blues and R&B to smooth Jazz beats. Spread over two levels including a rooftop deck in the heart of multicultural Adam’s Morgan, this nightlife hub is a local landmark. You don’t have to stay all night to enjoy it though – there is also a restaurant section.
Cork Wine Bar
2461 18th Street, Northwest
Choose from over 160 bottles and 50 wines by the glass at the beautifully dark and cosy Cork Wine Bar. Affordable, casually elegant and with a passion for each and every drop, the experience here is all about the wine, though there are some great cheeses and accompaniments on offer too. Catch one of the bi-monthly wine tastings and classes to learn more, or simply drop by to travel the world within a matter of sips and swirls.
1919 Connecticut Avenue, Northwest
Tuck yourself in somewhere central, modern and reputable like the Washington Hilton, often remembered for being the site of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981 – just 69 days into his presidency. Touting fabulous city views, a heated pool, patio with fire pits and outdoor dining, this hotel has it all plus location, location, location! Just a four block wander from the Dupont Circle metro station, here you’ll wake up each morning to find the city’s most sought-after sights and neighbourhoods on your doorstep, from the National Zoo to the Smithsonian museums and the US Capitol.
Washington DC is one of America’s best cities to walk around, with great wide sidewalks and flat roads. Make the most of it on your own, on one of the many self-guided neighbourhood heritage trails or on a free local walking tour. The city also claims one of the world’s cleanest, safest and most efficient public transport systems, while a new service called the Circulator makes it easy to access the National Mall and major inner city neighbourhoods. Hiring a car isn’t recommended, but thankfully Washington has a huge number of taxis that are always easy to hail down on the street or order ahead.
The four seasons all make an appearance of their own in Washington DC, each distinctly different. The sunny weather and hot days of summer, in the middle of the year, is the most popular time for tourists to pass through. July and August can get very hot and humid though. Winter presents the opposite – temperatures often fluctuate above freezing and rain is common, with snow and snowstorms an occasional surprise. For milder weather, spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October) are a great time to visit, with cooler mornings and afternoons and each beautiful colours of their own.
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