Washington DC Travel Guide

Washington DC Travel Guide

What do we know about DC? Yes, it’s the nation’s capital, home to the United States government and well; there are a ton of monuments and museums (all of which are worth visiting). What those of us who are not from DC typically fail to realise is that beyond politics, it’s a pretty amazing city and destination. The metro system is very easy to use, the shopping is world-class, and there’s an abundance of sights to see. Some pretty important people are constantly visiting the capital, so, of course, the hotel options are all going to be top-notch and ready for dignitaries. And the culinary scene in the city has been on a constant climb that continues to keep it growing, always outdoing itself. DC has some of the best restaurants in the United States, and if you just go there to eat, you won’t be disappointed. But there’s also something else about the city which makes it unique, and that’s the atmosphere – it’s a perfect blend of hustle and bustle with upscale and refined (if you know where to look). For your definitive Washington gay guide, you’ve come to the right place.

The best hotels in Washington DC

Let’s open this Washington DC gay travel guide with a roundup of the best places to stay in DC. While there are two impeccable Ritz-Carlton properties within the city limits, the smaller more boutique Georgetown offering, just two miles from the city centre, is our favourite. The Ritz-Carlton Georgetown, Washington, D.C. is both quiet and intimate, set within a historical build and featuring numerous facilities, including a recently renovated spa, wellness rooms, a full-service fitness centre, two on-site restaurants and unparalleled views of Georgetown. In the summer, a third dining option comes into play; The Yard, a modern garden restaurant serving up seasonal cuisine and craft cocktails. Another 5-starrer is The LINE Hotel DC, a former Neoclassical church now directing its evangelism towards great hospitality and style, with its modern, meticulously curated interiors, four on-site restaurants and its very own radio station. A temple to the arts, in the Adams Morgan district, every room is plushly furnished with Persian rugs and vintage burnished brass accents, alongside a mini library and original artworks. The Monument View Master Suite is especially hard to beat, thanks in part to its epic private terrace views.

Over on the corner of 12th and K Street NW in downtown DC, close to shopping hubs and the Smithsonian, lies Eaton DC, a hotel offering its guests luxury rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows and countless other perks, including an Asian fusion restaurant, café and three on-site bars. As well as its own radio station, Eaton boasts a 50-seat theatre for various events and screenings, a wellness centre and rooftop terrace. For more large windows among marbled bathrooms and modern design, check-in at The Dupont Circle Hotel, well located at the top of the Dupont Circle. With its hands-on staff, The Dupont goes the extra mile for its guests, providing farm-to-table dining, an outdoor relaxation area with a grand fountain feature and a mid-century inspired cocktail bar. Lastly, for a more private DC experience, the AKA White House is the perfect choice, servicing a luxury range of contemporary furnished apartments where the beds are king-sized, the bathrooms are marbled and the rooms are both elegant and spacious. The penthouse suites at AKA are also noteworthy for their terraces and outdoor dining areas beside the newly renovated lobby and shared lounge serving up coffee and cocktails.

The LINE Hotel DC | Photo: Pierre Edwards

The LINE Hotel DC | Photo: Pierre Edwards

The LINE Hotel DC | Photo: Adrian Gaut

The LINE Hotel DC | Photo: Adrian Gaut

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Recommended hotels in Washington DC
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Things to do in Washington DC

There’s a tonne of things to do in Washington DC. This city’s attractions include some of the most impressive monuments in the world, and we expect you will be spending some time visiting each of them, but beyond the monuments and the better-known museums are a few other must-visit experiences that will make your DC trip extra memorable. One of those experiences is spending time at the National Building Museum, home to exhibits about architecture, urban planning, and design. Each summer they install a family-friendly pop-up. Last years installation as “The Beach,” which was a ball pit filled with one million tiny white balls, umbrellas and snack bars. This year was “Icebergs,” which had giant icebergs replicas hanging between the six-story columns inside their Great Hall. This summer, the museum also showcased “Small Stories,” an exhibit of 300-years of dolls houses. The Phillips Collection is also very much worth the time. A petite but astonishing collection of private art that now hosts major exhibits in a mansion near Dupont Circle. The Phillips is the first museum of modern art in the U.S and includes works of arts by Picasso, Modigliani, Braque, as well as mid-century masters like Rothko and contemporary artists like Wolfgang Leib.

