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District of Columbia
Top left: Georgetown University; top right: U.S. Capitol; middle: Washington Monument; bottom left: African American Civil War Memorial; bottom right: National Shrine

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Seal
Motto: Justitia Omnibus  (Justice for All)
Location of Washington, D.C. in the United States and in relation to the states of Maryland and Virginia.
Coordinates: 38°53′42.4″N 77°02′12.0″W / 38.895111°N 77.03667°W / 38.895111; -77.03667Coordinates: 38°53′42.4″N 77°02′12.0″W / 38.895111°N 77.03667°W / 38.895111; -77.03667
Country United States
Federal district District of Columbia
Government
 - Mayor Adrian Fenty (D)
 - D.C. Council Chairman: Vincent Gray (D)
Area
 - City 68.3 sq mi (177.0 km2)
 - Land 61.4 sq mi (159.0 km2)
 - Water 6.9 sq mi (18.0 km2)
Elevation 0–409 ft (0–125 m)
Population (2009)[1][2]
 - City 599,657
 Density 9,776.4/sq mi (3,771.4/km2)
 Metro 5.3 million
 - Demonym Washingtonian
Time zone EST (UTC-5)
 - Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
Website www.dc.gov

Washington, D.C. (pronounced /ˈwɒʃɪŋtən ˌdiːˈsiː/, WOSH-ing-tən DEE-SEE), formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, the District, or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States, founded on July 16, 1790. The City of Washington was originally a separate municipality within the Territory of Columbia until an act of Congress in 1871 effectively merged the City and the Territory into a single entity called the District of Columbia. It is for this reason that the city, while legally named the District of Columbia, is known as Washington, D.C.

The city is located on the north bank of the Potomac River and is bordered by the states of Virginia to the southwest and Maryland to the other sides. The District has a resident population of 599,657; because of commuters from the surrounding suburbs, its population rises to over one million during the workweek. The Washington Metropolitan Area, of which the District is a part, has a population of 5.3 million, the ninth-largest metropolitan area in the country.

Article One of the United States Constitution provides for a federal district, distinct from the states, to serve as the permanent national capital. The centers of all three branches of the federal government of the United States are located in the District, as are many of the nation's monuments and museums. Washington, D.C. hosts 174 foreign embassies as well as the headquarters of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organization of American States (OAS), the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The headquarters of other institutions such as trade unions, lobbying groups, and professional associations are also located in the District.

The city is governed by a mayor and a thirteen-member city council. However, the United States Congress has supreme authority over Washington, D.C., and may overturn local laws. Residents of the District therefore have less self-governance than residents of the states. The District has a non-voting at-large Congressional delegate, but no senators. D.C. residents could not vote in presidential elections until the ratification of the Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1961.

Contents

History

An Algonquian people known as the Nacotchtank inhabited the area around the Anacostia River where Washington now lies when the first Europeans arrived in the 17th century;[3] however, Native American people had largely relocated from the area by the early 18th century.[4] Georgetown was chartered by the Province of Maryland on the north bank of the Potomac River in 1751. The town would be included within the new federal territory established nearly 40 years later.[5] The City of Alexandria, Virginia, founded in 1749, was also originally included within the District.[6]

James Madison expounded the need for a federal district on January 23, 1788, in his "Federalist No. 43", arguing that the national capital needed to be distinct from the states in order to provide for its own maintenance and safety.[7] An attack on the Congress at Philadelphia by a mob of angry soldiers, known as the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783, had emphasized the need for the government to see to its own security.[8] Therefore, the authority to establish a federal capital was provided in Article One, Section Eight, of the United States Constitution, which permits a "District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States".[9] The Constitution does not, however, specify a location for the new capital. In what later became known as the Compromise of 1790, Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson came to an agreement that the federal government would assume war debt carried by the states, on the condition that the new national capital would be located in the South.[a]

The United States Capitol after the burning of Washington, D.C. in the War of 1812.

On July 16, 1790, the Residence Act provided for a new permanent capital to be located on the Potomac River, the exact area to be selected by President Washington.[b] As permitted by the U.S. Constitution, the initial shape of the federal district was a square, measuring 10 miles (16 km) on each side, totaling 100 square miles (260 km2). During 1791–92, Andrew Ellicott and several assistants, including Benjamin Banneker, surveyed the border of the District with both Maryland and Virginia, placing boundary stones at every mile point; many of the stones are still standing.[10] A new "federal city" was then constructed on the north bank of the Potomac, to the east of the established settlement at Georgetown. On September 9, 1791, the federal city was named in honor of George Washington, and the district was named the Territory of Columbia, Columbia being a poetic name for the United States in use at that time.[c] Congress held its first session in Washington on November 17, 1800.[11]

The Organic Act of 1801 officially organized the District of Columbia and placed the entire federal territory, including the cities of Washington, Georgetown, and Alexandria, under the exclusive control of Congress. Further, the unincorporated territory within the District was organized into two counties: the County of Washington to the east of the Potomac and the County of Alexandria to the west.[12] Following this Act, citizens located in the District were no longer considered residents of Maryland or Virginia, thus ending their representation in Congress.[13]

Ford's Theatre in the 19th century, site of the 1865 assassination of President Lincoln

On August 24–25, 1814, in a raid known as the Burning of Washington, British forces invaded the capital during the War of 1812, following the sacking and burning of York (modern-day Toronto). The Capitol, Treasury, and White House were burned and gutted during the attack.[14] Most government buildings were quickly repaired, but the Capitol, which was at the time largely under construction, was not completed in its current form until 1868.[15]

Since 1800, the District's residents have protested their lack of voting representation in Congress. To correct this, various proposals have been offered to return the land ceded to form the District back to Maryland and Virginia. This process is known as retrocession.[16] However, such efforts failed to earn enough support until the 1830s when the District's southern county of Alexandria went into economic decline due to neglect by Congress.[16] Alexandria was also a major market in the American slave trade, and rumors circulated that abolitionists in Congress were attempting to end slavery in the District; such an action would have further depressed Alexandria's economy.[17] Unhappy with Congressional authority over Alexandria, in 1840 the people began to petition for the retrocession of the District's southern territory back to Virginia. The state legislature complied in February 1846, partly because the return of Alexandria provided two additional pro-slavery delegates to the Virginia General Assembly.[16] On July 9, 1846, Congress agreed to return all the District's territory south of the Potomac River to the Commonwealth of Virginia.[16]

Confirming the fears of pro-slavery Alexandrians, the Compromise of 1850 outlawed the slave trade in the District, though not slavery itself.[18] By 1860, approximately 80% of the city's African American residents were free blacks. The outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 led to notable growth in the District's population due to the expansion of the federal government and a large influx of freed slaves.[19] In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, which ended slavery in the District of Columbia and freed about 3,100 enslaved persons, nine months prior to the Emancipation Proclamation.[20] By 1870, the District's population had grown to nearly 132,000.[21] Despite the city's growth, Washington still had dirt roads and lacked basic sanitation; the situation was so bad that some members of Congress proposed moving the capital elsewhere.[22]

Crowds surrounding the Reflecting Pool during the 1963 March on Washington

With the Organic Act of 1871, Congress created a new government for the entire federal territory. This Act effectively combined the City of Washington, Georgetown, and Washington County into a single municipality officially named the District of Columbia.[23] Even though the City of Washington legally ceased to exist after 1871, the name continued in use and the whole city became commonly known as Washington, D.C. In the same Organic Act, Congress also appointed a Board of Public Works charged with modernizing the city.[24] In 1873, President Grant appointed the board's most influential member, Alexander Shepherd, to the new post of governor. That year, Shepherd spent $20 million on public works ($357 million in 2007),[25] which modernized Washington but also bankrupted the city. In 1874, Congress abolished Shepherd's office in favor of direct rule.[22] Additional projects to renovate the city were not executed until the McMillan Plan in 1901.[26]

The District's population remained relatively stable until the Great Depression in the 1930s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal legislation expanded the bureaucracy in Washington. World War II further increased government activity, adding to the number of federal employees in the capital;[27] by 1950, the District's population had reached a peak of 802,178 residents.[28] The Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1961, granting the District three votes in the Electoral College.

After the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968, riots broke out in the District, primarily in the U Street, 14th Street, 7th Street, and H Street corridors, centers of black residential and commercial areas. The riots raged for three days until over 13,000 federal and national guard troops managed to quell the violence. Many stores and other buildings were burned; rebuilding was not complete until the late 1990s.[29]

In 1973, Congress enacted the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, providing for an elected mayor and city council for the District.[30] In 1975, Walter Washington became the first elected and first black mayor of the District.[31] However, during the later 1980s and 1990s, city administrations were criticized for mismanagement and waste. In 1995, Congress created the District of Columbia Financial Control Board to oversee all municipal spending and rehabilitate the city government.[32] The District regained control over its finances in September 2001 and the oversight board's operations were suspended.[33]

On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 and deliberately crashed the plane into the Pentagon in nearby Arlington, Virginia. United Airlines Flight 93, believed to be destined for Washington, D.C., crashed in Pennsylvania when passengers tried to recover control of the plane from hijackers.[34][35]

Geography

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal passes through the Georgetown neighborhood.

The District has a total area of 68.3 square miles (177 km2), of which 61.4 square miles (159 km2) is land and 6.9 square miles (18 km2) (10.16%) is water.[36] The District is no longer 100 square miles (260 km2) due to the retrocession of the southern portion of the District back to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1846. The District's current area consists only of territory ceded by the state of Maryland. Washington is therefore surrounded by the states of Maryland to the southeast, northeast, and northwest and Virginia to the southwest. The District has three major natural flowing streams: the Potomac River and its tributaries the Anacostia River and Rock Creek.[37] Tiber Creek, a watercourse that once passed through the National Mall, was fully enclosed underground during the 1870s.[38]

Contrary to the urban legend, Washington was not built on reclaimed swampland.[39] While wetlands did cover areas along the two rivers and other natural streams, the majority of the District's territory consisted of farmland and tree-covered hills.[40] The highest natural point in the District of Columbia is Point Reno, located in Fort Reno Park in the Tenleytown neighborhood, at 409 feet (125 m) above sea level.[41] The lowest point is sea level at the Potomac River. The geographic center of Washington is located near the intersection of 4th and L Streets NW.[42]

Approximately 19.4% of Washington, D.C. is parkland, which ties New York City for largest percentage of parkland among high-density U.S. cities.[43] The U.S. National Park Service manages most of the natural habitat in Washington, D.C., including Rock Creek Park, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, the National Mall, Theodore Roosevelt Island, the Constitution Gardens, Meridian Hill Park, and Anacostia Park.[44] The only significant area of natural habitat not managed by the National Park Service is the U.S. National Arboretum, which is operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.[45] The Great Falls of the Potomac River are located upstream (northwest) of Washington. During the 19th century, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which starts in Georgetown, was used to allow barge traffic to bypass the falls.[46]

Climate

Washington is located in the humid subtropical climate zone (Köppen climate classification: Cfa), exhibiting four distinct seasons.[47] Its climate is typical of Mid-Atlantic U.S. areas removed from bodies of water. The District is located in plant hardiness zone 8a near downtown, and zone 7b elsewhere in the city, indicating a temperate climate.[48] Spring and fall are warm, with low humidity, while winter is cool, with annual snowfall averaging 14.7 inches (37 cm).[49] Average winter lows tend to be around 30 °F (-1 °C) from mid-December to mid-February. Blizzards affect Washington on average once every four to six years. The most violent storms are called "nor'easters", which typically feature high winds, heavy rains, and occasional snow. These storms often affect large sections of the U.S. East Coast.[49]

Summers are hot and humid, with highs averaging in the upper 80s °F (lower 30s °C) and lows averaging in the upper 60s °F (lower 20s °C).[50] The combination of heat and humidity in the summer brings very frequent thunderstorms, some of which occasionally produce tornadoes in the area. While hurricanes (or their remnants) occasionally track through the area in late summer and early fall, they have often weakened by the time they reach Washington, partly due to the city's inland location. Flooding of the Potomac River, however, caused by a combination of high tide, storm surge, and runoff, has been known to cause extensive property damage in Georgetown.[51]

The highest recorded temperature was 106 °F (41 °C) on July 20, 1930, and August 6, 1918, while the lowest recorded temperature was −15 °F (−26.1 °C) on February 11, 1899, during the Great Blizzard of 1899. Over the year, the city averages 36.7 days hotter than 90 °F (32 °C) and 64.4 nights below freezing.[49][50]

Climate data for Washington, DC
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 79
(26)
84
(29)
93
(34)
95
(35)
99
(37)
102
(39)
106
(41)
106
(41)
104
(40)
96
(36)
86
(30)
79
(26)
106
(41)
Average high °F (°C) 42.5
(5.8)
46.5
(8.1)
55.7
(13.2)
66.3
(19.1)
75.4
(24.1)
83.9
(28.8)
88.3
(31.3)
86.3
(30.2)
79.3
(26.3)
68.0
(20)
57.3
(14.1)
47.0
(8.3)
66.4
(19.1)
Average low °F (°C) 27.3
(-2.6)
29.7
(-1.3)
37.4
(3)
45.9
(7.7)
55.8
(13.2)
65.0
(18.3)
70.1
(21.2)
68.6
(20.3)
61.8
(16.6)
49.6
(9.8)
40.0
(4.4)
32.0
(0)
48.6
(9.2)
Record low °F (°C) -14
(-26)
-15
(-26)
4
(-16)
15
(-9)
33
(1)
43
(6)
52
(11)
49
(9)
36
(2)
26
(-3)
11
(-12)
-13
(-25)
-15
(-26)
Precipitation inches (mm) 3.21
(81.5)
2.63
(66.8)
3.60
(91.4)
2.77
(70.4)
3.82
(97)
3.13
(79.5)
3.66
(93)
3.44
(87.4)
3.79
(96.3)
3.22
(81.8)
3.03
(77)
3.05
(77.5)
39.35
(999.5)
Snowfall inches (mm) 5.9
(149.9)
5.1
(129.5)
1.6
(40.6)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0.7
(17.8)
1.4
(35.6)
14.7
(373.4)
Avg. snowy days 3.1 2.2 1.1 0.1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.5 1.1 8.1
Avg. precipitation days 10.5 9.3 10.6 9.6 11.2 10.2 10.4 8.6 8.1 7.8 8.5 9.5 114.3
Source: The Weather Channel[52] and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration[53] February 2010

Cityscape

L'Enfant's plan for Washington, D.C., as revised by Andrew Ellicott (1792)

Washington, D.C. is a planned city. The design for the City of Washington was largely the work of Pierre (Peter) Charles L’Enfant, a French-born architect, engineer, and city planner who first arrived in the colonies as a military engineer with Major General Lafayette during the American Revolutionary War.[d] In 1791, President Washington commissioned L'Enfant to plan the layout of the new capital city. L'Enfant's plan was modeled in the Baroque style and incorporated avenues radiating out from rectangles, providing room for open space and landscaping.[26] His design also envisioned a garden-lined "grand avenue" approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) in length and 400 feet (120 m) wide in the area that is now the National Mall.[54]

In March 1792, President Washington dismissed L'Enfant due to his insistence on micromanaging the city's planning, which had resulted in conflicts with the three commissioners appointed by Washington to supervise the capital's construction. Andrew Ellicott, who had worked with L'Enfant surveying the city, was then commissioned to complete the plans. Though Ellicott made revisions to the original plans, including changes to some street patterns, L'Enfant is still credited with the overall design of the city.[55] The City of Washington was bounded by what is now Florida Avenue to the north, Rock Creek to the west, and the Anacostia River to the east.[26]

By the start of the 20th century, L'Enfant's vision of a capital with open parks and grand national monuments had become marred by slums and randomly placed buildings, including a railroad station on the National Mall.[26] In 1900, Congress formed a joint committee, headed by Senator James McMillan, charged with beautifying Washington's ceremonial core. What became known as the McMillan Plan was finalized in 1901. It included the re-landscaping of the Capitol grounds and the Mall, constructing new Federal buildings and monuments, clearing slums, and establishing a new citywide park system. Architects recruited by the committee kept much of the city's original layout, and their work is thought to be largely in keeping with L'Enfant's intended design.[26]

Washington, D.C. is divided into four quadrants.

