Explore Washington, USA
Explore Washington D.C the capital of the United States of America and the seat of its three branches of government, as well as the federal district of the U.S. The city has an unparalleled collection of free, public museums and many of the nation’s most treasured monuments and memorials. The vistas on the National Mall between the Capitol, Washington Monument, White House, and Lincoln Memorial are famous throughout the world as icons of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nation.
D.C. has shopping, dining, and nightlife befitting a world-class metropolis. Travelers will find the city to be exciting, cosmopolitan, and international.
Virtually all of D.C.’s tourists flock to the National Mall—a two-mile long, beautiful stretch of parkland that holds many of the city’s monuments and Smithsonian museums—but the city itself is a vibrant metropolis that often has little to do with monuments, politics, or neoclassical buildings. The Smithsonian is a “can’t miss,” but don’t trick yourself—you haven’t really been to D.C. until you’ve been out and about the city.
Downtown (The National Mall, East End, West End, Waterfront)
- The most-visited areas: The National Mall, D.C.’s main theater district, Smithsonian and non-Smithsonian museums galore, fine dining, Chinatown, the Capital One Arena, the Convention Center, the central business district, the White House, West Potomac Park, the Kennedy Center, George Washington University, the beautiful Tidal Basin, Nationals Park, and the Wharf. The National park at the center of the city, surrounded by the white monumental buildings of the U.S. government, and containing an extraordinary collection of monuments, memorials, free museums, cherry blossoms, squirrels, and pigeons.
North Central (DuPont Circle, Shaw, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, Petworth)
- C.’s trendiest and most diverse neighborhoods and the places to go for live music, nightlife, and loads of restaurants, Howard University, boutique shopping, beautiful embassies, Little Ethiopia, U Street, and lots of nice hotels. Shaw, the more laid back of the three North Central neighborhoods, which historically has been the center of African-American cultural life in the city, has nightlife along U St catering to a slightly older and more sophisticated crowd, incredible food in Little Ethiopia, off-beat shopping, the city’s main live music venues, and its most exciting art gallery scene at Logan Circle. Adams Morgan has many bars with live music concentrated on 18th street, several good restaurants and is just a nice neighborhood for a walk. Columbia Heights includes the city’s largest shopping mall as well as plenty of budget dining and drinking options. Along with the adjacent neighborhood of Mount Pleasant, it is home to most of the city’s Salvadoran population and its signature comfort food, the pupusa. Petworth includes Abraham Lincoln’s summer cottage and Carter Barron Amphitheatre as well as an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants.
West (Georgetown, Upper Northwest)
- The prestigious, wealthy side of town, home to the historic village of Georgetown with its energetic nightlife, colonial architecture, and fine dining; the National Zoo; the massive National Cathedral; bucolic Dumbarton Oaks; the bulk of D.C.’s high-end shopping; more Embassy Row; American University; and several nice dining strips. Colonial architecture and cobblestone streets, sports bars, upscale and boutique shopping, bucolic Dumbarton Oaks, and Georgetown University.
East (Capitol Hill, Near Northeast, Brookland, Anacostia)
- Starting at the Capitol Building and Library of Congress, and fanning out past grandiose Union Station and the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood, to the less often visited neighborhoods by Gallaudet and Catholic University, historic Anacostia, D.C.’s “Little Vatican” around the National Shrine, the huge National Arboretum, the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, offbeat nightlife in the Atlas District, and a handful of other eccentric neighborhoods to explore. Τhe main theater district, more great museums, many tourist traps, the Capital One Arena, the Convention Center, Chinatown, and fine dining a la successful restaurateur José Andrés. Near Northeast — offbeat nightlife in the Atlas District, Gallaudet University, and the huge National Arboretum. Brookland — D.C.’s “Little Vatican” around the National Shrine and Catholic University. Anacostia — the many neighborhoods East of the River falls off even the radar of the locals, but can make a great “day trip” to visit the Frederick Douglass and Smithsonian Anacostia museums and the beautiful Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, or simply to better understand how such a poor and neglected neighborhood with such rich history could exist in the capital of the world’s richest nation.
D.C. is actually at the center of one of the country’s largest metropolitan areas, and a lot of the big area attractions, such as the Arlington Cemetery, the Iwo Jima Memorial, the airports, the Pentagon, the National Mormon Temple, the area’s best ethnic dining, and hotels with a slightly lower sales tax rate are actually just beyond the city borders—don’t miss the Best of the ‘Burbs.
Washington, D.C., is a city borne of politics, by politics, and for politics. It wasn’t the first national capital: Baltimore, Lancaster, York, Annapolis, Trenton, Philadelphia, and even New York City all hosted the national government. However, it was clear that the nation’s capital would need to be independent from the then-powerful state governments and that the southern states would refuse to accept a capital in the north. On July 16, 1790, Congress passed The Residence Act, which established that the capital of the U.S. will be located along the Potomac River. On January 24, 1791, President Washington announced the specific location of the new federal city just north of his 70,000-acre estate. A diamond-shaped federal district was carved out of land from the states of Maryland and Virginia and the federal government purchased large swaths of mostly-undeveloped land from its owners. The existing municipalities of Georgetown and Alexandria remained independent cities within the newly created District of Columbia.
D.C. is impressively international. There are more embassies in D.C. than in any other city in the world, drawing international professionals from almost every country in the world.
Washington, D.C. is served by three major airports. All three airports offer unlimited free Wi-Fi.
D.C. has a professional team in each of the six major U.S. professional sports.