D.C. is full of national parks including Rock Creek Park, a 1,800-acre park that winds through the city. Inside the park is a stable where one can book trail rides. It’s something different within a city, but surprisingly thrilling to ride up and down the hills and alongside the streams. And like most major cities, there’s a booze scene, but instead of spending all your time at the bars (which there are plenty of), check out some behind the scenes tours (and tastings). Bluejacket Brewery, which uses a host of methods to make beer, including natural yeast, is in the Navy Yard and has loads of great beers (theirs) on tap. And Joseph A. Magnus & Co. makes bourbon, and recently won gold medals at the World Spirits Competition this year. The distillery offers free tours and gives visitors the opportunity to explore the bourbon and gin distillery.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Photo: Casey Horner

Photo: Casey Horner

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Recommended experiences in Washington DC
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What to see in Washington DC

The neighbourhood between Rock Creek Park and K Street NW, from 27th to 37th Streets, happens to be the oldest in DC. Known as Georgetown Historic District, this neck of the woods dates back to the early 1700s, before Washington itself. Home of the city’s oldest Roman Catholic and Jesuit College, Georgetown University, this beautiful historic district, comprised of tidy residential streets and boutique avenues lined with cafés, restaurants and small museums, throngs with vibrant student life and culture. There’s no end of Washington DC points of interest to check out while in Georgetown, and, in amongst them all, you’ll find great places to eat, drink and check out live events. Georgetown is also where the 184-mile C&O Canal begins, providing a serene waterside path that’s perfect for strolling aimlessly. Also in the area, revellers will find Dumbarton Oaks, an estate of 16 acres made up of formal gardens and a remarkable Byzantine and Christian art collection. The house itself is a landmark, home to Federal-style décor, artwork and historical documents related to the confederation. Tudor Place is another of Georgetown’s fabulous Federal-period offerings, a 19th-century mansion filled with relics from the Washington family surrounded by period gardens. Then there’s the Kreeger Museum with its fine array of art from masters such as Monet, Renoir and Picasso.

Just over the Potomac River from the city centre is another prime spot for Washington DC sightseeing; the quaint historic town of Alexandria. Based on the waterfront, the Old Town of Alexandria has plenty of attractions, such as a marina, many colonial houses, public parks, churches and museums, as well as one-off shops and restaurants. Enjoy an historic walking tour, ghost tour, horse-drawn carriage ride or, even, take to the river for a sightseeing cruise. If you’ve not done enough walking for the day, the U.S. National Arboretum calls, with its glorious 446-acre grounds and quiet atmosphere among a little bit of US history. Established in 1927 as a way to improve the environmental and aesthetic landscape of the state, this arboretum features numerous gardens and exhibits, including a bonsai garden and koi pond, as well as original columns of the Capitol building. If you wish, while in DC you can also pay respects to President Kennedy at the Arlington National Cemetery. Housing the ever-guarded Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, this resting place and its endless white headstones serves as a sombre tribute to thousands of US service men and women who lost their lives defending their country.

Korean War Memorial | Photo Brian Kraus

Korean War Memorial | Photo Brian Kraus

This next one is perhaps DC’s most famed attraction, celebrating some of the world’s most important inventions. This is the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, one of the best answers of what to do in Washington DC. Home of inventions such as the 1903 Wright Brothers Flyer and the Apollo 11 command module from the first manned lunar landing, the Smithsonian is a real treat, cataloguing air and spacecraft technology throughout history with interactive exhibits and educational theory on physics and space science. Within the museum’s vast space you’ll also find the Albert Einstein Planetarium, an IMAX theatre, flight simulators and a Public Observatory. Another of national importance and Hollywood fame is the Library of Congress. Much more than the backdrop to Nicholas Cage’s National Treasure, the Library of Congress is in fact the largest and most prestigious library in the world, housing 160 million items across three buildings, the most spectacular of these being the magnificent Thomas Jefferson Building. Here you’ll find various special exhibits alongside an incredible collection of important books, papers and maps all complemented by the structure’s Gilded Age architecture.