After the construction of the twelve-story Cairo Apartment Building, Congress passed the Heights of Buildings Act, which limited building heights in the city. The Act was amended in 1910 to restrict building height to the width of the adjacent street plus 20 feet (6.1 m).[56] Despite popular belief, no law has ever limited buildings to the height of the United States Capitol or the Washington Monument.[57][58] Today the skyline remains low and sprawling, in keeping with Thomas Jefferson's wishes to make Washington an "American Paris" with "low and convenient" buildings on "light and airy" streets.[56] As a result, the Washington Monument remains the District's tallest structure.[59] However, Washington's height restriction has been assailed as a primary reason why the city has limited affordable housing and traffic problems as a result of urban sprawl.[56] Not subject to the District's height restriction, a number of taller buildings close to downtown have been constructed across the Potomac River in Rosslyn, Virginia.[60]

The District is divided into four quadrants of unequal area: Northwest (NW), Northeast (NE), Southeast (SE), and Southwest (SW). The axes bounding the quadrants radiate from the U.S. Capitol building.[61] All road names include the quadrant abbreviation to indicate their location. In most of the city, the streets are set out in a grid pattern with east–west streets named with letters (e.g., C Street SW) and north–south streets with numbers (e.g., 4th Street NW).[61] Some Washington streets are particularly noteworthy, such as Pennsylvania Avenue, which connects the White House with the U.S. Capitol, and K Street, which houses the offices of many lobbying groups.[62] Washington hosts 174 foreign embassies, 59 of which are located on a section of Massachusetts Avenue informally known as Embassy Row.[63]

Architecture

The White House ranked second on the AIA's "List of America's Favorite Architecture" in 2007.

The architecture of Washington varies greatly. Six of the top 10 buildings in the American Institute of Architects' 2007 ranking of "America's Favorite Architecture" are located in the District of Columbia:[64] the White House; the Washington National Cathedral; the Thomas Jefferson Memorial; the United States Capitol; the Lincoln Memorial; and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The neoclassical, Georgian, gothic, and modern architectural styles are all reflected among those six structures and many other prominent edifices in Washington. Notable exceptions include buildings constructed in the French Second Empire style such as the Old Executive Office Building.[65]

Outside downtown Washington, architectural styles are even more varied. Historic buildings are designed primarily in the Queen Anne, Châteauesque, Richardsonian Romanesque, Georgian revival, Beaux-Arts, and a variety of Victorian styles. Rowhouses are especially prominent in areas developed after the Civil War and typically follow Federalist and late Victorian designs.[66] Since Georgetown was established before the city of Washington, the neighborhood features the District's oldest architecture. Georgetown's Old Stone House was built in 1765, making it the oldest-standing original building in the city.[67] The majority of current homes in the neighborhood, however, were not built until the 1870s and reflect late Victorian designs of the period. Founded in 1789, Georgetown University is more distinct from the neighborhood and features a mix of Romanesque and Gothic Revival architecture.[65] The Ronald Reagan Building is the largest building in the District with a total area of approximately 3.1 million square feet (288,000 m2).[68]

Demographics

Historical Populations[e]
Year Population Change
1800 8,144 -
1810 15,471 90.0%
1820 23,336 50.8%
1830 30,261 29.7%
1840 33,745 11.5%
1850 51,687 53.2%
1860 75,080 45.3%
1870 131,700 75.4%
1880 177,624 34.9%
1890 230,392 29.7%
1900 278,718 21.0%
1910 331,069 18.8%
1920 437,571 32.2%
1930 486,869 11.3%
1940 663,091 36.2%
1950 802,178 21.0%
1960 763,956 -4.8%
1970 756,510 -1.0%
1980 638,333 -15.6%
1990 606,900 -4.9%
2000 572,059 -5.7%
2009 599,657[1] 4.8%

In 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the District's population at 599,657 residents,[1] continuing a trend of population growth in the city since the 2000 Census, which recorded 572,059 residents.[69] During the workweek, however, the number of commuters from the suburbs into the city swells the District's population by an estimated 71.8% in 2005, to a daytime population of over one million people.[70] The Washington Metropolitan Area, which includes the surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia, is the ninth-largest in the United States with more than five million residents.[2] When combined with Baltimore and its suburbs, the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area has a population exceeding eight million residents, the fourth-largest in the country.[71]

According to the 2007 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, the population distribution of Washington, D.C. is 55.6% Black or African American, 36.3% White, 3.1% Asian, and 0.2% American Indian. Individuals from some other race made up 4.8% of the District's population while individuals from two or more races made up 1.6%. In addition, Hispanics of any race made up 8.3% of the District's population. There were also an estimated 74,000 foreign immigrants living in Washington, D.C. in 2007.[72] Major sources of immigration include individuals from El Salvador, Vietnam, and Ethiopia, with some concentration of Salvadorans in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood.[73]

The Friendship Arch is at the center of Chinatown.

Unique among cities with a high percentage of African Americans, Washington has had a significant black population since the city's creation. This is a result of the manumission of slaves in the Upper South after the American Revolutionary War. The free black population in the region climbed from an estimated 1% before the war to 10% by 1810.[74] In the District, black residents composed about 30% of the population between 1800 and 1940.[75] Washington's black population reached a peak of 70% of the city's residents by 1970. Since then, however, the District's black population has steadily declined due to many blacks leaving the city for the surrounding suburbs.[76] Some older residents have returned South because of family ties and lower housing costs.[77] At the same time, the city's white population has steadily increased, in part due to effects of gentrification in many of Washington's traditionally black neighborhoods.[76] This is evident in a 7.3% decrease in the black population and a 17.8% increase in the white population since 2000.[69] However, some blacks, particularly college graduates and young professionals, are moving from northern and Midwestern states in a New Great Migration. Washington, D.C. is a top destination for such blacks because of increased job opportunities.[77]

The 2000 census revealed that an estimated 33,000 adults in the District of Columbia identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, about 8.1% of the city's adult population.[78] Given the city's sizable LGBT population and liberal political climate, a same-sex marriage bill passed the Council of the District of Columbia and was signed by the mayor in December 2009. The District began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in March 2010.[79]

A report in the year 2007 found that about one-third of District residents are functionally illiterate, compared to a national rate of about one in five. This is attributed in part to immigrants who are not proficient in English.[80] A 2005 study shows that 85.16% of Washington, D.C.'s residents age five and older speak only English at home and 8.78% speak Spanish. French is the third-most-spoken language at 1.35%.[81] In contrast to the high rate of functional illiteracy, nearly 46% of D.C.'s residents have at least a four-year college degree.[82] According to data from 2000, more than half of District residents were identified as Christian: 28% of residents are Roman Catholic, 9.1% are American Baptist, 6.8% are Southern Baptist, 1.3% are Eastern or Oriental Orthodox, and 13% are members of other Christian denominations. Residents who practice Islam make up 10.6% of the population, followers of Judaism compose 4.5%, and 26.8% of residents adhere to other faiths or do not practice a religion.[83]

Crime

During the violent crime wave of the early 1990s, Washington, D.C. was known as the murder capital of the United States and often rivaled New Orleans in the number of homicides.[84] The number of murders peaked in 1991 at 479, but the level of violence declined drastically in the 1990s. By 2009, the annual murder count in the city had declined to 143; the lowest number since 1966.[85] In total, violent crime declined nearly 47% between 1995 and 2007. Property crime, including thefts and robberies, declined by roughly 48% during the same period.[86][87]

Like most large cities, crime is highest in areas associated with illegal drugs and gangs. The more affluent neighborhoods of Northwest Washington experience low levels of crime, but the incidence of crime increases as one goes further east. Once plagued with violent crime, many D.C. neighborhoods such as Columbia Heights and Logan Circle are becoming safe and vibrant areas due to the effects of gentrification. As a result, crime in the District is being displaced further east and across the border into Prince George's County, Maryland.[88]

On June 26, 2008, the Supreme Court of the United States held in District of Columbia v. Heller that the city's 1976 handgun ban violated the Second Amendment right to gun ownership.[89] However, the ruling does not prohibit all forms of gun control; laws requiring firearm registration remain in place, as does the city's assault weapon ban.[90]

Economy

Professors Gate at George Washington University, the largest private employer in the District

Washington has a growing, diversified economy with an increasing percentage of professional and business service jobs.[91] The gross state product of the District in 2008 was $97.2 billion, which would rank it No. 35 compared to the 50 U.S. states.[92] In 2008, the federal government accounted for about 27% of the jobs in Washington, D.C.[93] This is thought to immunize Washington to national economic downturns because the federal government continues operations even during recessions.[94] However, as of January 2007, federal employees in the Washington area comprised only 14% of the total U.S. government workforce.[95] Many organizations such as law firms, independent contractors (both defense and civilian), non-profit organizations, lobbying firms, trade unions, industry trade groups, and professional associations have their headquarters in or near D.C. to be close to the federal government.[62] As of November 2008, the Washington Metropolitan Area had an unemployment rate of 4.4%; the lowest rate among the 49 largest metro areas in the nation. It is also lower than the national average unemployment rate during the same period of 6.5%.[96] The District of Columbia itself had an unemployment rate of 7.4% as of October 2008.[97]

The District has growing industries not directly related to government, especially in the areas of education, finance, public policy, and scientific research. George Washington University, Georgetown University, Washington Hospital Center, Howard University, and Fannie Mae are the top five non-government-related employers in the city.[98] There are five Fortune 1000 companies based in Washington, of which two are also Fortune 500 companies.[99]

Washington became the leader in foreign real estate investment in 2009, ahead of both London and New York City, in a survey of the top 200 global development companies.[100] In 2006, Expansion Magazine ranked D.C. among the top ten areas in the nation favorable to business expansion.[101] Washington has the third-largest downtown in the United States in terms of commercial office space, directly behind New York City and Chicago.[102] Despite the national economic crisis and housing price downturn, Washington ranked second on the Forbes list of the best long-term housing markets in the country.[103]

Gentrification efforts are taking hold in Washington, D.C., notably in the neighborhoods of Logan Circle, Shaw, Columbia Heights, the U Street Corridor, and the 14th Street Corridor.[104] Development was fostered in some neighborhoods by the late-1990s construction of the Green Line on Metrorail, Washington's subway system, which linked them to the downtown area.[105] In March 2008, a new shopping mall in Columbia Heights became the first new major retail center in the District in 40 years.[106] As in many cities, gentrification is revitalizing Washington's economy, but its benefits are unevenly distributed throughout the city and it is not directly helping poor people.[104] In 2006, D.C. residents had a personal income per capita of $55,755, higher than any of the 50 U.S. states.[107] However, 19% of residents were below the poverty level in 2005, higher than any state except Mississippi, which highlights the economic disparities in the city's population.[108]

Culture

Historic sites and museums

The National Mall is a large, open park area in the center of the city. Located in the center of the Mall are the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Pier. Also located on the mall are the Lincoln Memorial, the National World War II Memorial at the east end of the Reflecting Pool, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.[109] The National Archives houses thousands of documents important to American history including the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.[110]

Located directly south of the mall, the Tidal Basin features rows of Japanese cherry blossom trees that were presented as gifts from the nation of Japan. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the District of Columbia War Memorial are located around the Tidal Basin.[111]

The Smithsonian Institution is an educational foundation chartered by Congress in 1846 that maintains most of the nation's official museums and galleries in Washington, D.C. The U.S. government partially funds the Smithsonian, thus making its collections open to the public free of charge.[112] The most visited of the Smithsonian museums in 2007 was the National Museum of Natural History located on the National Mall.[113] Other Smithsonian Institution museums and galleries located on the mall are: the National Air and Space Museum; the National Museum of African Art; the National Museum of American History; the National Museum of the American Indian; the Sackler and Freer galleries, which both focus on Asian art and culture; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the Arts and Industries Building; the S. Dillon Ripley Center; and the Smithsonian Institution Building (also known as "The Castle"), which serves as the institution's headquarters.[114]

The Smithsonian American Art Museum (formerly known as the National Museum of American Art) and the National Portrait Gallery are located in the same building, the Donald W. Reynolds Center, near Washington's Chinatown.[115] The Reynolds Center is also known as the Old Patent Office Building.[116] The Renwick Gallery is officially part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum but is located in a separate building near the White House. Other Smithsonian museums and galleries include: the Anacostia Community Museum in Southeast Washington; the National Postal Museum near Union Station; and the National Zoo in Woodley Park.

The East Building of the National Gallery of Art houses the modern art collection.

The National Gallery of Art is located on the National Mall near the Capitol, but is not a part of the Smithsonian Institution. It is instead wholly owned by the U.S. government; thus admission to the gallery is free. The gallery's West Building features the nation's collection of American and European art through the 19th century.[117] The East Building, designed by architect I. M. Pei, features works of modern art.[118] The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery are often confused with the National Gallery of Art when they are in fact entirely separate institutions. The National Building Museum occupies the former Pension Building located near Judiciary Square, and was chartered by Congress as a private institution to host exhibits on architecture, urban planning, and design.[119]

There are many private art museums in the District of Columbia, which house major collections and exhibits open to the public such as: the National Museum of Women in the Arts; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the largest private museum in Washington; and The Phillips Collection in Dupont Circle, the first museum of modern art in the United States.[120] Other private museums in Washington include the Newseum, the International Spy Museum, the National Geographic Society Museum, and the Marian Koshland Science Museum. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum located near the National Mall maintains exhibits, documentation, and artifacts related to The Holocaust.[121]

Performing arts and music

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is located along the Potomac River.

Washington, D.C. is a national center for the arts. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is home to the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera, and the Washington Ballet. The Kennedy Center Honors are awarded each year to those in the performing arts who have contributed greatly to the cultural life of the United States.[122] The President and First Lady typically attend the Honors ceremony, as the First Lady is the honorary chair of the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees.[123] Washington also has a local independent theater tradition. Institutions such as Arena Stage, the Shakespeare Theatre Company, and the Studio Theatre feature classic works and new American plays.

The U Street Corridor in Northwest D.C., known as "Washington's Black Broadway", is home to institutions like Bohemian Caverns and the Lincoln Theatre, which hosted music legends such as Washington-native Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis.[124] Other jazz venues feature modern blues such as Madam's Organ in Adams Morgan and Blues Alley in Georgetown. D.C. has its own native music genre called go-go; a post-funk, percussion-driven flavor of R&B that blends live sets with relentless dance rhythms. The most accomplished practitioner was D.C. band leader Chuck Brown, who brought go-go to the brink of national recognition with his 1979 LP Bustin' Loose.[125]

Washington is also an important center for indie culture and music in the United States. The label Dischord Records, formed by Ian MacKaye, was one of the most crucial independent labels in the genesis of 1980s punk and eventually indie rock in the 1990s.[126] Washington's indie label history also includes TeenBeat, Simple Machines, and ESL Music among others. Modern alternative and indie music venues like The Black Cat and the 9:30 Club near U Street bring popular acts to smaller more-intimate venues.[127]

Media

Washington's Newspaper Row on Pennsylvania Avenue in 1874

Washington, D.C. is a prominent center for national and international media. The Washington Post, founded in 1877, is the oldest and most-read local daily newspaper in Washington.[128][129] It is probably most notable for its coverage of national and international politics as well as for exposing the Watergate scandal.[130] "The Post", as it is popularly called, continues to print only three main editions; one each for the District, Maryland, and Virginia. Even without expanded national editions, the newspaper has the sixth-highest circulation of all news dailies in the country as of September 2008.[131] USA Today, the nation's largest daily newspaper by circulation, is headquartered in nearby McLean, Virginia.[132]

The Washington Post Company has a daily free commuter newspaper called the Express, which summarizes events, sports and entertainment, as well as the Spanish-language paper El Tiempo Latino. Local dailies The Washington Times and The Washington Examiner, the alternative Washington City Paper, and the weekly Washington Business Journal have substantial readership in the Washington area as well.[133][134] A number of community and specialty papers focus on neighborhood and cultural issues including: the weekly D.C. Agenda and Metro Weekly, which focus on LGBT issues; the Washington Informer and The Washington Afro American, which highlight topics of interest to the black community; and neighborhood newspapers published by The Current Newspapers. The Hill and Roll Call newspapers focus exclusively on issues related to Congress and the federal government.

