Discover DC neighborhoods. Roam the streets and alleys of DC’s historic and eclectic neighborhoods. See 300 years of different architectural styles – Federal, Victorian, Queen Anne, Beaux-Arts, Romanesque, Brutalism, and 20th Century Revival architecture.
Sample cuisines from around the world. Putter in antique stores, record shops, and local “Made In DC” retail establishments. Take a trip around the world but stay in your city. Be a flaneur.
“Flâneur is a French term used by nineteenth-century French poet Charles Baudelaire to identify an observer of modern urban life.”Tate Museum
Discovering DC neighborhoods is a passion for me. In 2015, I swapped my country life in upper Montgomery County, Maryland for a highrise condo in Northwest Washington DC. While I still return to Boyds to hike at Black Hills Regional Park, I am now an urban walker.
Since I moved to DC, I regularly take weekend “discovery” walks in different DC neighborhoods. Book a walking tour if you visit Washington DC. (Check out my article on “Tour Guides’ 11 Secret Places To Visit In Washington DC).
Washington DC is not just the home of the federal government. More than 700,000 residents are scattered across 131 neighborhoods (as unofficially defined by the D.C. Office of Planning).
“Locals know the difference between Washington and DC. The latter is a city made up of neighborhoods . . . No politics. No power plays. No problem. There’s so much to love about each one of DC’s neighborhoods …”Washington.org
Here are 10+ DC neighborhoods to explore if you love architecture and history, or just need to clock in with 10,000 steps.
Brookland is known as “Little Rome.” It earned this moniker decades ago because the Catholic University of America and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception are located here.
Brookland is actually named after Colonel Jehiel Brooks. He owned a farm here in the 19th century. After his death in 1886, developers began building homes. There are excellent examples of Queen Anne architecture that date back to the 1890s.
Brookland could be mistaken for a town in the suburbs. Many homes feature big yards. But the neighborhood is located less than four miles from the U.S. Capitol (via North Capitol St NW).
Tip: The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America offers free walking tours of the gardens on Saturdays (April through September) at 11 a.m. and 12 noon. Volunteer docents will describe the history, architecture, plants, and friars. There is a formal upper garden, a more natural lower garden, a vegetable garden, and bee apiaries (behind the monastery).
After your mandatory visit to the U.S. Capitol and Library of Congress, consider spending the afternoon strolling through the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood.
Your first stop must be the Eastern Market, located just north of Barracks Row. Architect Adolf Cluss designed the mammoth Italianate architecture red brick structure. (Cluss also designed the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, Center Market, Calvary Baptist Church, and Franklin School (the latter now home to Planet Word museum).
You can buy meat, fish, cheese, baked goods, and flowers six days a week (Tuesday through Sunday). On weekends, Eastern Market sells local farm-fresh produce and handmade arts and crafts. The participating artisans include painters, sculptors, woodworkers, jewelers, potters, and photographers
Notably, DC used to be home to three public markets in the 19th century—a Western, an Eastern, and a Central Market. Federal city architect Pierre L’Enfant wanted residents to get fresh vegetables. It is the only D.C. public market that survived.
Be sure to stop for breakfast or lunch at The Market Lunch inside Eastern Market. Order a platter of buckwheat pancakes for breakfast or a crab cake sandwich for lunch. Or you can dine at numerous restaurants and cafes on Barracks Row (aka 8th Street SE).
“Walk off lunch with a stroll through the neighborhood itself, the largest historic district in Washington, D.C. East Capitol Street from the U.S. Capitol to Lincoln Park is an especially beautiful walk, featuring blocks of stunning 19th century row houses fronted by well-kept gardens.”Carolyn Crouch, Owner, Washington Walks
In the northwest quadrant of Washington DC lies Cleveland Park (nicknamed “The Queen of the Washington Suburbs”). It can be reached by Metro. Connecticut Avenue is the main commercial corridor for this neighborhood. After President Grover Cleveland purchased a farmhouse in 1886, the neighborhood acquired its name of Cleveland Park. Named Oak View, the residence was remodeled as a Queen Anne-style estate. Cleveland Park became a National Register Historic District in 1987.
