As much as I love my country, it is legitimately hard to land in a place as architecturally stunning and culturally dynamic as Washington, D.C. and not immediately compare it to our Canadian capital city.
Ottawa does pale in comparison somewhat.
From easy-breezy local transport to a plethora of unique neighbourhoods to explore, plenty of fun spots for eats and drinks— not to mention the substantial number of American museums (all with free entry no less), it's easy to make the most of just 72 hours in the iconic American capital.
Still, I find many Canadians have never made the trip to D.C., which is a real shame considering its (relatively) closer proximity to New York City and regular daily flight options from major Canadian airports.
How to get there
Unless you're flying from Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal, a return flight to D.C. via airlines like Air Canada, United or Delta is going to have a minimum of one layover somewhere.
On my most recent visit to the American capital, my partner and I took an easy three-hour train from the heart of NYC to downtown D.C. Not only was the cost of an Amtrak train ticket very reasonable ($29 U.S.), but it also offered up some interesting landscapes of the American countryside we would have otherwise not seen.
A brief pause at the Philadelphia train station was enough for us to take in some of the city's skyline...and being quite taken by it all, albeit briefly, it was enough of a glimpse for us to plan a trip there in 2022.
Where to stay
Few hotel properties in D.C. are as iconic and elegant as the Fairmont Washington, D.C. Georgetown. After having a substantial 28-million-dollar renovation in 2016, the hotel rooms themselves are comfy with a contemporary design that feels American-chic. The funkified art pieces on the way blending abstract work and classic images or D.C. and its landmarks are especially striking.
When it comes to sipping on cocktails and enjoying some bites, the hotel's central lobby bar is especially striking with its shimmery accent wall, of sorts, gold and silver pendants hanging from the ceiling and huge windows that allow natural light to flood the room.
The crab cakes are a signature at many D.C. eateries, but they are particularly delicious here.
New to the Fairmont Washington, D.C. is its Courtyard Bar that is meant to be utilized year-round. Its vibe appears especially captivating in the evening once the sun sets. Behind the bar you'll find many types of sparkling wines and brands of gins, including the hotel's own namesake gin that was produced in collaboration with One Eight Distilling.
The hotel also has a mix of fun holiday-themed activities throughout December including their famed Santa Suite and a "romantic escape" weekend package that sounds lovely for a cozy Christmas or NYE celebration for two.
Fun neighbourhoods for short-term vacation rentals
D.C. is fairly concise in size and a very easy city to get around in thanks to a robust transit system and overall easy walkability.
Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom and Capitol Hill are all relatively central and unique in their own ways. You'll always find an intersting local shop, restaurant, bar, etc...to explore in any of these neighbourhoods.
Where to eat
Ask a D.C. resident and they'll tell you that the most famous food institution in the city is Ben's Chili Bowl. The fast-casual concept has been serving chili bowls and half smokes (a style of hot dog wiener specific to D.C.) since 1958.
The city's beloved comfort food purveyor is a must-try, especially if it's your first time in the city, but here's some other interesting places to check out as well.
Brunch or pastries
Ellē serves up a wide array of baked goods, artisanal sandwiches—made on their own bread, of course—and coffee to help you start a day in D.C. off right.
Ordering online from them can be a little confusing, but I'd just chalk that up to pandemic-related difficulties.
Being a hop, skip and jump from the White House and many political offices, Old Ebbitt Grill is nearly 270 years old and the oldest bar in the city. It's old school in the best way possible with chilled seafood platters, classic Bloody Mary cocktails and bartenders that will happily chat you up. Truly an enjoyable experience.
Beau Thai has two locations in D.C. and serves up plenty of delicious Thai fare that satiates over the lunch hour (and dinner too). The hot and spicy noodle bowl eats more like a soup and can help you sweat out any hangover you may have acquired the night before.
Pre-dinner bites at the aforementioned lobby bar at Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown is a great option for a classic cocktail and a tasty plate of carb cakes.
Perfect for early evening drinks and appetizers or a full dinner, Le Diplomate (pictured above) is a tradtional French brasserie experience with true flare.You would be remiss to not spend at least part of an evening at the famous eatery.
Dinner and Drinks
Crazy Aunt Helen's is one of the the city's few queer-run restaurants and boasts a charmingly quirky atmosphere, nicely prepared cocktails and approachable plates of food.
For an elevated dinner experience inside what is a truly striking dining room, head to Del Mar in The Wharf district. The Spanish restaurant has got everything you could hope for in a great evening from lovely cocktails to well-composed creations on especially beautiful plateware.
Sporty types will enjoy the lower-level golf simulation bar Five Iron Golf. Bonus points for the Instagram-worthy neon signs you pass by in the entrance.
There are plenty of casual watering holes to have a great time until the early hours of the morning, but for the LGBTQ2+ crowd, the inviting queer bar Green Lantern is fun spot. It has karaoke on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday (Latin karaoke) and Wednesday nights and, of course, cheap drinks to help build up one's courage.
What to see
The National Mall (i.e. D.C.'s central park area chock full of national museums and monuments) has more museums and learning centres within it and it would take more than a week to take them all in properly.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the newest addition to the National Mall (2016) and easily stands out from the pack with its tiered, bronze-coated lattice exterior. Inside you will will 36,000+ artifacts that help authentically showcase African American history.
It is the only national museum of its kind in the United States.
National Museum of American History is also a must for any self-respecting pop culture and food lover.
Gaze at Julia Child's kitchen and let your mind wander with all that she would have cooked up in it (pictured at top of section). There is plenty of magic to be found in the large upper level room containing only a pair of ruby red slippers. Worn by the late Judy Garland while filming the famous motion picture The Wizard of Oz.
The interior of the White House is likely not on every Canadians "to-see" list, nor mine, but it is easy enough to walk the perimeter. Of more note, is the Black Lives Matter block that is currently in motion just across the road that will serve as an attention-commanding monument for the movement.
The Wharf is a very slick development—which is still partially in process—along the riverfront that can also be explored for a couple hours in the afternoon or evening.
Having visited 10 years ago (when nothing was in construction), four years ago and most recently this fall, the significant developments have resulted in lively strip where people can stroll while sipping on coffees, sit down for a patio drink, catch a concert at The Anthem or have a lovely Spanish dinner at Del Mar.
Seriously, those stunning tiles though!
TL;DR - Why you should visit Washington, DC
This city has alway felt so alive every time I have visited. With Capitol Hill buzzing with political folks from around the globe to the city's residents of all backgrounds helping to make it culturally dynamic, Washington, D.C. is an American city that every Canadian should experience.
Speaking from personal experience, carving out a few extra days for an easy side trip if you're planning to go to NYC is a perfect way to start.