36 Hours In… Washington DC
The US capital of Washington DC is at its elegant best beneath a canopy of spring blossom, says Peter Foster.
Why go now?
After a long, grey winter, there can be few more exuberant expressions of spring than Washington DC’s annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, which opens on March 20 and runs until April 14.
The spectacular cherry blossoms on Washington’s National Mall are nature’s equivalent of a firework display: the many varieties of Japanese cherry exploding in bursts of white, pink and purple that stand out against blue, blue skies.
Washington is a city best seen on foot – the White House, the Mall and the memorials to Lincoln, Jefferson, Martin Luther King and FDR – which is why it pays to take note of the seasons. Bitterly cold in winter, steamy hot in summer, March and April can still be chilly in the evening, but offer perfect walking weather by day.
There are more than 300 flights a week between London and Washington, with prices starting from about £500 return.
British Airways also flies to Baltimore’s BWI airport (an hour by train from DC) from London, Manchester and Edinburgh.
Where to stay
Special treat: The Willard InterContinental (1) (001 202 628 9100; washington.intercontinental.com), established in 1818, has hosted Abraham Lincoln, Charles Dickens, Martin Luther King and David Lloyd George. From $259/£172.
Mid-range: The Normandy (2) ( 2118 Wyoming Ave NW; doylecollection.com) is known for its warm service and prime location in the prestigious Embassy Row of Dupont Circle, a minute’s walk from the Phillips Collection, America’s first museum of modern art. From £85.
On a budget: The Tabard Inn (3) (001 202 785 1277; tabardinn.com), in a quiet corner of the vibrant Dupont Circle neighbourhood, was converted from a row of townhouses in 1922. Its 40 rooms, each with eclectic decor, offer DC’s quintessential boutique experience. From £80.
Hop on the Metro to Farragut West and follow Pennsylvania Avenue straight to the White House (4). Though you won’t be able to see into any of the residence’s 132 rooms without an appointment, you may be lucky enough to see Marine One, the President’s helicopter, touching down on the South Lawn or the family dog, Bo, being taken for his morning walk.
For dinner, call ahead for reservations at Old Ebbitt Grill (5) (001 202 347 4800). Directly across from the Treasury on 15th Street, it’s one of Washington’s landmark restaurants and a favourite of former presidents Grant, Cleveland, Harding and Theodore Roosevelt. The menu features renowned raw bar platters and other delicious, yet simple, American fare. Expect to pay around £30 a head for three courses.
Start the day with a trip to Old Post Office Pavilion’s 315-ft Clock Tower (6) for an unparalleled 360-degree look at DC and its famous sites, including the Washington Monument and Capitol Building. Take the blue/orange Metro line to the Federal Triangle. Tours are free and run daily into the early evening (001 202 606 8691; oldpostofficedc.com/history.php).
Take the metro to Foggy Bottom or jump in a cab to the Georgetown Waterfront for brunch at Sequoia, one of the finest joints in the area. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide a rare ambience and sunny views of the Potomac River. Sit outside on the patio and watch the kayakers, pleasure cruisers and the odd university rowing eight pottering by. Brunch approx £20 per head.
The adventurous should take to the river in a rented kayak or paddleboard at Jack’s Boathouse by the Key Bridge (7) (3500 K Street; 001 202 337 9642; guided tour, £29).
One of the best ways to visit DC is through Quality Private Tours of Washington D.C. http://www.qptofdc.com
Slow things down with a walk through the United States Botanic Gardens (8). Free tours last 45 minutes and take visitors through the Conservatory with its plethora of themed special collections. Nearest Metro stop: Federal Center.
An early dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s CityZen restaurant (9) (001 202 787 6148). Top-notch modern American cuisine, local ingredients and a popular vegetarian menu make it one of Washington’s best. £58 per person for a four-course tasting menu. Call for reservations. Best reached by cab.
Hop back in a taxi and head to the John F Kennedy Center (10) (kennedy-center.org/index.cfm) for drama, opera or music. Don’t miss the breezy roof deck overlooking the Potomac River. Sports fans can head to the Verizon Center to take in a Wizards (basketball) game (nba.com/wizards). Or, from April 1, watch the local Major League baseball team The Nationals (washington.nationals.mlb.com) at Nationals Park, 1500 South Capitol Street, SE.
Hail a taxi to DC’s diverse Adams Morgan neighbourhood for a drink at the Jack Rose Dining Saloon (11) (18th Street; 001 202 588 7388). Or stop off at Dupont Circle and enjoy a glass of wine at the cosy Tabard Inn Bar (001 202 331 8528).
Head down to the Tidal Basin to see what the cherry blossom buzz is all about. Metro stop: Smithsonian. Stroll round the water’s edge taking in the monuments and memorials. The FDR Memorial (12) is a must-see. Alternatively, rent a paddleboat (tidalbasinpaddleboats.com; £8 an hour). Another option is a Potomac River cruise (dc-cruises.com; £16 adults/ £8 for children). Buy tickets in advance.
If you haven’t already, now’s the time to check out one of DC’s many museums. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (13) (001 202 633 2214) or the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History (001 202 633 1000; free) are children’s favourites. Alternatively, jump on the metro to the Archives stop and see the widely acclaimed Newseum (14) (newseum.org; £14 adult/£8 child) – a stunning interactive world of news and information.
DC’s most venerable diner, Ben’s Chili Bowl (001 202 667 0909) is right off the U Street Metro, where the newly inaugurated president first visited after coming to Washington in 2009. Most customers opt for the famous half-smoke and chili cheese fries. No freebies, unless your name is Barack Obama.
for more info please visit Quality Private Tours of Washington D.C. http://www.qptofdc.com/