Visitors will enjoy roaming the back streets to admire late 19th-century homes. The historic Art Deco Uptown Theater opened in 1936. The motifs feature zigzag patterns and floral reliefs.
“Cleveland Park is my go to ‘off the beaten path’ neighborhood recommendation, and of course we offer a walking tour there. Once known as the ‘Queen of the Washington Suburbs,’ the area is chock full of gorgeous Queen Anne mansions, hidden little parks, and even a house designed by I.M. Pei!”Carolyn Muraskin (DC Design Tours)
Tip: Dedicate a morning or afternoon to touring the Washington National Cathedral grounds. Called the Cathedral Close, the 59-acre gardens surrounding the Cathedral provide a peaceful sanctuary for visitors. You will think you are in the country!
DC’s Dupont Circle neighborhood is eclectic. Its architecture spans the robber baron Gilded Age to trendy 21st condo renovations. It’s a little like visiting your eccentric Great Aunt Matilda. Some things seem a tad outdated and moldy. But it’s also a real community—home to independent retailers, restaurants, bookstores, tea stores, galleries, Tarot card spiritualists, and a farmers market.
If you are looking for a whirlwind DC weekend, and your budget doesn’t stretch to a stay at the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown, consider Dupont Circle. It’s a personality-plus type of place. DCist describes it as:
“. . . one of DC’s signature neighborhoods, a beacon of internationalism even in a famously international city.”DCist
The National Register of Historic Places includes many of Dupont Circle’s elegant homes and former apartment houses. You will see some of the most distinguished edifices. The late 19th-century architectural styles, such as Queen Anne and Romanesque, dominate along with 20th-century Revival.
Tip: Go on a scavenger hunt to find the mural of Amanda Gorman. The artist, Kaliq Crosby, chose to paint the 22-year-old poet as we remember her on Wednesday, January 20, 2021 at the inauguration of President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. The mural is located on the side of a townhouse in an alley off 17th Street between Q and Corcoran Street in Washington, DC.
Embassy Row astounds visitors and residents alike when they first see the palatial mansions that line several blocks on Massachusetts Avenue NW in Washington DC. It is one of the most exclusive DC neighborhoods. Gilded Age millionaires, such as miner-turned-millionaire Thomas Walsh, built these mansions to flaunt their wealth.
These turn-of-the-century residences now serve as the embassies for many nations, including Brazil, Great Britain, Haiti, Latvia, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan.
Foreign countries began snapping up the properties after the 1929 Stock Market Crash and the ensuing Depression put a dent in family fortunes. Millionaires’ Row turned into Massachusetts Avenue’s famed Embassy Row.
If you want to see examples of 19th-century architecture, you should definitely spend a day strolling up Massachusetts Avenue toward Sheridan Circle. Thanks to DC’s first governor, Alexander Robey “Boss” Shepherd, this marshland developed into one of the richest DC neighborhoods in the 1890s.
The slogan for Georgetown is “A Story in Every Brick.” You better believe it! It is not certain who was “George” in George Town. Naturally, it is presumed to be George Washington. But Georgetown’s founding preceded George’s nomination as our first U.S. president. It could have been named for King George or the two men named George who sold the land. (George Beall and George Gordon owned the 60-acre tract.)
Georgetown actually preceded the creation of the nation’s capital as it was formally established in 1751 when the Maryland Assembly authorized a town on the Potomac River. This convoluted tale perfectly describes the 268-year history of this town perched on the Potomac that presidents, poets, and muckracking journalists* have called home.
Georgetown is a bee hive of streets running parallel to M Street and crisscrossing Wisconsin Avenue; multi-storied rowhouses dressed in pink, yellow, blue, and green doors, with brick landings laden with flowering pots. But this is no made-for-TV stage front.
Georgetown’s architecture dates back to the 16th century. A particular thrill is to stumble on a “half” street. Slum housing that was condemned in 1935 as a result of the Alley Clearing Act has been redeveloped with bakeries, shops, and bars. There is even a cat cafe in Georgetown.
Year-round, strolling along the waterfront boardwalk is a favorite pursuit in Georgetown. You can see the spires of Georgetown University in the distance. Across the Potomac River sits the Kennedy Center, Watergate, and Key Bridge.
Tip: Go down to the Georgetown Waterfront and see if you can find the “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” street mural featuring President John Kennedy.