The Washington Metropolitan Area is the ninth-largest television media market in the U.S. with two million homes (approximately 2% of the U.S. population).[135] Several media companies and cable television channels have their headquarters in the area, including: C-SPAN; Black Entertainment Television (BET); the National Geographic Channel; Smithsonian Networks; XM Satellite Radio; National Public Radio (NPR); Travel Channel (in Chevy Chase, Maryland); Discovery Communications (in Silver Spring, Maryland); and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) (in Arlington, Virginia). The headquarters of Voice of America, the U.S. government's international news service, is located near the Capitol in Southwest Washington. The D.C. area is also home to Radio One, the nation's largest African American television and radio conglomerate, founded by media mogul Cathy Hughes.[136]

Sports

Washington, D.C. is home to five major professional men's teams. The Washington Wizards (National Basketball Association) and the Washington Capitals (National Hockey League) both play at the Verizon Center (right) in Chinatown. Nationals Park, which opened in Southeast D.C. in 2008, is home to the Washington Nationals (Major League Baseball). D.C. United (Major League Soccer) plays at RFK Stadium. The Washington Redskins (National Football League) play at nearby FedExField in Landover, Maryland.

The Washington area is also home to two women's professional sports teams. The Washington Mystics (WNBA) play at the Verizon Center, and the Washington Freedom (Women's Professional Soccer) play in nearby Germantown, Maryland and at RFK Stadium.[137] Other professional and semi-professional teams in Washington include: the Washington Bayhawks (Major League Lacrosse), who play at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium; the Washington Kastles (World TeamTennis); the Washington D.C. Slayers (American National Rugby League); the Baltimore Washington Eagles (USAFL); the D.C. Divas (Independent Women's Football League); the D.C. Explosion (NAFL); and the Potomac Athletic Club RFC (Rugby Super League).

Washington is one of only 13 cities in the United States with teams from all four major men's sports: football, basketball, baseball, and ice hockey. When soccer is included, Washington is one of only eight cities to have all five professional men's sports. D.C. teams have won a combined 11 professional league championships: D.C. United has won four (the most in MLS history);[138] the Washington Redskins have won three;[139] the Washington Bayhawks have won two;[140] and the Washington Wizards and the Washington Glory have each won a single championship.[141][142] The William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park hosts the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. The Marine Corps Marathon and the National Marathon are both held annually in Washington. The D.C. area is home to one regional sports television network, Comcast SportsNet (CSN), based in Bethesda, Maryland.

Government

The John A. Wilson Building houses the offices of the mayor and council of the District of Columbia.

Article One, Section Eight of the United States Constitution grants the U.S. Congress ultimate authority over Washington, D.C. The District of Columbia did not have an elected city government until the passage of the 1973 Home Rule Act. The Act devolved certain Congressional powers over the District to a local government administered by an elected mayor, currently Adrian Fenty, and the thirteen-member Council of the District of Columbia. However, Congress retains the right to review and overturn laws created by the city council and intervene in local affairs.[143] Each of the city's eight wards elects a single member of the council and five members, including the chairman, are elected at large.[144] There are 37 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) elected by small neighborhood districts. ANCs traditionally wield a great deal of influence and the city government routinely takes their suggestions into careful consideration.[145]

The United States Congress has ultimate authority over the District.

The mayor and council adopt a local budget, which must be approved by Congress. Local income, sales, and property taxes provide about 67% of the revenue to fund city government agencies and services. Like the 50 states, D.C. receives federal grants for assistance programs such as Medicare, accounting for approximately 26% of the city's total revenue. Congress also appropriates money to the District's government to help offset some of the city's security costs; these funds totaled $38 million in 2007, approximately 0.5% of the District's budget.[146] The Federal government operates the District's court system,[147] and all federal law enforcement agencies, most visibly the U.S. Park Police, have jurisdiction in the city and help provide security as well.[148] All local felony charges are prosecuted by the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.[149] U.S. Attorneys are appointed by the President and funded by the United States Department of Justice.[150] In total, the federal government provided about 33% of the District's general revenue.[151] On average, federal funds formed about 30% the states' general revenues in 2007.[152]

The city's local government, particularly during the mayoralty of Marion Barry, was criticized for mismanagement and waste.[153] Barry was elected mayor in 1978, serving three successive four-year terms. During his administration in 1989, The Washington Monthly magazine claimed that the District had "the worst city government in America".[154] After being imprisoned for six months on misdemeanor drug charges in 1990, Barry did not run for reelection.[155] In 1991, Sharon Pratt Kelly became the first black woman to lead a major U.S. city.[156] Barry was elected again in 1994, and by the next year the city had become nearly insolvent.[155] Mayor Anthony Williams won election in 1998. His administration oversaw a period of greater prosperity, urban renewal, and budget surpluses.[157] Since his election in 2006, Mayor Adrian Fenty has primarily focused on improving education. Shortly upon taking office, he won approval from the city council to directly manage and overhaul the city's under-performing public school system.[158]

Washington, D.C. observes all federal holidays. The District also celebrates Emancipation Day on April 16, which commemorates the signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862.[20]

Federal representation and taxation

A sample Washington, D.C. license plate with "Taxation Without Representation" slogan

Citizens of the District of Columbia have no voting representation in Congress. They are represented in the House of Representatives by a non-voting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C. At-Large), who may sit on committees, participate in debate, and introduce legislation, but cannot vote on the House floor. D.C. has no representation in the United States Senate. Unlike residents of U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico or Guam, which also have non-voting delegates, citizens of the District of Columbia are subject to all U.S. federal taxes.[159] In the financial year 2007, D.C. residents and businesses paid $20.4 billion in federal taxes; more than the taxes collected from 19 states and the highest federal taxes per capita.[160]

A 2005 poll found that 78% of Americans did not know that residents of the District of Columbia have less representation in Congress than residents of the 50 states.[161] Efforts to raise awareness about the issue have included campaigns by grassroots organizations as well as featuring the city's unofficial motto, "Taxation Without Representation", on D.C. vehicle license plates.[162] There is evidence of nationwide approval for DC voting rights; various polls indicate that 61 to 82% of Americans believe that D.C. should have voting representation in Congress.[161][163] Despite public support, attempts to grant the District voting representation, including the D.C. statehood movement and the proposed District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment, have been unsuccessful.

Opponents of D.C. voting rights propose that the Founding Fathers never intended for District residents to have a vote in Congress since the Constitution makes clear that representation must come from the states. Those opposed to making D.C. a state claim that such a move would destroy the notion of a separate national capital and that statehood would unfairly grant Senate representation to a single city.[164]

Education and health care

Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School is an all-girls high school founded in 1799.

District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) operates the city's public school system, which consists of 167 schools and learning centers.[165] The number of students in DCPS has steadily decreased since 1999. In the 2008–09 school year, 46,208 students were enrolled in the public school system.[166] DCPS has one of the highest-cost yet lowest-performing school systems in the country, both in terms of infrastructure and student achievement.[167] Mayor Adrian Fenty's new superintendent of DCPS, Chancellor Michelle Rhee, has made sweeping changes to the system by closing schools, replacing teachers, firing principals, and using private education firms to aid curriculum development.[168]

Due to the problems with the D.C. public school system, enrollment in public charter schools has increased 13% each year since 2001.[169] The District of Columbia Public Charter School Board monitors the 60 public charter schools in the city. As of fall 2008, D.C. charter schools had a total enrollment of 26,494.[170] The District is also home to some of the nation's top private schools. In 2006, approximately 18,000 students were enrolled in the city's 83 private schools.[171]

Many notable private universities are located in Washington, including George Washington University (GW), Georgetown University (GU), American University (AU), the Catholic University of America (CUA), Howard University, Gallaudet University, and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). The Corcoran College of Art and Design provides specialized arts instruction and other higher-education institutions offer continuing, distance and adult education. The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) is a public university providing undergraduate and graduate education.

The District's 16 medical centers and hospitals make it a national center for patient care and medical research.[172] The National Institutes of Health is located in nearby Bethesda, Maryland. Washington Hospital Center (WHC), the largest hospital campus in the District, is both the largest private and the largest non-profit hospital in the Washington area. Immediately adjacent to the WHC is the Children's National Medical Center. Children's is among the highest ranked pediatric hospitals in the country according to U.S. News & World Report.[173] Many of the city's prominent universities, including George Washington, Georgetown, and Howard have medical schools and associated teaching hospitals. Walter Reed Army Medical Center is located in Northwest Washington and provides care for active-duty and retired personnel and their dependents.

A 2009 report found that at least 3% of District residents have HIV or AIDS, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) characterizes as a "generalized and severe" epidemic. City officials claim that the rate of HIV infection is higher in D.C. than some countries in West Africa.[174]

Transportation

Metro Center is the transfer station for the Red, Orange, and Blue Metrorail lines.

The Washington Metropolitan Area is often cited as having some of the nation's worst traffic and congestion. In 2007, Washington commuters spent 60 hours a year in traffic delays, which tied for having the worst traffic in the country after Los Angeles.[175] However, 37.7% of Washington commuters take public transportation to work, also the second-highest rate in the country.[176]

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) operates the city's rapid transit system, Metrorail (most often referred to as the Metro), as well as Metrobus. The subway and bus systems serve both the District of Columbia and the immediate Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Metrorail opened on March 27, 1976 and presently consists of 86 stations and 106.3 miles (171.1 km) of track.[177] With an average of one million trips each weekday in 2009, Metrorail is the nation's second-busiest rapid transit system in the country, after the New York City Subway.[178]

WMATA expects an average one million Metrorail riders daily by 2030. The need to increase capacity has renewed plans to add 220 subway cars to the system and reroute trains to alleviate congestion at the busiest stations.[179] Population growth in the region has revived efforts to construct two additional suburban Metro lines,[180][181] as well as a new streetcar system to interconnect the city's neighborhoods.[182] The surrounding jurisdictions in the Washington area have local bus systems, such as Montgomery County's Ride On, which complement service provided by WMATA. Metrorail, Metrobus and all local public bus systems accept SmarTrip, a reloadable transit pass.[183]

Interior of terminals B and C at Reagan National Airport, the closest commercial airport to downtown Washington

Union Station is the second-busiest train station in the United States, after Penn Station in New York, and serves as the southern terminus of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and Acela Express service. Maryland's MARC and Virginia's VRE commuter trains and the Metrorail Red Line also provide service into Union Station.[184] Intercity bus service is provided by Greyhound, Peter Pan, BoltBus, Megabus, and many other Chinatown bus lines.

Three major airports, one in Maryland and two in Virginia, serve Washington, D.C. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, located just across the Potomac River from downtown D.C. in Arlington County, Virginia, is the only Washington-area airport that has its own Metrorail station. Given its proximity to the city, Reagan National has extra security precautions required by the Washington Air Defense Identification Zone,[185] as well as additional noise restrictions.[186] Reagan National does not have U.S. Customs and Border Protection and therefore can only provide international service to airports that permit United States border preclearance, which includes destinations in Canada and the Caribbean.[187]

Major international flights arrive and depart from Washington Dulles International Airport, located 26.3 miles (42.3 km) west of the District in Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia. Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is located 31.7 miles (51.0 km) northeast of the District in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

Sister cities

Washington, D.C. has ten official sister city agreements.[188] Paris is a "Partner City" due to the one Sister City policy of that commune.[189]

City Country Year
Bangkok Thailand Thailand 1962, renewed 2002
Dakar Senegal Senegal 1980, renewed 2006
Beijing People's Republic of China China 1984, renewed 2004
Brussels Belgium Belgium 1985, renewed 2002
Athens Greece Greece 2000
Paris France France 2000, renewed 2005
Pretoria South Africa South Africa 2002, renewed 2008
Seoul South Korea South Korea 2006
Accra Ghana Ghana 2006
Sunderland United Kingdom United Kingdom 2006

See also

Notes

^[a] By 1790, the Southern states had largely repaid their overseas debts from the Revolutionary War. The Northern states had not, and wanted the new federal government to take over their outstanding liabilities. As this would effectively mean that the Southern states would assume a share of the Northern debt, in return, the South lobbied for a federal capital located closer to their own agricultural and slave-holding interests. See: Crew, Harvey W.; William Bensing Webb, John Wooldridge (1892). Centennial History of the City of Washington, D. C.. Dayton, Ohio: United Brethren Publishing House. p. 124. http://books.google.com/books?id=5Q81AAAAIAAJ. 
^[b] The Residence Act allowed the President to select a location within Maryland as far east as the Anacostia River. However, Washington shifted the federal territory's borders to the southeast in order to include the city of Alexandria at the District's southern tip. In 1791, Congress amended the Residence Act to approve the new site, including territory ceded by Virginia. See: Crew, Harvey W.; William Bensing Webb, John Wooldridge (1892). Centennial History of the City of Washington, D. C.. Dayton, Ohio: United Brethren Publishing House. pp. 89–92. http://books.google.com/books?id=5Q81AAAAIAAJ. 
^[c] The terms "territory" and "district" were used interchangeably throughout the 19th century until the territory was officially renamed the District of Columbia in 1871. See: "Get to know D.C.". The Historical Society of Washington, D.C.. 2004. http://www.historydc.org/gettoknow/faq.asp. Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
^[d] L'Enfant identified himself as "Peter Charles L'Enfant" during most of his life, while residing in the United States. See: Bowling, Kenneth R. (2002). Peter Charles L'Enfant: Vision, Honor, and Male Friendship in the Early American Republic. Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University. 
^[e] Data provided by "District of Columbia - Race and Hispanic Origin: 1800 to 1990" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. 2002-09-13. http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0056/tab23.pdf. Retrieved 2008-07-29.  Until 1890, the U.S. Census Bureau counted the City of Washington, Georgetown, and unincorporated portions of Washington County as three separate areas. The data provided in this article from before 1890 are calculated as if the District of Columbia were a single municipality as it is today. Population data for each specific area prior to 1890 are available. See: Gibson, Campbell (June 1998). "Population of the 100 Largest Cities and Other Urban Places in the United States: 1790 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0027/twps0027.html. Retrieved 2008-07-29. 

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External links


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Washington, D.C. article)

From Wikitravel

Washington, D.C. is a huge city with several district articles containing sightseeing, restaurant, nightlife and accommodation listings — consider printing them all.
Lincoln presiding over the Mall
Lincoln presiding over the Mall

Washington, D.C., [1], the 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.

Beyond the Mall, D.C. has in the past two decades shed its old reputation as a city both boring and dangerous, with shopping, dining, and nightlife befitting a world-class metropolis. Travelers will find the city new, exciting, and decidedly cosmopolitan and international.

Districts

Virtually all of D.C.'s tourists flock to the Mall—a two-mile long, beautiful stretch of parkland that holds many of the city's monuments and Smithsonian museums—but the city itself is a vibrant metropolis that often has little to do with monuments, politics, or white, neoclassical buildings. The Smithsonian is a "can't miss," but don't trick yourself—you haven't really been to D.C. until you've seen some of the neighborhoods.


Downtown (The National Mall, East End, West End, Waterfront)
The center of it all: The National Mall, D.C.'s main theater district, Smithsonian and non-Smithsonian museums galore, fine dining, Chinatown, the Verizon Center, the Convention Center, the central business district, the White House, West Potomac Park, the Kennedy Center, George Washington University, the beautiful Tidal Basin, and the new Nationals Stadium.
North Central (Dupont Circle, Shaw, Adams Morgan-Columbia Heights)
D.C.'s trendiest and most diverse neighborhoods and destination number one for live music and clubbing, as well as loads of restaurants, Howard University, boutique shopping, beautiful embassies, Little Ethiopia, jazz on U Street, and lots of nice hotels.
West (Georgetown, Upper Northwest)
The prestigious, wealthy side of town, home to the historic village of Georgetown with its energetic nightlife, colonial architecture, and fine dining; the National Zoo; the massive National Cathedral; bucolic Dumbarton Oaks; the bulk of D.C.'s high-end shopping; more Embassy Row; American University; and several nice dining strips.
East (Capitol Hill, East D.C., Anacostia)
Starting at the Capitol Building and Library of Congress, and fanning out past grandiose Union Station and the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood, to the less often visited neighborhoods by Gallaudet and Catholic University, historic black Anacostia, D.C.'s "Little Vatican" around the National Shrine, the huge National Arboretum, the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, offbeat nightlife in the Atlas District, and a handful of other eccentric neighborhoods to explore.


