With its impressive monuments and museums, its stately government buildings and mansions, Washington DC is easily recognizable as the United State's capital city. The city is mainly based on government and everything from museums to mansions bring millions of tourists each year. Washington DC is the second most visited city in the United States (after New York) and is among the top travel destinations in the world.
Popular with the young, hip crowd,
Just across the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington, Anacostia is a historic African-American neighborhood. The neighborhood, named after its Native American inhabitants, dates back to John Smith's arrival in the New World in 1607. Of particular interest are the
"The Hill" is known not just for the imposing
Chinatown is a small neighborhood that is easily accessible by Metro or foot from downtown Washington. The neighborhood is marked by the colorful
Washington's gay neighborhood is equally popular with heterosexuals looking for lively nightlife, exceptional restaurants and funky shops. With its historic townhouses, art galleries and theaters,
Once called Funkstown (after a German immigrant), Foggy Bottom has an institutional and bureaucratic air to it. It's the home of the
Trendy, fashionable and fun describe the atmosphere in
The eastern shore of the Anacostia River is home to
Alexandria & Arlington
These distinct Virginia communities across the Potomac River from Washington stand apart from other local areas. Alexandria's history stretches back to 1699, long before Washington DC was formed to become the nation's capital.
It should come as no surprise that Washington DC, America's foremost city of politics, was born out of political compromise.
Washington DC did not exist as either a city or a capital at the close of the American Revolution. At that time, the newly formed federal government endured a nomadic existence, setting up headquarters in eight locations, most notably New York City and Philadelphia. A weary Congress wanted a home of its own and voted in 1785 to create a permanent federal city. Divisions arose when the northern states wanted a northerly location, preferring a site along the Delaware River and the southerners wanted the capital farther south, along the Potomac River. Eventually, they compromised. It was decided if the northern states agreed to establish the capital on the Potomac, the federal government would assume the war debts of the colonies. Thus, Washington was created.
To establish the new nation's capital, Virginia and Maryland donated land to create the District of Columbia. George Washington, the first president, selected the site, at the confluence of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers. The new federal city was close to his estate, Mount Vernon, on the Potomac and near Georgetown, Maryland, an important tobacco market. The new federal enclave included Georgetown and another thriving community, Old Town Alexandria.
George Washington enlisted Pierre-Charles L'Enfant, a French engineer who had served in the American Revolution, to create the capital. L'Enfant looked to Versailles for inspiration and created a magnificent city with ceremonial circles and squares, wide boulevards and streets in a grid-like fashion. He also laid plans for the National Mall. However, his efforts were not without controversy. Many early Washington families didn't want to give up land for such wide roads and they raised fears about the federal government encompassing so much territory. Though L'Enfant's vision wasn't entirely realized, he did leave his mark on the city.
Before the end of the century, construction had begun on the White House and the U.S. Capitol, but in 1800 Washington had just 3000 inhabitants and was largely considered wilderness. The capital was temporarily abandoned in 1814 when the British invaded and ordered that the building be burned. Though the invasion had little impact on the War of 1812, it solidified Washington as the nation's capital in the eyes of many Americans. Afterward, the city grew slowly. Early visitors were impressed by its wide avenues, but noted the roads seemed to lead nowhere and were void of houses, public buildings and people. The Civil War and successive wars changed that and Washington flourished. Thousands of new residents flocked to the city, sparking building booms in all directions. During the decade after the Civil War, roads were paved and in the 1880s, streetcars began traversing city streets. By the turn of the century, the city's population had swelled to 300,000.
Though construction of the Washington Monument began in the mid-1800s, it wasn't until the 20th Century that Washington truly emerged as a city of monuments and memorials. The Lincoln Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial were built during the first decades of the 20th Century. The Federal Triangle, where thousands of government workers pass their days, was also created. The massive military office complex of the Pentagon was completed in 1943. In more recent years, the FDR Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial have been added to the Mall.
Throughout the later 20th Century, Washington has been the site of inspiration and turmoil. Who can forget Martin Luther King's stirring "I have a dream" speech delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963? The massive protest demonstrations against the Vietnam War came later in the decade. In the 1970s, the Watergate Hotel became a household name after the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters by aides to Republican President, Richard M. Nixon, who eventually resigned in the wake of the scandal.
At the start of the new century, Washington remains one of the most visited and most beautiful cities in the world. Visitors come to see the monuments and memorials and to revel in the nation's history. It is more than a city of government and politics; it's a place of distinctive, historic neighborhoods and an ever-changing, modern capital.
During the day Washington appears to be a city of gray suits and serious politics, but after dark, it has plenty to offer in the way of nightlife and culture. Locals and visitors flock to the finest of theaters and concerts or to dance the night away in the clubs and ballrooms.
Washington is home to several fine theaters presenting everything from big Broadway hits to smaller productions featuring local playwrights and covering topical issues. The Kennedy Center is a showcase for theater, both old and new, incorporated among seven venues which include the Eisenhower Theater, the Concert Hall, KC Jazz Club, the Opera House, Family Theater, Theater Lab and Terrace Theater. The National Theatre is Washington's answer to Broadway, presenting many touring companies and occasionally premiering musicals before they move on to the Great White Way in New York City.
The Warner Theater has a multifaceted past: opened in the 1920s as a vaudeville house, it became a classic movie palace and then a venue for rock bands before closing its doors. Reopened in 1992, it now features big name plays and other entertainment acts. Another theater with a past is Ford's Theatre, which has carefully preserved the 1865 scene where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Plays are produced on the same stage onto which John Wilkes Booth jumped after delivering the fatal shot. A visit to the theater is both a historic and cultural experience.
