A couple of years ago, Forbes magazine voted Washington DC the world’s coolest city. Could they possibly be right? Now, OK, at the time it was Obama who was in the White House, a man who could make just about anywhere look cool. Nevertheless, DC has its own charms that rival even (dare I say it?) New York’s.
For one thing, it’s very, very green. There are parks everywhere and in March and April more than 3000 cherry trees blossom across the city. All this open space gives the capital a relaxed, laid-back feel and one of, well, space. The effect is reinforced by those buildings you already know from a thousand images: lined up around the place, all in their own little bit of green – the Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol, the White House, the National Mall with Smithsonian museum after Smithsonian museum, all free.
You can see right across the city from these wide open spaces and, if you go this year, the Washington Monument (the tallest structure in DC) will be re-opened and you can take the lift to the top for an unparalleled view. Obviously, if you’re in Washington, these are all must-sees and you can hire a limo to take you round – or a Segway. Or you can just walk – everything is surprisingly close.
You could spend days in the museums alone. I spent one this time in the new African American Museum that was still being built on my last visit. It’s still so new and busy that you have to book a timed slot but it’s worth it for an eye-opening view of American history from slaving ships to the black lives matter campaign. My favourite Smithsonian, though, is still the American Indian Museum and I can definitely recommend their café, arranged regionally and offering Northwest Pacific salmon or spicy New Mexican. Or, there again, there’s the Air and Space Museum where you can touch the moon (or at least a piece of it) and how cool is that? (Just ask my then eight-year-old son.)
DC, like NYC, has its districts, old and new. One of the oldest and most charming is Georgetown. In fact, Georgetown is older than Washington itself by some 40 years. It’s a pretty upmarket place – no metro here, you have to walk up from the closest station, the wonderfully named Foggy Bottom. There is an entirely false legend that Georgetown’s residents (over the years, they’ve included Thomas Jefferson, JFK and Elizabeth Taylor) turned down an underground station to keep out the riffraff but it’s certainly true that, if you want classy, this is still the place to go.
Georgetown is on the waterfront as are many of its bars and restaurants. And food is a big story here – you’ll find every kind of cuisine down by the Potomac River. There is some pretty swanky shopping, too, but it’s also just a very pretty place – cobbled streets, classic Federal-style houses in terraces along tree-lined streets, a canal-side walk dating back to its time as a tobacco port. The nightlife is lively with plenty of bars and music (try Blues Alley on Wisconsin Avenue for local jazz artists and an old-time feel or Martin’s Tavern, just down the street, where JFK proposed to Jackie).
DC’s newest neighbourhood is rising phoenix-like from the ashes of SW Washington’s docks and is newly baptised The Wharf. It’s the city’s other waterside destination and you can take boat trips downriver or across to the East Potomac Park from here. If you want to get a bit closer to the water, you can hire stand-up paddleboards or kayaks (twilight kayak monument tour, anyone?). There are new restaurants and bars opening all the time (I highly recommend Del Mar for fantastic seafood) and lots of music. There’s a new concert venue here, The Anthem, that can hold up to 6000 people but there are also more intimate venues like the Pearl Street Warehouse or Kirwan’s Irish Pub. There are buskers everywhere and the newly created pier has outdoor dancing on steamy summertime Saturday nights.
So, yes, DC is a pretty cool place. Watch out NYC…
For more information about Washington DC and its environs, including what to see and do, visit www.capitalregionusa.co.uk.