Washington DC: not just any old city

by Jeff.Mills

The first of the world’s capital cities to be purpose-built, Washington DC is not only attractive but an efficient business centre, too

Washington DC is more than a city to many Americans; it is also a shrine to their patriotism. For evidence of how seriously they take their capital, take a look at the groups of schoolchildren you will see by the Lincoln Memorial, reciting from memory the words of the Gettysburg Address, which are also engraved on the walls of the monument.
The first of the national capitals to be purpose-built, Washington has managed to remain both attractive and manageable, in spite of the mixture of architectural styles found in the (mainly government) buildings that line the wide avenues radiating like spokes from the Capitol building and the White House. Unlike most American cities, Washington seems to have escaped the blight of skyscrapers so far.
A taxi is probably the most convenient way to get into the city centre from Dulles airport; the journey should take about 45 minutes. Once you are there, you can use the Metrorail subway system, which has stations throughout the central area, as well as a number of suburban areas, including Virginia. Taxis are a good, and reasonably inexpensive, option for short distances, with flat rates within certain zones, rather than meters.
Park Hyatt Hotel
Since it reopened its doors in 2006 following a major refurbishment, the Park Hyatt has again taken its place as one of the true gems in what is without question a glittering array of hotels to be found in Washington DC. A pleasant marriage of modern luxury with classic American style, the guest rooms are superb, many of the bathrooms are like mini-spas and the hotel even has its own signature fragrance. 
Willard InterContinental
Often referred to as “the crown jewel of Pennsylvania Avenue”, this Beaux-Arts Hotel is an iconic landmark. Dating from 1903, it blends US Federal and late Victorian designs with modern technology and all the modern comforts you would expect to find. Located just two blocks from the White House and the National Mall.
Hotel George
Located right on Capitol Hill, the Hotel George stands out as one of the most iconic boutique hotels in Washington DC, a sleek and stylish magnet for celebrities. Service is excellent and the hotel provides good value for its location, perfect for the main business district and a short walk to the National Mall.
The Latham Hotel
Unless you need to be in the downtown area during your time off, you will probably find it more fun to opt for accommodation in one of the more lively areas such as Georgetown, an elegant residential area of mainly Georgian houses much loved by the city’s successful professionals. Opt for the Latham, right in the centre of all the shopping and nightlife action. Book a room on one of the higher floors and you will even have a view of the Potomac river. There’s a small outdoor pool to help you cool off if you are there in summer.
Capital Grille
Located at 601 Pennsylvania Avenue, this is the place to head for huge steaks aged in a see-through meat safe, though you had better avoid it at all costs if you are vegetarian. The wine list is impressive, too. Small wonder this restaurant is a favourite among the city’s movers and shakers.
The Old Ebbitt Grill
Head here if you want to join the real old-style Washington establishment. At 675 15th Street, it’s just a block away from the White House. Food is mainly American cuisine but more than just steaks - you should also be able to order a good selection of seafood or oysters from the raw bar if you prefer.
For a virtual tour of American cooking, head for Union Station at 50 Massachusetts Avenue and the restaurant called simply America, where the vast menu features dishes from various states.
Others worth checking out include Kinkead’s (2000 Pennsylvania Avenue). In the Georgetown area, this is thought by many to be the best seafood restaurant in Washington. Try the downstairs bar for a lighter snack and live music.Chi-Cha Lounge, at 1624 U St NW, is a lively and central venue for an after-work drink with your contacts.
Pretty similar to many major western European cities, with suits or other business clothes usually expected at formal meetings and an expectation that you will be fairly punctual. After-hours business entertaining happens but it is, perhaps, not as common as it is in other major US cities or parts of Europe and Asia.
The White House has to be top of the sightseeing agenda. It has been the private residence and administrative headquarters of every US President since 1800.
Take a tour of the FBI Building at 935 Pennsylvania Avenue, where the guides will show you some of the 35,000 guns stored there as well as pictures of the current “10 most wanted” villains in the US.
Visit the two buildings, the West and East Wings, that make up the visually stunning National Gallery of Art on Constitution Avenue, housing one of the world's leading collections of Western paintings, graphics and sculptures.
Don’t miss the National Mall, running from the US Capitol to the Potomac River, a tree-lined grassy strip containing many of the city’s most famous attractions, including the Washington Monument, the Lincoln, Roosevelt and Jefferson Memorials, the Capitol, White House, museums of the Smithsonian Institution and the National Gallery of Art.
Washington DC is five hours behind UK time.
Office hours are generally Monday to Friday, 9am to 5.30pm.
Washington has no particular streets devoted to designer shops; instead, they tend to be spread out. In the downtown area head for The Shops at National Place, between 13th and 14th E and F streets.


Jeff Mills has been reporting on the business and leisure travel and lifestyle sectors for more than 30 years, during which time he has visited most countries of the world at least once. A previous editor of the leading travel industry newspaper, Travel Weekly, and travel editor of Sunday Business, London-based Mills now has a business travel column in the Spectator Business and writes on travel regularly for a number of national newspapers, glossy consumer magazines and travel websites.