The Arena Stage and the Gunston Arts Center are two of the more eclectic and innovative theaters in the Washington area dedicated to the celebration of the dramatic arts. Many offer programs to educate and inform as well as entertain.
Movie theaters throughout the metropolitan area show the latest offerings from Hollywood and international studios. The Uptown 1, with its giant screen, is the place to see newly released epic films. Located at the Kennedy Center, the American Film Institute features documentaries, classic movies and other film events such as studies of film history—showcasing the work of a particular director.
The premier venue for classic opera in Washington is the Kennedy Center's Opera House . This grand stage is the home of the Washington Opera, which performs seven operas in the November-March season, all in their original languages with English supertitles.
The National Symphony Orchestra calls the Kennedy Center home as well, performing in the Concert Hall from September–June. In the summer, the acclaimed orchestra can be heard at Wolf Trap Farm Park and playing from the steps of the U.S. Capitol on special holidays.
Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University is another venue for classical music, often offering lesser-known works.
Outdoor concerts are popular in the warmer months when Washingtonians and visitors enjoy picnics and listen to free music on the National Mall, in Rock Creek Park or at the National Zoo. The official bands of the U.S. Armed Forces often have concerts featuring patriotic and popular tunes.
The Capitol City draws popular, contemporary music as well. The Nissan Pavilion and Wolf Trap Farm Park all bring in big name artists for summer outdoor concerts. Constitution Hall and the Nightclub 9:30 have year-round shows with a variety of rock and roll, jazz, blues and pop.
Washington's international makeup provides a variety of music from around the world. Irish folk music can be heard nightly at several pubs including Murphy's and Kelly's Irish Times. Cuban, African and Zydeco can often be heard at the Birchmere, as well as country and bluegrass.
Whether it's salsa, swing, ballroom or the latest hip-hop, Washington has many great clubs to dance the night away. Habana Village gives Latin dance lessons before the evening gets under way and the club has three floors of dancers doing the salsa and tango. Swing has experienced a revival and Washingtonians are kicking up their heels to music from the Big Band era. Classes are held at many places throughout the city including the Chevy Chase Ballroom. The Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo Park, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, offers lessons and dances throughout the week in a variety of styles including Cajun, swing and contra dance. There is also an elegant Sunday afternoon tea dance, often featuring the waltz.
Contemporary dance clubs are numerous in the Metro area, many staying open until the wee hours of the morning. They range from the posh MCCXXIII and Republic Gardens, both of which have a dress code, to hip-hop and reggae at State of the Union. Club Heaven and Hell offers an angelic atmosphere in the upstairs dance room and a darker pool hall downstairs.
Washington is a manageable city that is easy to get around and there are lots of attractions to see. Whether you decide to embark on an unguided tour or a guided one, you'll never run out of places to visit.
Certainly the best place to start is the National Mall, where the symbol of the city, the Washington Monument, stands. Have lunch at the nearby Mitsitam Café before exploring the other landmarks here. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, FDR Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial are all within walking distance.
Another location that that tourists should visit while in the city is the White House. Once you have toured the Executive Mansion, take a short walk through Freedom Plaza to the Federal Bureau of Investigation where tours include a history of the agency, a look into the sophisticated crime lab and a firearms demonstration. Dine at the nearby Thunder Grill. It's another short walk to the National Archives.
The U.S. Capitol offers tours, or visitors may choose to wander around on their own. On the east side of the Capitol, visit the Supreme Court. Dine at the White Tiger Restaurant, then go to the Library of Congress. From there, walk up 1st Street to Union Station.
Georgetown & the Waterfront
The Kennedy Center is a living memorial to the 35th president. From the terrace overlooking the Potomac river, there is a nice view of Theodore Roosevelt Island and Memorial. Stop for a drink or a tasty bite at Sequoia Restaurant. Georgetown is just a short walk away. Stroll the main streets or Montrose Park.
Directly across the river from the Lincoln Memorial lies the Arlington National Cemetery. The cemetery has many landmarks, including the Arlington House/Custis-Lee Mansion, once the home of Robert E. Lee. Have lunch at the Village Bistro. A scenic drive down George Washington Memorial Parkway leads right into Old Town Alexandria. Stop at Christ Church and see George Washington's personal pew.
There is definitely no reason to be bored in Washington DC! If you want to learn more about Washington's museums and landmarks there are several guided tours you can go on.
Gray Line Tours ( +1 800 862 1400/ http://www.graylinedc.com/ )
Old Town Trolley Tours ( +1 202 832 9800/ http://www.trolleytours.com/Washington-DC/ )
Tourmobile Sightseeing ( +1 202 554 5100/ http://www.tourmobile.com/ )
DC Tours ( +1 888 878 9870/ http://www.dctours.us/tours/tourType.cfm?ttid2=5317 )
Washington Walks ( +1 202 484 1565/ http://www.washingtonwalks.com/ )
DC Ducks ( +1 800 213 2474/ http://www.dcducks.com/ )
Potomac Riverboat Company ( +1 877 511 2628/ http://www.potomacriverboatco.com/ )
Shore Shot ( +1 800 240 2324 )
Bike the Sites ( +1 202 842 2453/ http://www.bikethesites.com/ )
Washington DC Capital Bike Tour ( http://www.trustedtours.com/store/Washington-DC-Capital-Bike-Tour-C293.aspx )