DC for your delectation

By | Category: Travel destinations

You haven’t been to Washington DC? That’s an oversight that must be righted. Whether you cram in culture or while away hours in a cute cafe in a leafy neighbourhood, America’s capital will win you over. Go. And go now. You’ll have a blast.

Must see and do
For an overview of America’s stately capital, make  the recently renovated Capitol Visitor’s Center your first port of call. Here you can get take a cinematic tour of DC in one of the new orientation cinemas, before venturing out to see the city for yourself.
First up head for the National Mall – aka the Washington of your imagination. The 1.9 mile long lawn – often referred to as America’s Front Yard – is bookended by the Lincoln Memorial and Capitol Hill and has played host to hundreds of speeches including Martin Luther King’s 1963 I have a Dream speech, marches (like those for gay marriage at the start of the millennium) and rallies. Start early (so as to avoid the crowds) and walk past the White House (cool again thanks to the election of President Obama), then wander down to the Washington Monument (the tallest building in the district, compromising two different hues of stone).
Next cross over 17th Street to take in the National WWII monument that honours the 400,000 American worker who died in conflict and the 16 million who served during the war. One caveat: the monument is adorned with poignant quotes so do keep the Kleenex close.

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Then venture to the Vietnam Memorial (via the reflecting pools) and the Lincoln Memorial – a shrine to Abraham Lincoln. After you’ve paid your respects to Abe, head down the stairs to Tidal Basin where you’ll find the Martin Luther King Memorial. Spend some time reading Dr King’s inspirational quotes and admiring the towering statue of the man, before ticking off the Roosevelt MemorialJefferson Memorial and – my own favourite – the FDR Memorial. This 7.5 acre monument honours the President who led America out of the Great Depression of the 1930s and through the greatest global conflict in history. The words of FDR’s inauguration speech – “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror that paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance” – have been etched, enchantingly so, into the rocks. Lastly, don’t miss the The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, a new memorial which pays tribute to the three million living disabled veterans as well as those who died in service. It’s been designed so as to reflect both strength and vulnerability – expect a reflecting pool, striking laminated glass walls and bronze sculptures.

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Got the Memorials out of the way? It’s time to spend a not to be missed afternoon, exploring Washington’s many museums. Museums such as the Smithsonian National Air & Space MuseumNational Museum of Natural History and the National Gallery of Art are among the best in the country. As an added bonus, almost all of them are free to visit proving that the best travel experiences  – like love – don’t cost a thing. But be sure to dedicate at least half a day to taking in their glory.
Time permitting, pop along to the Pentagon –  aka the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense – or to the Arlington Cemetery which honours those who fell while serving the United States.

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Best bites
Washington is synonymous with The White House, but the city is so much more than just politics. Scratch beneath the surface and you’ll discover that DC has a thriving foodie scene. Visiting gourmands can fill their boots with every cuisine imaginable as evidenced on a walking tour with a company like DC Metro Food Tours. For lunch on the run or to purchase a picnic (tip: dining along the Mall is limited, so bring snacks), look to Union Market, a warehouse-like food market housing over 30 of the top food producers in the region. There is no better place to taste DC on a plate. In Dupont Circle, Afterwords Cafe is part of a buzzy bookshop and a great spot to enjoy beautifully made coffees, delectable cakes and bistro fare on the outdoor patio. For something more formal, seek out Central Michel Richard. Here you can chow down on new takes on American comfort food favourites – lobster burgers anyone? – in a swanky setting.

After dark
After a hard day at the office, locals love to let their hair down. Indeed it’s the everyday locals that may just prove to be the city’s biggest drawcard. Strike up at a friendship at a hip U Street bar such as Marvin (Carrie Bradshaw and the girls would feel at home here, sipping expertly mixed cocktails in a low lit lounge with vaulted ceilings) or Bar Pillar – a neighbourhood favourite over on 14th Street. More of an oenophile? Default to Dickson Wine Bar whose cosy walls are covered in wine bars. Afterwards catch a show at the nearby 9.30 club – DC’s original live music venue. Pretty much everyone who is anyone, has played here when in town.

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Shop to it
Right now the retail buzz is all about The CityCenter complex, which opened over in Penn Quarter last year. Housing 40 individual boutiques together with all the big designer names, this is where Washington’s politicians and power players head when they want some new threads. Even if your budget is more Primark than Prada, CityCenter is worth visiting for the atmosphere and phenomenal people watching opportunities alone. Elsewhere art aficionados will want to check out the Phillips Collection near Dupont Circle (a favourite with DC’s diplomatic and gay scene) which houses a remarkable collection of European and American works. Alternatively make for M Street in historic Georgetown, whose charming cobblestone streets sell everything from streetwear to deli delight. For a post shopping sugar hit, seek out Baked & Wired in Thomas Jefferson Street and indulge in a cupcake (or two). Work off any excess calories consumed by heading to Oak Hill Cemetery – a picturesque 24 acre cemetery, that’s a popular spot for a leisurely stroll.

Child friendly Washington
Kids in tow? Ankle biters will love Washington’s new Capitol Observation Ferris Wheel at the National Harbour, which serves up spectacular views of the DC skyline. Expect to see iconic landmarks like Arlington National Cemetery, US Capitol Building as well as the White House. For an extra special experience, reserve the VIP gondola featuring, as it does, glass floors, wine chillers, a retracting monitor/DVD player and leather bucket seats. Alternatively wander to Georgetown Waterfront Park to gawp at the enormous yachts and enjoy the pretty plaza, filled with fountains.

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Not all hotels are created equally. If you’re after character and local charm, check into The Carlyle. Located in the arty suburb of Dupont Circle, The Carlyle is an elegant affair – think clean lines and polished finishes, with just the right touch of 1920s nostalgia. Thoughtful touches include complimentary morning coffee – caffeine runs through the blood of Washingtonians – and bike loans. Even if you’re not staying at The Carlyle, do enjoy a meal at the newly opened The Riggsby – a plush restaurant which elevates eating to the extraordinary – or a drink in the adjoining bar. With its modernist lighting, it’s great place to meet trendy travellers.

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Getting around
Wooho! Washington DC is one American city where it is possible to leave the car at home. DC is served by an excellent (and affordable) metro system – one of the best in the country – while much of the city can be navigated on foot or by bike.

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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