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Washington, DC Travel Guide

About Washington, DC

With leafy boulevards, a munificence of monuments and myriad museums that rank among the world’s best, Washington DC is the USA’s political and cultural capital.

But there’s more to the city than marble colossi and thrusting politicos. DC has a throbbing social scene (complete with some of the best clubs on the eastern seaboard), quaint little suburbs thronged with bohemian locals and green city parks housing diverse wildlife.

For most, however, it’s Washington DC’s abundance of monuments that make the city a must-visit; whether it’s the iconic Lincoln Memorial on whose steps Martin Luther King made his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech or the dominating Washington Monument.

Founded in 1790 as a ‘neutral’ capital, straddling the then hotly-contested dividing line between north and south, Washington DC has elements of both. From the north, it takes its patrician architecture and icy winters, while from the south comes the scorching summers and its bonhomie.

Washington is a city of buzzing suburbs, with much of the night time action happening, unusually, outside of the city centre. Downtown DC, home to the Capitol, the White House and the Smithsonian, is an oddly somnolent place at night, lacking the buzz of New York and only really coming alive when the Senate is in session.

Nevertheless, it continues to draw visitors from all over the world, many of whom come to see its haunting war memorials: the innovative Korean War Veterans Memorial, the touching Iwo Jima bronze sculpture and the ridiculously ugly contraption sent by a grateful Netherlands following the end of WWII.

DC is a city that embraces all nationalities. The seat of American power draws all comers, a fact made plain by the imposing edifices along embassy row, and the huge variety of cuisine that dominates the restaurant scene.

Oddly enough, DC is one of the best places to try Ethiopian food outside of Africa. That, however, doesn’t mean you won’t find excellent homegrown fare. Near to Chesapeake Bay, Washington is famous for its oysters and lump crab cakes, both of which offer the perfect solution to hunger pangs during a late night debate.

Key facts

Population:
646,449 (city); 5,800,000 (metropolitan area)
Latitude:
38.895112
Longitude:
-77.036366

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Hotel Tabard Inn

Located on a tree-lined side street in the Dupont Circle neighbourhood, this is the small hotel that residents recommend to their friends. As it was constructed from three Federal-style row houses, no two rooms are exactly the same, but each is filled with unique antiques and has Wi-Fi access throughout. Some rooms have a shared bathroom. Victorian sitting areas in the lounge are quite cosy and feature live jazz on Sunday night. The hotel's downstairs dining room, a popular lunch spot for both guests and non-guests, features American cuisine. The restaurant's brick-walled garden is one of the most pleasant places to pass an afternoon in Washington, DC. Price includes continental breakfast.

Hotel Helix

If funk is your thing, you'll love this Kimpton boutique hotel where pop art meets Hollywood. The guestrooms are decorated in eye-popping patterns, bright red, green and blue colours, and underscored with rounded mirrors and large pillows. Twelve of the rooms are themed including the cool Zone rooms, fun family Bunk rooms and Italian-inspired Eats rooms. The lighting system changes from blue to gold in the hotel's bar/café, Helix Lounge, and the outdoor patio is popular with locals. Located in the Logan Circle neighbourhood, Hotel Helix is more appealing to young hipsters rather than sedate business people.

The William Lewis House

A home from home, this welcoming bed and breakfast has all the trinkets and touches of grandma's place with patterned rugs, plump sofas and candles and doilies above the fireplace. Actually taking up two Edwardian townhouses, The William Lewis House has 10 individually decorated rooms, scattered with antiques and family heirlooms, plus free Wi-Fi. What's more, the owners host happy hours with wine and hot chocolate. Gay friendly.

Washington Plaza Hotel

Under the watchful eye of architect Morris Lapidus, the Washington Plaza sprung up in 1962, placing a resort-like hotel in the middle of a city. Right next to the Smithsonian museums, the location is superb, while its glorious swimming pool, 340 well turned out rooms and recently renovated fitness suite are all as good as any modern contemporaries.

Normandy Hotel

Located on an elegant street with embassies as neighbours, and within walking distance of bars, restaurants, shops and the Dupont Circle Metro, this small hotel is a real find. Extensively renovated in 2009, the 75 rooms are decorated in black and white highlighted with fabrics in warm colours. The lobby and rooms have complimentary Wi-Fi internet access and although there is no restaurant, afternoon tea and coffee is served to guests and there is a free wine and cheese reception some evenings.

Mandarin Oriental Washington, DC

The award-winning Oriental is one of the most popular hotels in Washington, DC. Touches of Feng Shui have made its huge guest rooms calming - in fact, you may not want to leave them. All have Chinese marble bathrooms, silk bed tapestries, flatscreen TVs, high-speed internet access and smashing views of city monuments or the Potomac Tidal Basin. The hotel also has a state-of-the-art spa plus two restaurants - the Asian-inspired, award-winning Cafe MoZU and the Sou'Wester, serving regional American cuisine. For lighter fare or cocktails try the Empress Lounge.