Ever since I started living here in Washington, D.C., I quickly discovered that for a district so small, it has several interesting neighborhood pockets worth exploring. As a tourist, the D.C., we only get acquainted with are the areas surrounding the Smithsonian, Georgetown, and perhaps part of Dupont Circle, but the charms of the District go beyond these popular hangouts.
On this article, I’ll start with the three most popular Washington DC neighborhoods: Georgetown, Dupont Circle, and Capitol Hill. We’ll take a closer look at the neighborhood’s overall ambiance, outline the types of activities you can do as a visitor and as a local, and mention a few notable eateries and hangouts. I’ll also include practical information such as logistics and cost of living information that you might find useful should you decide to move here one day.
Washington DC Neighborhoods
Georgetown – The Oldest of Washington DC Neighborhoods
The neighborhood of Georgetown is affiliated with Washington, D.C., as much as the Smithsonian Museums or the White House itself. Georgetown lies northwest of downtown Washington and was once a municipality of its own. It was a thriving tobacco and slave trading post in its early days and became a major transportation hub for imported goods after the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
Nowadays, Georgetown is always packed with tourists, particularly around its two main thoroughfares: M Street and Wisconsin Avenue despite its lack of Metro accessability. Cost of living is one of the highest around D.C., with median house prices at just over $1.1 million. You’ll find plenty of fine dining establishments, boutique shops, and high-end hotels, but because Georgetown is deemed a historic neighborhood, there are stringent laws on construction or alterations of buildings. These laws help the community maintain its charm despite the influx of tourism.
Speaking of tourism, Georgetown has several places of interests including Georgetown University’s main campus, the Washington Waterfront, where you can hop on cruises that will take you down the Potomac River all the way to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and the Old Stone House, the oldest and rumored haunted house in Washington, D.C. Popular restaurants include Fiola Mare and Filomena Ristorante.
Dupont Circle – The International and Diplomatic Center
When one mentions the neighborhood of Dupont Circle, it’s almost impossible not to think about the gorgeous row houses and elegant mansions that line the streets of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire Avenues. However, the Dupont neighborhood didn’t start out grand. It was one of the swampy Washington DC neighborhoods, and was developed only after the Civil War ended. Located just north of downtown, Dupont flourished at the turn of the 20th century but experienced a steep decline after the Great Depression. This lasted for several decades until urban pioneers in the 1970s seeking alternative lifestyles started to move in. Gentrification in the early 80s and 90s cemented the neighborhood’s resurgence.
The Dupont neighborhood these days feels much like it was during its heyday in the 1850s, with restored row houses occupied by diplomatic envoys and new money folks, boutique hotels in Washington DC, and higher end restaurants like Komi and Little Serow, on almost every corner. It’s served by the Metro’s Red Line. Dupont is also Washington, D.C.’s think tank central with over half a dozen of organizations calling the neighborhood home.
In addition to the architectural masterpieces all around the neighborhood, Dupont also has several landmarks including the Phillips Collection, the country’s first museum of modern art, the International Temple, and the Heurich Mansion.
Capitol Hill – Neighborhood of Contrasts
Named after the iconic building that overlooks the neighborhood, Capitol Hill is a locality of contrasts. It’s Washington, D.C.’s oldest historic neighborhood yet it’s buzzing with young professionals who often come to D.C., for a few months as a legislative intern or lobbyist and then move on again. This constant turnover of younglings keeps the neighborhood hip and cool despite its ancient, and sometimes neglected, roots.
The development of Capitol Hill started in the late 18th century. Most of its inhabitants were government workers that worked either at the Capitol or at the nearby Washington Navy Yard. The neighborhood began to flourish not long afterwards with shops and churches built around the area. During the Civil War, the neighborhood played a pivotal role by housing several hospitals that tended to wounded soldiers. By the time the war ended, Capitol Hill saw a significant increase in population leading way to the construction of row houses, many of which you’ll still see today.
There’s a certain neighborly feel around Capitol Hill which makes it one of my favorite Washington DC neighborhoods. There are no large supermarkets, no chain hotels, or franchised stores. Its largest collection of vendors sit within the Eastern Market confines. Even its commercial corridor on Pennsylvania Avenue and Barracks Row only feature local restaurants such as Rose’s Luxury and shops like Capital Teas while its main attractions remain old churches and historic homes. The Capitol Hill neighborhood is Metro accessible with three color lines that stop at Eastern Market and Potomac Yards.
To be continued…