LeDroit Park was home to many prominent African Americans in the early 1900s, including Robert A. Terrell and Mary Church Terrell, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and Dr. Anna Julia Cooper.
Established in 1873, LeDroit Park is one of DC’s original suburbs. The neighborhood features homes that are 170 years old. Architect James McGill built 64 homes between 1873 and 1877, mainly in the style of Italian villas, Second Empire, and Gothic cottages. According to DC Historic Sites, LeDroit Park is “an early example of a planned, architecturally unified subdivision.”
The historic district of LeDroit Park still boasts 50 of the original McGill houses. In the late 1880s and 1890s, builders constructed low-rise brick buildings. They feature fine terra cotta and decorative brickwork.
“It’s a beautiful neighborhood of varied architecture, detached homes, and gorgeous gardens. There are informational plaques along the way so you can get a sense of what this neighborhood was like in the early 1900s when it was home to the elite class of Black Washingtonians.”Canden Arciniega, Author & Tour Guide, Free Tours by Foot
Tip: You can spend an entire day just exploring the LeDroit Park/Bloomsdale Heritage Trail. Download the PDF of the map in advance so you can chart your course to see the circle that is named after Julia Haywood Cooper (educator and civil and women’s rights advocate).
Time travelers should head straight for the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington DC if they want to be transported back to the late 19th century. Most of the homes on Logan Circle were built during a 25-year period from 1875 to 1900.
Logan Circle Community Association (LCCA), in partnership with Cultural Tourism DC, created a self-guided heritage walking tour of its historic neighborhood.
“The elegant mansions around the park rose soon after the Civil War. Later, housing shortages and neighborhood decline turned them to rooming houses and even brothels. But today they shine again.”Cultural Tourism DC
Tip: There is a courtyard garden located just off Logan Circle where you can sit down and rest your feet. The Old Korean Legation Museum can also be toured. But advanced online reservations are required.
Mount Vernon Triangle
My home is Mount Vernon Triangle CID which is wedged “triangle-style” between Massachusetts and New York Avenue NW. K Street runs through MVT’s center. There are over 60 restaurants, bars, and retailers, plus a Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.
I was thrilled to have my neighborhood featured in the Washington Post’s Real Estate section in 2022. The article was entitled “Mount Vernon Triangle offers walkability to loads of attractions.” The reporter Hope Hodge Seck interviewed me about why I chose to live at MVT.
“Terri Markle fell in love with Mount Vernon Triangle, a Northwest Washington neighborhood, by walking around it. The creator of a travel blog called Female Solo Trek, Markle got to know the neighborhood before she moved into her condo in 2015 thanks to walking tours that exposed her to the history of the area.”Washington Post
The Mount Vernon Square Historic District neighborhood runs parallel to MVT. There are only fragments left of the residential and commercial enclave. I suggest a walk between the 5th and 7th blocks on M Street NW. You will see some impressive three-story historic homes. Several homes have turrets, which is a small tower on the roof.
The Shaw heritage trail includes stops at the Beaux-Arts style Carnegie Library (originally christened the Central Library) as well as the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church. The latter was the original “home” of Arena Stage. The Mount Vernon Players were the predecessor to Arena Stage. Mount Vernon Place was also once home to the Northern Liberty Market.
Famed DC architect Thomas Franklin Schneider designed a full block of 53 townhouses in 1890. They are located on M Street NW (between 5th and 6th Street). He is famous for building the tallest edifice in DC (The Cairo). Schneider specialized in designing brick homes in the Richardsonian Romanesque style.
Tip: If you like dogs and/or bagels, visit Pearl’s Bagels on 7th Street NW. It is conveniently located across the street from the DC Convention Center. The owners named the shop after their beloved, sassy, brindle French Bulldog. The shop keeps a canister of dog treats on a stand outside their doorway. My dog Parker will not let me pass the shop without making a purchase.
Sixteenth (16th) Street NW
DC’s 16th Street NW might have been the new home of The White House at the turn of the 20th century if Mary Foote Henderson had her way. Wife of Missouri Senator Henderson, she envisioned a grand boulevard filled with embassies. And she had the money to build them.
