48 hours in Washington

Got 48 hours to explore Washington DC? Make the most of the

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Published: Sat 18 Sep 2010, 12:25 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 1:17 PM


The rooftop bar of downtown’s W Hotel has unmatched views and offers a different angle for gazing at some of the most famous buildings and monuments: the White House, Treasury Department, Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument.

Try the Old Ebbitt Grill for a flavour of a gathering place for political insiders in traditional dark wood with velvet booths. The seafood and steak restaurant established in 1856 boasts that it was a favourite of Presidents Grant, Cleveland, Harding and Theodore Roosevelt.

Cross the street and take a walk around the corner to look at the White House up close. Peek through the fence at the farthest end and to the right you will see a line of television cameras on ‘pebble beach’ where correspondents do their stand-ups. Facing you is the ‘West Wing’ where top White House officials have their offices.

Jump in a cab for a ride down Constitution Avenue and up Independence Avenue to see the monuments at night. You can also walk from the White House to the Washington Monument and then past the reflecting pool to the Lincoln Memorial.

For the edgy, there’s the U Street Corridor, Duke Ellington’s old neighbourhood, where you’ll find clubs, bars and restaurants including late-night hangout Ben’s Chili Bowl where French President Nicolas Sarkozy has tried the famous half-smoke. The newer Busboys and Poets is quite popular.

The 9:30 Club and the Black Cat, the city’s two most popular music venues, are here along with Velvet Lounge and DC9. Listen for the echoes of Jazz legends Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Dizzy Gillespie who once performed in this neighbourhood.


Go to Georgetown where you can shop, visit President Bill Clinton’s alma mater and climb the stairs from The Exorcist.

History buffs may enjoy breakfast at Martin’s Tavern where President John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie and Cold War spies would meet contacts in the dark wooden booths.

Afterward, shop at small boutiques and trendy chain stores. You can also watch the boats from the shore of the Potomac River and look over at the Kennedy Centre and the Watergate complex, although the hotel made famous by the scandal that brought down a president is closed.

If you don’t find lunch at one of the international restaurants on M Street, take the Metro to the L’Enfant Plaza stop and eat at the National Museum of the American Indian.

Outside the museum is the National Mall, an open area ringed by the Smithsonian museums. Modern art fans will enjoy the Hirshhorn Museum and its sculpture garden, while those who once dreamed of being astronauts should head to the National Air and Space Museum. The National Portrait Gallery is north of the Mall along Seventh Street.

D.C. residents who are used to free museums can get skittish about paying an entrance fee, but if you’re willing, the International Spy Museum can be fun for amateurs in the art of cloak-and-dagger.

From the museums, walk up the hill to the U.S. Capitol, Supreme Court and the Library of Congress.

The nearby Penn Quarter neighbourhood has become one of the symbols of the revitalisation of Washington in recent years with new bars and restaurants sprouting on Seventh Street.

First lady Michelle Obama has been seen dining at Mexican restaurant Oyamel, and there can be a line at the Red Velvet cupcake emporium for a sweet late-night snack.

The neighbourhood is also home to the Verizon Centre for major sporting events and the theatre where the Shakespeare Theatre Company performs.

Washington is a wonderful theatre town. Both the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and Arena Stage have introduced new playwrights. And of course there’s Ford’s Theatre where President Abraham Lincoln was shot.

On the other side of town, the Logan Circle area is bursting with fairly new bars and restaurants. One starting point might be Churchkey, the upstairs bar, and Birch & Barley, the downstairs restaurant.

In the Dupont Circle area, the Science Club is a narrow house where vegetarian snacks are served.

In the Adams Morgan neighbourhood you’ll find crowded streets and clubs such as Madam’s Organ. Reef has a rooftop deck and Chief Ike’s Mambo Room provides garage punk. For salsa dancing head to Habana Village.


A stroll through the Dupont Circle farmers market can whet your appetite before brunch.

The Adams Morgan restaurant Perry’s offers a Drag Queen Brunch. The Corcoran Gallery’s Cafe des Artistes hosts a more restrained meal. Georgia Brown’s offers a Jazz brunch with southern cuisine.

Hiking trails abound in sprawling Rock Creek Park, and at the weekend parts of Beach Drive are closed off for cycling and rollerblading.

If money is no object, try the spa at the Mandarin Oriental or if you’re seeking something more educational, then watch orang-utans at the National Zoo, where a special system lets the long armed mammals move freely between exhibit houses.

A walk on Massachusetts Avenue along Embassy Row can be interesting to test your knowledge of countries by identifying the different flags flying from the buildings.

And if it’s raining, the museums are open.

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