Although Washington, D.C. has many breathtaking tourist attractions, sometimes you can get to know a city more intimately by exploring locations that are off the beaten path. This guide explores parts of Northwest D.C. that are less well-known to tourists, but are no less interesting. They offer visitors a glimpse of what everyday life is like for Washingtonians.
In particular, we’ll look at
• Embassy Row
• Dupont Circle
On the northwest corner of Northwest D.C. is Embassy Row. This is an informal designation, but Embassy Row typically refers to the stretch of Massachusetts Avenue NW between the Naval Observatory at 34th Street NW and Scott Circle at 16th Street NW. Not all of D.C.’s embassies are in this area, but the overwhelming majority are.
Because of the area’s beautiful architecture and the shady trees that line the avenue, you can look at Embassy Row as just a nice place to take a stroll. However, many of the embassies open their doors for tours and celebrations throughout the year.
The biggest of these events is held in May. It is called the Around the World Embassy Tour. About 50 embassies welcome visitors for food tastings, music and dance performances, art exhibitions, demonstrations, and more. A smaller, open house festival featuring the embassies of the European Union states, called the EU Open House, is also held in May.
Other events are specific to a particular embassy. In October, the Italian Embassy hosts a Venetian ball that includes not only food and drinks, but also opera performances. The Mexican Cultural Institute holds a week-long Day of the Dead art exhibition and black-tie Day of the Dead Masquerade Gala each November.
Also in November, the French Embassy celebrates the annual release of that year’s “Beaujolais Nouveau,” with wine tastings, food catered by local French restaurants, dancing, and a silent auction. In addition to their special events, many embassies also offer regular public tours.
To find out more about events, check out the calendar at the D.C. Embassy Events website. Local newspapers like The Washington Post and Washington City Paper publish events calendars at least once a week. If you are interested in a particular embassy, you can check its website and its social media platforms for upcoming events and contact information.
The name Dupont Circle refers to both the neighborhood and the somewhat intimidating traffic circle where Massachusetts Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, New Hampshire Avenue, P Street, and 19th Street NW all intersect. The neighborhood surrounding Dupont Circle has long been known for its restaurants, nightlife, boutiques, and bookstores. There is also a Sunday morning farmer’s market on 20th Street, between Q Street and Massachusetts Avenue.
The Dupont Circle neighborhood also features excellent museums. The Phillips Collection is found on 21st Street between Q Street and R Street. Founded in 1921, it is considered the oldest museum of modern art in the United States. It is open seven days a week, with extended evening hours on Thursdays.
On O Street between 20th Street and 21st Street, you will find what is probably Washington, D.C.’s most eclectic museum: the Mansion on O. Made up of five connected townhomes, its 100 rooms display art, crafts, furniture, architecture, and interior design work spanning from the Victorian period to the modern era.
A few blocks to the southeast of Dupont Circle, at M Street and 17th Street NW, is the National Geographic Museum. Tucked into the first floor of the National Geographic Society headquarters, it features a permanent exhibition on the history of the society and of National Geographic Magazine, plus a continually changing roster of exhibitions on science, history, and anthropology.
Directly south of Dupont Circle is the neighborhood of Foggy Bottom. The single biggest institution in this neighborhood is The George Washington University, which includes multiple museums.
The Georgetown neighborhood is famous not only for its age and its university—a Jesuit institution founded in 1789. It is also famous for its residents, both past and present, which have included Pierre L’Enfant, Francis Scott Key, Elizabeth Taylor, and John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy. Devout Roman Catholics, the Kennedys and their children worshiped at Holy Trinity Church, at 36th Street and N Street, near the Georgetown University campus.
Another famous resident was the inventor Alexander Graham Bell, who moved to Washington, D.C. in 1879. In 1893, he broke ground for a new, purpose-built laboratory at 1540 35th Street. The person who held that shovel was Helen Keller. Bell and Keller were friends and collaborators who shared a deep interest in improving education for the hard of hearing.
Bell named it the “Volta Bureau,” after a prize he had received from the French government that funded its construction. Today, that building is the headquarters of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
If you walk about three blocks east from the Volta Bureau to Wisconsin Avenue, you will find yourself in the middle of Georgetown’s shopping district. The intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street is the busiest part of this district; on M Street, you will find even more shops and restaurants. M Street east of Wisconsin Avenue is particularly packed with places to eat.
One notable location is Georgetown Cupcake, found at the corner of M Street and 33rd Street. This bakery became famous as the subject of a reality TV show in 2010; and, it arguably kicked off a gourmet cupcake trend across the nation.
Movies in Georgetown
A number of well-known movies have been filmed in Washington, D.C., particularly in Georgetown. Notable examples include the 1987 thriller No Way Out, the superhero film Wonder Woman 1984, and the 1973 horror classic The Exorcist.
Use these online resources to help plan your trip.
D.C. Embassy Events
National Geographic Museum
Georgetown Neighborhood Guide