Founded in 1791 by first American President George Washington, the city exists under the federal rule of the District of Columbia, yet doesn’t form part of any state in the country. This offbeat jurisdiction could be one of the reasons it attracts creatives and intellectuals like New York Times Chief National Correspondent Mark Leibovich and Alan Davidson, former Director of Public Policy at Google.
Washington also boasts exclusive Georgetown University, the Smithsonian Institute, the world-renowned John F Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera and the Washington Ballet.
The White House and the Capitol, with their gracious architecture, are entrenched as the nation’s most cherished symbols of freedom and patriotism. And for a sombre, but stirring perspective of the country’s heritage, Arlington Cemetery contains the graves of the USA’s most illustrious soldiers, jurists and statesmen, including John, Robert and Edward Kennedy.
Knowing how to find more than the guidebooks offer is best left to the natives. Accordingly, Creative Director Pum Lefebure and CEO Jake Lefebure, both of Design Army, share their Best of Washington, DC directory. This husband-and-wife team have worked with brands like the Washington Ballet, Adobe and Disney.
H Street (NE) – This unique neighbourhood offers new and exciting shopping, food and nightlife. It’s called the Atlas District and is just a 10-minute walk from Union Station.
14th Street (NW) – Hosting one of the main bridges crossing the Potomac River into Virginia, this transportation hub offers activities that include shopping, eating and fun.
City Guide – Washington D.C., USA
SAA operates daily direct flights from OR Tambo International in Johannesburg to Dulles International.
When to go
Washington, D.C., experiences four seasons. It snows in the winter but is hot, humid and very muggy in the summer. Bring lots of water and sunscreen in summer, dress warmly in the winter and wear snow-appropriate boots as ice can make it difficult to get around.
Summer is a very popular time of year. If you want to do things like tour the White House, you may need to ask for tickets at least a month in advance. Many people consider spring the ideal time to see this city: in April the cherry blossoms are in bloom and the climate is usually very mild.
Peak season is late March through June. July and August are less crowded, though steamy. September through November has fewer tourists, but business travelers keep hotel rates high. Winter is off-season, with fickle weather.
Currency & Costs
The currency is the US Dollar.
ATMs are widely available at banks, airports and convenience stores. Most ATMs link into worldwide networks (Plus, Cirrus, Exchange etc). ATMs typically charge a service fee of $3 or more per transaction, and your home bank may impose additional charges.
Although the airports have exchange bureaus, better rates can usually be obtained at banks in the city.is another option.
Tipping is not optional. Only withhold tips in cases of outrageously bad service.
Be alert and aware of your surroundings.
Do not accept packages from strangers.
Do not leave luggage unattended.
Promptly report unusual behavior, suspicious or unattended packages and strange devices to the police or security personnel.
Plan evacuation routes in case of an emergency.
The public-transportation system is a mix of Metro trains and buses. Visitors will find the Metro the most useful option.
The District Department of Transportation’s goDCgo (www.godcgo.com) is a useful resource for biking, bus, Metro and parking information and route planning. It even has a carbon calculator that compares different modes of local travel.
DC’s modern subway network is the Metrorail (www.wmata.com), commonly called Metro. It will get you to most sights, hotels and business districts, and to the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.
- There are six color-coded lines: Red, Orange, Blue, Green, Yellow and Silver.
- Trains start running at 5am Monday through Friday (from 7am on Saturday, 8am on Sunday); the last service is around 11:30pm Sunday through Thursday and 1am on Friday and Saturday. Trains run every 10 minutes or so, except during weekend track maintenance, when they slow down considerably.
- Fare cards are called SmarTrip cards. Machines inside all stations sell them. The plastic, rechargeable card costs $10, with $8 of that stored for fares. You then add value as needed.
- Fares cost $2 to $6, depending on distance traveled and time of day. Fares increase slightly during morning and evening rush hour.
- Use the card to enter and exit station turnstiles. Upon exit, the turnstile deducts the fare and opens the gate. If the value of the card is insufficient, you need to use an ‘Addfare’ machine to add money.
- SmarTrip cards are also usable on all local buses.
- Unlimited-ride Metro day passes cost $14.75, available at any station.
- All Metro stations have elevators, handy for travelers with strollers or mobility issues (otherwise you’re relegated to escalators, which are very lengthy at some stations).
Where to eat
Eastern Market (225 7th St, SE) is DC’s oldest continually operated fresh food market. Located in the historic Capitol Hill neighbourhood, it offers fresh food and handmade arts and crafts.
Grab fresh sandwiches, gourmet pizza and salads at Pavilion Café in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden (4th and Constitution Aves, NW). The outdoor seating enables you to view the spectacular fountain in the centre of the garden.
Go through the roll-up aluminum garage door to Taylor Gourmet (1116 H St) to discover a delicatessen and Italian market with Philadelphia-style sandwiches built in this former barbershop.