A new mixed-use development in Downtown Washington, close to Metro Center Station, is the CityCenterDC’s Palmer Alley. While primarily being a shopping centre, this complex is the perfect way to while away an afternoon, wandering along the majestic walkway which changes depending on the season, from cherry blossom balloons in spring to twinkling lights come Christmas. In addition to being super instagrammable, City Center DC also offers a number of free events throughout the year.

Photo: Chris Grafton

Photo: Chris Grafton

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Convivial is a refined Frenchman’s take on an American bistro, with dishes such as escargot in blankets and soft shell crab meunière

Where to eat in Washington DC

First and foremost, make reservations now for Fiola, which opened in 2011 and is still one of the city’s premier dining establishments, and is best described as an upscale trattoria, which uses the freshest ingredients for its daily changing menu. In 2014, famed chef Fabio Trabocchi and his partner/wife Maria (who happens to be super fabulous, and is usually found between their restaurants chatting with guests), opened Fiola Mare (where President Obama recently celebrated his birthday) similar to their flagship restaurant, offering the same world-class hospitality but this time with views of the Potomac River. Fiola Mare is a seafood restaurant and gives one the impression that they are dining on the Mediterranean and Italian coasts.

Over at the Four Seasons, ENO Wine Bar is perfect for a light meal or pre/post drinks. ENO specialises in pairings, and the chocolate pairing is something that should be experienced by everyone. Also at the Four Seasons, is Bourbon Steak, a restaurant by celebrity chef Michael Mina. Its a modern and visually appealing steakhouse offering some of the best cuts of meat in the city. Some other places to definitely check out, and wait in line for, as they don’t take reservations include Little Serow, which has no more than 30 seats and serves a zero-substitutions progressive menu of about seven or eight Northern Thai dishes. Bad Saint is a 24-seat Filipino restaurant with great cocktails in Columbia Heights. Rose’s Luxury is eclectic new American with a rooftop lounge and was named best new restaurant in America in 2014 by Bon Appetit. Chef-owner Aaron Silverman just opened a prix-fix menu ($250 including food, alcohol, tax and tip) restaurant, Pineapple and Pearls, which does take reservations and serves as a coffee shop in the morning.

Ben's Chili Bowl

Ben's Chili Bowl

D.C.’s next go-to dining neighbourhood is Shaw, and the restaurants currently there, prove it. Convivial is a refined Frenchman’s take on an American bistro, with dishes such as escargot in blankets and soft shell crab meunière. Espita Mezcaleria has 80 kinds of mezcal for your sipping pleasure, and the Oaxacan menu features ceviches, tacos and of course, moles. The Dabney is more regional food, and most of the cooking is done in a huge wood-burning hearth. The bare tables and brick walls play well into the unpretentious atmosphere, while the openness allows the kitchen team to showcase their skills. Just above The Dabney is The Columbia Room, which has three spaces: a punch bar (outside deck), a liquor library (cocktail menu and order as you wish), and the Columbia Room (a 3 or 5 drink tasting menu). Lastly, for those who like to wander and find something on their own, Union Market is ideal for this.

