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Travel review: Discovering Washington DC’s landmarks

The Capitol Building.
The Capitol Building.
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The US capital may be instantly familiar to visitors from around the world, but there’s plenty to discover, writes Tony Gardner.

We are freewheeling along Washington DC’s National Mall and suddenly everything feels strangely familiar.

It’s the first time I have ever set foot – let alone ridden a bicycle – in the capital of the United States but the sense of déjà vu is overwhelming.

Straight ahead of me is the Capitol Building, to my left the White House, to my right the Washington Memorial, and over my shoulder the colossal figure of Abraham Lincoln cuts a majestic figure nestled high above the reflecting pools.

All around lie iconic monuments and buildings of global significance instantly recognisable from films and news bulletins. The National Mall is two miles from end to end and it is a hot day. It can be hard going trying to cover all the sights on foot.

But we have opted to take it all in on two wheels with a guided tour, courtesy of Bike and Roll DC. An easy-paced three-hour tour, costing $44 (£33), covers around seven miles in total and is led by passionate, extremely well-informed guides and features regular photo opportunity stops.

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The tour was part of the final leg of a journey to the US’s capital region which began further down the Potomac, on the Maryland side of the river, at the National Harbor.

The waterfront resort and commuter town is just ten years old.

With 10 million visitors annually, it is already a major player in the region’s tourism industry and devoted to the modern American experience.

In December 2016, MGM Resorts International opened a $1.4bn (£1bn) casino resort complex on 23 acres.

The MGM National Harbor boasts a 24-storey, 308-room hotel, 125,000 sq ft of gaming, 18,000 sq feet of high-end retail, 12 restaurants a 3,000 seat theatre.

Next door lies another tourism behemoth – the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Centre.

A short ride from the shiny lights of the uber-modern Harbor lie attractions giving a glimpse of historic Maryland.

The National Colonial Farm, at Piscataway Park, is a living heritage farm depicting the life of a typical tobacco planters family in Prince George County in the 1770s.

The site includes a reconstructed 18th century tobacco barn and farmhouse, replica kitchen, garden and smokehouse.

Nestling elegantly in woodland overlooking the Harbor lies Oxon Hill Manor. Completed in 1929, the neo-Georgian house was the home of Sumner Welles, under secretary of state during the Franklin D Roosevelt administration.

It has been recognised as one of the finest modern examples of a Georgian brick house in the USA and is a popular wedding venue.

Winston Churchill is believed to have paid a secret visit there to discuss the invasion of occupied Europe.

On the opposite riverbank lies the Virginian town of Alexandria, reached by a Potomac Riverboat Company water taxi.

Alexandria retains its quaint colonial spirit combined with a cosmopolitan feel. Founded in 1749, Old Town Alexandria is home to more than 200 independent restaurants and boutiques alongside intimate museums.

At the heart of it all is bustling King Street, a mile-long stretch recognised as one of the great street streets of America.

A walk through its side streets transports you back back to the early 1800s with cobblestone streets and historic buildings.

The Kimpton Lorien Hotel was our base for a two-night trip. It has undergone a multi-million dollar redesign to all 107 rooms, including 16 suites and public areas.

The town’s attractions are within easy reach on foot or by hopping on the King Street trolley. Attractions include a unique blend of modern, historical and downright grand.

The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum gives a flavour of Old Alexandria’s highbrow connections through the ages. One of the nation’s oldest apothecaries, it once prescribed medication to America’s first president George Washington and his his wife Martha. Over 1,500 objects still remain as part of the museum’s collection – from innocuous herbal tinctures to gruesome bloodletting devices.

The waterfront Torpedo Factory Art Center is home to the largest collection of publicly accessible working artist studios in the US.

Founded in 1974 in an old munitions plant, guests can visit 82 artists’ studios specialising in media including painting, ceramics, stained glass and printmaking.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate is also within easy reach.

Washington DC’s Wharf District, our base for a sightseeing trip, is easily reached with another short but scenic water taxi journey.

Recently transformed into one of the city’s most exciting waterfront destination, The Wharf turns the Potomac into a playground for all water enthusiasts, a safe environment for kayaking and paddleboarding

Our hotel, the InterContinental Washington DC – The Wharf, showcases a blend of contemporary style, sophistication and sustainable design, and this autumn a 12th floor lounge will open with scenic views and creative cocktails. That’s style and substance I’d say.

GETTING THERE

For more information on the Capital Region, visit www.capitalregionUSA.co.uk.

National Harbour: www.nationalharbor.com/ www.visitmaryland.org

Alexandria: www.visitalexandriaVA.com/ www.virginia.org

Washington D.C.: www.washington.org