With Washington the focus of the American presidential elections, Richard Sutcliffe finds out what else the city has in store.
the slogan on the side of the keycard I have just been handed at the Watergate Hotel reads: ‘No need to break in’. Not so much a nod to the burglary scandal at this luxurious Washington DC complex that brought down a President in the 1970s as a full-blown wave. And why not? Few hotels possess a history or aura like this one.
Situated on the banks of the Potomac River and so close to the Kennedy Center that a listening device is hardly needed to catch a few bars of the latest musical production, the Watergate is not shy about its past.
Along with the light-hearted message on the key cards, ‘I stole this from the Watergate Hotel’ can be found on each complementary – at least, I presumed it was – pencil in the rooms.
Throw in the £100m refurbishment that has turned the hotel, closed for nine years until this summer, into a glorious tribute to the 1960s era when it first opened its doors and there really isn’t a better base to start exploring the capital of the United States.
And what a city to explore. Monuments and memorials, museums and the most famous House in the world, Washington DC has so much to offer that the biggest problem is shoehorning everything in.
I had been warned of the need to prioritise before travelling to the States. Being desperate to drink in all the sights that are so familiar to those of us whose only previous taste of DC had been via boxsets of West Wing and House of Cards, the Monuments by Nite cycle tour seemed as good a place as any to start.
The one concern was the fact I’d not been on a bike since Ronald Reagan had resided at the city’s most famous address. But, after a couple of early wobbles – and causing a degree of panic in one elderly dog walker taking advantage of the last few minutes of what was a spectacular sunset – I was up and running.
Our tour began with a short ride to the Jefferson Memorial, where the knowledgeable guide offered a few interesting titbits – such as how President Roosevelt had ordered a line of trees be cut down to enhance his view of one of America’s founding fathers from the White House – before standing guard over the bikes as we took a look around on foot.
This practice was repeated at each and every stop as we took in the memorials to not only World War Two but also the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. Then, there was the Lincoln Memorial and Martin Luther King Jr Memorial before a final stop-off on this hugely enjoyable tour at the Washington Memorial.
By the following morning, the effects of a first bike ride in 30 years could be felt in the legs. So, what better way to spend a Sunday morning than by indulging in a spot of kayaking on the Potomac River before heading into Georgetown for a Mexican brunch at El Centro that went on for the best part of three hours and involved countless glasses of Mimosa. Delightful. Suitably refreshed and relaxed, we opted for a wander back into the centre and the ubiquitous photos outside the White House.
Just who will be win the right on November 8 to call 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home for at least the next four years is a question vexing all Americans. Or so it seemed judging by the number of locals who, on discovering we were from the UK, were keen to know how the election was being viewed back home.
Just how much Trump v Clinton is dominating the agenda was apparent on arrival at Union Station, where the gift shop had been taken over by souvenirs – including my personal favourite, a wonderfully tacky talking Trump pen.
Rather more high-brow is the Newseum, an interactive museum of news and journalism.
Personal highlights included how the world’s media covered the fall of the Berlin Wall, plus a detailed look at how sports journalism has evolved.
The International Spy Museum is another cultural gem, though again chilling in parts as the dark and dangerous world of espionage is laid bare.
After that, I needed a drink. And there was no better place than back at the Watergate Hotel’s Top of the Gate rooftop bar, Just don’t peer too closely into the adjoining Watergate office block that, in 1972, housed the Democrat Party headquarters that were broken into to spark the crisis that led to end of Nixon’s Presidency. No-one knows what you might see.
Richard travelled to Washington DC with Brand USA. Visit VisitTheUSA.co.uk/washingtondc and washington.org
He stayed at thewatergatehotel.com and travelled with British Airways, who fly twice daily from London Heathrow to Washington DC. Prices start from £399 return.
For reservations visit ba.com/Washington or call 0344 493 0787.