Henderson described her vision for this major city road. “Something like the Champs Elysees, Sixteenth Street is central, straight, broad, and long; its portal at the District Line is the opening gateway for motor tourists to enter the Capital.” Henderson planned to call it Presidents Avenue.
Today 16th Street NW is home to the largest concentration of embassies (outside Embassy Row). Consider it Embassy Row South. There are seven current embassies located on 16th Street. They represent the nations of Australia, Kazakhstan, El Salvador, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Cuba, Lithuania, and Poland.
Henderson donated land across the street from her castle for the city to build a European-style park. Landscape architects George Burnap and Horace Peaslee created an Italian-style garden. The architectural style is a combination of Versailles and Italian Renaissance. Meridian Hill Park is now in disrepair but in its heyday, it featured fountains, statues, and sweeping lawns. You’ll see 12 acres of gardens, fountains, and sculptures.
This historic community on Meridian Hill is also notable for its churches. Nicknamed the “Highway to Heaven,” 16th Street NW boasts more than 50 churches from the White House to the Maryland border.
Tip: Warder Mansion is the only surviving building in the city designed by architect Henry Hobson Richardson. American businessman Benjamin Warder commissioned the project in 1885. (It is now an apartment house.)
Southwest & The Wharf
For decades, DMV locals regularly commuted to SW DC to buy their fresh crabs at the fish market or see a play at Arena Stage. (The neighborhood is home to DC’s oldest continuously operating open-air fish market.)
But the multi-billion dollar Wharf project turned this quiet neighborhood of mid-Century apartment buildings and coops into DC’s hottest destination.
Expect to pay outrageous garage fees but you will find tons of things to do. Celebrate an anniversary at the swanky Del Mar. Glide on a giant boardwalk swing while looking across the river at Potomac Park. Rent a kayak or paddle board at The Wharf Boathouse and spend some time on the Potomac River.
My main reason to visit The Wharf is to participate in its special festivals. My favorite annual events include the Mardi Gras parade at the Wharf, Bloomaroo at The Wharf (cherry blossom event), and the Running of the Chihuahuas (DC’s funniest Cinco de Mayo celebration).
Tip: The Wharf is a great place to go on dog walks. I like to bring my Golden Retriever (Parker) to walk along the boardwalk. The free jitney service from Potomac Park even permits canine passengers. Follow Parker on Instagram @parker_dcgoldenretriever.
U Street Corridor
Due to its concentration of jazz clubs, U Street became known as “Black Broadway.” In fact, there is a striking white-on-black mural off U Street that spells out BLACK BROADWAY in block letters.
The historical marker explains how “not too long ago black artists, performers, and patrons created this place called Black Broadway, risen from the ground ascending to monumental heights the entire world witnessed in awe! Every day… every night.”
Buy a ticket to see a show at Howard Theatre, founded in 1910. This stage hosted such greats as Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, and Chuck Brown. You can catch jazz or eat brunch gospel-style.
“The first integrated all-women band in the United States, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, used The Howard Theatre as one of their home theatres, and they were often top billed at the midnight shows.”Kaitlin Calogera, Founder, A Tour Of Her Own
Tip: Take a walking tour to learn more about the street art on U Street. MuralsDC offers a portable tour guide to one of the most art-filled corridors in the District. Whether you prefer a 30-minute power walk or a leisurely saunter, you will learn a lot about fantastic street art.
Woodland Normanstone is a sylvan neighborhood bordering Rock Creek valley in NW Washington DC. Home to several ambassadors, this century-old community is a perfect place to escape to the country within a cosmopolitan city.
The neighborhood is named after Woodland Drive and Normanstone Drive, which run parallel to each other. Its hilly terrain allows “peak views” of nearby posh neighborhoods. The neighborhood is a subdivision of Massachusetts Heights. After the Massachusetts Avenue bridge was built spanning Rock Creek Park, developers began buying lots to build homes.
Today, there are about 160 homes in the neighborhood. Woodland Normanstone is located near Woodley Park, Massachusetts Avenue Heights, and Observatory Circle.
If you have a DC neighborhood that would like included in this article, please be sure to leave a comment!
Adéle LandFebruary 18, 2023 at 10:47 am
Loved this! Hoping to get to DC this fall and will definitely use this as a guide!
