A super-quick guide to Washington, DC
Global eats, dinosaur skeletons and a hotel celebrating female empowerment are a few highlights of this historical city
Washington, DC, rarely thought of as hip or cool, has shaken off its stuffy image and evolved immensely over the past decade into a dynamic, modern, multicultural city, thrumming with lively bars, eateries and galleries. With its storied history of beauty and brutality, this bustling metropolis is flush with stately landmarks, monuments and memorials, and some of the world’s greatest museums. From Georgetown’s picturesque cobbled streets to vibrant food, music and art, there’s much unexpected fun to be had in the US capital.
Perched on a hillside, this retro-indie boutique in a former neoclassical church is effortlessly cool. Bright and breezy, it’s filled with original art and has three buzzy restaurants, a cool cafe and a cavernous lobby bar with vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows that shimmer with sunlight and turn the bar gold. Perfect for those who want to live like the locals, the main drag of the bohemian Adams Morgan neighbourhood is around the corner, packed with bars, shops and every type of cuisine you could desire.
Year-round rooftop bars have become a thing in DC during recent years. A canopy of lush vines, plants and lanterns makes El Techo feel like a secret treehouse, where you can sip margaritas or mojitos under the stars. Serving creative, Latin-inspired small plates and craft cocktails, the bar has a buzzing atmosphere and DJs spin Latin beats on most nights. Dance the night away surrounded by palm trees.
A few blocks north of the tourist-heavy Wharf district, the historic Baptist church has been reborn as a psychedelic arts space and attracts a young, cool flock. The formerly derelict building is now a treasured community hotspot, bursting with local pride, art shows, talks, live music and even jazz concerts in its garden. The gallery opens for public viewings on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
This Lebanese transplant first launched in New York sits on DC’s much-loved Potomac River waterfront, and it’s a feast for the senses. Inspired by Beirut’s courtyard gardens, with lemon trees, hanging bird-cage chandeliers and a flowing fountain, the high-ceilinged space is enchanting. It’s mezze-heavy menu offers an elegant take on familiar staples: citrusy salads glistening with jewel-like pomegranates, seared halloumi, falafel, flatbreads and dips, and knafe bil jibneh, an “inverted sweet cheese tart” with orange blossom syrup.
If you only have time to visit one museum, the Smithsonian is unmissable. Set on the broad green National Mall, the domed Beaux-Arts building is regularly one of the world’s most-visited museums. Stroll amid the iconic Hall of Mammals and see live butterflies and exotic blooms in the tropical oasis of the Butterfly Pavilion. It’s easy to lose whole afternoons just wandering among sharks and dinosaur skeletons. There are also two brilliant cafes for lunch. The museum is open seven days a week and admission is free.
The chic and unique downtown hangout is stuffed with swoon-worthy original artwork. The striking Ruth Bader Ginsburg mural overlooks the mid-century modern lounge, while 8,000 protest buttons from decades of feminist marches adorn the walls of the hotel’s swanky Figleaf restaurant. Proof that a cooler, younger side of DC exists. Its rooftop lounge is a great place to perch for sunset cocktails with sweeping views of the city skyline.
Part cafe-bookstore, part social hub, this is the ultimate urban living room with a cosy atmosphere and plush sofas, where people meet for coffee, drinks, vegetarian snacks and to chill out. Boasting a handful of locations across DC, B&P was first established by Iraqi-American artist and activist Andy Shallal in 2005. Live music, poetry readings, book talks, open-mic nights and community art shows are regularly on the menu.
Once known as ‘Black Broadway’, U Street was an important hub of African American culture from the 1920s through to the 1950s, and its iconic R&B and jazz clubs have hosted the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Billy Holiday and local legend Duke Ellington, who was born in DC. After race riots in the city in 1968, the corridor began to decline in the years following, but has been fully revived and now stands as one of the most happening spots in the city. Brightly-painted houses and murals pay homage to the area’s rich history and U street once again jangles after dark, offering all-night restaurants, vintage dive bars, cocktail lounges and music venues for fans of all stripes.
Once a Victorian mansion’s carriage house, the Iron Gate is among DC’s hippest brunch spots. It dishes up Mediterranean-inspired classics – like ricotta gnocchi, mushroom arancini and chocolate budino – alongside a selection of Greek and southern Italian wines. Between the grapevine and wisteria-draped patio and cosy fire-lit parlour-like dining room, it’s beyond charming and a great place to linger.