48 hours in Washington, DC: A development insider's guide

An aerial shot of Washington, D.C. Photo by: John Sonderman / CC BY-NC

The Washington, D.C., area hosts one of the largest concentrations of global development organizations in the world. Home to institutions such as the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and the United States Agency for International Development, along with thousands of nonprofits, consulting firms, embassies and social impact ventures, chances are, if you work in development, a trip to D.C. could be in your future.

If you find yourself heading to the U.S. capital for Devex World on June 14, or another conference, business meeting or even job interview, here is a quick guide for navigating the city.

Day 1

Get your day started with a “direct trade” latte at Bourbon Coffee. The first retail brand in the United States to originate from Africa, the D.C. outpost of this Kigali-original sources all of their coffee beans directly from farmers in Rwanda.

Stroll a couple of blocks down to Pennsylvania Avenue for meetings at the World Bank or International Finance Corp. or a couple of blocks further to the U.S. State Department. Have some time to kill between appointments? Check out the World Bank calendar of events as there is typically something going on in the building. Or pop over to the newly renovated Renwick gallery, one of the many free museums within the Smithsonian collection, to check out the “Instagram famous” Wonder exhibit, where photography and social media sharing is encouraged.

Convince your World Bank contact to host you for lunch in their much buzzed about cafeteria where you can find cuisine from nearly every corner of the world. If you want some service with your meal, request they reserve a table in the executive dining room where you can sample food from the international buffet and enjoy a glass of wine or post-lunch aperitif.

If you’d prefer to try some local fare, Founding Farmers is a popular restaurant located about a block away from the bank. The restaurant is owned by more than 40,000 family farmers who provide locally sourced sustainable ingredients to serve up American specialities such as deviled eggs, skillet cornbread, and a regional favorite, crab cakes.

Take the orange or blue line from the Farragut West metro stop to Federal Triangle with direct access to the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center, home of USAID.

If you need to power up or jump on wifi, and hope to mingle with USAID staffers, grab a seat (and some more caffeine to fight the now setting-in jet lag) at the Starbucks located across the street in the JW Marriott hotel. (Warning: the Ronald Reagan Building, including the food court, does not have public WiFi access available).

Suggest meeting up with USAID colleagues for a drink or early dinner at the nearby Hamilton. With over 1,000 seats, perhaps one of the largest restaurants in town has something for everyone and is a regular meeting spot for the USAID-set. If the weather is nice, head around the corner to the rooftop bar, POV, at the W hotel where you can take in one of the better views of the Washington monuments and skyline.

For dinner, experience the variety of global cuisine available in this multicultural city by nabbing a coveted seat at the acclaimed Bad Saint, a Filipino restaurant located in the Columbia Heights neighborhood on the green and yellow metro lines. (Warning, patrons start queuing up at the no reservations restaurant around 5 p.m.). If lines aren’t your speed, get a reservation at the equally acclaimed Laotian hot spot, Thip Kao, also in Columbia Heights. The more adventurous eaters can find plenty of excitement on the jungle menu.

Day 2

Before your first meetings, grab a cafecito at Sip of Seattle, a favorite among coffee aficionados at the Inter-American Development Bank and just steps away from their D.C. headquarters.

For lunch, head to Toro Toro, a Latin American steakhouse and another IDB staff standby, host to frequent team lunches, birthday celebrations and send-offs.

Walk or Uber over to the Golden Triangle district where many global development NGOs and consulting firms are based in the Farragut and Dupont Circle areas, such as Chemonics, Pact, Population Services International, FHI 360 and your favorite news source, Devex (wink). The area is also chock-full of local fast casual restaurants where you can snag a Southeast Asian inspired bowl at Shop House, create your own salad at Sweetgreen, get a taco to-go at Surfside, or line up with in-the-know Washingtonians at the Greek Deli for a gyro. If you find yourself still in the area for happy hour, Café Citron is a frequent hangout for the international crowd where you can sip a mojito (and some nights, get a salsa dancing lesson).

Take the orange line from Farragut West across the bridge to Arlington, another spot where global development organizations such as Cardno, Social Impact, John Snow, Inc., and Managment Sciences for Health congregate in Rosslyn, Courthouse or Ballston. (Tip: To sound like a local, you can refer to this area of Northern Virginia as Nova).

Get a taste of the South, and a beignet, for a mid-afternoon snack at Bayou Bakery in Courthouse or a pint at Ireland’s Four Courts pub. From Rosslyn, head over the Key Bridge for a picturesque walk over the Potomac to Georgetown, an historic neighborhood known for its cobblestone streets, waterfront views, upscale shops, and famous residents.

For dinner, continue your tour of the global culinary scene. Home to the largest Ethiopian population outside of Ethiopia, D.C. boasts many excellent Ethiopian restaurants. A favorite is Ethiopic, located in the burgeoning Atlas District neighborhood around H St, NE. (With no metro station, Uber may be your best bet to reach this part of town or you can take the newly opened streetcar from Union Station down the H street corridor).

Another Ethiopian standby is Dukem, located in the vibrant U Street corridor, accessible by metro on the green line and a short walk to the exploding restaurant scene on 14th Street, NW. If you are looking for a souvenir to bring back home, chances are you will find something unique down the street at Zawadi, a collection of contemporary African art, jewelry and textiles.

Getting around

Much of the city is walkable and with the streets laid out in a grid of numbers and letters, navigating the downtown is fairly straightforward. The metro system can get you around most parts of the city and its close in suburbs. However, warning that many lines may be closed or delayed due to a yearlong effort to improve core safety and performance of the now decades old system. You can check the latest metro delays and closures here.

Otherwise, you can also easily move around by bus, including the Circulator, which travels some of the most popular routes, or by cab or car sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. If you plan to rely on the bus for travel, download the app BusTrackDC or visit busETA to figure out the best routes and schedule.

Where are your go-to places to visit when in D.C.? What are some of your favorite hidden gems located near popular global development organizations? Please share in the comments below.

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About the author

  • Kate Warren

    Kate Warren is Executive Vice President and resident talent and careers guru at Devex. With 15 years of global development recruitment experience advising international NGOs, consulting firms, and donor agencies, she has a finger on the pulse of hiring trends across the industry and insider knowledge on what it takes to break in.

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