Category:District of Columbia City Guide
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Washington DC is the capital of the United States. It is not a state in its own right (there are no Senators from the District of Columbia and the Representative has limited voting rights). It is relatively small (61 square miles) and has a resident population of about 550,000 (see below), which swells by an extra 1.5 million daytime commuters from outside the city.
Washington DC is the capital of the US (population: 550,000) at the center of the Washington DC 'metropolitan area' that encompasses suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia (approximately 5,000,000 residents). If you include Baltimore and the suburbs of that area, the general Washington-Baltimore region is approximately 8,000,000. While the city itself is nearly 50% African American, there are large numbers of Mexicans, El Salvadorans, Bolivians, Filipino's, Vietnamese, Koreans, and Chinese, in the surrounding area. As a southern city the racial divide is all too evident on the Metro with mostly white people arriving from the Northern Virginia, Northern Maryland suburban lines, and mostly black people arriving from the South East of the city and from Prince George's County, Maryland, to the east of the city.
Climate & geostability
In the days before air conditioning Washington was considered a hardship posting by the British Foreign Office, and Summer remains ferociously hot and humid outdoors, and icy cold in the ubiquitous air-conditioned indoors. Snowfall is relatively limited, with only a few big storms (10cm of snow) per year, which usually melts away in a few days, although the winter of 2010 saw two back-to-back major snowstorms that paralyzed the region. Earthquakes are rare but a significant quake took place in the summer of 2011. Tornado's and Hurricane's occasionally hit the area. It is useful to subscribe to the city's emergency alert system https://textalert.ema.dc.gov/.
The top industries in the Washington DC area (in order) are:
The US Government -
The US Government -
The US Military (also part of the US Government) -
The US Government -
The US Government -
Lobbying the US Government -
Selling to the US Government -
Selling to the US Military -
Ok, it's not that bad--it just seems that way. There are several large Universities in the area including George Washington University, Georgetown, George Mason University, American University, Howard, Catholic University of America, UDC, Gallaudet, University of Maryland, Marymount, Strayer, and increasingly DC area campuses of further off institutions such as Virginia Tech, DeVry, Troy, etc. There is a large telecommunications presence in the DC area (Northern Virginia is the home of several major internet and telecommunications carriers) and a massive biotechnology / pharmaceutical industry in Suburban Maryland. But you need to understand the US government and its constellation of private contractors are the primary employer and concern of many people in the city.
Jobs in the US government require US citizenship, and many positions require 'security clearances' (both inside and outside of government). Working as an expat in the national security / homeland security / US government is extremely rare. Jobs in the academic sector on the other hand are pretty straightforward to obtain, as long as you have a visa authorizing you to work in the US.
Schooling & childcare
Some neighbourhoods have excellent free public schools (i.e. state schools), others are not so good, and others are downright awful. For a private, British-style education, the British School of Washington http://www.britishschool.org offer a curriculum based on the National Curriculum (England), the International Primary Curriculum and the International Baccalaureate Diploma. DC Urban Mom's http://www.dcurbanmom.com/jforum/forums/list.page is an essential forum if you are planning to move to live in the area and you have a family. Ask questions about schools, neighbourhoods, and childcare from other families living in the area.
With nearly every country having an embassy in Washington, along with the headquarters of the World Bank and IMF, along with branches for all major foreign news agencies, you will find quite a few expats in Washington from all over the world. While there are not as many UK expats as say New York, there is a good number in Washington. Unlike other parts of the US, many residents of the Washington area do travel overseas quite a bit. There are two city-wide embassy open house tours in early May (see events calendar below).
Where to watch UK sports:
Washington has a pretty active 'soccer' (don't say football) community. There are several bars and pubs that show the English Premier League on big screen televisions every Saturday and Sunday and Champions League action during the week, for example Summers restaurant http://www.summers-restaurant.com/ in Arlington, VA, and Lucky Bar http://luckybardc.com/ in the District. Due to the television rights arrangements in the US, on a Saturday you can often see as many as 4 games from the UK (the early match, the 3:00 game, the 5:00 game, and then a replay of a game earlier in the day). Fox Soccer Channel have coverage of UEFA super cup and UEFA champions league. The ridiculous EU broadcasting laws means it is not possible to listen to BBC Radio 5 live commentary on the Internet during the World Cup :-(
Many expats have remarked "I see more UK games on tele here in the US than I ever did in the UK". Still not the same as going to the grounds on a Saturday, but it is something.
