Georgetown was there long before Washington, DC was, and it still has some pretty stern objections to being regarded as just another district of the American capital. Formerly a port town, it has now become Washington’s most obviously moneyed-up area – where people come to dine and mooch around shops and galleries.
Part of the appeal comes from the architecture. Many 18th- and 19th-century buildings have been left in place, giving an olde worlde feel. But there’s also an energy about the place that’s far less stuffy than it ought to be – for which a lot of credit can go to the student population attending the prestigious Georgetown University. And if ever a place was made for contented, mildly inquisitive ambling, Georgetown is it.
A comfortable bed
Cash-strapped travellers beware: Budget accommodation is non-existent in Georgetown – and very hard to find in Washington, DC as a whole.
The Four Seasons (www.fourseasons.com/washington, 00 1 202 342 0444) is arguably the top address in DC – as it should be with prices starting at US$796 (Dh2,922) a night. But the beds are oh-so-comfortable and the service is legendarily attentive. The three-level fitness centre has a handy two-lane lap pool and former president Barack Obama reportedly liked to go to the Bourbon Steak restaurant for anniversary meals.
The Graham goes for the slick and shiny upmarket small hotel vibe, although is a bit blander than it likes to think it is. The prime location is hard to fault, though. Rooms cost from $234 (Dh859).
For families and longer stays, it’s hard to look past Avenue Suites (www.avenuesuites.com, 00 1 202 333 8060). Spacious, well-equipped apartments come with three-seater sofas that fold down into double beds and microwave-combis. Most have full kitchens, though. Rates start at $262 (Dh962).
Find your feet
Take a stroll through the parks running alongside Rock Creek, then divert past the grandiose tombs and obelisks of the Oak Park cemetery. Stop at Dumbarton Oaks (www.doaks.org, 00 1 202 339 6401) to admire the gardens, then go inside the mansion. The museum occupying it is a splendid display of global pilfering, with Roman mosaics and amphorae, stone heads taken from Mayan ruins and Byzantine altarpieces on display. The music room, with late-Gothic Flemish tapestries, a late Renaissance Italian refectory table and Spanish baroque walnut settee, is especially staggering.
From there, dog-leg back down Wisconsin Avenue NW for some good, old-fashioned browsing, before ending up at the waterfront to watch the kayakers on the Potomac River.
Meet the locals
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal – almost universally known as the C&O – runs through the bottom edge of Georgetown, on its way out west. The scenic towpath alongside it is popular for walkers and joggers.
Book a table
On the waterfront, Fiola Mare (www.fiolamaredc.com, 00 1 202 628 0065) has quickly developed a reputation for people-watching and top drawer seafood. The raw bar option – a gourmet selection of market seafood serving one to three people for $75 (Dh276) – is the most gluttonous option.
For the heritage factor, try Martin’s (www.martinstavern.com, 00 1 202 333 7370). This stalwart has been there since 1933 and serves American classics from about $16 (Dh59). Go for booth three if it’s available – that’s where the future 35th president John F Kennedy proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953.
For a snack between the shops, the gelato from Dolcezza (www.dolcezzagelato.com, 00 1 202 333 4646) is heavenly. Weird flavours rotate regularly, but samples include mascarpone and raspberries or yellow peaches and cream. It’s $5.50 (Dh21) for two scoops.
Wisconsin Avenue NW and M St NW are full of fashion boutiques, galleries and antiques stores, and most of the enjoyment will come from browsing rather than cherry-picking. But Goorin Bros at 1214 Wisconsin Ave NW is a little bit special due to its marvellous array of bold hats.
The Phoenix at 1514 Wisconsin Avenue NW is good fun too – among other things, the warren-like shop does a bit of fashion, a bit of jewellery, a few quirky watches and colourful animal figurines made by Mexican artists.
What to avoid
If the aim is to explore Washington DC, then Georgetown isn’t the most convenient base. It’s not connected to the Metro system (residents fought against having a station) although the Circulator buses make for a passable substitute.
The Potomac Riverboat Company (www.potomacriverboatco.com, 00 1 703 548 9000) runs two-hour boat trips to Alexandria and back from the Georgetown waterfront for $28 (Dh103). These offer an interesting perspective on Washington – including the Watergate Building, Lincoln Memorial and Jefferson Memorial from behind. But it’s the bits of northern Virginia that end up being most fascinating. The cruise heads past the gigantic Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon and the US Naval Research Laboratory – where GPS technology was developed and all manner of top secret research is kept under wraps.
Etihad (www.etihadairways.com) flies direct from Abu Dhabi to Washington Dulles Airport. Returns cost from Dh4,590 including taxes.