With majestic government buildings, wide boulevards and well-groomed gardens, Washington, D.C. certainly looks the part of capital of the United States. Memorials, monuments and museums dot the city and pay tribute to the American narrative and leaders who shaped the nation. But the city isn’t stuck in the past—it has become a cultural hub with diverse neighborhoods, an explosion of new restaurants and a flourishing music scene.
Washington is the epicenter of American politics, and the federal government accounts for 29% of all jobs in the district. Tourism is the second-largest industry; 19 million people visited the city in 2013. Other growing industries include education, finance and scientific research.
Getting to and from the airport
Washington Dulles International Airport is 26 miles (42 kilometers) west of central Washington. Taxis are available at the ground transportation level down the ramps from arrivals doors No. 2 or No. 7. A one-way trip to the city center costs approximately US$50. The Silver Line Express bus provides non-stop service between the airport and Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station downtown. A one-way trip is $5. The ticket counter is on the arrivals level of the main terminal.
Getting around Washington
The Metrorail and Metrobus are economical and efficient options to get to your destination. Metrorail fares vary by length and time of day. Regular Metrobus fares are $1.75. The system operates from 5 a.m. to midnight on weekdays and from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. on weekends. Washington also operates the D.C. Circulator: five bus routes with easy access to points of interest. Buses arrive every 10 minutes and fares are $1.
Taxis are readily available throughout the district. You’ll find them on busy streets and in front of hotels and major attractions. You also can call in advance to arrange pickup.
Where to stay
For luxury and upscale accommodation, try The Fairmont Washington D.C. Georgetown (2401 M St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20037; Ph: +1-202-429-2400), Sofitel Washington D.C. Lafayette Square (806 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20005; Ph: +1-202-730-8800), Capital Hilton (1001 16th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20036; Ph: +1-202-393-1000), Omni Shoreham Hotel (2500 Calvert St. NW, Washington D.C., 20008; Ph: +1-202-234-0700), Cambria Suites Washington D.C. Convention Center (899 O St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20001; Ph: +1-202-299-1188), Grand Hyatt Washington (1000 H St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20001; Ph: +1-202-582-1234); St. Gregory Hotel & Suites (2033 M St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20036; Ph: +1-202-530-3600).
Midscale options include Best Western Georgetown Hotel & Suites (1121 New Hampshire Avenue Northwest, Washington, D.C.; Ph: +1-202-457-0565) and Quality Inn & Suites New York Avenue (1600 New York Avenue Northeast, Washington, D.C. 20002; Ph: +1-202-832-3200.
Things to see and do
The best way to see many of Washington’s biggest attractions is by walking along the National Mall, a pedestrian-friendly boulevard known as “America’s front yard.” The Jefferson, Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorials all border the mall. Museums along the National Mall include the National Museum of American History and the National Air and Space Museum. Both are open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Dec. 25. The National Gallery of Art is also nearby. It’s open 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Dec. 25 and Jan. 1. Admission to all three museums is free. The mall is crowned by the U.S. Capitol, where Congress meets. You can book a free tour of the building in advance. The Capitol is open Monday to Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The White House, home to the U.S. president, is within walking distance of the mall. You can tour the ground and first floor of the building, but that requires some planning. You’ll need to submit a request for a public tour months in advance. Americans can submit a request through the office of their member of Congress. Foreign visitors should contact their embassy in Washington, D.C., to submit a tour request. These self-guided tours are available from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday to Thursday, and 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Leave politics behind and enjoy a performance at the Kennedy Center. Free performances take place at the Millennium stage every evening at 6 p.m. For a wider selection of concerts and stage productions, check out the Kennedy Center’s calendar of events.
The historic neighborhood of Georgetown began as an 18th century port town and now is among the districts trendiest areas—and a lovely spot to spend an afternoon. Take a stroll through Georgetown Waterfront Park for picturesque views of the Potomac River. Quaint boutiques and antique shops line the bustling streets. And there’s no shortage of restaurant options from cafés to fine-dining establishments.
Where to eat
Zaytinya serves a mouthwatering combination of Greek, Lebanese and Turkish cuisine in an expansive, modern setting. Diners wait for their tables at the always-buzzing bar. You’ll find an array of authentic Mediterranean dishes on the menu including stuffed grape leaves, Lebanese-style yogurt and tabbouleh. Plates are small and meant to be shared. Find it at 701 9th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20001; Ph: +1-202-638-0800.
The Red Hen is a laid-back Italian restaurant known for its hearty, homemade pastas. Chef Michael Friedman puts great care into the flavor combinations of each dish. The smoked ricotta crostini with balsamic butter and truffle honey tastes as good as it sounds. Try to save room for dessert—the chocolate brownie with toasted hazelnuts and vanilla gelato is not to be missed. It’s at 1822 First St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20001; Ph: +1-202-525-3021.
For an elegant dining option, try Marcel’s. The French-Belgian restaurant is simple, yet sophisticated. Several fixed-price tasting menus are available; the four course option is $90. Ask about the pre-theater deal—it includes shuttle service to the Kennedy Center. Find Marcel’s at 2401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., 20037; Ph: +1-202-296-1166.
Birch and Barley is a favorite among Washingtonians due, in part, to its lengthy beer list. Take your pick from 50 draft beers and 500 more sold by the bottle. The ales may draw you in, but the high-quality comfort food will keep you coming back. It’s at 1337 14th St. NW, Washington D.C., 20005; Ph: +1-202-567-2576.