The local soccer team is D.C. United http://www.dcunited.com who play at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Major League Soccer. A small but fanatical and friendly following organizes itself into three main supporters clubs, La Barra Brava, the Screaming Eagles, and La Norte.
UK Elite http://www.ukelite.com provides soccer coaching by qualified British teaching staff at a summer residential soccer camp at Massanutten Military Academy, Woodstock, VA, in the Shenandoah Valley. In the spring they run "Petite soccer" coaching sessions for 3-5 year olds, in the MD and VA suburbs.
Alexandria Rugby, chaired by New Zealand expat Bert "Ram" Todd http://www.alexandriarugby.org runs Union games for youths and adults, and plays in the Mid-Atlantic Rugby Football Union. In 2008 the side travelled to Alexandria's sister city of Dundee, Scotland, to play for a mayor's challenge cup.
There are at least 35 class I cricket clubs and another 30-40 class II and hard tennis ball clubs operating in the DC metro area.
The bigger league and more established league (since 1974) is the Washington Cricket League http://www.wclinc.com with 1000+ players, and there are a few others that cater to the hard tennis ball type of cricket.
All these are in the DC area:
Washington Warriors: http://www.warriorscricket.blogspot.com
Washington Metropolitan Cricket Board: http://wmcbcricket.org/
Washington Cricket League: http://www.wclinc.com
Washington Metropolitan Cricket league: http://www.wmcl.net
- Performances from the National Theatre in London are simulcast live and shown at the Harman Center for the Arts http://www.shakespearetheatre.org/ntlive
- The British Players http://britishplayers.org, perform at Kensington, MD, town hall. They put on an annual old time music hall show in the summer, and a pantomime every other year in the run up to Christmas.
- The Folger shakespeare theatre http://folger.edu have an open house on St George's Day/Shakespeare's birthday April 23rd.
- There are 2 British style brass bands in the area: The Brass Band of the Potomac, Rockville Brass Band; and 2 others a bit further afield: Benfield Brass Band (Annapolis) and Spires Brass Band (Frederick).
Food and drink
- If you want a pint of cask English Bitter on draft, Oliver's is an English brewery in Baltimore http://www.prattstreetalehouse.com/oliver-breweries/ that has begun serving some DC accounts and supplies one of the House beers at Meridian Pint http://meridianpint.com/. Keep an eye on what's on tap where at https://untappd.com/oliverbreweries
- The Queen Vic http://www.thequeenvicdc.com 1206 H Street NE, Washington, DC 20002 (between N 12th St & N 13th St) on the regenerated H St corridor, has a 2nd floor outdoor deck, offers a decent Sunday roast beef with Yorkshire pud. Sir Perry (Pear cider), and Blackthorn ciders, Fullers, Newcastle Brown etc.
- Elephant and Castle http://www.elephantcastle.com
- Againn, gastropub http://www.againndc.com
- The Brixton, gastropub http://brixtondc.com/
- Public House No.7 http://publichouseno7.com near Seven Corners in Falls Church, Virginia. Metro buses #4 A/B/H depart from Rosslyn Station and drop off/pick up at Seven Corners shopping center, the pub is a short walk from there at 6315 Leesburg Pike Tel: (703) 942-6383.
- Union Jack's http://www.unionjacksballston.com, http://www.unionjacksbethesda.com
- The Firkin and Fox http://firkinpubsusa.com/microsites/foxdulles at Dulles airport
- Hunter's head tavern in Upperville, VA http://www.huntersheadtavern.com/HuntersHead/HHHome.html serves top quality ethically raised meats from nearby Ayrshire farm.
- The Irish run Blackthorne Inn http://www.blackthorne-inn.com near Upperville, VA, has a bar with flagstone floor and open fire.
'Cafe & Tea rooms'
- For a breakfast caff try Extra Perks, 822 N Fairfax St, Alexandria. http://www.extraperkscoffeeshopandcafe.com Phone: 703-706-5886. British owner Phil McCombie offers a breakfast menu from 8am to 11am weekdays and 8am to 12pm on weekends and includes egg and bacon sarnie, weetabix and warm milk, up to a full breakfast. Tea is PG tips, usually served in a paper cup but ask and you'll get it in a proper ceramic mug. Lunch menu served until 3pm includes shepherd's pie and fish and chips. McVities, & Branston pickle.
