2015 marked the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and, as you already know, Washington is that kind of city whose official religion is national politics
Population: 5.8 million
Foreign visitors per year: 1.8 million
Unit of currency: US dollar (US$)
Cost index: bottle of wine US$12, hotel (double) for a night US$250, Metrorail Daily Pass US$14, dinner for two (mid-range) US$70
Why go ASAP?
Washington is one of the top museum and monument cities in the world and the Smithsonian Institution, a network of 19 museums, a zoo and several research centres, is a top draw. The 2015 opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture marked the institution’s first new museum in more than a decade. It is the country’s only national museum devoted to African-American culture. 2015 also marked the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and, as you already know, Washington is that kind of city whose official religion is national politics.
Several mixed-use development projects are in the works – like downtown’s CityCenterDC and The Yards, along a formerly industrial stretch of the Anacostia River, both of which were opened in 2015 and beyond – with condos, hotels, retail and public outdoor spaces that are transforming the urban landscape and meeting the demands of the city’s large population of young professionals.
Add to this a vibrant gay bar scene, incredible ethnic eats thanks to thriving immigrant communities (like top-notch Ethiopian) and a venerable performing arts tradition at venues like the Kennedy Center, and the nation’s capital is looking more epic than ever.
Festivals & Events:
On 14 april 2015 was the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln at Washington’s Ford’s Theatre by the actor John Wilkes Booth. Ford’s Theatre made a full commemorative schedule and a replica of Lincoln’s funeral train that retraced the original steam engine’s trip from DC to Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois, among other events.
Late March to early April is when the National Cherry Blossom Festival goes off, thanks to the spectacular, ethereal blooms of 3000 trees given to the city by the mayor of Tokyo in 1912. Check the National Park Service’s website for ‘peak bloom’ dates.
No one does Independence Day (4 July) better than the nation’s capital. Check out the parade, hit up one of the many block parties and barbecues around the city, then watch the red, white and blue fireworks explode in the night sky.
No one would call it uplifting and it’s definitely not for younger children, but you will never forget your visit to DC’s United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. A powerful monument to the Holocaust, the permanent exhibition spans three floors, tracing an arc from the rise of Nazism beginning in 1933 to the Allied victory in 1945. A display of 4000 shoes of inmates who perished at the Polish Majdanek concentration camp and the Tower of Faces, a high-ceilinged room covered in 1500 photos taken between 1890 and 1941 in the town of Eishyshok (formerly in Poland, now in Lithuania), where over the course of two days in 1941 Nazis and their collaborators eradicated nearly all of the Jewish residents, are especially haunting.
Classic restaurant experience Jose Andres, one of America’s top chefs and a leading figure in contemporary Spanish cuisine, was born in northern Spain but moved to Washington in the early ’90s. Andres may run an empire spanning 13 restaurants (and one food truck) across five cities, but his first-ever restaurant, Jaleo, which turned 20 in 2013, is going stronger than ever. This Penn Quarter favourite is the place to go for classic and contemporary tapas in a setting with as much colour and energy as an Almodovar movie.
Best shopping :
Washington has always been more of a blazers-and-pearls kind of town, but in the last few years the city has experienced a rebirth of style thanks in no small part to a certain First Lady’s high-profile designer wardrobe. Georgetown is by far DC’s most style-conscious shopping district, with its backdrop of colourful row houses, canal and cobblestones. You’ll find everything from finely curated antiques (try Jean Pierre) and designer kids’ clothes (The Magic Wardrobe) to unique jewellery (Charm Georgetown).
Classic place to stay:
The Willard Hotel (now an InterContinental) traces its illustrious history back to 1850 when brothers Edwin and Henry Willard opened their inn one block from the White House. Having played host to nearly every US president since the mid-19th century and such luminaries as Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Martin Luther King Jr, the grand dame of Washington hotels has many a tale to tell. Can’t afford to spend the night? Stroll through the opulent Beaux-Arts lobby to cocktail hour at the clubby Round Robin bar. Kentucky senator Henry Clay introduced Washington to the mint julep when he mixed one up here in the 1850s and they still use his recipe.