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Behind the very public face of Washington DC lies a vibrant city with its own compelling story, not to mention the biggest range of free attractions in the United States of America.

Get your bearings by wandering from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol Building along the 2-mile centrepiece National Mall, home to the majority of the city’s 17 Smithsonian museums. The cast-iron dome of the Capitol marks the geographic heart of the city, from where all neighbourhoods radiate outwards. The historic Capitol Building recently took pride of place, draped in flags, during President Barack Obama's inauguration public ceremony and parade, the day after he was sworn in for his second term in office as the USA's 44th President. With a population of just 600,000, Washington DC is smaller than almost any major capital city you can think of, making it easily navigable on foot, by bike or via its easy Metro system.

Beyond all the glittering white marble and neoclassical architecture, shopping and entertainment options abound. Georgetown and Dupont Circle both offer stylish stores and speciality boutiques of the mainstream and indie variety, with a buzzing dining and nightlife scene, or sample local produce and people-watch at the Eastern Market in Capitol Hill. Further north, Adams Morgan brims with coffee shops, bookstores and galleries and caters to a young, hip crowd.

Music and theatre are huge, with venues like The Kennedy Centre and Warner Theatre attracting large audiences. Free summer concerts and a year-round calendar of festivals add to the rich culture of the city.

Things to do/Attractions

With the White House, the US Capitol and 11 free Smithsonian collections on the National Mall alone, it would be impossible to run out of things to see and do in Washington DC. But there’s much more to DC than museums and political showpieces, so hit the streets and explore the high-end shops and restaurants of historic Georgetown, the bars and nightlife of the revitalised Penn Quarter and the live music venues and diners of trendy Adams Morgan. Slightly further afield, take a day trip across the Potomac to visit old town Alexandria or the stately antebellum Woodlawn Plantation, part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.

Eating out

Washington DC is home to an eclectic dining scene, with restaurants varying considerably depending on the neighbourhood. If you want to hang out with lobbyists and lawmakers, check out swanky Capitol Hill venues. There are also a string of good value ethnic options at the intersection of 18th Street and Columbia Road, including Peruvian and Mexican restaurants. Georgetown and Dupont Circle rival each other for variety, with a reliable selection of contemporary American and Italian fare. And don’t forget to try a chili dog – it’s a DC institution!

Evening entertainment

Washington’s varied nightlife scene includes fancy nightclubs, decent pubs and dive bars, live music venues and a smattering of chilled-out lounges and rooftop cocktail joints.

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