- The British Pantry/Blighty Cafe, Aldie, VA, on Route 50 serves afternoon tea & a plate of sandwiches/cakes (reservations needed) Tel: 703 327 3215. Also sells British food, including frozen bangers and Haggis, and toiletries such as Savlon. http://www.thebritishpantry.us/.
- Teaism offers an affordable afternoon tea from 2:30-5:30pm. For $20 you get tea sandwiches, ginger scone, cookies, lime curd tartlets, chocolate truffles & a pot of tea, 4 locations https://www.teaism.com
- For an afternoon tea at the Ritz experience dine at the Mandarin Oriental's Empress Lounge http://www.mandarinoriental.com/washington/fine-dining/empress-lounge, or the Park-Hyatt hotel's Tea Cellar http://parkwashington.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels-parkwashington/entertainment/dining_detail.jsp?itemDesc=fboutlet&itemId=1003277
- A directory of tea rooms that can be searched by state http://www.teaguide.net/
- Cornish Pasties, sausage rolls, and pork pies, from the Pure Pasty company http://www.purepasty.com in Vienna, Virginia, run by Brit expat Michael Burgess. The shop also sells many other goodies including cheese 'n' onion crisps, Irn Bru, yorkshire pudding mix and so on.
- Meat and vegetable pies, including steak and kidney pie and sausage rolls, are produced locally by New Zealander Bert "Ram" Todd and are sold at several locations around Arlington & Alexandria, VA, and also from his website http://www.kiwikuisine.com
- The Organic Butcher in McLean, VA http://www.theorganicbutcher.com/, is currently selling English style back bacon from Balson's http://www.balsonbutchers.com/products/pork-back-bacon. They sell an 'English banger' which is enormous and very peppery, more like a straightened Cumberland sausage.
- Butcher Steve Gatward's shop "Let's meat on the avenue" in Del Ray, Alexandria, VA http://www.letsmeatontheavenue.com also sells Balson's back bacon.
- Haggis & bangers (frozen) the British Pantry, Aldie, VA. http://www.thebritishpantry.us/
- Society Fair, run by Irish chef Cathal Armstrong, the in-house butcher and pastry chefs prepare food for Armstrong's celebrated Alexandria restaurants http://www.restauranteve.com/logos_splash/, with the same quality but at much lower retail prices. A good place to obtain hard to get butcher items including offal, lard, suet, call ahead and ask to speak with the butcher to order them 703 683 3247. Also has a wine bar and cafe with top notch sandwiches, and an excellent value Friday date night dinner carry out deal (reservation required) 277 South Washington Street Alexandria, VA http://www.societyfair.net/home.html
'Fish & Chip shop'
- To be honest fish and chips is on the menu of just about every bar and pub in the area, but if you want an experience something like a chippie, albeit without the hot fryer in front of you, try "Eamon's: a Dublin chipper" http://www.eamonnsdublinchipper.com. Two locations, one at the corner of King Street and Columbus Street in Alexandria, VA, and the other on 2413 Columbia Pike, Arlington. Owned by Dublin native chef Cathal Armstrong. Fish, chips, mushy peas, beer, & choc bars.
'Cheese & biscuits'
- My Organic Market http://www.myorganicmarket.com sells Stilton cheese from the Long Clawson dairy in Leicestershire.
- World Market, Pentagon City, Alexandria, VA, is a good place to find Cadbury's, McVities & Burtons digestives, Bovril, Bisto gravy powder & granules, Bird's custard powder & in cans, and other products.
- Wegman's stores in the outer VA suburbs, and Harris Teeter in Arlington, stock a limited selection of British groceries in the international aisle.
- Branches of Giant sell Ambrosia custard, spotted dick and creamed rice as well as other goodies such as Marmite, Aero, Smarties, Jams, Ribena and others. It can be difficult to find in stores as a staff aren't knowledgeable (and don't ask if they have any spotted dick), but it's worth the hunt.
- The Washington Expat Brit Meetup Group http://brit.meetup.com/35/ is a friendly group of expats, and offers social outings, an annual Christmas Party, and regular pub nights.
