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Hidden Washington DC: An insider’s guide

By: Ben Winstanley

November 11, 2015

Home to famous monuments and must-visit Smithsonian museums, Washington DC is on many traveller’s checklists. But to find the essence of America’s thriving capital, you’ll have to stray from the National Mall attractions. Discover the culture, quirk and entertainment of this sprawling metropolis with our guide to hidden Washington DC.

Hidden Washington DC

Discover the Capitol Columns in the National Arboretum © amedved / iStock

United States National Arboretum

 

Washington is one of the greenest cities in America, with a wonderful array of parks and outside spaces freely accessible to all. Located in the northeast corner of the capital, The United States National Arboretum is a beautifully maintained 446-acre plot that offers landscaped gardens and seasonal horticultural exhibits. Make sure to see the Capitol columns and the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum while you’re there.

 

Mansion on 0 Street

 

Perhaps the most unusual attraction in DC, this higgledy-piggledy Dupont Circle hotel offers tours of its eccentric rooms to the public. Filled with an array of antique memorabilia (most of which is available for purchase), you may encounter John Lennon, a log cabin, Gibson guitars and a whole host of secret passages on your journey through Mansion on O Street.

Hidden Washington DC | Mansion on 0 Street

Explore the eclectic rooms at Mansion on O Street © Mansion on O Street

DC Punk walking tour

 

If you long to relive your misspent youth, this two and a half hour tour of DC’s rock-and-roll side is a must. An enlightening experience as well a nostalgic one, guide Mark Andersen rolls a boom box blasting Fugazi, Bikini Kill and Bad Brains anthems, while he tells the story of punk’s fascinating history in the city. (Leather jackets optional.)

 

Little Serow, Restaurant

 

The Northern Thai dishes of cooler-than-cool Little Serow are an exciting brand of fiery, colourful and aromatic food. Hand over $45pp in this basement hangout and your work is done for the evening: friendly servers will bring you such joys as soft pork ribs, whiskey and dill, along with Ma Hor (a tropical combination of pineapple, plum, grapefruit, pork and dried shrimp).

Hidden Washington DC

Sample creative Thai dishes at Little Serow © Dakota Fine

Smithsonian at 8

 

After-hours events held by the Smithsonian are an unusual way of experiencing some of the capital’s landmark museums at night. These cultured parties range in theme, from local history to international art, but always have a convivial atmosphere. Smithsonian at 8 offers a great opportunity to mingle with some of the most interesting characters in the capital.

 

Eighteenth Street Lounge

 

The beautifully restored former mansion of Teddy Roosevelt is an unlikely location for this slick music venue. Furnished with dimly lit chandeliers, ornamental fireplaces and luxurious sofas, the 26th president’s residence offers an eclectic range of music across five different rooms: you might find live jazz entertaining the top floor or ambient house music down below from Eighteenth Street Lounge‘s renowned record label. Either way, dress the part for a decadent evening at ESL.

Hidden Washington DC

Visit the Smithsonian at night and see a different side to this renowned cultural attraction © bpperry / iStock

Virgin Atlantic operates daily direct flights from London Heathrow to Washington DC. Book your flight today and explore some of these insider spots in DC.

 

Have you visited any of these hidden Washington DC sites? Where else would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

 

Written by Ben Winstanley

Ben Winstanley

Ben Winstanley is a journalist with an unquenchable thirst for all things travel and gustatory. Invariably found at the table of London’s upcoming restaurants, his work has appeared in the likes of The Telegraph and Foodism. Beginning with long weekends travelling through Southern France and Spain, his curiosity to sample the world’s most vibrant cultures means it’s never too long before he’s ready for a new adventure. Though he’d never call it work, if there’s a better job out there, he doesn’t know about it. Follow him @ben_winstanley

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