Get your bearings by wandering from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol Building along the 2-mile centrepiece National Mall, home to the majority of the city’s 17 Smithsonian museums. The cast-iron dome of the Capitol marks the geographic heart of the city, from where all neighbourhoods radiate outwards. With a population of just 600,000, Washington DC is smaller than almost any major capital city you can think of, making it easily navigable on foot, by bike or via its easy Metro system.
Beyond all the glittering white marble and neoclassical architecture, shopping and entertainment options abound. Georgetown and Dupont Circle both offer stylish stores and speciality boutiques of the mainstream and indie variety, with a buzzing dining and nightlife scene, or sample local produce and people-watch at the Eastern Market in Capitol Hill. Further north, Adams Morgan brims with coffee shops, bookstores and galleries and caters to a young, hip crowd.
Music and theatre are huge, with venues like The Kennedy Center and Warner Theatre attracting large audiences. Free summer concerts and a year-round calendar of festivals add to the rich culture of the city.
Washington DC is home to an eclectic dining scene, with restaurants varying considerably depending on the neighbourhood. If you want to hang out with lobbyists and lawmakers, check out swanky Capitol Hill venues. There are also a string of good value ethnic options at the intersection of 18th Street and Columbia Road, including Peruvian and Mexican restaurants. Georgetown and Dupont Circle rival each other for variety, with a reliable selection of contemporary American and Italian fare. And don’t forget to try a chili dog – it’s a DC institution!
Those looking to exercise their muscles as well as their minds will find no shortage of options in Washington DC. One of the most popular activities is kayaking on the fast-moving waters of the Potomac or Shenandoah rivers, with challenging whitewater tubing and rafting available for the extra bold. Beginners can learn to paddle on the calmer waters of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, or hire a bike and cycle along a section of the 184.5 mile towpath. For the ultimate adrenaline rush book a tandem skydive at DC Skydiving Center, with widescreen views of northern Virginia and the Capitol included with every freefall.
When to visit
The best times to visit Washington, D.C., are from September to November and March to May. In the autumn, the sweltering summer is gone, taking with it most of the high season tourists. All that’s left are crisp breezes and changing leaves, which, by the way, look great against all those marble monuments. Second to fall is spring, which is also a mini high season thanks to the National Cherry Blossom Festival in late March and early April. Summer in D.C. is hot and sticky, making less than ideal conditions for exploring the great outdoors. That said, many museums blast air conditioning, so if you can stand the heat, you’ll find plenty of free attractions to keep you entertained. Winter is definitely low season and although the weather is mild compared to other destinations along the East Coast, the city is prone to freezing cold temperatures and snowstorms.