That which we call a District by any other...

Washington, D.C., is known to locals as simply D.C. or the District, and it is rare to hear it called anything else. Locals usually use the name Washington to refer to the national government and the political world, rather than the city itself. The full title Washington, D.C., and the official name, District of Columbia, are rarely used unless the speaker is trying to clearly distinguish the city from the state.

History

Washington, D.C. is an artificial, ad hoc city borne of politics, by politics, and for politics. It wasn't the first capital—Philadelphia tried its hand at national government in the years before (although the capital also moved around Baltimore, Lancaster, and York, as it fled British soldiers throughout the Revolutionary War). But Congress soured on the "Cradle of Liberty" after disaffected American soldiers, with the tacit sanction of the state governor, chased its members out of the city to Princeton.

The vagrant government made brief forays into Annapolis, Trenton, and even New York City, but it had long become clear that the southern states would not tolerate a northern capital, and that the capital would need to be independent from the then powerful state governments. James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton agreed in 1790 to a compromise location on largely uninhabited land in the Mid-Atlantic. The exact location was up to George Washington, and he rather liked a spot just a couple miles north of his house at Mount Vernon. Pierre L'Enfant was charged with planning the new city, lying outside the jurisdiction of any state, and following rapid construction under his supervision, the young government arrived in 1800. Aside from a temporary relocation during the War of 1812 (when the British set the city on fire), the U.S. government had found its home in the District of Columbia.

A diamond carved out of the land at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, the new city united the two existing small cities of Georgetown and Alexandria, with an aim to build on their success as ports. History must judge this a failure. In the early years both the original ports remained active in the trade in the Mid-Atlantic's principal export, tobacco. Seeking to further develop the capital as a port, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal was built alongside Georgetown, but the expensive project was a flop, unable to compete with the new and more efficient Baltimore & Ohio railroad, connected to Baltimore's deep water port. Later increased sedimentation of the Potomac brought the port activity to a virtual standstill.

The Alexandria port suffered disproportionately, since the government's plans favored Georgetown. Combined with fears that the federal government would ban the slave trade within the District (and it did), this led to the retrocession of the lands west of the Potomac back into the state of Virginia in 1846, thus spoiling the city's fine diamond shape, and leaving only the territory given by Maryland under federal control.

The nation's capital from this point on lacked the exciting tumult of its early years, although its compromise location on the border of North and South proved precarious during the Civil War. The Maryland government had Confederate sympathies, so President Lincoln preempted any thoughts of secession (which would have left the capital surrounded) by simply arresting and holding without trial the entire state government. To keep unruly Baltimore in check (Baltimoreans were not so sympathetic to the South—they are just rowdy folks), he sent artillery to sit on the city's Federal Hill, pointing cannon squarely at the central business district. The massive influx of money, administrators, troops, engineers, and forts to protect the capital during the war transformed the formerly sleepy capital into a busy urban center, set to grow for the next 150 years into one of the nation's largest metropolises.

The Wilson Building, seat of the Mayor and City Council
The Wilson Building, seat of the Mayor and City Council

D.C.'s culture is in no small part defined by a divide between black and white, native and transient, east and west. Compared to other cities, relatively few residents are native Washingtonians. Most recent census figures report that about 50% of the population has relocated in the past five years. The transient population is overwhelmingly professional, young, white, affluent, and highly educated—drawn to the city for its government-related work and booming economy. This is in stark contrast to the local African-American population, which has deep roots in the community, and much more socioeconomic diversity—some areas of the city rank among the nation's poorest, most alienated, and underprivileged, plagued with serious problems in the public schools and violent housing projects.

D.C., a.k.a the Chocolate City, is a clear majority-black city, and has long been a national center of African-American culture. Until the 1920s (when it was surpassed by New York) it was home to the largest black population of any city, it was the first black-majority city in the country, and is home to Howard University, one of the nation's most important historically black colleges. U St was known as Black Broadway, with native Washingtonian Duke Ellington performing in the clubs up and down the street. The District was long an attractive destination for African-Americans leaving the South, as it was both nearby, and also a bastion of tolerance and progressivism in race relations, being the home of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and the first city in the country to integrate its public schools.

The sometimes uncomfortable blend of the semi-transient professional population and permanent residents is often the source of controversy, especially as D.C. has been experiencing a citywide wave of neighborhood rebuilding and "gentrification," as young professionals, whose tight budgets and distaste for long daily commutes have in recent years driven them to move into poorer neighborhoods in search of low rent and easy access to city amenities. But while there is inevitably some conflict under neighborhood change, these changes have also created D.C.'s most diverse, culturally vibrant, and exciting neighborhoods—just walk up U or 18th St in Shaw and Adams Morgan, and you'll see that it's not a vain hope that the city's various cultures can come together to create something greater.

D.C., and particularly the metro area beyond the city limits, is impressively international—in the immediate metro area a whopping one third of the population is foreign born. The biggest immigrant group is no doubt from Central America, mostly from El Salvador. Latino culture finds its home in the city in Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights—both neighborhoods where you'll find all the various cultures of the city intermingling. D.C. also has a big African immigrant population, with exceptionally big and visible Somali and Ethiopian communities (who have bestowed on the city a love for Ethiopian food!). The international culture extends well beyond the immigrant communities, though, to the big foreign professional population, as well as the brain drain of Americans from all around the country looking for work in the international relations field—D.C. simply put is the nation's most international town.

Local politics, and local anger at the relations between the city and the national government, are perhaps the glue that binds all Washingtonians together. The District of Columbia is under the ultimate control of the U.S. Congress. Since 1973, city residents have been able to elect a Mayor as well as representatives to the D.C. City Council. However, Congress retains the right to overturn laws passed by the city. The nearly 600,000 citizens residing in the city do not have voting representation in Congress because the District is not a "state." As a reminder to visitors that D.C. residents are taxed but are unable to vote for Congress, District license plates bear the slogan "Taxation Without Representation"—the slogan used to denounce British rule before the Revolutionary War.

Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs (°F) 42 47 56 66 75 84 88 86 79 68 57 47
Nightly lows (°F) 27 30 37 46 56 65 70 69 62 50 40 32
Precipitation (in) 3.2 2.6 3.6 2.7 3.8 3.1 3.6 3.4 3.8 3.2 3.0 3.0

Check Washington, D.C.'s 7 day forecast at NOAA

D.C.'s climate is infamously bad, having been built on a swamp with the express purpose of discouraging a large bureaucracy—if no one wants to live here, there won't be too many bureaucrats. This is all a bunch of crock. There was no swamp here, and the weather is actually quite lovely throughout the year. The myth of bad weather in the capital comes from the fact that most visit at the height of the summer, when the pleasure of relatively moderate temperatures are completely drowned out by the miserable, impenetrable humidity. On a hot day on the Mall in July, you'll sweat like a dog, the kids will complain incessantly, and you'll want to spend as much time indoors as possible. It's not the best time to visit.

But the rest of the year is lovely. It's hard to beat spring in D.C. The northerly subtropical climate results in cool breezes, moderate temperatures, lush growth, flowers, budding trees, and of course the cherry blossoms. The most beautiful time of spring usually falls April–mid-May. Domestic tourists know this, though, and you can expect the cherry blossom walk around the Tidal Basin to see (pedestrian) traffic jams that can put the Beltway to shame. (A truly savvy tourist can escape the crowds, but still enjoy the cherry blossoms at the National Arboretum.)

Fall, while not as gorgeous, rivals spring for perfect temperatures. It's also a lovely time for a walk in Rock Creek Park, where the dense forest bursts with multicolored confetti. Winter sees few tourists, but it's actually a great time to visit. While it's less attractive in December, the Gulf Stream ensures that the temperatures remain mild, with very sporadic snow. But the best thing about the season is that the museums are practically empty, and theater season is in full force.

It's worth considering the political climate as well. Before heading to D.C., research which events will coincide with your visit. Major international conferences, political events, or protests can hinder your sightseeing tour in dramatic fashion, and also send lodging prices through the roof. Thanksgiving–New Year's is a much calmer time to visit, when the U.S. Congress takes its extended vacation. This means fewer official visitors, elected officials, and their staff members; the Metro becomes less crowded and there are overall fewer people in the city.

Rowhouses in Dupont Circle
Rowhouses in Dupont Circle

Washingtonians are avid readers and not just of the news—each Metro car at rush hour is a veritable library. Nonetheless, there is little "D.C. literature" to speak of. The city's culture has always been overshadowed by national politics, and those looking for local flavor will find political works: political chronicles, political histories, political hot air, political historical fiction, and of course political thrillers.

  • Henry Adams' Democracy is President John Henry Adams' grandson's satirical send-up of the moral morass that is politics. (Things haven't changed in the 120 years since he wrote it.) Almost certainly President Rutherford B Hayes' least favorite book, this remains a great read two centuries later.
  • Dan Browns' The Lost Symbol sold one million copies on the first day it was published, so it's fair to assume that this 2009 book by the author of the Da Vinci Code will be the most famous D.C. work of fiction of all time. It's a mad chase of arcane conspiracies around D.C.'s Masonic Temple, National Cathedral, Smithsonian, Washington Monument, and every darkest nook and narrowest cranny of the Capitol Building.
  • John Grisham's The Pelican Brief. Intrigue, corruption, and homicide on the Supreme Court, and some good chases around the capital city in one of Grisham's most famous thrillers. Republicans may get an unfair portrayal, but this is a good page turner.
  • George Pelecanos' Sweet Forever. Pelecanos is one of D.C.'s most rare authors—one who knows the city beyond the politics in and out, and uses it extensively and effectively as the backdrop for some amazing mysteries. In this one, detective Nick Stefanos investigates a drug-related murder on 1980s U St, leading him into a maze of basketball, dirty cops, the beginnings of the local crack empire, underground music, a thoroughly corrupt mayor's office, and all around grit in a dangerous city.
  • Ron Suskin's Hope in the Unseen and The One Percent Doctrine are both political, but about very different sides of Washington. The former chronicles the experiences of Cedric Jennings from his nightmarish Ballou High School in Anacostia to the Ivy League. The One Percent Doctrine, on the other hand, is an inside look at the run up to the Iraq War, predicated on the infamous one-percent doctrine coined in the wake of 9/11 by then Vice President Dick Cheney.
  • Gore Vidal's Lincoln. America's legendary master of political historical fiction turns his pen on the Lincoln Oval Office, bringing the administration's central figures to life in a way that no biography could. Vidal is famous for his lack of charity to beloved national figures, but even his sharp pen can't quite tarnish the nation's greatest.
  • Bob Woodward's All the Presidents Men is perhaps the nation's single most famous political chronicle: the story of the investigative journalism that unearthed the Watergate Scandal, and led to the impeachment and political demise of President Nixon. Woodward remains a huge influence in Washington, particularly due to his eminently readable insider accounts of the workings of the Bush Administration. Bush at War and Plan of Attack stand out: the first a chronicle of the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent decision to invade Afghanistan, and the second of the run up to the invasion of Iraq.

In addition to those above, a trip to D.C. is a good time to pick up a presidential biography or two. Favorites include:

  • Arthur Schlesinger's A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House is the most famous account of the JFK presidency. Biased, certainly, but it's hard to beat an account by a Harvard historian turned special advisor who was there in the Oval Office to see every decision being made.
  • Stephen Oates' Let the Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Martin Luther King isn't closely associated with the city, but this is a great inspirational read to keep in mind on the Mall, thinking of his I Have a Dream speech.
  • Lou Cannon's Ronald Reagan: the Role of a Lifetime is one of the few mature Reagan biographies that is neither a tribute nor an attack, written about his years in office by the inner-circle chronicler who knew him best.
  • Frank Friedel's Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny. FDR's presidency was so influential, and just plain long, that it's difficult to find good one-volume biographies—look no further than this definitive work.
  • Joseph Ellis' His Excellency: George Washington. A Washington biography is an obvious reading choice on a trip to his namesake city, as his story is the story of the founding of both the nation and the capital (and his estate is an easy day trip outside the city). Ellis' account is very travel friendly—accessible, humanist, and mercifully short.

Film

There is no end to films set in D.C., as the national capital provides the essential backdrop to just about every political thriller, and every other alien invasion or other disaster movie set in the U.S. There are a few, though, that stand out in both the creation of national myths and in the proud few that actually capture something of the real culture of the city.

  • The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973) is a rare film in being both unmistakeably Washingtonian and entirely unrelated to politics. It's best remembered, though, for terrifying audiences with a story uncomfortably plausible to those raised in the Catholic Church. Formidable evil forces and equally formidable Jesuits collide in the struggle for the soul of a young girl living in Georgetown, in a tale where the modern humanist world quivers in the face of the ancient and the mystical.
  • In the Line of Fire (Wolfgang Petersen, 1993). How do you make a D.C. political thriller stand out against all the rest? Simple: Clint Eastwood is the Secret Service agent, John Malkovich is the psychopathic assassin. If you intend to watch, you should also intend to add the legendary Old Ebbit Grille to your dining itinerary.
  • The More the Merrier (George Stevens, 1943). A goofy romantic comedy, widely hailed as one of the best of its kind, set in WWII-era D.C., amidst the acute housing shortage faced by soldiers returning from the war.
  • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 1939) is the defining American myth of the ability of political idealism to stand up for the people against entrenched political interests and corruption, and just maybe to win. Nary a cynic remains tearless through Jimmy Stewart's defining performance, and the movie shows outdoor on the National Mall nearly every summer for Screen on the Green [2].

Get in

By plane

Washington, D.C., is served by three major airports.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (IATA: DCA), [3] in Arlington, Virginia just across the Potomac River, is by far the closest and most convenient, since it has its own Metro stop on the Blue/Yellow Lines. A taxi trip downtown costs only about $15.

Washington Dulles International Airport (IATA: IAD), [4] is 26 miles southwest of downtown in Dulles, Virginia. To get to the city, the Washington Flyer coach [5], operates every half hour (on :15 and :45) to and from the West Falls Church Metro Station (Orange Line). It takes 20–25 minutes and costs $10 one way, $18 round trip. From there the Metro to downtown takes another 20–25 minutes. The cheapest option is the 5A Metrobus [6], an express bus which stops at Herndon, Tysons Corner, Rosslyn (Blue and Orange Metro Lines) and downtown's L'Enfant Plaza (Green, Yellow, Blue, and Orange Metro Lines). It generally departs every 40 minutes M-F and hourly (though not on the hour) Sa-Su, and takes 49 minutes to the L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station; $3.10 one way cash fare. The bus stops near Curb 2E outside of the terminal. Ask at the information booth in the lower level of the terminal, near the baggage claim, which bus will be coming sooner. A taxi trip downtown costs about $50, taking about 30 minutes. Supershuttle [7] operates a popular shared taxi ride service to anywhere in the D.C. area for prices of around $30–40. When leaving from Dulles, note that baggage check-in closes a strict one hour before flights.

Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (IATA: BWI), [8] is the farthest flung, but also the nicest in-airport experience, 30 miles north-east of D.C. and ten miles south of downtown Baltimore. The cheap and simple, but slow way to D.C. is the B30 express Metrobus [9] to the Greenbelt Metro Station (Green Line). It costs $3.10 one way and takes about 30 minutes. The driver will not provide change. The Metro rail service from Greenbelt to downtown takes about 25 minutes. A taxi trip to downtown Washington costs about $60 and should take over 40 minutes. There are also train services via MARC or Amtrak from BWI Rail Station. From BWI Airport, a free "Amtrak/MARC" shuttle bus runs from the airport terminal to the BWI Rail Station. MARC [10] local rail operates weekdays to New Carrollton (Orange Line) for $5 each way, or Washington Union Station (Red Line) for $6. Amtrak [11] provides access to Union Station (from $13; 30-35 minutes) and to nearby Alexandria, Virginia near the King Street Metro station on the Blue and Yellow lines (from $27). As with Dulles, Supershuttle offers shared taxi to anywhere in the D.C. area for about $30–40.

By train

Amtrak trains arrive from all over the country, particularly the Northeast Corridor (Boston-to-Richmond). All stop at Union Station (Red Line Metro), a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol Building. The Capitol Limited comes from Chicago, passing through Pittsburgh. A few lines also stop in adjacent Alexandria, Virginia, very close to the King Street stop on the Blue/Yellow Metro lines. If coming from the south, it might be easier to stop there, depending on your destination.

Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) [12] provides weekday service to Baltimore's Camden Station and Penn Station, via the Camden or the Penn Line, both of which operate from D.C.'s Union Station. Only the Penn Line stops at BWI Airport. MARC also provides service on the Brunswick line towards western Maryland through the suburbs of Silver Spring, Kensington, Rockville, Gaithersburg, and Germantown, on the way out to Frederick and on to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Virginia Railway Express (VRE) [13] provides rail service to Union Station from the southwest, starting in the Virginia suburbs of Manassas and Fredericksburg.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial
Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial

D.C. is primarily served by the coastal superhighway, I-95 from Baltimore or Richmond. It does not go into the city itself, dodging the District by running along the eastern portion of the Beltway (I-495).

Other interstates of note:

  • I-495 is the Beltway. The Beltway is reviled across the nation for its dangerous traffic patterns and its incredible congestion (particularly during rush hour, when it rivals the Cross-Bronx Expressway in New York City as the most miserable highway in the United States). But it is often the only practical way to travel between suburbs. Particularly bad spots include:
    • the inner loop (clockwise) between I-66 and I-95 and also approaching the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in the morning rush (Virginia)
    • the inner loop between the western VA/MD border through the merge with I-270
    • the outer loop (counterclockwise) between I-95 Springfield and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge during the afternoon rush (Virginia)

Again, only travel on the Beltway during rush hour if you absolutely, positively must.

  • I-270 connects I-70 in Frederick to I-495 in Bethesda.
  • I-395, another miserably congested road, connects downtown with the I-495/I-95 interchange in Northern Virginia.
  • I-295 connects downtown with I-495/I-95 in Southern Prince George's County, MD.
  • I-66 starts at the western part of downtown and goes 75 miles west, ending near Front Royal, VA.
  • US-50 traverses D.C. primarily along city roads east–west, heading east toward Annapolis and Ocean City (the latter by way of the Bay Bridge), and west across the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge into Northern Virginia and then all the way cross-country to Sacramento, California.
  • The Baltimore-Washington Parkway (also "B-W Parkway") starts at I-295 in Anacostia, crossing Central Maryland, passing near BWI Airport and terminating in Baltimore. Note that connections between the southbound B-W Parkway and the Southeast-Southwest Freeway in D.C. are difficult due to incomplete interchanges.

Inside the Beltway, I-66 is HOV-2 only (all cars must have at least two passengers) eastbound 6AM-9:30AM and westbound 4PM-6:30PM. The HOV-2 restriction applies to the entire highway, not just specific lanes. US-50, US-29, and the George Washington Pkwy are the alternatives.

  • Greyhound, [17] buses terminate at their own central bus terminal, 1005 1st St NE, a few blocks from Union Station. Fares to New York City range from $20 in advance on the internet to $40 on the departure date. There are other Greyhound stations located in Silver Spring and Arlington.
  • Megabus [19]. Service to New York City; fares from $1 far in advance. Pickup/dropoff at 1100 G St NW, in front of an entrance to the Metro Center metro station. Free WiFi.
  • New Century 2000, [20]. Service to New York City ($20) and Philadelphia ($15). Pickup/dropoff at 515 H Street NW, in Chinatown. No advance purchase required.
  • Tripper Bus, [21]. Service to New York's Penn Station. Pickup/dropoff near the Metro stations in Bethesda and Rosslyn. $25 one way with discounts for advance purchase. Electrical outlets and Free WiFi.
  • Vamoose Bus, [22]. Service to New York's Penn Station. Pickup/dropoff near the Metro stations in Bethesda and Rosslyn. $30, +free ticket with every four. No advance purchase required.

Get around

City layout

The city is split into four quadrants of unequal size, with the center on the Capitol Building: NW, NE, SE, and SW. The NW quadrant is by far the largest and the SW the smallest. Addresses take a quadrant name, e.g., 1000 H St NE, depending on what side of the city they fall.

City roads are laid out in a grid, with east-west streets primarily named with letters, and north-south streets named with numbers. Complicating the grid are the numerous diagonal avenues, mostly named after states, which serve as the city's principal arteries, extending from traffic circles and squares. Numbers increase and letters decrease (A–Z) with distance from the capital, and odd numbers are always on the right side of the street when facing away from the Capitol.

The grid has a few peculiarities which are a legacy from Pierre L'Enfant's eighteenth century plan for the city. There is no J St because I and J were indistinguishable when handwritten in the 18th century, and L'Enfant wanted to spare Washingtonians from confusion. I St is often referred to as Eye St, to distinguish it from the letter L.

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The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) [24] operates the city's excellent public transportation system of rail and buses. A car is often a hindrance in the crowded city, particularly for tourists; public transportation is often the fastest way to get around.

The underground subway, the Metro, is the central feature of the transit system. Comprised of five intersecting rail lines, it stops in most major neighborhoods and at numerous locations downtown. Washingtonians are proud of their Metro system. It's exceptionally clean, safe, user-friendly, and sports a surprisingly elegant and pleasing brutalist aesthetic. Its one flaw, though, is irregularity of service, especially following heightened safety concerns post-9/11 and following a major derailment in June 2009. The longest delays between trains can potentially reach 30 minutes without clear indications of the next arrival.

Inside the lines

Usually tolerant Washingtonians are militant about proper Metro behavior:

  • Absolutely no food or drink is allowed on trains or in stations. Metro employees, police officers, and even fellow riders will ask you to dispose of any food before entering. Violators are subject to fines or even arrest.
  • On escalators, stand to the right to allow passengers to pass on the left. You'll drive the polite locals crazy if you don't follow this rule.
  • Stand well clear of the doors when opening to allow riders to exit.

Metro rail lines are color-coded, and in some areas, two different lines may share the same track. Additionally, trains may terminate before reaching the end of the line, especially during rush hour. Therefore, be careful to note both the color and final destination indicated on the electronic displays and train cars before boarding.

Metrorail Hours of Operation

  • Monday-Thursday: 5AM-midnight
  • Friday: 5AM-3AM
  • Saturday: 7AM-3AM
  • Sunday: 7AM-midnight

When riding Metro late at night, be aware of when the last train leaves each particular station. This information is available both online and within Metro stations. All trains continue to the end of their respective lines, even after the system has technically closed; there is no need to worry that a train will stop before you reach your destination.

The Metro fare system [25] is complicated and varies based on the day, time, and distance of the trip. During peak times, M-F 5AM-9:30AM and 3PM-7:00PM and Sa-Su 2AM-closing, fares cost $1.65-4.50. At all other times, fares cost $1.35-2.35. Posted guides will help you calculate the appropriate fare.

Fares are paid by purchasing a farecard at automated machines within stations. Flat-rate Metro passes [26] are available that give riders an unlimited number of trips within the system for a set number of days. These passes eliminate the need for riders to calculate their own fares and are available in each station at many of the automated machines that sell standard farecards.

If you are staying for a longer time, consider buying a SmarTrip debit card [27] ($10 cost with $5 transportation credit), which works both on the Metro and on the Metrobuses and some other suburban bus systems (saving you the headache of correct change and often providing a discount on the bus fare). SmarTrip cards are also required for parking in almost all the suburban Metro lots, where you'll encounter a flat cost of about $4.50/day. SmarTrip cards can be bought at most Metro stations or at all CVS stores. Parking is free on weekends and federal holidays.

By bus

Once intimidating to visitors, D.C.'s bus system has become more visitor-friendly and reaches destinations that are hard to reach by Metro.

The tourist-friendly D.C. Circulator [28] buses are akin to shuttles since they operate on a predictable fixed route and schedule, and run principally between main attractions and the city's most popular neighborhoods for visitors. All D.C. Circulator routes run every 10 minutes and cost $1. There are currently five routes:

  • Georgetown-Union Station "Yellow" Line — runs between Georgetown and Union Station Su-Th 7AM-midnight, F-Sa 7AM-midnight (and midnight-2AM between Georgetown & Farragut Sq.
  • Convention Center-SW Waterfront "Red" Line — runs between Southwest Waterfront and the Washington Convention Center 7AM-9PM daily.
  • Smithsonian/National Gallery of Art Loop "Purple" Line — loops the perimeter of the National Mall Sa-Su 10AM-6PM.
  • Union Station – Navy Yard "Blue" Line — runs past Eastern Market between Union Station and Navy Yard near the Nationals Stadium M-F 6AM-6PM. Extended and weekend service on Nationals game days.
  • Woodley Park – Adams Morgan – McPherson Square "Green" Line — runs the "Liquorridor" between the Zoo, U St, Adams Morgan, and McPherson Square Su-Th 7AM-midnight, F-Sa 7AM-3:30AM. These neighborhoods are home to some of the best restaurants, shopping, art galleries, local theaters, and nightlife in Washington.
The Metro
The Metro

And then there is the old reliable Metrobus. It's geared towards locals and is a bit confusing since there is no central terminal, and you usually won't find a route map without actually getting on a bus! Nonetheless, Metrobus will take you places hard to reach via Metro or the Circulator. Most routes cost a flat fare of $1.35, and since exact change is required, it's much easier to travel with a SmarTrip card (see above). Despite the bus system's complexity, the following routes provide reliable and direct service along the city's most well-traveled corridors, running about every ten–twenty minutes:

  • 16th St Line (S2, S4, S9) [29] — north-south service on 16th St between the Silver Spring Metro Station on the Red Line and East End. It's the route of choice to reach Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Fitzgerald Tennis Center, and Carter Barron Amphitheater at Rock Creek Park.
  • Massachusetts Ave Line (N2, N4, N6) [30] — runs along Massachusetts Ave between the Friendship Heights and Farragut West Metro stops. The bus provides an excellent view of the 50+ embassies located along Embassy Row. It's also a good way to go from Dupont Circle to the hard to reach the National Cathedral, as well as American University.
  • U St-Garfield Line (90, 92, 93) [31] — runs a great crosstown route from the Zoo at Woodley Park through Adams Morgan/18th St, U St, Gallaudet University, and then on to Eastern Market.

By taxi

Ding dong the zone system is dead! Taxis have switched to a sane time/distance metered system for fares, which means no more ripping off the tourists. Taxis cost $3.00 for the first sixth of a mile and 25¢ for each additional sixth of a mile. The maximum fare within D.C. is $19.00, excluding standard fees ($1.50/additional passenger, and a 25% fee during declared snow emergencies). There is no rush hour fee, although meters do charge 25¢ for each minute stopped in traffic or traveling under ten mph. Cabs do not typically accept credit cards, so bring cash. All D.C. taxicab meters have the ability to print receipts on request.

Taxicab drivers are required to take passengers anywhere within the Washington Metropolitan Area, although they hate going out to Maryland and Virginia. D.C. cab fares for interstate trips are the same as the standard rates, except that there is no maximum fare. Please note that with the exception of rides to and from the airport, it is illegal for non-D.C. cabs to pick up passengers within the District; the same rule applies for D.C. cabs in Maryland or Virginia.

By car

Driving in D.C. is difficult. Even most Washingtonians avoid driving downtown. Limited and expensive parking, ruthless parking enforcement, sadistic traffic circles, fines from automated red light cameras and absurd speed traps, frequent street direction changes, some of the worst congestion in the country, street closures without warning—take the Metro. And there's nothing simple about the street layout. Remember that the plan was intended to confuse invading armies. For a fun challenge, try to drive on Massachusetts Ave from Wisconsin Ave to RFK Stadium—it's like riding a bucking bronco! Expert drivers get major bragging rights for taking the Dwight D Eisenhower Fwy (I-395) from 4th St NW to the Jefferson Davis Hwy in Virginia on a Sunday afternoon without setting off the speed cameras or causing a wreck.

Local opposition prevented the construction of interstate highways through Washington, steering resources instead towards building the Washington Metro system. The two freeways that feed into the city from Virginia, I-66 and I-395, both terminate quickly. Washington and its innermost suburbs are encircled by the Capital Beltway, I-495, which gave rise to the expression "Inside the Beltway."

Washington boasts several scenic drives:

  • Pennsylvania Ave from 14th St NW toward the Capitol
  • Rock Creek Pkwy, which follows Rock Creek, then the Potomac to the Lincoln Memorial
  • Reservoir Rd from Georgetown to the leafy Clara Barton Pkwy, continuing to the Capitol Beltway
  • Embassy Row, Massachusetts Ave from Scott Circle to Wisconsin Ave
  • the George Washington Memorial Pkwy, which follows the Potomac on the Virginia side
The National Mall
The National Mall

See

If you are sightseeing, chances are you are on The Mall. The National Mall is a unique National Park, filled with an intense concentration of monuments, memorials, museums, and monumental government buildings instantly recognizable to people all over the world. The White House, the US Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the National Gallery of Art, the Air and Space Museum, the National Natural History Museum, the Holocaust Museum, the International Spy Museum, the National Portrait Gallery—just a few of the top national attractions here, all within walking distance of each other. The tourist-designated sights are just half of the attraction, though—to walk down the National Mall is to thread the halls of world power in the modern era. Here the world's most powerful politicians and their staffs fill the grand neo-classical buildings of the three branches of US Government, where they make decisions every day that reverberate in the remotest corners of the world.

There are ample maps along the Mall, especially by metro stops, but the place is so jam-packed with things you'll want to see, you should probably take a map with you to avoid missing highlights, obscured by other highlights. For a more detailed and larger map than the Wikitravel version, print out the official National Mall map (pdf) [32]. The Mall is larger than it looks, and a walk from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial or the Tidal Basin will take a while and may wear you down a bit. Plan ahead what you want to see and concentrate your activities in one section of the Mall for one day. The eastern section, home to the majority of the museums is covered in the National Mall article, as is the western portion of the Mall and the Tidal Basin. The White House is located in the West End, and the Capitol Building on Capitol Hill.

While the Mall has more than enough sights to keep a traveler busy for a while, the city itself has plenty of big attractions for a visitor who wants to leave behind the sandy paths and flocks of tourists and pigeons of the Smithsonian. The National Zoo in Woodley Park is one of the nation's most prestigious; the nearby National Cathedral is an awe-inspiring mammoth. Embassy Row is an impressive stretch of some 50 foreign-owned historic and modernist mansions along Massachusetts Ave throughout Dupont Circle and Woodley Park. The historic neighborhood of Georgetown is another great sightseeing destination, full of beautiful old colonial buildings, the 300+ year-old Jesuit campus of Georgetown University, a pleasant waterfront, and the infamous Exorcist steps. By car (i.e., taxi) you can get to some of the capital's more far flung and less frequented attractions, like the magnificent Catholic National Shrine and the National Arboretum in the Northeast, or the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in eastern Anacostia.

  • Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004, 202-312-1300, [33]. The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in DC offers a dramatic setting for weddings and conferences, diverse restaurant options, and information regarding Washington DC tourism.   edit
Rock Creek Park map
Rock Creek Park map

The District is home to many large parks that offer hiking and biking. Many of the downtown parks are crowded with soccer, football, rugby, kickball, baseball, and ultimate frisbee players. The Mall may be the most famous park, but there are several other beautiful places worth noting, like the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, the National Arboretum, Meridian Hill Park, and the C&O Canal Towpath.

Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park, if you look on a map, is evidently the district's central respiratory system, bisecting the district north of the Anacostia River, and covering nearly 2,000 acres of thickly forested hills. It's a national park, full of deer (who overpopulate, due to lack of predators), squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, birds, and even a few coyotes. The paved biking/running trail is one of the nation's best, and it extends all the way from the Lincoln Memorial way out into Maryland (it also connects with the Mount Vernon trail in Northern Virginia. But there are tons more paths, from the hiking trail network to bridle paths, as well as a boatload of picnic spots, a golf course, a variety of Ranger-led/educational programs, and even a boat rental center on the Potomac.

There are plenty of nice outdoor spaces just beyond the park itself. South of Massachusetts Ave, you can take a path west out to the beautiful Dumbarton Oaks estate and gardens, and then on to enormous Archibald-Glover Park, where the trails can lead you as far south and west as the C&O Canal and Palisades Park. Following the main Rock Creek trail along the creek itself all the way south will take you under the Whitehurst Fwy and down to the Mall, where joggers avail themselves of the incredible path right along the Potomac beneath the monuments.

  • Peirce Mill, Tilden St & Beach Dr NW, +1 202 282-0927, [34]. A historic water-powered mill in the park and a national historic site, Peirce Mill is currently closed to the public for repairs.  edit
  • Rock Creek Golf Course, 16th St & Rittenhouse St NW, +1 202 882-7332, [35]. dawn-dusk daily. The eighteen holes of golf in Rock Creek Park are a bit rough—some would say the fairways are starting to look like pasture. That's not to say you can't have a good experience here, as it is quite a novelty to play golf deep in the woods, despite being in the city. Golfers might want to consider the other two major courses in the city, though, at Hains Point (just across the water from the Mall) and at Langston. $16/nine holes, $23/eighteen.  edit
  • Rock Creek Horse Centersee district article
  • Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium, 5200 Glover Rd NW, +1 202 895-6070, [36]. W-Su 9AM-5PM. Deep inside the park, the Nature Center offers hands-on exhibits, guided nature walks, an "observation beehive," and a full planetarium. Especially good for kids. All free.   edit

Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island, ☎ +1 703 289-2500, [37]. This is another one of those gems just far enough out of the way where most tourists miss out. The Teddy Roosevelt Memorial is at the center of the island, housing a memorial to the president as well as a couple fountains and several stone obelisks inscribed with his quotes. The rest of the island is a nice natural park of woods and swamp (the swamp has a boardwalk) in the center of the Potomac, with great views of Georgetown University on the northwest side, and of the Kennedy Center on the east. What could be better befitting the great outdoorsman and founder of the National Park Service than an island park memorial!

To reach, walk down the stairs at the Rosslyn side of the Key Bridge—which connects Rosslyn with Georgetown —then head east on the trail (the Mount Vernon Trail) to the footbridge to the island. Rosslyn has the nearest Metro stop. By car, you can access the parking lot just north of the Roosevelt Bridge from the northbound lanes only.

Festivals

With all the government money around, D.C. is awash in free public events all throughout the year, but especially in the summer, many of them right on the Mall. A few highlights include:

  • A Capitol Fourth, [38]. 4 July. There is nowhere better to celebrate Independence Day than in the nation's capital. Fireworks over the Potomac River, the National Independence Day Parade [39], and a huge orchestral concert on Capitol Hill all make for a big time celebration. Expect enormous crowds.  edit
  • Millenium Stage [40]. Free daily performances at 6PM on the top floor of the Kennedy Center! Truly, D.C. is spoiled for free activities.
  • Monday Night at the National, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW, +1 202 783-3372, [41]. M 6PM,7:30PM, fall. You can see just about any type of big musical, dramatic, or dance performance right at the National Theatre in the East End for free in the fall! Tickets are required, and they start handing them out 30 minutes before the performance, so you'll have to stand in line.  edit
  • National Cherry Blossom Festival, [42]. Late March–early April. Note that Washington's cherry blossoms do not necessarily bloom during the festival—the bloom varies every year, depending on the winter weather. When the blossoms are out (and they don't stay out for long—a good rain will wash them away), Washington is at its prettiest. The traditional cherry blossom promenade is around the Tidal Basin, although it is absurdly crowded down there. You will pay top dollar to stay at hotels during cherry blossom season.  edit
  • National Kite Festival, (at the Washington Monument), [43]. March 2010. The main attraction is of course all the people showing up to fly their kites by the Washington Monument, but there are also a bunch of tent exhibits on topics from things like West Indian kitemaking to U.S. wind power projects. There are several kite flying competitions throughout the day, the most popular being the Rokkaku Kite Battle.  edit
  • Screen on the Green, (On the green between 4th & 7th St NW). M 7PM, July–August. Classic films, often with a political angle, are shown for free on the Mall. Watching 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' with the capital dome in the background is classic D.C. It's good to show up a little early to stake out a good spot, lay down the picnic blanket, and socialize.  edit
  • Shakespeare in the Park (Shakespeare Free for All), +1 202 547-1122, [44]. Around Aug–Sep, shows start roughly M-F 7:30PM-8PM, Sa-Su noon-2PM, 7:30PM-8PM. The locals' choice for best summer festival might be the free annual performances by the renowned National Shakespeare Theatre Company in the open-air auditorium off in the dense Rock Creek Park woods of Carter Barron. They start giving out tickets two hours before the show, but crowded nights see lines form a full four hours before the event—get there early if you want to see a F-Su show!  edit
  • Smithsonian Folklife Festival, [45]. Late June–around 4 July. This annual festival normally has three topics: a country, a region of the U.S., and another subject, which varies from year to year. Previous festivals have featured the country of Oman, the ancient Silk Road, and music in Latino culture.  edit
G-Man, the Washington Wizards' odd mascot
G-Man, the Washington Wizards' odd mascot

With the recent addition of the Nationals, D.C. now has a professional team in each of the five major U.S. professional sports. While the local transient population tends to be too distracted by CNN to pay much attention to the games, the rest of the city and the vast population in the metro area stay plugged in, especially to the Redskins.

The Washington Redskins are one of professional football's most established and storied clubs, currently the second most valuable franchise in the country, which boasts a full five NFL championships. They were long residents at RFK Stadium, but have since 1996 been playing at FedEx Field [46] in Landover, Maryland. To get there, take the Blue Line to the Morgan Boulevard stop, then walk one mile straight up Morgan Blvd to the stadium.

D.C.'s downtown arena at the Verizon Center plays host to the other two long-established professional franchises, D.C.'s hockey team, the Washington Capitals, as well as its basketball team, the Washington Wizards. The former, under coach Bruce Boudreau, is having its best years yet, and the 2009–2010 season should be a great one for Washington hockey. The Wizards were long known as the Washington Bullets, but that name started to acquire an unpleasant irony in the homicide-heavy 1990s, leading owner Abe Pollin to switch to something more innocuous. The Redskins have grappled with a similar issue, surviving movements and lawsuits trying to get rid of what some consider an offensive term for Native Americans. (Polls have found that the vast majority of American Indians do not find the team's name offensive.)

To great fanfare, in 2005 D.C. gained a baseball team in the form of the Washington Nationals, a.k.a. the Nats, formerly the Montreal Expos. There have been Nats before, notably the 1901–1960 Washington Senators, who later moved to Minnesota as the Twins. Both the original Senators and their second incarnation in the 1960s (now the Texas Rangers) suffered from a singular inability to win, though. The first was quite successful for its first twenty years, but by WWII they earned the city the slogan "first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League." The new franchise has yet to pull the city out of its ages old slump—they've been dead last in their division all but one season, and their winning percentage has seen a steady drop with each year. But despite the poor record and the fact that some of the D.C. area's long-time residents are still loyal to the Baltimore Orioles, the games are well attended and a good deal of fun—everyone loves a trip to the brand new ballpark by the Waterfront.

Many Americans often forget that the country has a professional soccer league, but not so here. D.C. United is the MLS' most dominant team, with four MLS cups under its belt (out of the leagues thirteen years), as well as successful international competition in CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, where the club has both a CONCACAF championship and a Copa Interamericana. D.C. is a big soccer town, owing to the metropolitan area's very international population and its big Latino communities, as well as to a home grown affection for soccer on this section of the Mid-Atlantic, and the games are high energy and well attended. United are the last team still playing at over-the-hill RFK Stadium, though they are looking for a new home, possibly across the river at Poplar Point.

Aside from the big name professional leagues, there are several other good bets for a league game. The Washington Mystics are the WNBA women's basketball team, and are (in)famously the league's regular "attendance champions." That is, they don't actually have winning seasons, but they do have plenty of fans. The Georgetown Hoyas men's basketball team are far and away the most popular college sports team in the city, and they often sport a more exciting season than even the Wizards. Both the Mystics and the Hoyas play at the Verizon Center (since the crowds for the Hoyas' games are too big for the University to hold).

Theater

For your big-ticket downtown theater, there are basically two options: the enormous, government-run Kennedy Center in the West End, and the private Theater District in the East End. The latter houses the Ford's Theatre, National Theatre, and Warner Theatre, which all put on big well known broadway and other dramatic performances, as well as the beloved and internationally acclaimed Shakespeare Theatre Company, which has residency at both the Lansburgh Theatre and brand new Harman Hall. On any given trip to D.C., it would be hard to do better than to see one of their performances. But in this Shakespeare-crazed town, you have your choice of Shakespeare theater companies—you can also see top-notch, smaller performances of the Bard's work at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre on Capitol Hill.

For smaller theaters with more local, less known, diverse, and avant-garde performances, the options are more spread out. The Woolly Mammoth Theatre in the East End is the best known, but you can also try your luck away from the Theatre District in theaters as diverse as the Atlas Theatre on H St NE, the GALA Hispanic Theatre at the Tivoli in Columbia Heights, or the Studio Theatre in Shaw. If you'd like to soak up some great local flavor, look for one of the intensely physical, dance heavy performances by the Georgian-owned Synetic Theater Company [47], which most often performs across the Key Bridge at the Rosslyn Spectrum.

The National Symphony Orchestra and Master Chorale of Washington at the Kennedy Center
The National Symphony Orchestra and Master Chorale of Washington at the Kennedy Center

Classical

Classical performances are a dime a dozen in D.C., largely thanks to the efforts of the Kennedy Center, where you'll find the National Opera, National Symphony Orchestra, and National Ballet Company all in residence. The Kennedy Center dominates the local classical arts scene with its fame and money, to the point where there aren't really any other major venues in the city. There are more intimate concerts citywide on a regular basis (try the Dumbarton candlelight concerts in Georgetown!), but you'll have to hunt for them—the Washington Post's online Going out Guide [48] is probably the most comprehensive source for up-to-date listings. The concerts that are the most fun are a bit exclusive—if you are well connected, or simply very good at schmoozing, try to get an invitation to any of the daily social events at the embassies—the Europeans are always having magnificent chamber performances.

Pop & rock

The two big music venues in the city are the 9:30 Club and the Black Cat, both of them in Shaw. As a matter of fact, most of the local music venues are right in that area—there are bunch of great indie rock/music clubs within a few blocks. A couple new, edgy venues catering to the local rock crowd have also just opened up in the Atlas District. Other big-name touring acts will often show up at the National Theatre and the Warner Theatre downtown.

Jazz & blues

It's a rather well kept secret that D.C. holds one of the world's best jazz scenes outside of New York City. Blues Alley in Georgetown remains the flagship club, with atmosphere straight out of a Spike Lee movie. But the jazz scene is unquestionably centered in the historic African-American neighborhood of Shaw along and around the U St Corridor, where native son Duke Ellington once played along with the likes of Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Blues lovers will have to look harder to find a good show. Of all places, there is a good regular jam session across the street from the National Zoo, as well as one off in a Southwest Presbyterian church. But the biggest event is clearly the annual outdoor summer Blues Festival at Carter Barron in Rock Creek Park.

Shops in Georgetown
Shops in Georgetown

D.C. has a long list of highly accredited universities. It's a political town, and the best known institutions are undoubtedly those with the political connections. Georgetown University, George Washington University, and the Johns Hopkins SAIS program are arguably the best academic programs period for those looking to cozy up to the Washington elite, and to launch a public career. They are also excellent bets for international students looking for a politics-oriented exchange program, as their international politics programs are consistently ranked among the world's best, producing world leaders from kings to African finance ministers (and a Bill Clinton for good measure). Other large and well respected institutions include American University, Catholic University, and the University of the District of Columbia, as well as universities with a more specialized focus: Gallaudet University, the world's only university for the deaf; Howard University, one of the nation's most esteemed historically black universities, and the prestigious and highly exclusive National Defense University for the military elite.

Work

Certain career fields find a natural home in D.C. While everyone knows this is where politicians go, you can also find a fair share of diplomats, lawyers, lobbyists, journalists, defense contractors, and civil servants. Good fields for international visitors to pursue include the various NGOs, national lobbying groups, and for the select few, embassies and consulates. Many ambitious young people come to Washington for an internship, and the huge student-aged population peaks in the summer.

With so many high powered career types out to change the world, the need for child care is obvious. Nannies, mostly placed through agencies, provide child care to many of Washington's elite; the city has the highest proportion of in-home child care in the country. U.S. citizen nannies are especially sought out as government types carefully follow employment law to avoid problems with security clearances or negative publicity. Wages for legal U.S. residents with experience can top $800 per week, room and board included.

A delicious Ethiopian dinner spread
A delicious Ethiopian dinner spread

Few think of D.C. as a major shopping destination, but it will surprise you, having shrugged off its time-old, politically-influenced, staid and bland culture over the past ten years. Beyond the expected souvenirs, the district's fashion scene has grown by leaps and bounds. The most exciting boutique, eclectic, and vintage shopping is to be had in Georgetown, Adams Morgan, and the U St strip, with Georgetown being the more traditional, established, and famous of the three. For more traditional upscale shopping, the meccas are in Georgetown, and Friendship Heights. Both of the latter are also excellent destinations for gift shopping, both the trendy-eclectic and the high-end.

Another recent surprise in the city has been the explosion of a large, cutting-edge art scene. Its heart beats just north of Logan Circle, but Georgetown retains the largest quantity of art galleries. The latter is the more popular for casual buyers, as the Logan Circle boutiques are contemporary and universally expensive. Both make for great browsing, though.

Book Hounds will find much to enjoy in the over educated western portions of the city. Borders and Barnes & Noble have a lock on the bulk of the business, but specialty shops abound. Favorites include Kramerbooks, Lambda Rising, and Second Story Books in Dupont Circle, as well as some great options in Capitol Hill and the East End. If you are willing to make the trek, Politics & Prose in Chevy Chase has a rightful claim to be the city's favorite.

As you would expect, there are endless souvenirs found by the National Mall and the nearby East End, much of them sold by street vendors, and even more of them a bit cheap and hokey. A better bet are the Smithsonian museums, which all have excellent gift shops.

Lastly, the city's one big market, Eastern Market on Washington, D.C./Capitol Hill, is a favorite Sunday afternoon shopping destination for antiques, secondhand books, local produce, and works by local artists, photographers, and craftspeople. Even if you're not buying, it's a good time.

Ethiopian cuisine

Ethiopian food is a D.C. staple, owing to its large Ethiopian community, and indeed, this is one of the best cities in the world to try the cuisine. For the uninitiated, Ethiopian food is a wild ride of spicy stewed and sautéed meats and vegetables served atop a plate covered with a spongy bread (injera). You eat the dishes with your hands, using an extra plate of injera as your sole "utensil"—rip off a piece of the injera and use it to pick up your food. It's proper in Ethiopia to only use the tips of your fingers in this exercise, and with good reason: you'll have a messy meal otherwise. It's also perfectly proper to feed your date, making this a fun cuisine if you know your date well.

Without a doubt, the best places to try Ethiopian food are in Shaw, which includes D.C.'s own Little Ethiopia.

