48 HOURS IN Washington DC

Article excerpt

There's only one place to be this week. As Barack Obama prepares to take the Oath of Office, Cathy Packe visits a city bulging with impressive museums and trendy eateries

WHY GO NOW?

In a city dominated by politics, there is eager anticipation about the changes that the Obama era might bring: not just economic or political, but social, too. New districts will become fashionable, restaurants and bars frequented by the old regime will be deserted in favour of new choices. So if you want to get ahead of the curve, this is the time to be in DC.

BEAM DOWN

British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and Virgin Atlantic (0870 380 2007; virgin-atlantic.com) fly from Heathrow to Washington's Dulles airport, 25 miles west of the US capital. The cheapest route to the centre is the Washington Flyer Coach (washfly.com) to West Falls Church Metro station; this is on the orange line of the city's excellent Metro, which stops at several stations on its way through the downtown area. The one-way coach fare costs $10 (7). Alternatively, the Supershuttle shared van service (supershuttle.com) makes drop-offs at requested hotels for $29 (20); a taxi into the city will cost about $55 (38).

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Many of Washington's visitor attractions are concentrated in a small area in the north-west quadrant of the District of Columbia, which is why "NW" is added at the end of many addresses. The quadrant stretches from the Capitol Building (1) on top of Capitol Hill in the east as far as the Potomac river to the west and south. Pennsylvania Avenue cuts through this area, from the Capitol Building to Georgetown; it passes the White House (2) on the way. The main visitor information centre (3) is at number 1300 (001 202 289 8317; dcchamber.org), on the ground floor of the Ronald Reagan building. In winter it opens 9am-4.30pm Monday to Friday; from mid- March until early September it opens 8.30am-5.30pm Monday to Friday, 9am-4pm on Saturday. The easiest way to get around the city is on the Metro, which has five lines. Fares vary according to distance and time of day; the cheapest journeys cost $1.35 (0.95). All-day tickets are available for $7.80 (5.40).

CHECK IN

Business travellers to DC push hotel rates up during the week; visit at the weekend for the best deals. Of course, on dates around 20 January everywhere for miles around is fully booked with inauguration guests. The Hotel Palomar (4) at 2121 P Street (001 202 448 1800; hotelpalomar-dc.com) is a chic and sophisticated boutique establishment. Rooms are available from $160 (110); breakfast is extra.

On a smaller scale, the Chester Arthur House (5) on Logan Circle at 13th and T Street (001 413 582 9888; chesterarthurhouse.com) is a Victorian house with three rooms to let; these start at $143 (99) for a double, including breakfast.

The Windsor Inn (6) at 1842 16th Street (001 202 667 0300; windsor-inn-dc.com) has small but well-appointed rooms with ensuite facilities from $136 (94) including continental breakfast.

TAKE AVIEW

From the observation tower of the Old Post Office (7) - the first modern skyscraper in the capital - there is an excellent view of central Washington. Immediately below is Pennsylvania Avenue, down which many incoming presidents, following the lead of Thomas Jefferson in 1805, have travelled on the way from their inauguration in the Capitol Building (1) to the White House (2) 16 blocks further west. The tower opens 9am-4.45pm Monday to Saturday, 10am-5.45pm on Sunday, admission free.

TAKE A HIKE

Explore Washington's main avenue from ground level, starting at the White House, the spiritual, if not the actual, heart of the city. Tours of the house itself are almost impossible for foreign visitors to arrange: "they don't exactly welcome you with open arms", one official told me. But the White House Visitor Centre (8) at the junction of Pennsylania Avenue and 15th Street (001 202 208 1631) is an interesting second best, with a series of exhibits on presidential themes. …