TerriFebruary 18, 2023 at 1:46 pm
I hope my article provides useful research.
WendyFebruary 18, 2023 at 11:16 am
I absolutely love D.C., but haven’t been in many years. Your article makes me want to go back right now. I’ve only explored the major sites and a couple of the neighborhoods, so clearly there is so much more for me to see.
TerriFebruary 18, 2023 at 1:46 pm
I have spent the last 2-3 years spotlighting different DC neighborhoods to investigate. I still have 5-10 more neighborhoods to add to my article. This is a work-in-progress.
JasminaFebruary 18, 2023 at 12:43 pm
This post makes me want to visit DC and explore some of these neighborhoods. It looks like there is so much to see!
TerriFebruary 18, 2023 at 1:45 pm
I am biased but I think Washington DC is an incredible city to visit. Besides the National Mall & the Smithsonian museums, there are numerous art galleries, theater and concerts. Enjoy!
Laureen LundFebruary 18, 2023 at 12:58 pm
Great timing for me as I have a brief visit to DC coming up. Although our schedule is already jam packed, I definitely will try to see some of these neighborhoods I have never visited before.
TerriFebruary 18, 2023 at 1:44 pm
I am thrilled! You could visit 1-2 neighborhoods in an afternoon depending on where you are staying. Let me know what you choose.
CarlyFebruary 18, 2023 at 3:42 pm
I used to live on 16th Street NW (but not in DC – in my hometown) so I was immediately interested in seeing the DC equivalent – how cool that it’s packed with embassies! I would love to walk around that neighborhood and see all the little international influences.
TerriFebruary 18, 2023 at 4:12 pm
Sixteenth Street is gorgeous. We have century-old houses and mansions. You would enjoy!
JuliFebruary 18, 2023 at 5:01 pm
Terri, I always learn something new from your posts about DC! First I learned a new term, I had no idea what a Flanuer was before I started reading and I might need to plan to trip for next year’s Cinco de Mayo—running of the Chihuahuas sounds like an event you just have to see to believe. I love your passion for DC–your words truly make me want to visit again and again.
TerriFebruary 18, 2023 at 7:21 pm
You make me so proud. I am so excited to live in Washington DC and report on all the things that make our nation’s capital a unique place to visit. Thank you for your kind words. Please come visit DC!
Catherine - Savvy Family TravelFebruary 18, 2023 at 5:38 pm
Urban walking is criminally underrated! I’m grateful you take the time to share your observations and unique places. This looks like another great DC area to explore. Amazing shout out from the Washington Post too, congratulations!
TerriFebruary 18, 2023 at 7:19 pm
I was ridiculously proud of the article on my neighborhood published by the Washington Post. I am very proud of where I live.
ELLAFebruary 18, 2023 at 7:32 pm
Great insights – I had no idea there were so many neighborhoods!
TerriFebruary 18, 2023 at 7:34 pm
It is crazy how many neighborhoods exist in DC. And they are all unique!
DanielleFebruary 18, 2023 at 11:19 pm
All of the houses in your pictures are stunning. I’ve never really thought about visiting DC before but I definitely would after reading, Your dog looks adorable at The Wharf.
TerriFebruary 19, 2023 at 5:26 am
I really hope you can visit DC one day. It is a very walkable city. Also thanks for the compliment about my dog. He is adorable and he knows it … lol!
Nicola LavinFebruary 19, 2023 at 2:17 pm
Capitol Hill is calling out to me but the houses look so elegant in the other neighbourhoods too. This will be very useful for a DC visit.
TerriFebruary 19, 2023 at 4:19 pm
Capitol Hill is stunning. Everyone wants to live there. But the homes are so costly. What amazes me is the range of architecture that you can find in Washington DC thanks to all the millionaires who built home during the Gilded Age.
Goya GaleottaFebruary 19, 2023 at 3:23 pm
Thanks for sharing these wonderful little gems and teaching me a new word today…. turns out, I am a flâneur! 🙂
Also, and I know I say this every single time I comment on a post of yours, but… how cute is Parker!! <3
TerriFebruary 19, 2023 at 4:18 pm
First, a big woof from Parker! He loves his fans. And I also am excited that you learned a new word – flaneur! I hope you get to visit DC.