black and white gala

Washington D.C. in 48 hours

From rooftop views of the White House to the best Indian food in the city, Garrett M. Graff, former editor of Washingtonian magazine, reveals how to spend 48 hours in the capital.


Day One

08:00 – Like a local

It’s hard to miss the power and grandeur of Washington, the centre of the city remains a political powerhouse and it permeates nearly every corner, but there’s also much more to the city than simply politics.

After landing at Washington Dulles International Airport and you’ve settled in, start your morning like the locals with coffee and breakfast at the Tryst Coffeehouse in funky Adams Morgan, before heading up to the National Zoo (Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, to give it its full name). It’s seen a dramatic renovation in recent years that has turned its 163 acres into a shining gem filled with great exhibits from elephants and pandas to American buffalo. Entry is free and it’s open 364 days a year.


Noon – Power lunch

Recharge with a casual pub-style lunch at Duke’s Grocery on 17th Street NW (have the Proper Burger) or indulge in the city’s best Indian food at the fine dining Rasika in Penn Quarter, where you might very well find yourself dining next to a Cabinet member. Don’t miss the palaak chaat – crispy flash-fried spinach – that’s one of the city’s most-requested dishes.


14:00 – Read all about it

Spend the afternoon at the Newseum, the towering interactive museum of news, where you can revisit the world’s most notable events, and lose yourself for hours watching old footage and breaking news coverage. The Washington D.C. Explorer pass offers a package admission to the Newseum and other top D.C. sights like the International Spy Museum.


17:00 – No reservations

Getting into many of Washington’s hottest restaurants has grown harder in recent years, with some of the most popular adopting no reservations policies that can lead to long lines. At Bad Saint, a 24-seat Filipino restaurant – named as the second best new restaurant in the USA by Bon Appetit magazine in 2016 – lines can begin as early as 17:30.

Not up for waiting? Plan ahead with a reservation at Tail Up Goat, a Michelin-starred restaurant featuring creative Mediterranean and Caribbean food by chef Jon Sybert – expand your drinking horizons at the bar by following the lead of sommelier Bill Jensen.


Day Two

08:00 – Morning rush

Breakfast at the Old Ebbitt Grill, one of the city’s oldest restaurants, usually packed with lobbyists and power players first thing in the morning before the tourist crowd sets in during the day. 


09:00 – Famous figures

Across the Potomac River, Arlington National Cemetery is best known for its stark and formal Changing of the Guard ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, honouring America’s war dead, but the 600-acre cemetery is home also to the graves of many famous figures like John F. Kennedy – marked with an eternal flame ­­– boxer Joe Lewis, and Pierre L’Enfant, the architect who designed Washington. Save your feet and jump on the Hop-On, Hop-Off trolley.


Noon – Fit for a First Lady 

Lunch on the Georgetown waterfront at Fiola Mare, the glimmering Italian seafood restaurant of chef Fabio Trabocchi – a favourite of Michelle Obama.


13:30 – Remember them

Spend the afternoon wandering ‘America’s Front Lawn’ on the National Mall, starting at the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Wall, then up to the sunken World War II memorial, where you can see the emotional visits of buses filled with veterans, and gaze up at the Washington Monument. [NB the monument is closed until spring 2019 but can still be looked at].


14:30 – A history lesson

Nearby, take in Washington’s hottest new attraction, the giant National Museum of African-American History and Culture, honouring the artistic contributions of African-Americans while also wrestling with the nation’s still-unfolding racial legacy of slavery and civil rights. Plan ahead – or wake up early – to score timed-entry tickets, but it’s well worth the effort.


17:00 – Treats and eats

Spend the evening wandering the environs of 14th Street NW, which has been the centre of Washington’s revitalization over the last decade. Window-shop at the boutique Salt and Sundry, Detroit-made watches and leather goods at the city’s flagship Shinola store, or vintage and antiques at Miss Pixie’s, a long-time 14th Street fixture. 

Once you’re hungry, the area has something for every palate: for the city’s swankiest French bistro, try Le Diplomate, where the breadbasket alone is worth the visit. 

Prefer Latin American? Try Tico for its hibiscus margaritas, tacos, and a delicious shredded cabbage salad. Or, on nearby 17th Street NW, get in line for mouth-burning, authentic Thai food at Little Serow [NB Little Serow is shut for summer 2017, reopening 7 September] from one of Washington’s top chefs, Johnny Monis (if it’s a weeknight, be in line by 17:00 or 17:30 for dinner, if it’s a weekend, try even earlier). Once your name’s on the list, have a drink around the corner at Hank’s Oyster Bar while you wait. 


Where to stay 

W Washington D.C. – head up to the cocktail bar for presidential views down on the neighbouring White House.

Washington Hilton is home to many of the city’s black tie galas, including the star-studded spring White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

Hilton Garden Inn is a new hotel in the city’s West End, you’ll be just around the corner from where former President Barack Obama has set up his new office.

Plan your Washington trip now


Words by Garrett M. Graff, former editor of Washingtonian magazine 

Photo by tpsdave on Pixabay