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Exploring Washington, DC’s vibrant food scene and beyond

There is more to DC than politics. Washington, DC matches the best of the world’s iconic cities with world-class drinking and dining, arts and culture, and sports pursuits.

It’s a city steeped in history yet offers a heady mix of modern experiences tailored to discerning tastes. From exquisite dining to upscale accommodations and exclusive cultural encounters, the United States capital promises an unforgettable getaway with plenty of new offerings you need to explore.

Founded in 1790, Washington, DC serves as the capital of the United States being the seat of the federal government and housing iconic landmarks such as the White House, US Capitol Building, and the Lincoln Memorial. Visitors flock to DC to explore its rich history showcased in the Smithsonian museums and larger-than-life monuments, yet also to enjoy a vibrant cultural and dining scene with a swathe of venues worth seeking. It’s a quintessential destination in North America and there’s never been a better time to visit.

Lincoln Memorial © washington.org

Where to dine in Washington, DC

From charming bistros to upscale dining establishments, the US capital city boasts an array of independent restaurants that promise unforgettable gastronomic experiences, including 24 Michelin-starred restaurants and 36 Bib Gourmands.

Stepping into 1789 Restaurant is akin to entering a portal to the past, where colonial charm merges seamlessly with contemporary elegance. Located in Georgetown, this iconic establishment occupies a Federal-style townhouse, lending a unique ambience to every dining experience. Renowned for its sophisticated American cuisine, 1789 Restaurant showcases seasonal ingredients from local farms, ensuring each dish bursts with freshness and flavour. Whether savouring New Bedford Scallops or indulging in a sumptuous Prime New York Strip, you’ll embark on an exquisite culinary journey that pays homage to tradition while embracing the modern palate.

Tucked away in the vibrant neighbourhood of Bloomingdale, The Red Hen beckons with its warm, rustic charm and soulful Italian cuisine. Boasting a menu inspired by the flavours of Italy’s diverse regions, this neighbourhood gem delights diners with its creative twists on classic dishes. From handcrafted pasta like Pappardelle with braised beef cheek ragu to hearty meat dishes like Milanese pork with maple mostarda, every dish at The Red Hen is a testament to the kitchen’s dedication to culinary excellence. Paired with an impressive selection of Italian wines and craft cocktails – try the signature Negroni to kick off the night – a meal here promises a dining experience that captures the essence of la dolce vita.

Venture into the heart of Adams Morgan – and you’ll discover Lapis, a culinary oasis celebrating the rich tapestry of Afghan cuisine. When you enter the vibrant blue doors adorned with intricate tilework, you are transported to a world of exotic flavours and family-run hospitality led by chef Shamim. Lapis’ menu showcases traditional dishes infused with modern flair, highlighting ingredients like saffron, cardamom, and lamb in tantalising combinations. Whether relishing the fragrant Qabuli Palow or indulging in the succulent Lamb Shank, it’s a sensory journey that reflects Afghanistan’s cultural and culinary mastery.

L’Ardente is the latest hospitality venture from the award-winning team behind Unconventional Diner and is an ode to Italy celebrating its culinary excellence in a chic setting. Its wood-burning grill and pizza oven take centre stage as do their pastas – Campanelle Nere with a tomato-based sauce with lobster spiced with Calabrian Chili and Lemon Confi is exceptional, and chef David Deshaies’ 40-layer lasagna is a must-try. L’Ardente is truly a destination for a taste of the Mediterranean in the heart of DC.

Nestled in the NoMa district, Masseria lures diners with its sleek and stylish ambience, setting the stage for a culinary voyage to Southern Italy. Helmed by acclaimed chef Nicholas Stefanelli, this Michelin-starred restaurant offers a 6- and 8-course menu inspired by the rustic flavours of Puglia, Sicily, and beyond. Guests are treated to a multi-course tasting experience that highlights the freshest seasonal ingredients – maccheroni with goat ragù is a fan favourite – with dishes transporting diners to the sun-drenched shores of the Mediterranean.

At the recently opened Morrow Hotel, chef Nicolas Stefanelli’s sleek new French brasserie, Le Clou, is one of the hottest on the scene. The modern open floor plan features a wraparound marble bar, striking chandeliers and gilded finishes. 

Named after the Arabic word for “town square” or “gathering place,” Maydan embodies the spirit of communal dining and conviviality. The restaurant’s open-fire cooking concept adds a sense of theatre to the Middle Eastern and North African flavours, with dishes like the Lamb Shoulder with Syrian Seven Spice and the Grilled Butterflied Branzino taking centre stage. Complemented by an eclectic selection of mezze, flatbreads, and desserts, a meal at Maydan is a feast for the senses that celebrates the vibrant culinary traditions of the region.

