Anthony Pearce chats to Elliott Ferguson about how Washington DC is constantly evolving as a tourist destination.
Washington DC is celebrated for its museums, and with good reason. Not only does the US capital house some of the world’s greatest collections, the majority of them are free to visit. But with the average stay in the city around three nights, the choice can be overwhelming. “One museum will take you three hours or more to get through. You might think you can do three in a day, but you’re not talking about a series of art galleries or sculpture galleries, you’re talking true global and American history, tied to the Native American experience,” says Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, which promotes the city. The Smithsonian alone comprises 19 institutes, each with a theme – covering African American history and culture, natural history, Asian art, craft and decorative art, the earliest of which (the Smithsonian Institution Building) was built in 1855. “That doesn’t include the zoo that’s the free, and some of the unique museums, such as the International Spy Museum – a combination between the KGB, Scotland Yard, CIA, and FBI, with Cold War memorabilia – it’s moving to its new location, which is double its size; and there’s the new museum of the Bible, which just opened two years ago,” adds Elliott when we meet in London.
But to believe that Washington DC is museums and Capitol Hill alone would do the city a huge disservice. As Elliott points out DC is becoming one of the culinary hotspots in the US: it’s only the fourth city in North America to be given a dedicated Michelin guide. “The fact that the food scene has been validated by Michelin is a huge thing for us,” he says. But it’s not just haute cuisine – DC has a buzzing food scene, particularly in once overlooked areas such as Adams Morgan, Bloomingdale, Dupont Circle and Georgetown.
“You tend to find a lot of chefs globally and in the US look towards DC to start their first restaurant,” says Elliott, who puts this down to affordability and the fact that business and leisure tourism create huge demand for new restaurants. The city also offer great culinary diversity, taking influences from other states and cultures, resulting in a landscape that includes Korean fried chicken at Bul Korean, greasy burgers at the Tune Inn, sausages at DCity Smokehouse and Chesapeake oysters and blue crabs.
Elliott advises visiting the city based on its busy cultural calendar. There’s the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, the H Street Festival and any number of sporting events, such as Citi Open, which showcases both established and emerging tennis stars from all over the world. Plus, there’s the chance the Washington Capitals, Redskins, Wizards, Nationals or DC United, depending on your sport of choice.
It’s a constantly evolving landscape. “There’s so much development happening in DC – the Wharf [where shops, restaurants and hotels are being built on the waterfront] that didn’t exist until a year and a half ago. Now you’ve got an area of the city that visitors are going to that wasn’t on their radar before,” says Elliott.
The city also has a spate of new hotel openings, such as The Line in the “very hip neighbourhood” of Adams Morgan, Kimpton, Moxy and the Conrad.
DC is well connected from the UK – United Airlines connects London Heathrow with Dulles International Airport – while the city’s transports links means it’s easy to pair with the likes of New York and Boston. Baltimore, Maryland and Richmond, Virginia are just train journeys away, too.