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Pocket Guide: Washington

Washington DC, or just DC to the locals, evokes a wealth of iconic, powerful images. As the seat of government in the United States and home to the White House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court of the United States, the city is rarely absent from newspapers and television screens.

As with New York one might experience a sense of knowing Washington before setting foot in the city, but the American capital offers much more than the headquarters of federal power. Washington is a city of contrasts where poor ghettos exist only blocks away from the Senate. The city has a long and sometimes turbulent history, which reaches far beyond the familiar images of today.

Home of American history

While Washington's governmental buildings should certainly be on any holiday itinerary they should not be the only items you visit. The National Mall, a two-mile stretch between the capital and the Lincoln Monument features more than a dozen museums and galleries including the National Gallery of Art and the National Museum of the American Indian.

The nearby National Museum of American History tells the story of a still relatively young nation, and its location could not be more appropriate; it was here that the words 'I have a Dream' were uttered by Martin Luther King, Jr. It was also here that thousands protested against the Vietnam and later the Iraq War, and Al Gore launched the Live Earth concerts to raise awareness of climate change.

From C to Z street

As Washington DC is laid out in a grid pattern of numbered and lettered streets split up into four quadrants (NE, SE, NW, and SW), it's easy to find your way around. Most sights are within walking distance from the Obelisk, which stands tall in the centre of the city. However, if you want to see more, it's a good idea to get a metro ticket or a hop-on, hop-off sightseeing pass. If you really want to dedicate yourself to the sights, especially those that are a little off the beaten track, opt for a professionally guided two-day tour, or get a city pass, which includes sights such as the International Spy Museum.

A multi-cultured city

While many would argue that New York is the USA's capital of culture, Washington DC more than holds its own against the Big Apple. There are several cultural institutions of nationwide importance, including the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the National Symphony Orchestra, and the Washington National Opera.

Given the diverse make-up of the United States it's not surprising to learn that the cultural scene in the capital is the product of many nations. Migrants have come to live here since DC was founded in 1877, bringing suitcases filled with music, arts, and traditions. As a result, there is a diverse mixture of entertainment and restaurant options, from the music clubs and bars in the Adams Morgan and Shaw districts, Dupont Circle and the Penn Quarter, to the emerging nightlife precinct of the H Street Corridor.