Convivial | Photo: Scott Suchman

Convivial | Photo: Scott Suchman

Convivial | Photo: Scott Suchman

Convivial | Photo: Scott Suchman

Shopping in Washington DC

As well as being a prime choice of what to see in Washington DC, CityCenter D.C is a shopper’s dream, filled with heavy hitting lux brands including Gucci, Hugo Boss, Arc’teryx, Burberry, and Louis Vuitton, all alongside shops, spas, juice bars, coffee shops and even gelato bars. Outside of the shopping centres however, Washington DC still has room to delight. Over in Georgetown, considered DC’s boutique destination, you’ll find streets filled with endless one-off shops and unique boutiques, but one to look out for in particular is Louis Everard, as he is the go-to menswear store with a long history of outfitting politicians, sports legends and media big wigs. And, what once was an industrial alley is now home to design-focused home furnishings and clothes. Named Cady’s Alley, this little street is also filled with antiques and galleries and is a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Photo: David Mark

Photo: David Mark

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Sit outdoors under the Elizabeth Taylor mural and enjoy the pub grub and leafy, pet-friendly surroundings

Washington DC nightlife

After a full day of appreciating the rich political and cultural landscape of Washington DC, it’s time to appreciate its equally rich nightlife offerings. With the city’s diverse population and regular influx of travellers, dignitaries, high-level politicians and business people, Washington DC bars and clubs are inevitably filled with a range of characters, making for an interesting and unpredictable night out. We’ll start our Washington DC gay nightlife guide with a couple of sundowners on the best rooftop bars. Donovan House Rooftop Pool Bar is one you won’t want to miss, located east of the Dupont Circle on the roof of the Donovan House Hotel. Boasting glittering views of the entire city, this snazzy, gay-friendly pool bar is an ideal spot for reasonably priced drinks and a relaxed vibe before or after dinner at the downstairs Zentan restaurant. To get even closer to the White House, you’ll want to try the W Hotel’s POV Rooftop, a terrace bar with state security threatening views of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where you can spot the snipers lurking on roofs. Packed on sunny days and early evenings, we recommend reserving a table in advance for cocktails and dining.

W Hotel’s POV Rooftop

W Hotel’s POV Rooftop

There’s more fun to be had back down at ground level at Dacha Beer Garden, a garden and terrace bar with a strong gay crowd and a buzzing patio area. Sit outdoors under the Elizabeth Taylor mural and enjoy the pub grub and leafy, pet-friendly surroundings along with an eclectic crowd of locals and travellers. Cocktail obsessives meanwhile should make their way to the Columbia Room, a speakeasy-style offering with varied seating options. Choose from the urban greenhouse Punch Garden, the upscale indoor Sprits Library or the ticketed Tasting Room with its intricate mural and cocktail courses for 85 bucks a head.

For more cocktails in speakeasy glam settings, Morris American Bar is another gem, where expert mixologist David Strauss and his team create personalised craft cocktails served with hand-carved ice. For those sizzling DC days, head out to the patio’s Fix Bar for their specialty crushed ice cocktails, canned rosé and beer menu. One more for the books is Hank’s Cocktail Bar, a moody drinking den set in a former Church in Petworth decorated in dark colours, abstract art and unique lighting. Hank’s extraordinary menu includes a selection of sustainable cocktails including Mai Tais and ‘trash gimlets’ where the emphasis is on low waste and use of repurposed ingredients. The tableside punch and absinthe menu are also very much recommended.

Of DC’s best gay bars, The Green Lantern, slightly hidden in an alleyway just off of the Thomas Circle, is a great option to suit any taste. With its friendly atmosphere and likeable staff, this decade-old bar woos its patrons with an early opening of strong drinks and endless happy hours before morphing into a dance-happy venue with a large dance floor, good music and video projections. Come for the signature ‘Shirtless Men Drink Free’ event on a Thursday or the twice-weekly karaoke night to see this space at its best. Lastly is gay bar Number Nine, a forever changing space that has gone from tacky to kitsch to the now sophisticated speakeasy space of dark flooring and a solid wood bar. Keeping the BOGOF offer of its predecessors, Number Nine is popular among an after-work crowd of suits, with a secret second-floor bar named 9 1/2.

Photo: Vadim Sherbakov

Photo: Vadim Sherbakov

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