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The anniversaries and events making Washington, D.C. one to visit for 2021

All eyes are on the US capital, but beyond the politics, there’s a bevy of anniversaries and openings to celebrate — from new hotels and exhibitions to fresh ways to escape the city and tour its surrounding sights.

Published 8 Dec 2020, 08:00 GMT, Updated 10 Dec 2020, 14:50 GMT
The Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building in Washington, D.C.

The Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building in Washington, D.C.

Photograph by Alamy

Regardless of your political persuasion, 2021 looks set to be a celebratory year for the Capital Region, with several major institutions marking milestone anniversaries. Chief among these is the Smithsonian Institution, the city’s multi-museum masterpiece, celebrating its 175th anniversary. The world’s largest museum, education and research complex comprises a whopping 19 museums, nine research facilities and the National Zoo. The forefather of this ‘family of museums’, the United States National Museum, now called the Arts and Industries Building, is gearing up for a new era with FUTURES, an exhibit showcasing prototypes, robots, speculative fiction and new worlds.

If that’s not enough erudition, the DC Public Library celebrates its 125th birthday with a roster of events focused around the newly renovated Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. Meanwhile, the nation’s first museum of modern art, the Phillips Collection, home to works by such artists as Matisse, O’Keeffe and Rothko, marks its centenary with a year-long programme of celebrations. Further south, on the Potomac waterfront, The Kennedy Center turns 50 this year, commemorating its namesake president with free daily concerts on Millennium Stage, performances by house acts, the National Symphony Orchestra and Washington National Opera, and interactive offerings at The Reach, a ‘living theatre’.       

Three new DC hotels


Five-minutes’ walk from the Smithsonian, the first foray outside of Europe for the cool, low-cost lux hotel brand comes with a sleek and shiny craft cocktail bar ‘canteen’, a lobby hung around a library where colours pop and pop art dominates (including hipster-fied presidential portraits), and a 12th floor terrace overlooking the Capitol Building and waterfront. From £100.

Cambria Hotel Washington, DC Capitol Riverfront

Set to open in early 2021, this southwest DC hotel will be topped with a huge rooftop bar and event space, overlooking the Capitol and Audi Field, the city’s big sports and music venue district. Set in the historic wharf district, home to the country’s longest-running fish market, this 150-room hotel is set to bring a fresh waterfront perspective to a buttoned-down city. From £165.

Riggs Washington DC

A boutique opening in a former bank-cum-cathedral to classic revival architecture, where the likes of Lincoln and Nixon once stashed their cash. The confident-cool work of the brand behind London’s Sea Containers and The Pulitzer Amsterdam is most evident in the cocktail bar, Silver Lyan (from award-winning bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana), where a menu riffs on US political history. From £250.

The venerable Riggs Washington DC is set in a former bank.

Photograph by Jennifer Hughes

Get outta town: three ways to explore surrounding sights

Hit the tracks

The US’s national railroad network, Amtrak, was founded in Washington, D.C. and marks its half-century this year. Celebrate with a trip aboard the high-speed service from the recently restored Washington Union Station to Boston.

Cruise the canals

It’s 50 years since the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal was designated a National Historic Park. Hike, bike or boat along the 185-mile route from Georgetown in Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland to celebrate the preservation of the canal network’s natural riches, as intended by its founder, President Eisenhower.

Step back in time

Learn about nation-shaping battles in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, founded 300 years ago. Nicknamed ‘the Crossroads of the Civil War’, it features a 70-mile route through battlefields that saw more than 100,000 casualties. A stop at the 18th-century town of Fredericksburg is a must.

Published in the Jan/Feb 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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