Washington, DC

Your essential guide to Washington, D.C.

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By Chris Leadbeater

Chris Leadbeater is an award-winning travel journalist whose writing has appeared in titles including National Geographic Traveller, The Telegraph, The Independent and British Airways’ High Life.

Find your bearings

Mandarin Oriental, Washington DC sits at the core of the world’s most powerful city. Stroll out of the main entrance and you’re greeted by a chorus line of major landmarks. Gaze to the west and you’ll see the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, a marble tribute to the USA’s third president. Take a short walk north and you’ll see that enormous salute to the country’s first president, the Washington Monument – with the White House just beyond, and the iconic Lincoln Memorial visible along the grass of the National Mall. This is the very heart of the city.

Feed your mind

The Smithsonian Institution – surely the world’s greatest cluster of culture and wisdom – waits on the doorstep of Mandarin Oriental, Washington DC. It comprises 19 different museums, many of them laid out on the National Mall. The National Museum of American History is home to myriad items of wonder, including a pair of Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. The National Portrait Gallery is a trove of famous faces from the USA’s past. The National Air and Space Museum reflects on the Wright Brothers and the moon landings. You could explore for many days.

Museum of American History

Explore over three million historic artifacts at the Museum of American History. Photo by Getty images.

National Portrait Gallery

Make the most of free admission at the superb National Portrait Gallery.

National Museum of African-American History.

National Museum of African-American History.

The National Air and Space Museum.

The National Air and Space Museum.

Shop like a local

Take a trip to Georgetown, Washington DC’s most elegant district, which was founded in 1751, and seems to have aged little in terms of architecture in the interim. Here, you’ll find pretty townhouses and little corners where local jewellers sell glittering designs. You can pick out endless temptations on Wisconsin Avenue NW and M Street NW. The Georgetown Park arcade on the latter is highly alluring – with plenty of fashion stores and boutiques.

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Only in Washington DC..

“Can you spot the typo on the Lincoln Memorial? Instead of ‘F’ for ‘future’, the letter ‘E’ was mistakenly carved into Lincoln's second inaugural address on the north wall. While it’s been corrected, if you look closely you can still see the original error.” 

Adriaan Radder, General Manager, Mandarin Oriental, Washington

See some sights

Aside from the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial – two unmissable elements of the cityscape – the National Mall tips its hat to some of the sorrows and successes of America's last three centuries. You can take in the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial – which sit close together as they bow their heads to conflicts past – in just an hour. Nearby, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial has a brighter tone, celebrating the great civil rights leader in the form of a giant sculpture.

Toast your arrival

Mandarin Oriental, Washington DC, has a perfect option for an evening drink. Order exquisite cocktails in the Empress Lounge, which transforms from an afternoon tea venue into a nightspot and is open until midnight. And possibilities abound if you are lingering in Georgetown, where you can drink hearty pints of ale in the unfussy context of Martin’s Tavern or sip something sophisticated at the L2 Lounge.

Make time to unwind

Make time to unwind

Spa & Wellness

Soothe away your cares at The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Washington DC, where treatments such as the 80-minute Oriental Bamboo Massage will leave you relaxed and ready to enjoy the city. There’s also much to be said for an afternoon amble in the direct vicinity of the hotel, along the paths of the National Mall, and perhaps even across the Potomac River on the Arlington Memorial Bridge – and into Lady Bird Johnson Park beyond.

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Dine in style 

If you decide to ‘stay at home’ for dinner at Mandarin Oriental, Washington DC, you can revel in the fine array of first-class fare served at Muze. Expect modern American cuisine with an Asian twist (think delicacies such as a Thai beef salad of steak with green papaya). Alternatively, if you take a taxi ride north, you can dine on 14th Street NW or U Street NW – the hip focal points of Washington DC’s increasingly revered food scene. Lupo Verde, just off the former, is a study in superb southern Italian dishes. Marvin DC, almost at the junction where these two avenues cross, is a stylish neighbourhood bistro with a roof terrace.

Marvin DC

Experience the neighbourhood bistro feel of Marvin DC.

Lupo Verde

Lupo Verde enjoys its status as one of Washington's best Italian restaurants.

Muze

Muze is the famed inhouse restaurant at Mandarin Oriental, Washington DC.

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Muze

Enjoy the delicious halibut at Muze.

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Time travel

Washington DC’s National Air and Space Museum is the retirement home for Chicago, the sturdy plane which flew the first circumnavigation of the globe (in 175 days) in 1924.

Washington’s most iconic monuments

The Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial remains among the city's most visited sites. Photo: Getty Images

The Martin Luther King Memorial

The Martin Luther King Memorial is a tribute to the still-relevant American hero. Photo: Getty Images

The Jefferson Memorial

The Jefferson Memorial was modelled after the Pantheon of Rome. Photo: Getty Images

Washington Monument

The marble obelisk of the Washington Monument is a defining feature of the city's skyline. Photo: Gallery Stock

The Vietnam Memorial

The Vietnam Memorial honours US soldiers who died in the deeply controversial war. Photo: Alamy