Washington DC has it all going on with eclectic neighbourhoods, world-famous monuments and memorials, plus incredible food spots.
Washington, D.C., is one of the most prominent political capitals in the world and is commonly known for its historic monuments and incredible state-of-the-art museums. With this aside, the past few decades have seen the US capital evolve into a major arts and culture hub that brings the fun factor tenfold. It’s incredibly diverse due to its huge expat community, which has helped reshape Washington to move with the times.
One of Washington DC’s newest additions to the thriving capital is the trendy District Wharf. It’s a snazzy mile-long waterfront neighbourhood where people can eat, browse, socialise, people-watch and shop. The abundance of restaurants available there cater for so many tastes, and a restaurant that really stood out was NaRa-ya, a Japanese-style restaurant that looks out over the Potomac River with stunning views, especially at sunset. NaRa-Ya brings a fresh take on Japanese izakaya style, with the design of the restaurant being earthy but with an urban feel to it, making it laid-back and unassuming. The NaRa-Ya roll was my favourite dish that included a filling of Alaskan king crab and purple sweet potato with a topping of A5 Japanese wagyu beef and onions. It was this particular dish that left me with a newfound love for sushi which I had shied away from previously.
As a first-timer to Washington DC, a visit to the National Mall was top of my list. It is here where you can step back in time and wander around the many world-famous monuments and memorials that pay tribute to American history. Most of these major attractions are located on the National Mall, which extends from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, with many of them running along Constitution Avenue. Because the area is so vast and we wanted to take in as much as possible in a short time, we hired electric bikes from Unlimited Biking, which proved ideal to manoeuvre around and uniquely explore the National Mall.
An unforgettable moment of the National Mall has to be standing on the exact spot where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his empowering “I Have A Dream” speech during The March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom on August 28th 1963. During this time, a crowd of 250,000 gathered to fill the National Mall and witnessed the legendary speech that paved the way forward for progressive change to challenge racial inequality in America. Being able to stand in a spot that holds such significant importance on a global scale was incredibly moving and a day I will never forget.
Whilst cycling through the National Mall, another memorial that left a lasting impression was the National World War II Memorial; it honours the 16 million people who served as part of the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. One of its focal points is the Freedom Wall, where 4,048 gold stars pay tribute to American lives lost at war (each star represents 100 Americans), while dozens of battle names and military campaign destinations are also on display. I witnessed a veteran there at the time taking in the memorial with his family, and I thought to myself, “He was one of the lucky ones.” as I took in the velocity of stars on display on the Freedom Wall, knowing full well what they stood for.
A significant draw to Washington DC is the magnitude of museums there – Even if you aren’t a museum-type person, you’ll inevitably find a museum that enchants your inquisitive senses. Being realistic, you would need days to explore all 19 Smithsonian museums, so if you’re just there for a few hours or a day, do some research and take in a handful instead.
While we covered a lot of museums on the trip, one that stood out was the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum which is home to the largest and most significant collection of aviation and space artefacts in the world. Putting aside what the museum holds, something that stood out versus other museums I visited previously is this museum is very visitor engaged. There are a lot of interactive elements and storytelling throughout that gauge your attention.
The National Air and Space Museum is home to The Destination Moon exhibition, which is fascinating for space enthusiasts – on display just feet from each other is Apollo 11 command module Columbia and Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit.
The exhibition that really caught my eye was The Wright Brothers & the Invention of the Aerial Age, in which I spent a good hour alone taking it all in. If you didn’t know, the brother duo Orville and Wilbur Wright, were responsible for flying the first successful powered aeroplane back in December 1903, which takes centre stage at the exhibit. Here you can see the first-ever airborne aeroplane on display that made those first historic flights at Kitty Hawk. The exhibition looks at the Wright brothers’ journey, where they began as bicycle shop owners to creators of the first aeroplane and pioneers in the aviation industry. Entry to the museum is free, but you have to sign-up on the museum’s website online for free timed-entry passes to visit.
