Two centuries of history painted with colours of politics, architecture, academics and cuisine have created a vibrant portrait of a multi-dimensional, cosmopolitan city. Washington D.C. - the power-pulsating capital of the U.S.A. is an exciting, vibrant place to see and be seen. The White House, The Supreme Court, The Smithsonian - Washington is the “brain” of The United States of America and so much more…
Washington D.C. is a capital city with a dual personality that mirrors its two equally distinctive historical labels. As the country's political epicentre, it lives up to the stature of a "Federal City", the way George Washington described it. But the District also plays host to a thriving cultural and culinary scene, in line with its reputation of what Thomas Jefferson called "America's Paris".
Iconic neoclassical architecture, including government buildings including the Capitol, White House and Supreme Court, an enviable collection of museums, and performing-arts venues such as the Kennedy Center may have top recall value for visitors, but the city has many more surprises hidden up its sleeves.
Care to venture further
For an apt preamble to the high-powered capital, let yourself loose at the National Mall - "America's Front Yard". Monuments and memorials galore along 1,000 acres of a two-mile-long green stretch. Ogle-worthy pitstops include the Capitol Hill, White House, memorials to four presidents, and the Smithsonian Institution Museum ensemble. The throbbing energy of the Federal Triangle radiates from the well-oiled machinery of the national bureaucracy.
Try staying unaffected
Cravings for nature are best fulfilled at the Botanic Garden, where 65,000 different species of plants, including rare orchids and roses, offer a change of scene. If you are travelling in springtime, you can cheer at the sight of D.C.'s famous cherry blossoms in full bloom. Another outdoor beauty is the Hirshhorn Museum's sculpture garden. Spot artworks, stroll on shadowy paths and make your wishes come true at a Japanese dogwood tree.
That done, deep dive into the historic neighbourhoods of the District, each brimming with individuality and character. Head to the green spaces of the Capitol Riverfront for a favourite spot for kayaking or stand-up paddle-boarding. Sporty souls can tick off a visit to the Washington Nationals ballpark and the Audi Field, home to Major League Soccer's D.C. United.
For a hipster vibe, loiter along U Street, the birthplace of celebrated jazz musician Duke Ellington and indulge your inner gastronome with a food tour. In the city's oldest area, Georgetown, beside the Potomac River, stare at the pretty row houses and soak up the tranquility of the gravel track along wooden bridges and waterwheels of the C&O Canal. The arty at heart can search out an exclusive private gallery, the Phillips Collection, housed in a Greek Revival mansion in Dupont Circle. Then slip into the Dupont Underground, an old trolley system revamped as an art and cultural centre.
If 'alternative' is your mojo, let a former member of the CIA help you decode mysteries of spy-craft at the International Spy Museum. Maybe you prefer witnessing a Supreme Court hearing instead? Leafing through the oldest book in the Library of Congress? Or racing up and down the Exorcist Steps in the pitch dark? So much to do, so little time.
Bookmark the evening for a performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Shakespeare Theatre Company, the Washington Ballet or the historic Lincoln Theatre. Music lovers can attend an indie rock concert at 9:30 Club or shake a leg at an underground dance club. And you've only scratched the surface.
Georgetown: Take retail therapy to another level with a morning spent scouting M Street's elegant townhouses. Drifting in and out of quirky boutiques and trendy art galleries in the area, you will be tempted with an array of antiques, luxury products, home decor and accessories. Where will you stop?
CityCenter DC: Your search for high-end luxury brands culminates in this prestigious neighbourhood. Display your loyalty to classics like Dior, Kate Spade, Hermès, Longchamp, Burberry and Gucci. Macy's department store on F Street is at arm's length. No reason to slow the pace at all.
Union Market: Your love for the homegrown and quirky will lead you to the Eastern and Union markets. Scout the boutiques for local experimental designers and make unusual discoveries while fuelling up at food vendors every now and then. New York–style bagel sandwiches, Korean tacos, poke bowls… what's your favourite lunch-on-the-go?
Chevy Chase & Friendship Heights: If you haven't had your fill yet, Upper Northwest to Maryland is your best bet for a mega mall-hop. Once you've stocked up from the department store of Bloomingdale's, make way for The Collection at Chevy Chase, which takes up a whole block. Mazza Gallerie is another must-visit for Saks Fifth Avenue Men's Store.
Museums & the arts
National Gallery of Art: One of the most important museums in the country should be on your list for its Neoclassical gallery. Expect to see works by early- and high-Renaissance and Baroque masters, as well as nineteenth-century paintings in these hallowed halls.
National Museum of American History: Surprise yourself with various cultural artefacts, from a 200-year-old tavern sign to the oldest functioning steam locomotive. Fascinating exhibits include George Washington's wooden teeth, Jackie Kennedy dresses and the original Star-Spangled Banner that inspired the U.S. national anthem.
