48 hours in Washington D.C.

By Garrett M Graff, former editor of Washingtonian magazine

Photography by Salvatore D’alia/Getty Images

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MARCH 2017

A decade-long renaissance of dining, drinking, and culture has turned the US capital from a sleepy government city into one of the country’s most exciting destinations. We asked former editor of Washingtonian magazine, Garrett M Graff, to give us his take on the best places to eat, sleep and visit.

Day one

08:00 – Like a local

It’s hard to miss the power and grandeur of Washington, the centre of the city remains a political powerhouse and it permeates nearly every corner, but there’s also much more to the city than simply politics.

Start your morning like the locals with coffee and breakfast at the Tryst Coffeehouse in funky Adams Morgan, before heading up to the National Zoo (Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, to give it its full name). It’s seen a dramatic renovation in recent years that has turned its 163 acres into a shining gem filled with great exhibits from elephants and pandas to American buffalo. Entry is free and it’s open 364 days a year.

Indulge in the city’s best Indian food at the fine dining Rasika in Penn Quarter – you might very well find yourself dining next to a Cabinet member

Noon – Power lunch

Recharge with a casual pub-style lunch at Duke’s Grocery on 17th Street NW (have the Proper Burger) or indulge in the city’s best Indian food at the fine dining Rasika in Penn Quarter, where you might very well find yourself dining next to a Cabinet member. Don’t miss the palaak chaat – crispy flash-fried spinach – that’s one of the city’s most-requested dishes.

  • Get up close and personal with Honest Abe © Alice Scully / Getty

    A keen eye

    If you look closely at the engraving of the second inaugural address on the Lincoln Memorial, you can spot an accidental typo carved by the original stonemason.

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  • A house fit for a president © Rob Crandall / Alamy

    Did you know…

    The White House has approximately 132 rooms, 32 bathrooms, 412 doors, six floors and its own dentist and bowling alley and florist.

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  • The striking Washington Monument © Alamy

    Building a nation

    The Monument’s cornerstone contains a copy of the Constitution, along with US coins, newspapers and some of George Washington’s belongings.

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14:00 – Read all about it

Spend the afternoon at the Newseum, the towering interactive museum of news, where you can revisit the world’s most notable events, and lose yourself for hours watching old footage and breaking news coverage. The Washington Explorer pass offers a package admission to the Newseum and other top D.C. sights like the International Spy Museum.

17:00 – No reservations

Getting into many of Washington’s hottest restaurants has grown harder in recent years, with some of the most popular adopting no reservations policies that can lead to long lines. At Bad Saint, a 24-seat Filipino restaurant – named as the second best new restaurant in the USA by Bon Appetit magazine in 2016 – lines can begin as early as 17:30.

Not up for waiting? Plan ahead with a reservation at Tail Up Goat, a newly Michelin-starred restaurant featuring creative Mediterranean and Caribbean food by chef Jon Sybert – expand your drinking horizons at the bar by following the lead of sommelier Bill Jensen.

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Day two

08:00 – Morning rush

Breakfast at the Old Ebbitt Grill, one of the city’s oldest restaurants, usually packed with lobbyists and power players first thing in the morning before the tourist crowd sets in during the day.

09:00 – Famous figures

Across the Potomac River, Arlington Cemetery is best known for its stark and formal Changing of the Guard ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, honouring America’s war dead, but the 600-acre cemetery is home also to the graves of many famous figures like John F. Kennedy – marked with an eternal flame – boxer Joe Lewis, and Pierre L’Enfant, the architect who designed Washington. Save your feet and jump on the Hop-On, Hop-Off trolley.

Noon – Fit for a First Lady

Lunch on the Georgetown waterfront at Fiola Mare, the glimmering Italian seafood restaurant of chef Fabio Trabocchi – a favourite of Michelle Obama.

13:30 – Remember them

Spend the afternoon wandering ‘America’s Front Lawn’ on the National Mall, starting at the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Wall, then up to the sunken World War II memorial, where you can see the emotional visits of buses filled with veterans, and gaze up at the Washington Monument.

  • Explore the National Museum of African American History and Culture

    Discover the past

    The museum opens every day except Christmas Day (10.00-17.30) and entry is free but you must book tickets in advance.

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14:30 – A history lesson

Nearby, take in Washington’s hottest new attraction, the giant National Museum of African-American History and Culture, honouring the artistic contributions of African-Americans while also wrestling with the nation’s still-unfolding racial legacy of slavery and civil rights. Plan ahead – or wake up early – to score timed-entry tickets, but it’s well worth the effort.

17:00 – Treats and eats

Spend the evening wandering the environs of 14th Street NW, which has been the centre of Washington’s revitalization over the last decade. Window-shop at the boutique Salt and Sundry, Detroit-made watches and leather goods at the city’s flagship Shinola store, or vintage and antiques at Miss Pixie’s, a long-time 14th Street fixture.

Once you’re hungry, the area has something for every palate: for the city’s swankiest French bistro, try Le Diplomate, where the breadbasket alone is worth the visit. Prefer Latin American? Try Tico for its hibiscus margaritas, tacos, and a delicious shredded cabbage salad. Or, on nearby 17th Street NW, get in line for mouth-burning, authentic Thai food at Little Serow from one of Washington’s top chefs, Johnny Monis (if it’s a weeknight, be in line by 17:00 or 17:30 for dinner, if it’s a weekend, try even earlier). Once your name’s on the list, have a drink around the corner at Hank’s Oyster Bar while you wait.

  • Take a stroll around the shops and cafes of 14th Street

    All and sundry

    As well as selling top tableware, Salt and Sundry also hosts a variety of events, from food and drink demonstrations to talks with food experts and bartenders.

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  • Refuel and relax at Tail Up Goat

    Pasta perfect

    Treat yourself to the homemade lasagne made with tender goat, peppery kale and vibrant salsa verde.

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  • Sip like a senator at Tico’s bar

    Cocktails for two

    Start the evening off right with a seasonal Tico punch and a small snack plate for under $15 during happy hour (Monday to Friday, 16.00-19.00).

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Where to stay

W Washington DC – head up to the cocktail bar for presidential views down on the neighbouring White House.

Washington Hilton is home to many of the city’s black tie galas, including the star-studded spring White House Correspondents Association dinner.

Hilton Garden Inn is a brand new hotel in the city’s West End, you’ll be just around the corner from where former President Barack Obama has set up his new office.