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How to Spend the Perfect 24 Hours in Washington DC

The ideal itinerary for a short trip to the capital city.


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Washington D.C. is more than politics and cherry blossoms. It's even more than the rich history it's built on. D.C. is one of the most diverse cultural hubs in the United States, making it an epicenter of unparalleled art, food, music, and worldly experiences.

Each neighborhood is teeming with its own secret passageways, bars, galleries, and gardens. Since many of the nation's most high-profile individuals live and work in this city, there have to be secret––even remote––places for them to dine and spend time. We've got the intel from true D.C. insiders (like David Santori, the creator of #TheOtherDC––an incredible source for off-the-beaten-track haunts) and we're ready to share a few secrets of the city.

Pro tip: while the Smithsonian can't be missed, plan to head off the beaten path when possible. Between walks through monuments and photos captured under the spring bloom along the National Mall, break up the trip with a few less touristy sights. We recommend venturing to more farfetched neighborhoods for incredible views, cobblestone streets, and some of the best Ethiopian fare in the country.

9:30 a.m.: Before setting out for the day, drop your bags at The Jefferson, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts partner, where you absolutely must stay during your trip. This luxury hotel pays homage to Thomas Jefferson's love of literature: it's cocooned in books old and new, and even has its own literary programs. Quill, the hotel's lounge, serves literary-themed cocktails—something to look forward to after a day wandering the wide D.C. streets.

10 a.m.: It's brunch time. And like every other city, D.C. does brunch its own way. Generally, think bourbon and whiskey inspired mid-morning cocktails over mimosas, and heartily crafted dishes à la Irish and English traditional breakfasts. For a particularly luxurious brunch, pop down to The Greenhouse, The Jefferson's own highly esteemed restaurant. Brunch here is all-encompassing––every kind of fare, from avocado toast to chicken and waffles and lobster benedict (a D.C. mainstay dish and a must-try), is available here. Pair your Osetra Caviar Parfait with a glass of Adami ‘Col Credas’ Prosecco to start off your elevated capital experience the right way.

11:30 a.m.: Ease into the city with a trip to Georgetown. Noon is the perfect time for a stroll along the neighborhood's cobblestone streets while everyone has just popped into a nearby haunt for lunch. In the springtime, the blooms and vines that adorn the colorful townhomes are remarkable. In the fall and winter, Georgetown lights up with holiday glow. Take a bookshop tour, starting on the west end at Bridge Street Books, then venturing to The Lantern, known for their rare books selection. Hit the grounds of Georgetown University on the east for a moment with your new reads.

1 p.m.: After an appropriately slow afternoon to flâneur in the Paris of the U.S. (George Washington commissioned Paris' urban architect Pierre Charles L'Enfant to begin D.C.'s design), grab a midday pick-me-up at The Berliner, a local favorite and totally stylish bar on Georgetown's east end. During the day, the space is wide and well-lit––very inviting for an aperitif regardless of the season. Or try J. Paul's for a dozen oysters at one of Georgetown's most iconic, legendary saloon-style restaurants.

2 p.m.: From Georgetown, hop in a cab and head south across the bridge and into Virginia. Yes, Virginia. Think of D.C. as another New York City––outside of the inner city, there are some incredible spots that are largely untapped by tourists. Old Town Alexandria is a 15-minute, scenic drive from the capital, and worth the short trip. Similar to Georgetown, Old Town was a significant port during settlement. Now, it's known for its seafood and European-esque streets. Go shopping here along King Street at your favorite luxury stores and be sure to experience the Torpedo Factory for local art. There's even a free trolley that travels up and down King Street to make your afternoon here even more easygoing.

2:45 p.m.: Stop at Virtue Feed & Grain along the water for a bite of North American fare to satisfy any gourmand, or quiz yourself on your Lord of the Rings knowledge at Bilbo Baggins accompanied by a local brew and an even more local pub experience.

3:30 p.m.: It's time to head to Officina for an immersive Italian experience. This three-story culinary collective was started by Chef Nicholas Stefanelli of Michelin-starred restaurant Masseria. Get your pasta-and-spritz on before heading uptown a few blocks to the National Mall and tucking into the Art Museum of the Americas, an Aztec-tiled hideaway of a museum, less-frequented than, though just as stunning as, the other busy museums in the area. Other wonderful choices (though they're all worth a stop) include the National Museum of the American Indian, and the National Gallery of Art.

6 p.m.: Because of the sheer amount of renowned options for dinner in D.C., you'll have a lot of choices. About a 10-minute drive north of the Mall, adjacent to Chinatown, lies another rather large culinary experience: bright and airy Mediterranean restaurant Zaytinya, which boasts beautiful tapas and raki. Excited for D.C.’s legendary Ethiopian cuisine? Go for the homegrown Bib Gourmand-awarded Chercher in Shaw.

8 p.m.: End your day in the lively Penn Quarter slinging some axes at Kraken Axes or head back to The Jefferson for one of those literature-themed nightcaps we mentioned earlier. It's the perfect way to end a day in this historic city.

Where to Stay

If you choose The Jefferson, we recommend booking a suite with a coveted view of the Washington Monument. And if there’s time, a quick spa treatment at The Petite Spa, using natural massage and facial ingredients sourced from the gardens of Monticello, couldn’t hurt. Or, if you’d prefer to stay overlooking the Potomac River, reserve at The Watergate Hotel, which, like The Jefferson, is an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property. The Watergate leans in to the midcentury modern aesthetic and is known for their nightcap spot, too: The Next Whiskey Bar. Request an executive suite with a view of the Potomac.

If you’d prefer to stay in Georgetown, reserve at the Rosewood Washington D.C., an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property right along the C&O Canal. The highlight of staying in Georgetown is the atmosphere, from the shopping on M Street to poking into an under-the-radar cocktail bar after dining. Rosewood Washington D.C. is very much part of that effortlessly chic atmosphere, with 55 total accommodations, including 12 suites, six brand new luxury townhouses, and of course, a restaurant by Wolfgang Puck.

Finally, consider staying at the Doyle Collection’s new Washington D.C. hotspot, Dupont Circle Hotel. From the luxe Pembroke restaurant—decorated with midcentury couches and enveloped in lush greenery—to the luxury terrace suites overlooking D.C., Dupont Circle feels posh escape even in the heart of the city. Guests staying here will love starting their day with a pastry and coffee at Doyle & Co, and winding down in the evenings with a cocktail at the Doyle Bar.


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