Washington has a little bit of everything, from really good inexpensive ethnic takeout (no problem getting Ethiopian or Afghan or Jamaican food here) to high-dollar lobbyist-fueled places that will cause your credit card to burst into flames. Most of the high end cuisine is available in Penn Quarter, Georgetown, and Dupont Circle—all offering dining experiences from steakhouses packed with powerful suits to a science-powered, six-seat restaurant offering a $120, 30-course meal.

For cheaper dining, there are endless options scattered around the city. The two most notable "ethnic" enclaves include wonderful Ethiopian food in Little Ethiopia, and some solid Chinese in what remains of D.C.'s disappearing Chinatown. Salvadoran cuisine is near ubiquitous throughout the northern reaches of the city, with an unbelievable concentration of pupuserías in Columbia Heights. Pupusas are thick corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, or optionally fried pork, refried beans, or all sorts of other things, then topped with a tart cabbage salad and an Italianesque red sauce. But truly, you can find just about any cuisine you want in this city if you look for it—D.C.'s international might draws representatives from all corners of the globe, and they all need ex-pat cafes and restaurants to haunt. A few cuisines seem to be missing (notably Southeast Asian & Korean), but they are just across the D.C. borders in Maryland and Virginia.

But despite having cuisines from all over the world, D.C. seems to lack a cuisine of its own. The city, realizing this, went through a brief period of soul-searching, wondering why it lacked any unique regional culinary traditions, and realized it indeed has one: the D.C. hot dog stand. They're everywhere, especially around the Mall, and sell the unique-to-D.C. half-smoke. Local lore lacks convincing explanation of why it's called a half-smoke. Despite vendors' claims to the contrary, it's not possible to smoke meat "halfway," and in any rate, they're not smoked, they're grilled. And yes, they are sometimes split in half, but more often not. No need to worry about this too much though, it's a tasty grilled sausage, with a firm "snap" when you bite into it, on a hot dog bun, and often topped with chili. Most hot dog vendors are a mere shell of the half-smoke greatness served out of WWII-era aluminum shacks. If you want a true, quality half-smoke, you'd best visit Ben's Chili Bowl on U St, which is universally understood to serve the best.

Dos pupusas, por favor
Dos pupusas, por favor

Drink

Whichever bar or club scene you favor, D.C. has it aplenty. The hottest clubbing spots are in Adams Morgan around 18th St, Dupont Circle, and nearby Logan Circle. Adams Morgan's scene is the edgiest (and likely most exciting) of the three, and draws a really young, diverse crowd. Dupont Circle's scene is probably the biggest and most established, with sometimes frighteningly upscale clubs catering to extremely wealthy foreign clientèle, as well as a more happy-go-lucky gay scene. Logan Circle is less established as a nightlife hotspot than Dupont, but they otherwise resemble one another.

If these destinations are all a little too high-octane, you should definitely explore the clubs around U 14th St in Shaw, which cater to an older, diverse, and self-regardingly more sophisticated crowd. Shaw is also a fantastic destination for live jazz, with the echoes of Ellington ringing out from nearly every last restaurant, bar, and not a few world-class music venues on a Saturday night. Georgetown is another major nightlife destination, although the emphasis here is less on dancing, more on drinking. It has tons of bars, most of which have a "privileged" and sometimes rowdy collegiate atmosphere. And back on the topic of live jazz, Georgetown is home to the city's most prestigious venue, Blues Alley.

But that's hardly the end of things. D.C. at the end of the 90s and into the current decade went from being one of the blandest, shut-down-at-ten-o-clock American cities to having a thriving nightlife scene pretty much city-wide. Aside from the north central neighborhoods listed above, Barracks Row, Woodley Park, and Chevy Chase each have their own nice "strips," mostly filled with upscale bars, that are worth visiting. The downtown nightlife is lacking, to put it mildly. Foggy Bottom, despite the huge quantity of students, remains pretty quiet, and the Penn Quarter is a den of tourist traps. If you're looking for nightlife downtown, research carefully.

Long lacking anything even resembling a bohemian neighborhood, a successful Adams Morgan club owner decided to manufacture one along H St NE around the newly renovated Atlas Theater in the Near Northeast. The result is strange. It may never be properly "bohemian," but the Atlas District is intriguing. It's a poor neighborhood, and is dead quiet most of the week, but now there are blocks worth of crazy dining/clubbing options, and even a few upscale joints, that fill the street on Friday and Saturday nights. The biggest attraction has to be the Palace of Wonders, a vaudeville/sideshow/burlesque bar with sword swallowing bartenders and a "museum of oddities," but there are also a couple surprisingly cool rock clubs, a mini golf bar, Belgian mussels and pommes frites, and even an upscale wine bar and lounge.

Gogo clubs (the funk/hip-hop genre, not dancing in 60s miniskirts) were probably D.C.'s most distinctive nightlife scene, concentrated in Anacostia, but today all indoor gogo performances have been banned in D.C. east of the river, due to a backlash at the staggering number of homicides occurring at clubs and events. If you're looking for live gogo today, look for big outdoor events, check to see whether Chuck Brown is performing (he performs all over the place), or head out to the Takoma Station in a homicide-free section of the Northeast.

The famous Willard Hotel
The famous Willard Hotel

Most tourists in D.C. look for accommodations close to the Smithsonian, and accordingly the East End is where most tourists wind up. There are lots of restaurants and nightlife options in the immediate area, you can walk to The Mall, and you'll feel like you're at the center of town.

But keep in mind that proximity to The Mall is really not so useful as proximity to a Metro stop. For a more authentic Washingtonian experience, visitors might prefer to stay in one of the numerous hotels just a little further north in Dupont Circle or Logan Circle, or just east in the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood. These neighborhoods are real hot spots among locals for their upscale dining and nightlife scenes. Moreover, you can actually park on the street and avoid the $25-55 nightly fee hotels will charge you to keep your car downtown.

The West End also offers upscale hotels close to the Mall, which cater especially to the business travelers who bustle along K St during the day. The downside to the West End is that the downtown commercial area is deserted after dark. A bit further west is Georgetown, which is perhaps D.C.'s most charming neighborhood, with a wealth of smaller, expensive hotels in the midst of a great dining and nightlife scene. Take note, though, that Georgetown lacks a metro stop (to keep out the riffraff), so you'll find yourself taking taxis or buses to get to The Mall and to other neighborhoods.

It's worth noting that Washington is a relatively small city, acreage-wise, and it's very easy and quick to stay in the close-in suburbs and take the metro into town. You can save meaningful cash this way; suburban hotels are often substantially cheaper and D.C.'s hotel tax is an eye-popping 14.5%. Parts of Arlington and Alexandria, as well as Bethesda and Silver Spring, have easy subway access into the District, and are worthwhile destinations in their own right.

Contact

As in most of the United States, internet cafes are a rare phenomenon. All public libraries provide free WiFi and public terminals, but the capital has fewer libraries per resident than your average city. Generally your best bet for internet will be to find a local coffee shop, nearly all of which offer free internet (and a nice place to relax). Failing that, drive down some residential streets and you'll probably pick up an open internet connection. You can also just hang outside a hotel, or even inside the lobby, and take advantage of the wifi they provide their guests.

The one telephone area code throughout the district is 202, although you will also see a lot of Maryland (301 and 240) and Virginia (703 and 571) area codes. Pay phones are nearly extinct, with one handy exception—all metro stations have several.

Stay safe

While Washington rivaled New Orleans for the Murder Capital of America title in the early 1980s-1990s, violent crime has since fallen dramatically. Still, Washingtonians regularly warn against forays into parts of the Northeast and almost all of the Southeast sections of the city, but this advice is a bit ignorant. Certain neighborhoods in these areas (especially public housing projects) are the main contributors to D.C.'s high murder rate, but as a visitor to the city you are extremely unlikely to be victim of a homicide—the vast majority of homicide victims in the U.S. are acquainted with their murderer long before the crime. Moreover, many if not most of the neighborhoods with an eastern address are simply quiet, residential neighborhoods with very low crime of any sort.

The trickiest aspect of staying safe in D.C. lies in the fact that the most dynamic neighborhoods, sporting great nightlife, dining, and diversity, are home to the majority of the city's muggings. Muggings are a serious problem in the north central neighborhoods of Shaw/U Street and Adams Morgan-Columbia Heights, in stark contrast to the popular belief that "gentrification" has somehow made the area safer. That's not to say that visitors should avoid these areas—on the contrary, it would be a shame to miss out on them—but that visitors should be vigilant. In particular, avoid walking at night on side streets—stick to the well-lit main commercial strips, travel in groups, maintain a basic level of sobriety, and you won't run into trouble.

Smoking is banned within most all enclosed public spaces, including shops, restaurants, bars, club, etc. Most, but not all, restaurants allow smoking in patio seating (if there are no ashtrays, ask for one to double check). There is always a bit of talk of sidewalk laws, which would require smokers to wander a certain distance from the bar door, but that remains just talk. Businesses relying principally on tobacco sales are exempt, so there are still tobacco shops, cigar bars, and hookah bars, but with the exception of the hookah, they're rare in this anti-tobacco town. (The lung crusaders can't bring themselves to hate something so cool and "ethnic.")

Talking on your cell phone while driving carries a $100 fine, and unlike the rest of the country, that law is strictly enforced within the District. Pull over and put your car in park. Hands free devices are permitted, but if you get pulled over for another violation while using one, expect a hard line from the police.

The Indonesian Embassy on Embassy Row
The Indonesian Embassy on Embassy Row

Note that when visiting federal buildings and museums, you will pass through metal detectors and have your bags inspected. Some buildings (such as courts, etc) even ban mobile telephones and recording devices. To tour federal buildings, such as the Capitol Building and the White House, you will usually have to go through the hassle of arranging an appointment or tour in advance (at least they're free!). Tours of the Capitol building and the White House can be arranged by contacting the office of a Congressman or the the Capitol Visitor Center [49].

Security here has no sense of humor. If you so much as utter the word "bomb," you will be in for a bad time. You give implied consent for your property and person to be searched when entering a government building or public event (sports, music). If you are not comfortable with the searches, you can always elect to not enter.

If all this security and procedure is starting to wear you down, get out of the city center and unwind. You'll find a slower pace on the waterfront, especially on Capitol Hill or Georgetown. As far as parks go, the Dumbarton Oaks gardens in Georgetown or Roosevelt Island just east of the Key Bridge (from Georgetown) are both great getaways. Better yet, leave the city altogether and take a leisurely stroll in Old Town Alexandria, followed by a relaxing meal.

The Metro trains and buses have the strictest rules you'll find in the country. Food and drink of any kind are prohibited, and this rule is strictly enforced. Fare evasion is a criminal offense and you can get charged with a C-Class misdemeanor for doing such. Even if the police don't catch you, you'll find yourself at odds with the locals, who support these rules wholeheartedly.

For health emergencies, the George Washington University Hospital [50] is located on Washington Circle in Foggy Bottom, adjacent to the Foggy Bottom Metro station. This is where Vice President Dick Cheney went in 2004 for his irregular heartbeat, where the President would go in event of a medical emergency. Other hospitals in the city include the Howard University Hospital [51], the Georgetown University Hospital [52], the Washington Hospital Center [53], and the Children's National Medical Center [54].

Embassies

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!

