Quirky Washington

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

The planet’s most powerful city, is also one of the world’s quirkiest. Anna Maria Espsäter has the low-down

Obama returns to the White House

It’s easy to overlook what a fun place Washington D.C. can be. On the face of it, the city is all imposing monuments and important government buildings, making the U.S. capital come across as slightly dull and official. Away from the political hotspots, however, there are many classy and quirky neighbourhoods just waiting to be explored.

An old Foggy Bottom

House in Foggy Bottom

Despite the dubious-sounding name, Foggy Bottom is a rather pretty part of Washington, replete with charming 19th century houses, former homes of the area’s early residents; working-class Irish, Germans and African Americans. Foggy Bottom lies just to the west of Downtown and the White House, close to the Potomac River, hence the name – the numerous factories along the river used to shroud it in an almost continual ‘fog’ of smoke. This shroud has now been lifted and instead the area has become increasingly upmarket with top-notch hotels and restaurants of the “booking-is-essential” kind. There are several buildings of world-renown here, worth a wander-round, of which the Watergate Complex is the most (in)famous. Next to it lies the John F Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, right on the river, another building that’s worth a peek or a visit in the evening – theatre, ballet, concerts or opera are all performed here. Washington is surprisingly stroller-friendly and these days it feels pleasantly safe. No longer nicknamed murder-capital of the world, violent crime has decreased by well over 50 per cent since the early 1990s, reaching the lowest since 1963 last year. The city has well and truly cleaned up its act, particularly in the more central parts.

Circling Dupont and Morganing Adams
Strolling through Washington’s neighbourhoods is a great way to explore more and it’s an easy walk of 2,5 miles from Foggy Bottom via Dupont Circle to another interesting neighbourhood, Adams Morgan. In fact, Dupont Circle, the area between the two, is also worth a stop to check out its excellent museums, galleries and lively book shops, some, such as Kramers with excellent cafes attached. It’s a good idea to schedule in some chilling time in a bookshop-cum-café before hitting Adams Morgan – this neighbourhood is quite possibly the funkiest, most colourful and most happening in all of central Washington. Columbia Road and 18th Street, running right through the heart of it, are filled with brightly coloured buildings, murals, art and graffiti. This is the place to go for a night out, whether dining, drinking, dancing or just checking out the music scene – the clubs often play live jazz, blues, bluegrass, Latin, rock, soul and more until the early hours. There are a myriad different world cuisines to sample, from Mexican, Brazilian and Turkish to Jewish, Vietnamese and Ethiopian. If bourbon is your tipple, Adams Morgan is also home to the Bourbon Bar (www.boubondc.com) with more bourbons than you could possibly down in one session. They even provide sample trays, or extra tiny measures (10-15 ml) to give you a chance to try a few more than you otherwise might.

Adams Morgan

Where George once had a town
Historic Georgetown, another area along the Potomac River, separated from Foggy Bottom and Dupont Circle by Rock Creek, a Potomac tributary, is arguably the most pleasant of Washington’s neighbourhoods. Named after King George II when it was founded in 1751, some 40 years before Washington itself, it remained a separate town until 1871. It retains its old-world charm, combined with a very lively student scene, home as it is to Georgetown University. The oldest Jesuit/Catholic university in the U.S. founded in 1789, it has well over 17,000 students in attendance and they turn Georgetown’s watering holes into busy places in the evenings and at weekends. Tree-lined and old-fashioned, Georgetown has a very pleasant location between Dumbarton Oaks Park, Montrose Park, the river front and Washington Harbour. Both parks are lovely for strolling and Dumbarton House, an old federal house, is open to the public. Very lively in summer, Georgetown is also remarkably cosy in winter – Christmas wreaths on doors, all the houses and shops lit up and decorated. When snow’s gently falling, Georgetown feels like a snug and inviting little village far removed from the big city. The fact that the Washington metro doesn’t run out here (quite deliberately, the residents happily proclaim) adds to the more remote village feel of the place. Historic architecture, including Georgian and Classic Revival styles, can be seen along the quiet residential streets, while only a few blocks away restaurants and tavernas, even the odd saloon, abound. M street, running the length of Georgetown, a few blocks from the river, is where most of action can be found, whether day or night time. This is also the best street for shopping – there’s everything from a fancy food market to your typical American mall, with lots of designer boutiques and quirky shops in-between.

Georgetown houses

Venture in Washington
Although Washington is well-known for its political institutions and noteworthy memorials, there is definitely something to be said for venturing further afield, where a different, more humane and less imposing Washington awaits. The neighbourhoods where immigrant communities have settled, such as Foggy Bottom or Adams Morgan, are now combining interesting history with an equally interesting present. Many of the formerly poorer areas are now culinary and entertainment hotspots, offering a wider variety of places to eat, drink, shop or dance the night away than central Washington itself. Combining a visit to the more well-known landmarks with a few stops in lesser known neighbourhoods makes a visit to Washington all the more varied and exciting. And there’s still time to sneak in a visit to coincide with Obama’s inauguration.

Georgetown Houses

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