Overview

US Capitol, Washington DC
US Capitol, Washington DC © Matt H. Wade

Its location handpicked by George Washington for its position between the South and the North, Washington D.C. is the patriotic and political heart of America. With its low-profile skyline, the capital is a city of green parks and open spaces, grand buildings, historic landmarks and marbled museums. Just beyond the celebrated monuments are quirky neighbourhoods supporting a thriving cultural scene with scores of top-notch restaurants, shops and evening entertainment.

Shortly after the capital district was created in 1791, French architect Pierre L'Enfant was commissioned to plan the town out of a wilderness. As he pegged out streets 150ft (45m) wide and one grand avenue 400ft (122m) wide and a mile (1.6km) long, the local landowners thought he'd gone mad as was wasting valuable land that could be used for farming. But his forward thinking paid off as L'Enfant's layout of the city can still be clearly seen and navigated logically.

After politics, tourism is the capital's main industry. It plays host to millions of people annually who come to explore famous sights such as the US Capitol, the stately White House, the Lincoln Memorial and the soaring Washington Monument. The most well-known sights are located along the National Mall, a green park stretching from the US Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial on the Potomac River, which includes several memorials to great US Presidents of the past, as well as the outstanding museums of the Smithsonian Institute. Almost all major attractions are free.

Besides political sights, Washington is also a city of unique neighbourhoods, each with its own character and culture. The most celebrated of these is historic Georgetown, with elegant colonial houses, boutiques, classy restaurants and a lively nightlife. One of the most colourful neighbourhoods is the Bohemian district of Adams-Morgan with an assortment of eclectic stores, while the arty suburb of Dupont Circle is an affluent business and residential area with excellent restaurants, art galleries and shops that make up the centre of D.C.'s gay community.