  • Afghanistan, 2341 Wyoming Ave NW, +1 202 234-3770, [55].  edit
  • Albania, 2100 S Street NW, +1 202 223-4942, [56].  edit
  • Algeria, 2137 Wyoming Ave NW, +1 202 265-2800, [57].  edit
  • Angola, 2108 16th St NW, +1 202 785-1156, [58].  edit
  • Antigua & Barbuda, 3216 New Mexico Ave NW, +1 202 362-5122, [59].  edit
  • Argentina, 1600 New Hampshire Ave NW, +1 202 238-6400, [60].  edit
  • Armenia, 2225 R Street, +1 202 319-1976, [61].  edit
  • Australia, 1601 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 797-3000, [62].  edit
  • Austria, 3524 International Ct NW, +1 202 895-6700, [63].  edit
  • Azerbaijan, 2741 34Th St NW, +1 202 842-0001, [64].  edit
  • Bahamas, 2220 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 319-2660, [65].  edit
  • Bahrain, 3502 International Dr NW, +1 202 342-0741, [66].  edit
  • Bangladesh, 3510 International Dr NW, +1 202 342-8372, [67].  edit
  • Barbados, 2144 Wyoming Ave NW, +1 202 939-9200, [68].  edit
  • Belarus, 1619 New Hampshire Ave NW, +1 202 986-1606, [69].  edit
  • Belgium, 3330 Garfield St NW, +1 202 333-6900, [70].  edit
  • Belize, 2535 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 332-9636, [71].  edit
  • Benin, 2124 Kalorama Rd NW, +1 202 232-6656, [72].  edit
  • Bolivia, 3014 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 483-4410, [73].  edit
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2109 E Street NW, +1 202 337-1500, [74].  edit
  • Botswana, 1531-1533 New Hampshire NW, +1 202 244-4990, [75].  edit
  • Brazil, 3006 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 238-2700, [76].  edit
  • Brunei, 3520 International Ct NW, +1 202 237-1838, [77].  edit
  • Bulgaria, 1621 22nd St NW, +1 202 387-0174, [78].  edit
  • Burkina Faso, 2340 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 332-5577, [79].  edit
  • Burundi, 2233 Wisconsin Ave NW Suite 212, +1 202 342-2574, [80].  edit
  • Cambodia, 4530 16th St NW, +1 202 726-7742, [81].  edit
  • Cameroon, 2349 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 265-8790, [82].  edit
  • Canada, 501 Pennsylvania Ave NW, +1 202 682-1740, [83].  edit
  • Cape Verde, 3415 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 965-6820, [84].  edit
  • Central African Republic, 1618 22nd St NW, +1 202 483-7800, [85].  edit
  • Chad, 2002 R St NW, +1 202 462-4009, [86].  edit
  • Chile, 1732 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 785-1746, [87].  edit
  • China, 2300 Connecticut Ave NW, +1 202 328-2500, [88].  edit
  • Colombia, 2118 Leroy Pl NW, +1 202 387-8338, [89].  edit
  • Congo (Republic) Chancery, 4891 Colorado Ave NW, +1 202 726-5500, [90].  edit
  • Congo (Democratic Rep), 1800 New Hampshire Ave NW, +1 202 234-7690, [91].  edit
  • Costa Rica, 2114 S St NW, +1 202 234-2945, [92].  edit
  • Cote D'Ivoire, 3421 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 797-0300, [93].  edit
  • Croatia, 2343 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 588-5899, [94].  edit
  • Cyprus, 2211 R St NW, +1 202 462-5772, [95].  edit
  • Czech Republic, 3900 Spring of Freedom St NW, +1 202 274-9100, [96].  edit
  • Denmark, 3200 Whitehaven Street NW, +1 202 234-4300, [97].  edit
  • Djibouti, 1156 15th Street NW Suite 515, +1 202 331-0270, [98].  edit
  • Dominica, 3216 New Mexico Ave NW, +1 202 364-6781, [99].  edit
  • Dominican Republic, 1715 22nd St NW, +1 202 332-6280, [100].  edit
  • East Timor, 3415 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 965-1515.  edit
  • Ecuador, 2535 15th St NW, +1 202 234-7200, [101].  edit
  • Egypt, 3521 International Ct NW, +1 202 895-5400, [102].  edit
  • El Salvador, 2308 California St NW, +1 202 265-9671, [103].  edit
  • Equatorial Guinea, 2020 16th Street NW, +1 202 518-5700, [104].  edit
  • Eritrea, 1708 New Hampshire Ave NW, +1 202 319-1991, [105].  edit
  • Estonia, 2131 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 588-0101, [106].  edit
  • Ethiopia, 3506 International Dr NW, +1 202 364-1200, [107].  edit
  • European Union, 2300 M St NW, +1 202 862-9500, [108].  edit
  • Fiji, 2233 Wisconsin Ave NW Suite 240, +1 202 337-8320, [109].  edit
  • Finland, 3301 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 298-5800, [110].  edit
  • France, 4101 Reservoir Rd NW, +1 202 944-6000, [111].  edit
  • Gabon, 2034 20th St NW Suite 200, +1 202 797-1000, [112].  edit
  • Gambia (The), 1156 15th St NW Suite 1000, +1 202 785-1399, [113].  edit
  • Georgia, 1615 New Hampshire Ave NW Suite 300, +1 202 387-2390, [114].  edit
  • Germany, 4645 Reservoir Rd NW, +1 202 298-4000, [115].  edit
  • Ghana, 3512 International Dr NW, +1 202 686-4520, [116].  edit
  • Greece, 2221 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 939-5800, [117].  edit
  • Grenada, 1701 New Hampshire Ave NW, +1 202 265-2561, [118].  edit
  • Guatemala, 2220 R St NW, +1 202 745-4952, [119].  edit
  • Guinea, 2112 Leroy Pl NW, +1 202 483-9420, [120].  edit
  • Guinea-Bissau, 15929 Yukon Lane, +1 301 947-3958, [121].  edit
  • Guyana, 2490 Tracy Place NW, +1 202 265-6900, [122].  edit
  • Haiti, 2311 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 332-4090, [123].  edit
  • Holy See (The), 3339 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 333-7121, [124].  edit
  • Honduras, 3007 Tilden Street NW Suite 4-M, +1 202 966-7702, [125].  edit
  • Hungary, 3910 Shoemaker St NW, +1 202 362-6730, [126].  edit
  • Iceland, 1156 15th St NW Suite 1200, +1 202 265-6653, [127].  edit
  • India, 2107 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 939-7000, [128].  edit
  • Indonesia, 2020 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 775-5200, [129].  edit
  • Iraq, 1801 P St NW, +1 202 483-7500, [130].  edit
  • Ireland, 2234 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 462-3939, [131].  edit
  • Israel, 3514 International Dr NW, +1 202 364-5500, [132].  edit
  • Italy, 3000 Whitehaven St NW, +1 202 612-4400, [133].  edit
  • Jamaica, 1520 New Hampshire Ave NW, +1 202 452-0660, [134].  edit
  • Japan, 2520 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 238-6700, [135].  edit
  • Jordan, 3504 International Drive NW Lot 6, +1 202 966-2664, [136].  edit
  • Kazakhstan, 1401 16th St NW, +1 202 232-5488, [137].  edit
  • Kenya, 2249 R Street NW, +1 202 387-6101, [138].  edit
  • Korea, 2450 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 939-5600, [139].  edit
  • Kosovo, 900 19th St NW, +1 202 265-8000.  edit
  • Kuwait, 2940 Tilden St NW, +1 202 966-0702.  edit
  • Kyrgyzstan, 1001 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, +1 202 338 5141, [140].  edit
  • Laos, 2222 S Street NW, +1 202 332-6417, [141].  edit
  • Latvia, 4325 17th Street NW, +1 202 726-8213, [142].  edit
  • Lebanon, 2560 28th St NW, +1 202 939-6300, [143].  edit
  • Lesotho, 2511 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 797-5532, [144].  edit
  • Liberia, 5201 16th St NW, +1 202 723-0437, [145].  edit
  • Liechtenstein, 1300 I St NW Suite 550W, +1 202 216-0460, [146].  edit
  • Lithuania, 2622 16th Street NW, +1 202 234-5860, [147].  edit
  • Luxembourg, 2200 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 265-4171, [148].  edit
  • Macedonia, 1101 30th St NW, +1 202 337-3063, [149].  edit
  • Madagascar, 2374 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 265-5525, [150].  edit
  • Malawi, 2408 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 797-1007.  edit
  • Malaysia, 3516 International Ct NW, +1 202 572-9700, [151].  edit
  • Mali, 2130 R St NW, +1 202 332-2249, [152].  edit
  • Malta, 2017 Connecticut Ave NW, +1 202 462-3611, [153].  edit
  • Marshall Islands, 2433 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 234-5414, [154].  edit
  • Mauritania, 2129 Leroy Pl NW, +1 202 232-5700, [155].  edit
  • Mauritius, 4301 Connecticut Ave NW Suite 441, +1 202 244-1491, [156].  edit
  • Mexico, 1911 Pennsylvania Ave NW, +1 202 728-1600, [157].  edit
  • Micronesia, 1725 N Street NW, +1 202 223-4383, [158].  edit
  • Moldova, 2101 S Street NW, +1 202 667-1130, [159].  edit
  • Mongolia, 2833 M Street NW, +1 202 333-7117, [160].  edit
  • Montenegro, 1610 New Hampshire Avenue NW, +1 202 234-6108.  edit
  • Morocco, 1601 21st Street NW, +1 202 462-7979, [161].  edit
  • Mozambique, 1990 M Street NW Suite 570, +1 202 293-7146, [162].  edit
  • Myanmar, 2300 S St NW, +1 202 332-9044, [163].  edit
  • Namibia, 1605 New Hampshire Ave NW, +1 202 986-0540, [164].  edit
  • Nepal, 2131 Leroy Pl NW, +1 202 667-4550, [165].  edit
  • Netherlands, 4200 Linnean Ave NW, +1 202 244-5300, [166].  edit
  • New Zealand, 37 Observatory Cir, +1 202 328-4800, [167].  edit
  • Nicaragua, 1627 New Hampshire Ave NW, +1 202 939-6570.  edit
  • Niger, 2204 R St NW, +1 202 483-4224, [168].  edit
  • Nigeria, 3519 International Ct NW, +1 202 986-8400, [169].  edit
  • Norway, 2720 34th St NW, +1 202 333-6000, [170].  edit
  • Oman, 2535 Belmont Rd NW, +1 202 387-1980.  edit
  • Pakistan, 3517 International Court NW, +1 202 243-6500, [171].  edit
  • Palau, 1700 Pennsylvania Ave NW, +1 202 452-6814, [172].  edit
  • Panama, 2862 McGill Terr NW, +1 202 483-1407, [173].  edit
  • Papua New Guinea, 1779 Massachusetts Ave NW Suite 805, +1 202 745-3680, [174].  edit
  • Paraguay, 2400 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 483-6960, [175].  edit
  • Peru, 1700 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 833-9860, [176].  edit
  • Philippines, 1600 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 467-9300, [177].  edit
  • Poland, 2640 16th St NW, +1 202 234-3800, [178].  edit
  • Portugal, 2125 Kalorama Road NW, +1 202 328-8610, [179].  edit
  • Qatar, 4200 Wisconsin Ave NW, +1 202 274-1600, [180].  edit
  • Romania, 1607 23rd St NW, +1 202 332-4848, [181].  edit
  • Russian Federation, 2650 Wisconsin Ave NW, +1 202 298-5700, [182].  edit
  • Rwanda, 1714 New Hampshire Ave NW, +1 202 232-2882, [183].  edit
  • Saint Lucia, 3216 New Mexico Ave NW, +1 202 364-6792, [184].  edit
  • Saint Vincent/Grenadines, 3216 New Mexico Ave NW, +1 202 364-6730, [185].  edit
  • Saudi Arabia, 601 New Hampshire Ave NW, +1 202 342-3800, [186].  edit
  • Senegal, 2112 Wyoming Ave NW, +1 202 234-0540, [187].  edit
  • Serbia, 2134 Kalorama Rd NW, +1 202 332-4686, [188].  edit
  • Sierra Leone, 1701 19th St NW, +1 202 939-9261, [189].  edit
  • Singapore, 3501 International Pl NW, +1 202 537-3100, [190].  edit
  • Slovakia, 3523 International Ct NW, +1 202 237-1054, [191].  edit
  • Slovenia, 1525 New Hampshire Ave NW, +1 202 667-5363, [192].  edit
  • South Africa, 3051 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 232-4400, [193].  edit
  • Spain, 2375 Pennsylvania Ave NW, +1 202 452-0100, [194].  edit
  • Sri Lanka, 2148 Wyoming Ave NW, +1 202 483-4025, [195].  edit
  • St. Kitts and Nevis, 3216 New Mexico Ave NW, +1 202 686-2636, [196].  edit
  • Sudan, 2210 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 338-8565, [197].  edit
  • Suriname, 4301 Connecticut Ave NW Suite 460, +1 202 244-7488, [198].  edit
  • Swaziland, 1712 New Hampshire Ave NW, +1 202 362-6683, [199].  edit
  • Sweden, 2900 K Street NW, +1 202 467-2600, [200].  edit
  • Switzerland, 2900 Cathedral Ave NW, +1 202 745-7900, [201].  edit
  • Syria, 2215 Wyoming Ave NW, +1 202 232-6313, [202].  edit
  • Tajikistan, 1005 New Hampshire Ave NW, +1 202 223-6090, [203].  edit
  • Tanzania, 2139 R Street NW, +1 202 939-6125, [204].  edit
  • Thailand, 1024 Wisconsin Ave NW, +1 202 944-3600, [205].  edit
  • Togo, 2208 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 234-4212.  edit
  • Trinidad and Tobago, 1708 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 467-6490, [206].  edit
  • Tunisia, 1515 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 862-1850.  edit
  • Turkey, 2525 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 612-6700, [207].  edit
  • Turkmenistan, 2207 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 588-1500, [208].  edit
  • Uganda, 5911 16th St NW, +1 202 726-7100, [209].  edit
  • Ukraine, 3350 M St NW, +1 202 333-0606, [210].  edit
  • United Arab Emirates, 3522 International Ct NW, +1 202 243-2400, [211].  edit
  • United Kingdom, 3100 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 588-6500, [212].  edit
  • Uruguay, 1913 I St NW, +1 202 331-1313, [213].  edit
  • Uzbekistan, 1746 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 887-5300, [214].  edit
  • Venezuela, 1099 30th St NW, +1 202 342-2214, [215].  edit
  • Vietnam, 1233 20th St NW Suite 400, +1 202 861-0737, [216].  edit
  • Yemen, 2319 Wyoming Ave NW, +1 202 965-4760, [217].  edit
  • Zambia, 2419 Massachusetts Ave NW, +1 202 265-9717, [218].  edit
  • Zimbabwe, 1608 New Hampshire Ave NW, +1 202 332-7100, [219].  edit

Get out

Alexandria

Alexandria is located south of Arlington along the Potomac River, yet inside the ten mile square boundary of what used to be the District of Columbia. The main street of Alexandria's Old Town is King St. Old Town's cobblestone steets have nearly 4,000 buildings dating from the 1800s and 1700s, with some dating back to the 1600s, and is filled with shops and good restaurants. Some tourists use Old Town (or other parts of Alexandria) as a "home base" for D.C. trips and it's a popular weekend destination. Tour boats that go north to D.C. and south to Mount Vernon leave from Old Town. Many hotels in the area run free shuttle buses to the King St Metro.

Arlington

Arlington is located directly across the Potomac River from D.C. and was part of the original area of the District of Columbia. Today it is home to the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Metro system seamlessly integrates Arlington with the city; it can be cost advantageous and more convenient to stay at an Arlington hotel when visiting.

  • Arlington National Cemetery [220] is located adjacent to the Pentagon. Closes at dusk. This national military cemetery includes John F. Kennedy's tomb and the house of General Robert E. Lee. Visitors can watch the changing of the guard ceremony in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. If you really want to experience the cemetery, which is enormous and hilly, spring a few bucks for a Tourmobile tour. There is also a large parking garage here that is a good place to dump your car and then catch the subway or Tourmobile into D.C.
  • Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, 1100 South Hayes St. A large upscale mall, accessible via the Pentagon City Metro station. Additional shopping and an outdoor skating rink during winter is available at Pentagon Row, accessed by going through the food court on the lower level of the mall, and though an underground walkway.
  • The Pentagon is just across the Potomac River from downtown D.C. While lingering is not recommended for security reasons, you should know it is the largest government office building in the world, and covers six zip codes (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Joint Staff, and Department of Defense). Group tours are still available by advance arrangement, but the military no longer hosts other tours. The Pentagon Memorial [221] is open 24 hours to visitors on the Washington Blvd side, where Flight 77 hit. Photography is allowed at the memorial, but not permitted anywhere else on the Pentagon grounds. If you take photos anywhere else on site, you may face a four hour interrogation by the Pentagon Police and will probably be asked to delete the images. On a lighter note, the interior courtyard is irreverently referred to by employees as "Ground Zero," as it was the target of a number of Soviet missiles during the Cold War.

Other Northern Virginia destinations

  • Annandale is D.C.'s Koreatown, with some of the best Korean BBQ (open 24hrs!) you'll find anywhere outside Seoul. There's no Metro stop, so this is a hard place to get to without a car, but the meals are phenomenal.
  • Charlottesville, located a couple of hours southwest of D.C., is home to the University of Virginia, as well as Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and Ash Lawn-Highland, the home of President James Monroe.
  • Great Falls Park [222] is an impressive national park with several fast moving waterfalls of the Potomac River and hiking trails, minutes from the beltway. Kayaking and rock climbing. Accessed from the Maryland and Virginia sides off I-495.
  • The George Washington Memorial Parkway [223] runs along the Virginia side of the Potomac River between Mount Vernon and Great Falls. The section near Old Town Alexandria is pleasant for walking, jogging or cycling on paths paralleling the main motorway as far as Reagan National Airport. For the motorist, there are scenic turn-outs along the Parkway north of the airport, all the way to where it meets the Beltway at its north end.
  • Manassas National Battlefield Park [224], near the outlying suburb of Manassas, preserves two major battlefields of the Civil War. Visitor center ($3 fee, Park Pass applies) open 8:30AM-5PM daily; walking and driving tours of First and Second Manassas battlefields, respectively. A nice escape from the city hubbub, particularly in fall and spring (walking the grounds in the summer heat and humidity can be an ordeal).
  • Mount Vernon [225] was the home of George Washington, the first President of the United States. The mansion overlooks the Potomac River.
  • Reston — Nice restaurants & shops
  • Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center — National Air and Space Museum. 14390 Air & Space Museum Pkwy. Chantilly, VA 20151 +1 202 357-2200. [226] Located near Dulles International Airport, this museum houses many air/spacecraft, including an SR-71 "Blackbird" spy plane, a Concorde supersonic jet, and the space shuttle "Enterprise". Admission is free. Parking is available for $15/vehicle.
  • Tyson's Corner Center, McLean — two malls Tysons I & Tysons II (not connected). Tysons II is more upscale; Tysons I has a larger selection of stores. Tysons is America's twelfth largest retail and office district, and is scheduled to get Metro service in 2013.

Baltimore

Baltimore's Inner Harbor is home to the National Aquarium, the U.S.S. Constellation, as well as numerous shops and restaurants. During the spring or summer, Camden Yards is a good place to see a baseball game, and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum is near the ballpark. The Fells Point neighborhood also has many popular bars and restaurants. From spring to fall, you can take a water taxi from the Inner Harbor to historic Fort McHenry.

  • Annapolis — the Maryland state capital is home to the Naval Academy. It's historic district has numerous shops and restaurants along the waterfront. Annapolis is a good place to go for a sail on the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Bethesda — suburban city served by the Red Line with shopping and tons of upscale restaurants.
  • Great Falls Park [227] — an impressive national park with several fast moving waterfalls of the Potomac River and hiking trails, minutes from the beltway. Kayaking and rock climbing. Accessed from the Maryland and Virginia sides off I-495. Includes C & O Canal National Park, a scenic hiker-biker trail from Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland.
  • Kensington — the amazing annual Christmas light display at the massive Mormon Temple (which looks a lot like the Emerald Palace of Wizard of Oz fame) is a must see. That and Antique Row.
  • Silver Spring — a city just across the District line with the American Film Institute's Silver Theatre, as well as plenty of restaurants and retail. Home to Discovery Communications. Fading second hand stores, ethnic restaurants and music shops being replaced by upscale, urban redevelopment with parks, fountains and well-known eateries.
  • Wheaton — some of the best ethnic dining in the whole Metro area is just blocks off the Wheaton Metro stop.
  • Takoma Park — bohemian Victorian suburb (straddling the D.C. line) with eclectic shops near the Metro, and the Takoma/Langley International Corridor on University Blvd.
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