he capital of the United States, and the seat of its three branches of government, has a collection of free, public museums unparalleled in size and scope throughout the history of mankind, and the lion’s share 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.
But behind its public face of luminous marble memorials, Washington, D.C. leads also an exciting life, especially in Georgetown, the neighborhood popular for its high-end shopping and dining, quaint 18th century row houses on cobblestone streets, rowdy collegiate nightlife, jazz clubs, a lively waterfront harbor, and Georgetown University.
PLACES TO VISIT
he National Mall the monumental green space at the heart of Washington, D.C., the heart of the national psyche, and the heart of civic America. This national treasure stretches for two miles just south of the White House, from the U.S. Capitol Building in the east to the Lincoln Memorial and Potomac River on the west. The park is home to the Smithsonian, a huge collection of the nation’s best (and free) museums, as well as most of the country’s most famous memorials and monuments. It is the number-one destination for visitors in the city, and one of the biggest destinations in the country.
The West End is the western section of downtown, including the central business district, sometimes known as Golden Triangle or, simply, K St, along with the Foggy Bottom neighborhood. The White House and its grounds function as a barrier between the East End and the West End, with the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Ave closed to motorists. In the daytime, Lafayette Square and the block of Pennsylvania Ave closed to motorists in front of the White House are popular with crowds and street hockey enthusiasts.
The Waterfront, lies just south of the National Mall, but despite its attractions and location, has remained overlooked by most visitors to the city. Don’t make this mistake; walk down to the Fish Wharf and have some seafood! The neighborhood is often referred to as the “Southwest,” as it is part of that rare SW quadrant of the city—the vast majority of the city’s southwest quadrant (modern day Arlington and Alexandria) retroceded to Virginia in the early nineteenth century to avoid the criminalization of the slave trade.
Dupont Circle is D.C.’s trendiest neighborhood, owing to its collection of night clubs, bars, cafes, art galleries, and shops. It is widely considered the epicenter of the gay community in D.C.
Capitol Hill is a venerable neighborhood just east of the Capitol building, best known as the main residence in the city for the legislative and judicial branches of the U.S. government, and for the staffers who run the place. Rare is the visitor who skips a visit to the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court steps, or the Library of Congress, but time permitting you should make an effort to head further east to see this beautiful neighborhood, and to have a nice meal on Barracks Row while listening to the politicos chatter away. The Hill extends several miles east of the Capitol to RFK Stadium and the Anacostia river.
mbassies: D.C. is home to more embassies than any other city in the world, and any country without one will have consular representation one way or another. Most are housed in beautiful old buildings (or impressive modern ones), especially those most prominently located along Embassy Row on Massachusetts Ave through Dupont Circle and Woodley Park. If you just want to visit one for the heck of it, try ringing the buzzer of one from a small, lesser-known country—they may well let you in and give a little tour! Each May, dozens of embassies open their doors to the public for the Passport D.C. festival , which showcases the buildings themselves, as well as exhibits, talks, and performances.
Georgetown is a neighborhood in Washington, D.C. to the south of Woodley Park and west of Dupont Circle across Rock Creek Park. It is popular for its high-end shopping and dining, quaint 18th century rowhouses on cobblestone streets, rowdy collegiate nightlife, waterfront harbor, and Georgetown University. It also has some of the most historical attractions in Washington, D.C., as well as the embassies of France, Mongolia, Sweden, Thailand, Venezuela, and Ukraine. Since Georgetown is, in fact, older than the rest of D.C. (and since its history, either as an African-American or exclusive enclave denotes separation by its very nature), Georgetown feels very separate from the rest of D.C. This contrasts to the rest of the neighborhoods in D.C., which tend to bleed into one another as one progresses from center to fringe to new center. In effect, D.C. is a getaway for Georgetowners. It is one of the prettiest areas not only of D.C., but of the entire country, and it’s best explored by foot.
The Arlington National Cemetery occupies 612 acres in Virginia on the Potomac River, directly opposite Washington, D.C.; more than 240,000 service members and their dependents are buried there. Among the many famous and distinguished people buried in the cemetery are presidents William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy.
Washington, DC is in the Eastern time zone.
WHAT TO WEAR
Spring is mostly pleasant with temperatures averaging 67 F, jacket is recommended in the evening; expect high temperatures in the summer, around 80F and above. Humidity stays around 60% year round. This seems the perfect time to visit museums, or stay indoors. You’ll need to pack whatever keeps you the coolest. During the Fall, temperatures range from 50F to 79F, with the lowest rainfall of the year. Winters in Washington, DC have been extremely cold lately, with several snow and ice storms. Boots and waterproof gear is a must.
Georgetown is among the best neighborhoods for shopping. There are many boutiques lining busy M Street and Wisconsin Avenue. During weekends, locals shop at the 139-year-old Eastern Market for fresh produce and blueberry pancakes.
Most museums are open daily 10:30am to 5:30pm; some, including several of the Smithsonians, stay open later in spring and summer. Most banks are open from 9am to 3pm Monday through Thursday with some staying open until 5pm on Friday and some open for business on Saturday mornings. Stores typically open between 9 and 10am and close between 5 and 6pm from Monday to Saturday
NO SMOKING PLEASE
Smoking regulations in public areas are becoming stricter than ever. Smoking is illegal in public buildings, sports arenas, elevators, theaters, banks, lobbies, restaurants, offices, stores, most hotel lobbies, and bars.
The sales tax on merchandise is 6% in the District, 6% in Maryland, and 6% in Virginia. Restaurant tax is 10% in the District, 6% in Maryland, and varied in Virginia, depending on the city and county. Hotel tax is 14.5% in the District, varied 5% to 8% in Maryland, and averages about 9.75% in Virginia.
Suggested tipping in hotels are $1-2 per bag for porterage and $2 per day for the housemaid. Taxi drivers and restaurant staff receive an average of 15%-20% gratuity.
The legal age for purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages is 21; proof of age is required
Within the District of Columbia, the area code is 202. In Northern Virginia it’s 703, and in D.C.’s Maryland suburbs, the area code is 301.