- The English Speaking Union, Washington DC chapter, http://www.esuus.org/washingtondc/news/welcome/ puts on a busy calendar of social events, lectures, etc.
- The British-American Business Council, Washington DC chapter, http://www.babawashington.org/ is a valuable place for networking businessmen.
- The Northern Ireland Bureau http://www.nibureau.com promotes business links.
- The Welsh North America Business Chamber http://wnabc.wordpress.com/ does not have an office in the city but promotes business links.
- The Saint Andrew’s Society of Washington, D.C. http://www.saintandrewsociety.org organises Burn's Night celebrations. Burn's night supper at the Robert Morris Inn in Oxford MD is well worth the journey http://www.robertmorrisinn.com.
- The St. David's Welsh-American Society of Washington, DC gathers on St David's Day at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church, One Chevy Chase Circle, NW.
- The Greater Washington DC Area Manx Society http://northamericanmanx.org/dc/index.php celebrates the heritage of people from the Isle of Man. They hold an annual Twelfth Night party at epiphany.
- Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, first weekend in May http://www.sheepandwool.org. This is a near experience to an English agricultural county fair, with sheepdog displays, wool for sale, and a sheep to shawl competition.
- Tour the embassies. There are two main tour days both in May, the EU open house http://www.euopenhouse.com/plan-your-trip, and the rest of the world http://www.culturaltourismdc.org/things-do-see/passport-dc/participating-embassies. The British embassy is open during the EU open house.
- Cherry Blossom Festival, in May http://www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/
- Virginia Gold Cup http://www.vagoldcup.com in May. As close to Royal Ascot as it gets, Members Hill offers the best view of the racing, the South Rail is the family friendly area, the North Rail is where students and alumni gather to drink. Ladies wear your finest hats! The Helpful Links page at http://universityrow.info/UniversityRow/helpful-links/5-womens-fashion has a list of local milliners.
- Virginia Scottish Games, end of August http://www.vascottishgames.org
- Maryland Renaissance Festival, end of August through October http://www.rennfest.com is a fascinatingly bizarre experience for expat Brits - a medieval themed festival with lots of Americans saying "hail fellow, well met" while wearing hose drinking mead and munching on turkey legs.
- Panto - the British Players http://britishplayers.org, perform at Kensington, MD, town hall have a pantomime every other year in the run up to Christmas.
- Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk http://www.scottishchristmaswalk.com/
- Christmas shopping at a Northern European bazaar/market. Scandianavian and German bazaars take place at local schools and churches in early December, e.g. Germany http://www.dswashington.org/index.php?id=1159&L=1, and Scandianavia http://www.scandinavian-dc.org/Contacts-4.htm
- The Nutcracker ballet http://www.washingtonballet.org/season-performances/the-nutcracker-1 held every year, this is a seasonal treat with the added bonus for Brits of being able to cheer on the baddies as the blue coated forces of the nutcracker prince (George Washington), charge the red coats of the rat king (George III).
- National Christmas Tree http://www.nps.gov/whho/national_christmas_tree_program.htm in front of the White House, the National Park Service erect a tree, decorated by children from all 50 states, featuring a train set and a fire pit to warm yourself by.
- Washington Revels http://www.revelsdc.org. Annual Christmas concert at the Kennedy Center. Audience-participation rendition of the twelve days of Christmas.
Other things to do in the area
- Official Tourism website for Washington, D.C. http://www.washington.org
- Wikitravel Washington, D.C. excellent overview of the city http://wikitravel.org/en/Washington_(D.C.)
