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There’s hardly a city out there that will give you more bang for your weekend-getaway buck than Washington, D.C. Much more than the country’s political hot spot, this diverse and animated city charms visitors, not just with iconic monuments and historical importance but also with world-class art, lively cultural celebrations, and a sizzling dining scene.

In spring, D.C. comes alive. Delicate blooms soften its staid marble cityscape. Shining, warm days enliven its many unique outdoor spaces, such as sculpture gardens, city parks, bike paths, and the famous National Mall.

From March 20 to April 17 this year, one end of the Mall will host the city’s most dramatic blossoming—the Cherry Blossom Festival. The festival, which celebrates the annual blooming of the cherry blossom trees around the Tidal Basin—a 1912 gift from the people of Japan—involves an extensive schedule of performances, parties, and other festivities. 

Famous for its vaunted Smithsonian Institution, D.C. could well be called the museum capital of the country, as well as its political capital. Many of the city’s museums are free, and they cover a huge range of subject matter. 

The city’s art museums are especially notable, offering everything from African and Asian art to conceptual and modern art. Three art museums and are highly recommended for weekend visitors: The Phillips Collection, the National Gallery of Art, and the Hirshhorn Museum. 

The Phillips Collection shows off its renowned collection of modern art in a cozy, tasteful townhouse setting near Dupont Circle. Established in 1921 as the nation’s first museum of modern art, the gallery reflects the passions of its founder Duncan Phillips, with particular concentrations on certain artists like Braque, Klee, and Rothko. Visitors can stroll among masterpieces by these luminaries and many others, including Renoir, Bonnard, O’Keeffe, and van Gogh. Special exhibits cover specific modern artists and themes such as landscape, identity, and culture.

National Gallery of Art displays American and European work spanning centuries and genres in its iconic building near the U.S. Capitol. The building consists of two wings, with the East Building, designed by the famous I. M. Pei, housing contemporary work, and the West Building displaying art from other eras. The collection includes work by masters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Gauguin, Rodin, Degas, and Picasso, among many others. Visitors also enjoy a wide range of special exhibitions, such as “Three Centuries of American Prints” (starting April 3, 2016), and the adjacent sculpture garden, featuring pieces by Joan Miró, Louise Bourgeois, and Marc Chagall.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, another installation on the National Mall, is a leading institution of contemporary art and culture. Its unusual oval building reflects its purpose, having been called “the biggest piece of abstract art in town.” The gallery focuses on the post-War era, especially the last 50 years. Painting and sculpture by artists such as Matisse, Pollock, and de Kooning rub elbows with photography, multimedia installations, and much more. The outdoor sculpture garden features works by August Rodin, Jeff Koons, and Yoko Ono.

After a busy day exploring downtown, embrace the quiet, classy atmosphere of Georgetown, where elegant brick townhouses mix with tony shops and restaurants. Five-star Capella Hotel is located on the historic C & O Canal in the heart of this celebrated neighborhood. Enjoy flexible check-in and check-out times, free WiFi, and the help of “personal assistants” who can advise you on local sightseeing.

Fiola Restaurant, situated in a quintessentially D.C. location between the White House and the Capitol Building, is an upscale Italian eatery worth crossing town for. With dishes such as osso buco tortellini with sweetbreads, and pine-smoked venison cacciatore, chef Fabio Trabocchi brings a high-end modern sensibility to rustic old-country fare.

Komi is an American-Mediterranean bistro that can seat only four people at a time and offers a set tasting dinner of a dozen dishes, many of them featuring seafood. Corduroy, a contemporary American farm-to-fork restaurant near the Convention Center, is known for showcasing the shining fresh flavors of the season.

The halls of government only represent one side of D.C. It is a warm and welcoming city that has much to offer guests looking for good art and fine food.