The historic Georgetown market space will see Michelin-starred chef Nancy Silverton open the new 20,000-square-foot Osteria Mozza restaurant. It will feature a pizza grill and bars dedicated to granita and juice, and a produce and grocery area. Seating will be available throughout at tables, bars, and solarium lounges.

VUE Rooftop © washington.org

Elevated experiences in Washington, DC

From breathtaking rooftop views to exclusive bars, immerse yourself in the vibrant culture and history of the US capital from new heights. Elevate your visit and uncover the city’s hidden gems with our curated selection.

Over 25 new or renovated rooftops since 2020 provide cocktail experiences with stunning views of the city’s iconic landmarks as no building is over 13 stories tall (with a few exceptions). Top tips: visit Smoke & Mirrors or Upstairs at the Morrow for a view of the US Capitol Building or VUE Rooftop to overlook the White House and Washington Monument.

Speakeasy-style bars have become popular, tucked behind hidden doors these dimly lit lounges will add to your evening of intrigue. Going underground, Off the Record inside the Hay-Adams and Silver Lyan in the Riggs Hotel, located in an underground bank vault, are two standouts. At the latter, world-renowned mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana pays homage to the spices, flavours and traditions of America’s diverse cultural heritage.

Gin lovers take note: DC’s official cocktail is the Gin Rickey, created in the late 1800s at Shoomaker’s Bar. Today, the J.W. Marriott Washington, DC’s 1331 Bar & Lounge stands in this location, just one reason to visit this establishment for this craft cocktail.

Tidal Basin with Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial © washington.org

Monuments, museums and music

Beyond the incredible dining and drinking options in Washington, DC, there are plenty of museums and cultural must do’s to add to your list. With 17 free Smithsonian museums including the National Zoo plus the White House Visitor Center, no destination in the USA can compete with the number of monuments, museums and memorials in DC. Here are some other favourites:

The Phillips Collection

Founded by the visionary art collector and philanthropist Duncan Phillips in 1921, this art museum was America’s first museum of modern art. Now spanning over 5,000 works, this unique collection is housed in Phillips’s former home, offering a one-of-a-kind backdrop for art appreciators. In line with Phillips’s innovative approach, the galleries are regularly reimagined, fostering new exhibitions between artworks and providing fresh experiences for visitors.

National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA)

DC is home to the first museum in the world solely dedicated to championing women in the arts through its collections, exhibitions, programs, and online initiatives. NMWA advocates for better representation of women artists, both past and present, to bring to light the contributions of influential women artists of the past while promoting the work of great women artists working today.

Library of Congress

The largest library in the world has millions of items of various formats in its collections. The building itself is a work of architectural art, with murals, pillars, and beautiful mosaics throughout. The Library is the main research arm of the US Congress and the home of the US Copyright Office with its grand Main Reading Room a must-see.

Catch a praiseworthy performance

Explore DC’s vibrant performing arts scene, boasting a rich history and acclaimed productions. From pre-Broadway premieres to classics by The Bard, experience a diverse range of performances in the nation’s capital at venues like the historic Kennedy Center and Ford’s Theatre, the classical Shakespeare Theatre Company and the acclaimed National Theatre and Warner Theatre.

The Phillips Collection © washington.org

Where to stay in Washington, DC

The Westin Washington, DC Downtown opened in October 2023 in the former Renaissance Washington, DC space. Having undergone a nearly $80 million brand conversion, it’s now a sophisticated, contemporary hotel under the Westin flag. The hotel boasts the largest hotel fitness studio in the city, Peloton suites and the local RunWESTIN® program plus Root and Vine, an open-kitchen concept with locally sourced menus, botanical-inspired cocktails and a biodynamic wine program.

Near Union Station, Royal Sonesta Washington, DC, the city’s second Royal Sonesta, became the first new hotel to open on Capitol Hill since 1984. The 274-room upscale hotel embodies sustainability, wellness and tech-forward design through LEED Gold certification with a sweeping glass façade, 10-story atrium, vegetated green roof, state-of-the-art yoga studio and the city’s second Bistro Du Jour, an all-day Parisian bistro from locally acclaimed restauranteur Knead Hospitality + Design.

The Wharf is one of Washington, DC’s most trendy districts nestled along the Potomac River where buildings are designed to be eco-friendly and the neighbourhood is designed to achieve Gold Certification for LEED Neighbourhood development. Here you’ll find serene rooms at the Pendry Washington, DC, where every outlook faces the water and has a scenic view of East Potomac Park.

The Wharf © washington.org

Start planning your only-in-Washington, DC experience with Travel Associates today.

Main image: Library of Congress, Smithsonian Castle, VUE Rooftop © washington.org.

This article was produced in partnership with Destination DC as joint initiative with Brand USA and is a Signature Luxury Travel & Style digital exclusive. Be the first to see more exclusive online content by subscribing to the enewsletter.