48 hours in ... Vote with your feet and plan a weekend visit to the US capital, where politics meets history and culture.
Why go now?
America's capital is the ultimate political city, and the centre of attention as voters prepare to choose their president on 6 November, the occupant of its key edifice, the White House (1). Whether Obama or Romney wins, Washington is a fascinating, historic metropolis that merits exploration.
Most flights from the UK land at Washington Dulles (001 703 572 2700; metwashairports.com), 26 miles south of the centre. British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), United Airlines (0845 607 6760; unitedairlines.co.uk) and Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 7310; virgin- atlantic.com) all fly here daily from Heathrow. United also covers the route from Manchester.
Metrobus 5A departs once an hour at weekends (every 40 minutes on weekdays), taking 50 minutes to the landmark square of L'Enfant Plaza (2) for a fare of $6 (4). Super Shuttle (001 800 258 3826; supershuttle. com) runs shared van transfers to central hotels: $29 (18) for a one-person booking, $39 (24) for two. Washington Flyer Taxis (001 703 572 8294; washfly.com) is the official airport cab service. The drive takes about 40 minutes, costing $56-$64 (35-40).
BA also serves Baltimore-Washington International, 35 miles north- east, with Super Shuttle connections.
Get your bearings
Washington was founded as a political capital in 1791. Its location was chosen by the man whose name it takes, George Washington, at a point between the established cities of the north- east and the Southern states. It occupies its own zone (the District of Columbia), independent of the 50 states, hemmed by Virginia to the south and Maryland to the north - at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers.
The centre spreads out around the National Mall (nps.gov/mall), a two-mile grassy strip that ebbs east to west as it plays host to the country's most significant monuments and museums. Beyond, the city is organised into a simple grid. Streets that run south to north are numbered (eg 14th Street), while major east-to-west avenues bear letters (such as F Street).
Local transport (001 202 637 7000; wmata.com) consists of the five lines of the Metrorail subway system, and Metrobuses. Metrorail fares are complex and vary according to time - but a single journey in the centre during off-peak hours (9.30am-3pm; 7pm-midnight) costs $1.70 (1). A one-day Metrorail pass is $14 (9). Bus fares are $1.80 (1.10).
For more info see: Washington.org; Capitalregionusa.co.uk; DiscoverAmerica.com.
A short hop from the legislative grandeur of the US Capitol (3), the Hotel George (4), at 15 E Street NW (001 202 347 4200; hotelgeorge.com), is a boutique option with Pop Art prints of George Washington in the lobby. Doubles start at $155 (97), room only.
Set up in the former General Post Office at 700 F Street NW, Hotel Monaco (5) (001 202 628 7177; monaco-dc.com) is all high ceilings and bold colours. Doubles start at $194 (121), excluding breakfast.
The Hay-Adams (6) hotel does wood-panelled pomp behind the White House at 800 16th Street NW (001 202 638 6600; hayadams.com). Doubles here start at $400 (250), excluding breakfast.
Take a hike
The National Mall demands a morning of your time. Start at the Washington Monument (7) (nps.gov/wamo), the 555ft obelisk that honours the first US president. It was damaged in the earthquake that hit the city last year and its public gallery is currently shut. But even from the ground, it's an impressive sight.
Head west to the National World War II Memorial (8) (nps.gov/ nwwm), where each of the 4,048 gold stars represents 100 American war dead.
Continue west on Independence Avenue SW as far as the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial (9) (nps. …