Washington has so many cool and unique neighbourhoods to explore, and one that is steeped in history and has the pull factor is the Shaw neighbourhood. It’s synopsis with Black history and culture and is incredibly charismatic with an old-school charm. If you’re a fan of jazz music, then a visit to the historic Howard Theatre is good for the soul.
Built in 1910, not only was it the first theatre open to African Americans to perform in, but it’s home to the music greats such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ike, Billy Holiday & Tina Turner, all of whom performed on stage there. To really get a feel for the neighbourhood, then visit Howard Theatre; you might hear some shows or rehearsals taking place and check out the African American Civil War Memorial that memorialises more than 200,000 Union Army soldiers who served in the Civil War.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Georgetown was voted the most picturesque neighbourhood in America. The houses, the town's structure, the cobbled streets, the manicured lawns and so on - it’s all so aesthetically pleasing. When you think you couldn’t find a more immaculate, well-put-together street, you turn a corner, and everything seems a bit better than what was seen previously.
For a town that is so carefully preened to perfection, Georgetown was where The Exorcist was filmed in 1973. You might recall from the movie the scene where Father Karras fell to his death down a flight of 75 steps; well, it turns out you can visit the famous steps in Georgetown, in fact, they’re an official tourist attraction of Washington DC and free for the public to see and use. Actually, when we visited, there was a fitness class taking place that was using the steps as a workout to get the glutes going – yes, I did join in and ran up the steps in my jeans. It took me five minutes to catch my breath again, but it was pretty cool to visit that particular spot.
Not too far from the steps is the scenic Georgetown University where you can walk around and take in the college that overlooks the Potomac River in Washington's historic Georgetown neighbourhood. That day a lot of students were registering for college so we could tour the grounds and experience the buzz of everyone on campus. The town of Georgetown itself has a mix of traditional shops and cafes with lovely restaurants and bars that align with high-street shopping.
Martin’s Tavern on Wisconsin Avenue
No trip to Georgetown is complete without a visit to the historic Martin’s Tavern on Wisconsin Avenue for a drink and bite to eat. This location is a former political hotspot for former White House presidents who often visited to dine and drink. In fact it’s within these walls that John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie Onassis and wrote the first draft of his inaugural speech.
Brunch in Georgetown - Farmers Fishers Bakers
If brunch is your thing it would be sinful not to visit Farmers Fishers Bakers situated on the banks of the Potomac River in Georgetown. In its own words it serves "a festival of food" and is probably the best brunch I’ve ever experienced. It’s an elaborate buffet-style brunch where everything is fresh and sourced from local farms and producers. The dishes served at the buffet are unbelievably fresh, as if the dish was made to order. This is what did it for me, how fresh and tasty everything was. Usually with buffet style food, if it’s out too long it loses the taste and freshness factor. However, Farmers Fishers Bakers, kept dishing out incredible cuisine that catered for many different tastes, all while remaining fresh. My top picks from the buffet were probably the glazed ham, cinnamon rolls, French toast, and the breads and cheeseboards.
Where to stay –The Thompson
The location of the trendy four-star Thompson Washington, D.C. hotel is in the heart of the city's rapidly developing Navy Yards area. In terms of its proximity to major attractions it is within walking distance of the National Baseball Stadium and also near the Anacostia waterfront and marina which is nice for a walk in the morning. The hotel itself is really welcoming and very modern and clean. The lobby area is grand with high ceilings, a circular bar area with nice seating and tall glass windows which makes it bright and airy. The hotel’s rooftop bar, Anchovy Social, is a real hotspot for people to venture to and mingle. It features an outdoor wraparound terrace that serves as a stunning backdrop for sunset cocktails.
Aer Lingus operates two flights daily between Dublin and Washington D.C. Fares start from €229 each way including taxes and charges. For more information visit aerlingus.com.
For more information visit www.washington.org to help plan an unforgettable trip to Washington DC.