Grab a drink at the H Street Country Club (1335 H St). It’s DC’s only indoor mini golf course and bar, and comes with shuffleboard, skeeball and board games.
Reserve a table at Smith Commons (1245 H St). This three-storey bistro and bar’s menu extends from lobster to lasagne.
Biergarten Haus (1355 H St) is a great German tavern with live music, a large outdoor seating area and many authentic beers on tap.
For the sweet-toothed, Dangerously Delicious Pies (1339 H St) specialises in flavours such as berry, apple and pecan nut.
Exterior, 5th & K (8)
Cady’s Alley includes Kafe Leopold (3315 M St) – a delightful German bakery and restaurant with great coffee and sandwiches.
Enjoy wine by the glass at Cork Wine Bar (1720 14th St) after a long day of sightseeing.
Where to party
What appears to be the Addams family’s lounge is actually the 18th Street Lounge (1212 18th St, NW), where vibrant culture and conversation commingle. With live music and special jazz nights, it’s a great place to enjoy DC’s nightlife.
Jam to the sounds of pop and rock bands at the 9:30 Club (815 V St) or the performing arts at Studio Theatre (1501 14th St).
Where to shop
A stroll down M Street, located in the historic, multi-cultural district of Georgetown, yields everything a retail junkie desires.
Boffi & Maxalto Georgetown Showroom (3265 S St) features Italian kitchen and bathroom items, while Design Within Reach (3306 M St) offers contemporary furniture.
Across the way is Relish (3312 Cady’s Alley), offering hip women’s fashion and accessories, including brands such as Jil Sander and Balenciaga.
Stop by Showroom 1412 (1412 14th St), where you’ll unearth custom furniture from around the USA, as well as superb vintage finds.
For women’s and men’s fashion, you simply can’t beat Redeem (1734 14th St).
For trendy clothing and footwear, visit Miss Pixies (1626 14th St) and Ginger Root Design (1530 U St).
What to see
Lincoln Memorial Abe Lincoln gazes peacefully across the Mall from his Doric-columned temple.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial The black wall reflects the names of the Vietnam War’s 58,000-plus American casualties.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Military guards maintain a round-the-clock vigil at this crypt in Arlington National Cemetery.
Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Dr King’s 30ft-tall likeness emerges from a mountain of granite.
Washington Monument The iconic obelisk, DC’s tallest structure, offers unparalleled views from the top.
National WWII Memorial Soaring columns and stirring quotes mark this memorial smack in the Mall’s midst.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial FDR’s sprawling monument is an oasis of alcoves, fountains and contemplative inscriptions.
Jefferson Memorial Thomas Jefferson’s round shrine sits amid a grove of gorgeous cherry trees.
Where to go
If you’re in DC during the Annual Cherry Blossom Festival (20 March-14 April), go to the US Botanic Garden (100 Maryland Ave, SW), where you can marvel at 26 000 plant and flower species from around the world.
For modern art and unique architecture, visit the Hirshhorn Museum (700 Independence Ave, SW).
For the kids, the Smithsonian Castle and Carousel (1000 Jefferson Drive, SW) offers fun activities and ice-cream stands nearby.What to do – 1 unique experience
Explore Roosevelt Island. To reach it, walk across Key Bridge from Georgetown to Arlington, Virginia. It’s a great site for hiking and offers a view of Virginia on one side and the Georgetown waterfront on the other. There’s also a large statue of Teddy Roosevelt in the centre of the island.
For the past eight years, Busboys and Poets (2021 14th St, NW) – which describes itself as “a community where racial and cultural connections are consciously uplifted” – has attracted an eclectic stream of writers, activists, thinkers and dreamers. The perfect spot to sample the subculture of the city.
Where to stay
The Hay-Adams (800 16th St, NW)
Just across the street from the Presidential residence, this stately establishment charms with its rich history and unofficial slogan that “nothing is overlooked, but the White House”. It’s named for former Secretary of State John Hay and historian Henry Adams, who lived with their wives in Romanesque homes on the same site in 1884. These two families and their architect, Henry Hobson Richardson, became close friends and called themselves “Five of Hearts”. Their homes attracted writers and intellectuals such as Mark Twain and Theodore Roosevelt. And this ethos continues today.
The Graham Georgetown (1075 Thomas Jefferson St, NW) .
Previously the Hotel Monticello, the Graham Georgetown was re-opened after a major face-lift. With a nod to previous Georgetown resident and telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell, it will retain its historical ethos, but include modern luxuries such as a rooftop bar, a sleek cocktail lounge, fine dining options and a state-of-the-art fitness area.
The Capella Georgetown Washington DC (1050 31st St, NW)
Georgetown’s luxury Capella Washington DC is the result of a $45-million renovation of the former American Trial Lawyers’ Association building. The hotel has a guests-only rooftop pool and bar, and a 70-seater Grill Room, which features artisanal meats and seafood under the eye of Swedish chef Jakob Esko. If you’re a whisky connoisseur, pop into The Rye Bar for rare brands.