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Washington, DC: It's So Much More Than Politics

Washington is synonymous with the home of America's government. But the city is so much more than just politics; it can be a fantastic tourist destination if you know where - and when - to visit.

Washington is synonymous with the home of America's government - which was heavily capitalised on in the brilliant House of Cards. But the city is so much more than just politics; it can be a fantastic tourist destination if you know where - and when - to visit.

In the summer, the city is teeming with tourists, so if you can get away in September, then you won't have to elbow your way in to look up at Lincoln's impressive memorial or while away hours in a queue to get into one of the many Smithsonian museums.

The Air & Space museum is a must-see for any science buff, but don't expect to see a concorde or the Discovery space shuttle - they're housed in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, just a few minutes from Dulles International airport. It's near-on impossible to get to by public transport, but an easy 40 minute ride in the car if you're really set on seeing some more spacecraft.

Another Smithsonian institution worth the visit is the National Museum of American History. Sounds like something you'd go to for a school history trip, but it's actually pretty fascinating. Packed full of vintage American cars and trucks, steam trains and home to the star-spangled flag which inspired the national anthem.

Most of the museums are handily located along the Mall, bookended by the US Capitol - which houses the US Congress - and the Washington Monument. Although you don't need to go up there to appreciate its size - standing at more than 555ft it's the world's tallest stone structure and obelisk - tickets can be obtained for free on the day or for a price in advance.

The Monument is worth seeing both by night and day, the latter you get the full impact of the obsolete monument penetrating the sky, the former you get to view it through the WW2 Memorial, who's gurgling fountains and wreath-bestowed memorials are enchantingly lit up.

Washington's Monument, mirrored in the reflecting pool

A short walk from the Monument is the reflecting pool, immortalised in the movie Forrest Gump, and beautiful by day, but stunning at night. Start up at the Monument end and walk down beside the shimmering water until you reach the Lincoln Memorial. Clamber up the steps and don't look back until you've reached the top - trust me, it will be worth the wait. The reward for your aching calves will be a breathtaking view of the pool, reflecting the Monument in all its glory, coupled with a glimpse of the Capitol building illuminated in the night sky.

While you're in the vicinity, wander over to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. At night, the garden is made all the more eerie by the haunting statues emerging from the shadows, frozen in time, and, coupled with the sandblasted faces in the marble wall, it's a sobering sight to behold.

If you're looking for accommodation to match the grand sights of the capital city, and you've got some money set aside for a rainy day, then check into The Jefferson on 16th Street. Step into the hotel's lobby and you're instantly transported to a country manor. Black and white tiles, oil paintings and mahogany desks welcome guests, while the walls are adorned with tributes to the hotel's namesake, and peppered with historical artefacts. There are cosy cubby hole rooms around every corner, perfect for late-night chats over a tumbler of whisky, and a snug library with plush velvet chairs ripe for reading in.

The country house-style lobby at The Jefferson

If a comfortable bed is what you're after, then The Jefferson comes up trumps. Its luxurious foam-topped bed is a welcome rest for any traveller, while those who want to get their dose of American TV will be overjoyed to find there's even a screen in the bathroom mirror.

The room is simple, but it's dripping with class. Slippers laid out at the side of the bed after the twice-daily housekeeping service, his-n-her's sinks in the Italian marble bathroom, a walk-in shower, lighted make-up mirror, and, of course, a magnificent writing desk even Thomas Jefferson himself would be proud to sit at.

The Jefferson's gorgeous breakfast room

Once you've finished ogling the room, breakfast in The Greenhouse awaits you. A room which looks as sumptious as the food tastes, it's not hard to imagine you've been transported back to the 1920s. You can listen to the indoor fountains trickle, the china teacups clink all while soaking up the morning sunlight through the Art Deco domed glass ceiling.

Fill up on eggs benedict, fresh fruit and breakfast smoothies so you're ready to immerse yourself in more beautiful buildings when you take a stroll up to Dupont Circle, home to Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe, a trendy bookshop with a bar at the back (Shoreditch, eat your heart out), jumbo chess and a farmer's market on Sundays.

If you're feeling seriously energetic, then you can carry on up Massachusetts Avenue to Embassy Row, and gawk at the weird and wonderful embassy buildings (the British one is particularly impressive, the Indian embassy is a rather more modest affair), and play guess the country.

Big and beautiful buildings can wear a little thin, however, and it's well worth hunkering down in some of the other neighbourhoods Washington has to offer to experience a different vibe to the city.

M Street in Georgetown is a hive of activity reminiscent of a busy English high street. Everything from independent boutiques and bars from up-market stores and mouth-watering delicatessans can be found on the road, while Georgetown Cupcakes are well worth a visit - just avoid on Sunday afternoons, when the queue snakes around the block.

Although it's a chain, Shop House is to Asian food what Chipotle is to Mexican. Build your own bowl for just $7 and fill your boots in the M Street branch, while watching the world go by in one of the sidewalk window booths, so you can continue exploring the vibrant neighbourhood.

Make sure you take a stroll up one of the residential side streets such as 34th Street to get a real feel of what it's like to live in Washington, where beautiful townhouses sit on tree-lined avenues, atop quaint brick pavements.

Ben's infamous Chili Bowl joint

U Street is another must-see. A far cry from the bourgeois M Street, it's the jazz home of Washington and the city's former heart of African-American culture, where Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald used to play. Swing by Ben's Chili Bowl, which is so good, even Obama's eaten there.

Foggy Bottom (no sniggering in the back, there) is another great area to visit. It's one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Washington, and stretches down to the Potomac River, a favourite destination for runners and watersport enthusiasts. You can head to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage for free performances every night, or check out the infamous Watergate complex, the building at the heart of the scandal which rocked 1970s America.

Perfectly positioned for experience Foggy Bottom and Georgetown is The Fairmont Hotel, at 2401 M Street. The hotel is about to undergo a multimillion pound makeover, but it's already an impressive establishment.

The Fairmont's serene courtyard

If you're fortunate enough to get on the Gold floor, you can take advantage of the complimentary breakfast and evening canapes, both of which are surprisingly generous in their range of selection and quantity. Feast yourself on poached egg atop beef hash, french toast and maple syrup, smoked crispy bacon and spinach and apple juice to kick start your day. Desserts are also served later into the evening, perfect if you've come back from your day out craving a sweet bite.

The hotel's courtyard is a tranquil retreat from Washington's busy streets. Decked in fairy lights by night, relax and unwind with a Bee-tini from the bar while you soothe your soul listening to the gurgling fountains. Not only can you savour the delicious vodka and tequila cocktail - which, by the way, was the best martini I've ever tasted - but you can do so with a conscience; in response to the nation's Honey Bee shortage, the hotel's rooftop is home to 105,000 Italian Honey Bees, whose honey is used in the cocktail.

The Fairmont's Loggia Lounge

The Fairmont knows how to do its communal spaces; not only is there the serene courtyard, the hotel's Loggia lobby is traditional without being too chintzy - a pitfall of many hotels in the city - and a genuinely delightful place to kick back and relax in, particularly when the morning sunshine is streaming through the windows.

Although it's tempting to stick with the throngs of tourists flocking to the memorials and government buildings, if you stray off the main streets and onto the beaten track, you'll be able to discover your own Washington, not just the one that's always portrayed on the big screen.