National Museum of Natural History: You won't have time to gawk at each of the 146 million displays in the world's most extensive natural history collection. So, pick your favourite galleries and be your attentive best. The new dinosaur hall is a great choice if you're pressed for time.
The National Air and Space Museum: Fans of historic aircraft and spacecraft can discover many wonders, such as the Wright brothers' original 1903 flyer and a lunar rock sample. Chances are, you will be dreaming about those astronaut spacesuits for a long time.
Glenstone: Located outside the city, this wonderfully designed 300-acre space flaunts art, architecture, and landscape in a dazzling combination. Go for the modern art of Yayoi Kusama, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol.
Nationals Park: Home of the Washington Nationals, this iconic baseball stadium in Capitol Riverfront promises views of the U.S. Capitol Building from the upper decks. You can go even superstar spotting. Bonus points for witnessing the famous Presidents Race, held between the top and bottom of every fourth inning.
Capital One Arena: Let your basketball passion surface with a personal suite at the Washington Wizards' 20,000-seat sports and entertainment venue. Go all out with sportive urges at the Washington Wizards' private Coaches Club, Courtside VIP Club, row ledge seating. You get VIP access to the Chef's Buffet table at the Acela Club Restaurant and to private team events and functions.
FedExField: Washington Football Team's home turf, in nearby Landover, can seat 90,000. Prep for a big day of football in the regular season from September through December.
Restaurants & bars
Inn at Little Washington: The first and only 3 Michelin star restaurant in the District is located in a 23-room boutique hotel (a Relais & Châteaux member) at Virginia. Set yourself up for a gracious and extravagant dining experience with two inventive tasting menus include carpaccio of herb-crusted Elysian Fields baby lamb loin with Caesar salad ice cream. Pair the grand meal with the finest of wines.
Jont: This two Michelin starred restaurant indulges your palate with a creative odyssey voyage from the moment you seat yourself at the chef's counter. The Dungeness crab with Donabe rice, truffle and maitake, or sea urchin with custard and English peas are recommended dishes. Top-shelf ingredients and cutting-edge presentations? Naturally.
Minibar by José Andrés: Avant-garde cooking combines with a heavenly tasting menu in this two Michelin star restaurant. 20 drool-worthy innovative dishes include a "Rubber Ducky" meringue filled with foie gras ice cream and a deconstructed "cheesesteak". Book the private dining room for more exclusivity.
Cranes: Spoil yourself silly with upper-class Spanish and Japanese cuisine in this One Michelin star restaurant and sake lounge. Seasonal tapas and desserts with bento omakase blend into a "Spanish Kaiseki" experience. Order the Duck and water chestnuts gyozas with noisette vinaigrette or Arroz de Conejo, carrots, brussels sprouts and rice.
Rooster & Owl: Modern American fare pumps up a delectable four-course menu with interesting vegetarian dishes. Try the Carolina-style barbecue carrots with a cornbread ice cream or meatless larb made with lime-kissed shiitake mushrooms. Seafood lovers can opt for the grilled cobia fish served with broccoli mole and turnips dressed in fish sauce vinaigrette.
Those with a taste for something different can reserve an afternoon of high tea with the renowned porcelain artist Anna Weatherley. She is famous for her original hand-painted pieces designed for heads of state, U.S. government officials, and even royalty. Her delicate art has been displayed at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Historical Decatur House, the White House, and Buckingham Palace. You’ll be in good company.
Perk up the festivities at home with an ornament from The White House Historical Association. Every year, a new decoration is commissioned to commemorate the current president, making a collection of 35 designs to choose from. Don’t miss the dilemmas and delights of The White House Visitor Center.
A short trip from the city through the Blue Ridge Mountains and Piedmont will take you to Charlottesville, the site of Thomas Jefferson's mountaintop country home, Monticello. This was where America's Founding Father spent his retired life, writing letters, gardening, horse-riding and entertaining guests. His persona peeks from the architecture, the interior accents and the objets d'art. Look out for 18th-century gadgets that he designed himself, including a revolving bookstand that could hold five books, a rotating desk and the Theodolite, a surveying device.
Nightlife / Hidden gem
Columbia Room. Mixology addicts can swoon over cutting-edge artistry in one of country’s top classic American cocktail lounges. Consider the house special drink-tasting menu, including an Amuse Bouche and a custom-created drink of your choice. Columbia Room does not disappoint.
As you would expect from a major capital city, Washington offers all the big names, Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Mandarin Oriental, Rosewood but our favourite has to be The Hay-Adams. Its location – overlooking The White House, its service – faultless, its rooms – magnificent – make it one of the finest properties in America.
The city gives you the choice of three airports: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI). Taxis, shared van services, and SuperShuttle are available from all three airports. D.C. is a walkable city, but to get to far-flung neighbourhoods, use the Metro or just hire a cab.
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