Around the World in One Trip to DC

Mar 1, 2018

Having shed its rep as a buttoned-up company town, our nation's capital is going ever more global. With a world's worth of food, culture, art and nature happenings on the docket, Washington, DC, is poised to give a whole new meaning to your spring break.

Read on for six of the best ways to say cheers, salud, maisha marefu, sláinte, ganbei or l'chayim to the season.

Check out the National Cherry Blossom Festival

One of the best tokens of friendship ever, the 3,020 cherry trees gifted by the mayor of Tokyo to the people of the U.S. in 1912 have since spawned -- among other things -- a celebration that's all but synonymous with springtime in DC: the nearly month-long National Cherry Blossom Festival (March 20-April 15). The average peak bloom date is April 4, but check the National Park Service for the latest peak bloom prediction.

Even if you don't show up during peak bloom, you'll find that the trees look lovely throughout their namesake festival. Highlights include the Blossom Kite Festival on March 31, the music- and art-themed Petalpalooza on April 7 (complete with blossom-inspired fireworks), and the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade on April 14. Just don't forget your camera.

Be a diplomat for a day (or a month)

May is International Cultural Awareness Month in DC, when you'll find endless ways to circumnavigate the globe without leaving the Beltway. Passport DC, for example, packs 31 days' worth of programming by dozens of embassies and 30+ local cultural institutions. A perennial favorite is the May 5th Around the World Embassy Tour, your invitation to open houses at more than 40 embassies, where you'll be greeted by everyone from dance troops to pet-able llamas. (If you're a Europhile, consider a more niche version of the event: the annual EU Embassies' Open House on the 12th.)

Then there's one of the most scrumptious celebrations of the month: the Embassy Chef Challenge on May 17, when almost 50 ambassador-selected chefs engage in competitive appetizer service, each offering up bite-sized tastes of his or her national cuisine. You can help determine who nabs the People's Choice award, while a panel of notables deliberates over the Judge's Choice award.

Taste the world

While international cuisine may be spotlighted in May, DC's food scene serves up global offerings all season (and year) long, whether it's the stew-soaked injerra at Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant, the cheese-filled Salvadoran pupusas at El Tamarindo, or a million continent-spanning treats in between.

Some of the newest of these dishes await at The Wharf, an epic revitalization of DC's Southwest Waterfront. When the development is complete, it will include more than 30 bars and restaurants, but plenty are already open and winning raves. Check out Del Mar de Fabio Trabocchi (Spanish), Florentijn (Belgian) and Kirwan's on the Wharf (Irish -- but not at all the Irish pub fare you're thinking of, unless you've gone to fabulous Irish pubs in Ireland).

Global cuisine is also leaving its mark on the pages of DC's Michelin Guide -- where you'll find, among others, the famed flavors of Puglia at Masseria, and the creations of German-born wunder-chef Ralf Schlegel at Plume. Of course, you can also find fabulous international offerings well beyond those hallowed pages: Head to ToroToro for a pan-Latin feast, Rasika West End for a modern take on Indian, Momofuku CCDC for bold Asian specialties -- and Filomena Ristorante for the house pasta that an Italian nonna hand-makes in a Georgetown storefront window.

Museum–hop and globe-trot

DC is famously museum-blessed, but one of its most beloved collections -- the Smithsonian's Asian art holdings -- had been out of commission for two years' worth of renovations at the Freer and the Arthur M. Sackler Galleries. Recently reopened, the museums take you on a visual tour of Asia with such exhibits as "Secrets of the Lacquer Buddha" (through June 10 at the Freer Gallery) and "The Prince and the Shah: Royal Portraits from Qajar Iran" (through Aug. 5 at Sackler).

You can also explore the Middle East -- or an ancient version thereof -- at the new Museum of the Bible, where exhibits include a recreation of Old Nazareth, thousands of religious artifacts and a garden's worth of Biblically-referenced plants.

Or travel to a different planet altogether: March 30 marks the beginning of the Renwick Gallery's "No Spectators: the Art of Burning Man," the annual gathering the Nevada desert that's nothing if not eye-popping.

Have a noche out on the town

Whether your idea of a perfect night out is a trip to the theater or seat at the bar, DC's global spirit doesn't disappoint come spring. For example, starting May 8th, the Kennedy Center will present a whole series of Cuban cultural events with a series entitled "Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World." Before or after any given performance, check out the mojitos at Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar in Penn Quarter.

Other nightlife hot spots worth visiting for their international spirit -- and spirits: Anxo Cidery & Pintxos Bar is a Basque bastion that produces its own cider; Espita Mezcaleria carries more than 90 varieties of small-batch mescal and ENO Wine Bar is like a global wine tour, where -- depending on the day -- you can sip your way through a delicious array of countries (right now, New Zealand, Uruguay, Lebanon and much of Western Europe, for starters). Even more nightlife options can be found here. Salut!

Bonus: An epic way to see DC while you're seeing the world

Joining the ranks of great two-wheel towns around the globe -- think Amsterdam and Copenhagen -- Washington, DC is the birthplace of one of our nation's first bike-shares, and is now rolling in rentable cycles (almost 450 stations' worth at last count). The ultimate local biking experience? The DC Bike Ride on May 19, when resident and visiting cyclists come together for a closed-road, car-free 20-mile excursion that the entire family will love -- monumental views and all.

Ready to go? Find deals for hotels, activities, restaurants and spas, then start planning your spring vacation to the nation's capital with this list of 100 free (or almost free) things to do while you're in town.


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