- Spend the day at Mount Vernon, historic home of George Washington http://www.mountvernon.org
- 2011 is the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. Battle reenactments and commemorations will take place over the next four years in Virginia http://www.virginiacivilwar.org/committeeevents.php, Maryland, and the District. The Wiki article on Washington DC in the Civil War is a good starting point http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington,_D.C._in_the_American_Civil_War. Some of the Capital's defensive fort system can be visited e.g. Fort Ward, in Alexandria, VA http://alexandriava.gov/FortWard, and places of significance such as Ford's Theatre where President Lincoln was assassinated http://www.fordstheatre.org
- 2012 is the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, and some local sites associated with this British-American punch-up are on the Maryland Bicentennial commission website http://starspangled200.org/1812Sites/Pages/Welcome.aspx. Many of the federal government buildings in Washington, DC were burned by the British during a raid in 1814, but the Marine Corps Barracks at 8th & I St SE were spared in recognition of the gallant but failed efforts by 400 US Marines and seamen at the Battle of Bladensburg to fight off two battalions of the British Army, an event remembered in good spirit today at the Barracks annual "reparations night" http://www.centerhouse.org/news.html
- Go for a bike ride! Capital Bikeshare http://www.capitalbikeshare.com is the Washington DC equivalent to London's "Boris Bikes" cycle hire system. There are four membership options: 24-hour, 3-day, 30-day, or annual. Once you're a member, you will get the first 30 minutes of each trip free and pay an additional fee for every 30 minute period thereafter. For this reason it's best to rent a bike from a bike shop if you are planning an all day ride on one of the regions many excellent bike trails (for maps see http://www.waba.org/resources/maps.php). Download the Spotcycle app http://www.spotcycle.net to your iPhone, Droid, or Blackberry device for Bikeshare locations & real-time bicycle availability, bike paths, etc.
- Exercise police horses http://www.hoofsfund.org/aboutus.html Volunteer at one of the four police stables in the Washington DC area, e.g. there is one in Rock Creek Park. You get to exercise the horses in exchange for stable work.
- Waterfront fish market http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0207/feature7/index.html. Buy a punnet of steamed shrimp (Prawns) with Old Bay seasoning, and Chesapeake Bay soft shell crabs in season, at this fish market where you buy from boats moored at the dockside, most of the catch is landed and trucked in from New Orleans and Baltimore. There is no seating and pealing shrimp can get very messy so its best to take away.
- St Michael's, Maryland, has a marina with flagpoles alternately flying both the Stars and Stripes and the Union Flag http://www.stmichaelsmarina.com/marina-map.html. The current American owner put up the flags after the British reaction to September 11, 2001. View them from the town dock restaurant http://www.towndockrestaurant.com
- The Folkore Society of Greater Washington http://fsgw.org/ organises English Country Dancing events in the area.
- Each Monday evening at 8:00 p.m the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, of Washington DC http://rscds-greaterdc.org/ has Scottish Country Dancing lessons at St. Alban's School on the grounds of the National Cathedral.
Other sites/blogs of interest for the DC area
- DC city government http://dc.gov/DC/. Essential and emergency services, has a useful search feature for hospitals and clinics, crime data, etc.
- Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/regional. Newspaper with national distribution because of its political coverage, has quite a lot of local news, and useful sections such as the Going out Guru's, Capital Weather Gang, and annual Interns guide to DC.
- Washingtonian http://www.washingtonian.com/. Magazine website with some useful sections such as the Cheap Eats, and 100 best restaurants.
- Washington City Paper http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/. Good source for local theatre, music, film, listings.
- Chowhound, Washington DC foodie forum http://chowhound.chow.com/boards/14. A great place to search for restaurants.
- DCist http://dcist.com/. Offers "local colour", the commenters are irreverent, funny, but the blog generally keeps an eye on current events/goings on in the city.
- TripAdvisor Washington, DC forum http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g28970-i40-Washington_DC_District_of_Columbia.html. This is aimed at visitors, but it is a useful place to seek information.
- Prince of Petworth http://www.princeofpetworth.com/. Neighbourhood blog.
- Arlington Now http://www.arlnow.com/. Another neighbourhood blog from over the river.
- Metro (WMATA) http://wmata.com/. Trip planner for bus and rail services in the city and suburbs. Download the DC Rider app to your smartphone for next Metrorail train times https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dc-rider/id382298536?mt=8. Local rail services for commuters from further afield are the VRE http://www.vre.org/ (Virginia) and MARC http://mta.maryland.gov/marc-train (Maryland).
- Unsuck DC Metro http://unsuckdcmetro.blogspot.com/. Tales from long suffering commuters on DC's Metro system.
- Megabus http://us.megabus.com/. There are many bus companies servicing other cities from DC, but Megabus is the cheapest way to get from A to B e.g. to New York City, round trip fare varies on the time you want to leave. Departs from Union station, the Megabus business model is first come first served, you wait in line and you pile into the bus, if its full its full and you wait in line for the next one which at popular times may be coming in the next 15-30 minutes. Do shop around, as other bus companies may be less busy, more comfortable.