What to buy
Souvenirs are easy to find at stands and stores near the National Mall and East End. However, these offerings tend to be tacky (shot glasses, magnets, t-shirts, etc…). The gift shops of the Smithsonian museums have unique offerings and are great places to buy gifts.
Eastern Market in Capitol Hill is a favorite Saturday or Sunday afternoon shopping destination for locally produced food and artwork. Even if you’re not buying, it’s a great place to browse and eat.
Eclectic boutiques and vintage stores abound in Georgetown, Adams Morgan, Upper Northwest, and Shaw. However, prices are high; you are not likely to find many bargains.
Art galleries are plentiful throughout the city and make for great browsing, although the prices are on the high side.
Specialty book stores are also common in D.C. due to the educated populace. There are also some great options in Capitol Hill and the East End.
What to eat
Washington has a little bit of everything, from really good ethnic takeout to high-dollar lobbyist-fueled places that will cause your credit card to burst into flames.
Most of the high end cuisine is available in the West End, the East End, Georgetown, and Dupont Circle—offering dining experiences ranging from steakhouses packed with powerful suits to Minibar by Jose Andres.
D.C.’s international might draws representatives from all corners of the globe, and they all need ex-pat cafes and restaurants to haunt. Notable “ethnic” enclaves include wonderful Ethiopian food in Shaw and decent Chinese food in what remains of D.C.’s disappearing Chinatown.
Salvadoran cuisine such as the pupusa is common in Columbia Heights. Pupusas are thick corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, optionally fried pork, refried beans, or all sorts of other things, then topped with a tart cabbage salad and an Italianesque red sauce.
Ethiopian food is a D.C. staple due to the city’s large Ethiopian community. Ethiopian food is a wild ride of spicy stewed and sautéed meats and vegetables served atop a plate covered with a spongy bread called injera. You eat the dishes with your hands, using an extra plate of injera (similar to bread) as your sole “utensil”—rip off a piece of the injera and use it to pick up your food. It’s proper in Ethiopia to use only the tips of your fingers in this exercise, and with good reason: you’ll have a messy meal otherwise. It’s also perfectly proper to feed your date, making this a fun cuisine if you know your date well. The best places to try Ethiopian food are in Shaw, which includes Little Ethiopia
The closest thing that D.C. has to a unique local cuisine is the half-smoke: smoked half-beef, half-pork sausages. They have a firm “snap” when you bite into one, are served on a hot dog bun, and are often topped with chili. They are commonly sold at food trucks on the National Mall.
Cupcake fever in D.C. is fueled by tourists lured by TV shows such as Cupcake Wars. The cupcake bakeries sometimes have lines running around the block.
What to drink
The legal drinking/purchasing age is 21 and it is strictly enforced in D.C. Be prepared to have your identification checked, even if you appear to be well over 21.
Bars and dance clubs, many of which have live music, are plentiful along 18th St in Adams Morgan, along 14th St and along U St in nearby Shaw, and in Near Northeast, which are the 3 main areas of the city for going on a pub crawl. Several hotels in Georgetown include very classy popular bars.
D.C.’s classiest dance clubs are along Connecticut Avenue in DuPont Circle. Music genres played at clubs here include pop, hip hop, and Latin. Many of these bars and clubs have a dress code. DuPont Circle and Shaw also have many bars/clubs that cater to a gay crowd.
There are several 500-1,500 person music venues in Shaw.
Live jazz is very popular in D.C. Jazz legend Duke Ellington frequently played at clubs in Shaw.
Go-go is a musical genre related to funk and early hip-hop that originated in D.C. in the 1960’s. Go-go clubs were once probably D.C.’s most distinctive nightlife scene and were concentrated in Anacostia. However, many clubs now refuse to host go-go bands due to the staggering number of stabbings and homicides that occurred at these events. If you’re looking for live go-go, look for big outdoor events or head out to Takoma Station Tavern near Takoma Park, the only venue in D.C that still has regular go-go acts.
Most people in Washington DC have liberal, cosmopolitan, secular and environmentalist values by American standards. This spares both domestic and foreign tourists from cultural clashes which might be imminent elsewhere. However, some strict rules of etiquette are almost distinctive in Washington DC.
With its highly educated, professional, and political populace, D.C. is a relatively formal and fashion-conscious city. Even in the summer, t-shirts and shorts are in the minority downtown or at bars and restaurants. However, if you just want to enjoy being a tourist, wear what is comfortable and don’t worry—you’ll be in good company! But if you prefer to blend in, a safe bet, anytime of day, for men are nice dark jeans and an un-tucked button-up or polo shirt, and perhaps dark sneakers or something a little nicer and more stylish. Women will often blend in better in a nice pair of sandals, boots, or other nice shoes, and maybe skipping the T-shirt and sneakers in the evening.
For fine dining or the theater, expect to dress nicely. A good button-up shirt and slacks are a must for any nice restaurant. Ties are never a necessity, but the most formal restaurants (mostly steakhouses and French) will require men to wear jackets (but will usually have courtesy jackets on loan in case you forget). Women will be fine in a dress, skirt, or nice pants.
Cellular reception is available all over the city. If you don’t want to use data or don’t have a phone the D.C. government operates a network of free, public Wi-Fi hotspots across the city. Free Wi-Fi is also available at D.C. public libraries and many local coffee shops, which are also nice places to relax. If you need to use a computer, the libraries have public computer terminals. As in most of the U.S., Internet cafes are a rare phenomenon.
There are many places near Washington to visit.
Official tourism websites of Washington
For more information please visit the official government website: