Georgetown Walking Tour, Washington D.C.

Georgetown Walking Tour (Self Guided), Washington D.C.

Overlooking the Potomac River, in the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., lies a historic neighborhood called Georgetown. Those poetically inclined tend to compare Georgetown to "a tapestry of cobblestone dreams and timeless grace." Indeed, this part of Washington, D.C., replete with charming tree-lined, cobblestone streets, cultural landmarks, and a vibrant atmosphere, is a combination of history and scenic beauty.

Despite its proximity to downtown, this former port area has preserved much of its distinct character which makes it a popular destination, offering a unique experience within the capital.

One of the top attractions, loved by locals and visitors alike, is Washington Harbour – a waterfront complex renowned for its outdoor seating and lively vibe.

Many of Georgetown's buildings are over 200 years old. The Old Stone House is the oldest unchanged building in Washington, D.C.; constructed in 1765, it now serves as a museum.

In Georgetown, "old-world charm meets modern allure." Attesting to this saying is Blues Alley, a legendary jazz club operating since 1965. Many jazz enthusiasts visit Blues Alley to enjoy its unique ambiance and exceptional music.

Another key landmark is Martin's Tavern, a historic restaurant and bar that has been serving customers since 1933. This place is famous for its cozy atmosphere and association with various political figures, including John F. Kennedy.

"In Georgetown, the streets whisper tales of the past, while the present dances with sophistication," they say. If you want to hear some of these tales and feel Georgetown's embrace – an intoxicating blend of heritage and contemporary chic, embark on this self-guided walking tour.
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Georgetown Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Georgetown Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Washington D.C. (See other walking tours in Washington D.C.)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Washington Harbour
  • Old Stone House
  • Blues Alley
  • Martin's Tavern
  • Georgetown Lutheran Church
  • Tudor Place
  • Oak Hill Cemetery
  • Dumbarton Oaks
Washington Harbour

1) Washington Harbour

Nested along the banks of the Potomac River, Washington Harbour offers some of the most picturesque views of the river to be found, complete with the sights of the Kennedy Center, Washington Monument, Key Bridge and Roosevelt Island, also very impressive – a treasure trove for an avid photographer.

The Harbour is a part of historic Georgetown. Its shops, condominiums, and restaurants are the brainchild of Arthur Cotton Moore. In 1977, this famous Princeton graduate was honored by the American Institute of Architectures for the development of his own architectural style, hence known as “Industrial Baroque.” The Washington Harbour complex is among its most famous examples.

Upon visiting this site, one is quickly struck by the low-level construction in relation to the water level of the Potomac. You may also want to check out the flood gate system that helps to protect the area.

While marveling at the unique architecture, you may also want to partake of some of the good food at one of the four main restaurants within the complex: The Sequoia, Tony & Joe’s, Nick’s Riverside Grill, or Cabanas. After a lovely meal, try taking a river cruise aboard one of the small river boats departing from here every day.

Why You Should Visit:
Crowded but incredibly nice an area, elegant but not super fancy.
The perfect spot to culminate a self-guided walking tour of the Georgetown district.
You can watch all the watersports in the summer and feel the breeze with a nice drink in hand :)

There are tons of places to either grab a drink or a meal by the water.
If you'd rather enjoy a restaurant, most take reservations, so plan ahead, if you can.
Old Stone House

2) Old Stone House

The Old Stone House in Georgetown is a significant historical site, showcasing the oldest surviving example of Pre-Revolutionary Colonial architecture in the United States still standing on its original foundation. This site offers a glimpse into a bygone era, a time before the existence of the United States and before the Revolutionary War.

The Old Stone House exemplifies vernacular architecture. Its outer structure, made of blue granite and fieldstone, was sourced from a site about 2 miles away, near the Potomac River. The walls of the house vary in thickness, ranging from two to three feet. The oak used in constructing the house was obtained from the forests that were once abundant in the Georgetown area. Adjacent to the house, there is a Colonial Revival garden, enclosed by a white picket fence. This garden extends 399 feet in depth and spans 76 feet in width. Within the garden, you'll find roses, perennial plants, and bulbs carefully arranged throughout.

One of the enjoyable aspects of visiting this venerable homestead is immersing oneself in the local legends surrounding it. Over the years, there have been claims that it served as the Engineering Headquarters for General George Washington. Another piece of folklore suggests that Suter's Tavern, a famous establishment frequented by notable figures like George Washington and associated with land deals that led to the establishment of Washington, D.C. as the "Federal City," once stood here. Unfortunately, there is no concrete evidence to support either of these historical tales.

In 1953, the United States Government acquired the land and the house, transforming it into a museum now maintained by the National Park Service. The Old Stone House is part of the Georgetown Historic District, which holds significance as a National Historic Landmark.
Blues Alley

3) Blues Alley

Blues Alley, established in 1965, stands as a renowned jazz venue that combines dining and nighttime entertainment. Almost 360 nights of the year are dedicated exclusively to hosting jazz musicians. Over the years, Blues Alley has welcomed some of the most celebrated figures in the world of jazz and blues, including luminaries like Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughan, Charlie Byrd, Maynard Ferguson, and Eva Cassidy. Notably, in 1975, Earl Fatha Hines spent a week at Blues Alley, creating an hour-long solo film for British TV during the club's afternoon downtime. This film prominently featured Frank Hart, the famous "clean-up man" of Blues Alley.

Moreover, Blues Alley is more than just a jazz venue; it also operates a non-profit jazz division known as the Blues Alley Jazz Society. This organization is committed to jazz education and community outreach, particularly for young performers in the local area. Their initiatives encompass programs like the Blues Alley Youth Orchestra and the Blues Alley Jazz Summer Camp.

Blues Alley pays tribute to its most beloved performers by allowing them to create signature dishes featured on the restaurant's regular menu. A prime example is Phyllis Hyman's jumbo shrimp dish, which has become one of the menu's most cherished items. This privilege of culinary recognition is not extended to all performers and is reserved for those who have achieved greatness in the realm of jazz, including luminaries such as Nancy Wilson and John Williams.
Martin's Tavern

4) Martin's Tavern

Established in 1933, Martin's Tavern is the oldest family-owned restaurant in Washington, D.C. Situated one block north from Wisconsin Avenue, in the heart of Georgetown, the tavern was founded by former Major League Baseball player William Gloyd "Billy" Martin. Over the years it has hosted pretty much every U.S. President, from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush.

Back in the day, Martin's Tavern seemed more like a place for the older, well established, famous, and overall somewhat stodgy people. Today, this Georgetown classic, albeit seemingly unchanged for decades, appeals to the much broader crowd, and in a rather comforting way, with its dark wooden bar, oak paneling, booths, stained glass light fixtures, paintings of old-time DC and signed retro photos. Every booth within this place has its own memories, sometimes bronze plaques, and often carved initials. Booth #3 near the door is famously where, on June 24, 1953, Senator John F. Kennedy (then 36) proposed marriage to Jaqueline Lee Bouvier (aged 24) and she said yes. The young Jack Kennedy lived just two blocks away and used to come here often, on Sundays after services.

Martin's menu is a mix of American and pub food (potato skins, fish and chips, etc.), and while it isn’t life-changing, you’ll probably get a good history lesson here while eating it. Otherwise, this place is great for people watching, especially in good weather, as there are lots of outside sidewalk tables. It is very fun and surprisingly less expensive than some of the nearby Italian joints.

There are private back rooms under the stairs reserved for people with security issues (it is Georgetown after all, mind you).
Georgetown Lutheran Church

5) Georgetown Lutheran Church

The Georgetown Lutheran Church is one of the oldest Lutheran congregations in the United States, and is the oldest Lutheran Church in Washington, D.C. You would have to travel a long way to a place like the Holy Trinity Church in Delaware to find much more history for the followers of Martin Luther.

The church was built in 1769. The original German immigrants that founded it came to the Potomac Valley to become farmers, and were enticed to settle here by offers of inexpensive land (made possible by Lord Baltimore).

The congregation itself was served for many years by itinerate preachers of the German Lutheran Church. The group officially formed into a church in 1766. Colonel Charles Beatty donated the land for the first building. The church was erected at the corner of Fourth and High Street, with its cornerstone laid in 1769.

Despite four revisions that this church had gone through over the centuries, it managed to retain a great deal of history to it, which is well worth seeing. The old bell from the church, which was given away in the 1870s, now sits in the front yard after being salvaged from a junk yard in 1937.
Tudor Place

6) Tudor Place

Tudor Place stands as one of the prominent mansions from the Federal era in the United States. It was designed by William Thornton, the architect responsible for the U.S. Capitol. Construction of the house commenced around 1794 and concluded approximately in 1815.

The house was owned by Thomas Peter and his wife, Martha Parke Custis Peter, who had significant ties to the Washington, Custis, and Lee families. Thomas Peter served as the mayor of Georgetown from 1789 to 1798, and Martha Parke Custis was the granddaughter of Martha Washington. After Mrs. Washington's passing, the Peter family inherited a considerable number of enslaved individuals from Mount Vernon. They continued to hold these individuals in bondage for many years, and some were only freed as a result of the Civil War.

The house is situated atop a hill within an extensive estate featuring lawns and gardens. While the north-facing side of the structure is notably unadorned, the south-facing elevation, which overlooks Georgetown, is a striking example of Regency design. The main house comprises end pavilions connected by loggias, stuccoed brick facades with minimal ornamentation, and Tuscan columns. The building boasts an unconventional floor plan but boasts fine interior detailing.

A highlight of Tudor Place is its collection of over 100 items that once belonged to George and Martha Washington. Enriched by 180 years of ownership by the Peter family, both the residence and the gardens offer a unique window into American cultural and social history. In 1960, the site was designated as a National Historic Landmark and is now accessible to the public.
Oak Hill Cemetery

7) Oak Hill Cemetery

Established through an Act of Congress in 1848, Oak Hill Cemetery encompasses 22 acres of historically significant grounds, serving as both a burial site and a botanical garden. It also boasts a mausoleum and is notable for housing the renowned Oak Hill Cemetery Chapel. Having been in use since 1849, this site has earned its place on the National Register of Historic Places.

The cemetery's inception can be attributed to W.W. Corcoran, a banker, philanthropist, and prominent businessman who founded Riggs National Bank. His financial acumen played a crucial role in maintaining the financial stability of the United States during the Mexican War.

Mr. Corcoran acquired the land for the cemetery from George Corbin Washington and Lewis W. Washington, both of whom were related to the first President of the United States, George Washington. Over time, the architectural beauty of the site, including its buildings and landscaping, was meticulously crafted by architects George F. de la Roche and James Renwick Jr., known for their work at the Smithsonian Institution.

The design of the cemetery bears a striking resemblance to some of the finest English gardens, Gothic chapels, and 19th-century Romantic Art. However, what truly sets this cemetery apart is its association with Civil War burial sites, making it one of the most significant such sites in Washington, D.C. Maps of the burial plots are available to help visitors appreciate the historical significance of this 19th-century cemetery.
Dumbarton Oaks

8) Dumbarton Oaks

Perched atop the historic Georgetown neighborhood, Dumbarton Oaks stands as a must-visit destination within Washington, D.C. This sprawling 53-acre property is the enduring legacy of philanthropists and art enthusiasts Robert Woods Bliss and his wife Mildred.

In the year 1920, following an extensive and meticulous search, the Bliss couple acquired an old-fashioned Federal-style country house nestled amidst somewhat neglected grounds. By 1929, they expanded the estate by adding a Music Room, and in subsequent years, constructed a wing to house their renowned collection of Byzantine art. Another wing was subsequently built to showcase Mr. Bliss's assemblage of Pre-Columbian art.

In 1921, the Blisses enlisted the talents of renowned landscape designer Beatrix Farrand to craft an English garden enveloping the entire property. Over nearly three decades of close collaboration, Mildred Bliss and Beatrix Farrand meticulously planned every aspect of the gardens, including terraces, benches, urns, and borders, ultimately fashioning a stunning urban oasis.

By 1940, the upper sixteen acres of the estate were bequeathed to Harvard University for the establishment of a research institute dedicated to Byzantine studies, Pre-Columbian studies, as well as the history of gardens and landscape architecture. Concurrently, a Garden Library was established to house Mrs. Bliss's collection of rare books chronicling the history of gardens.

Presently, the entire estate operates under the auspices of Harvard University's Trustees. Its impressive art collection has been on extended loan to the National Gallery of Art.

Why You Should Visit:
The Museum is home to a world-class collection of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art; the old music and rare books rooms are fascinating to walk through. From the tapestries and paintings in the Renaissance-inspired Music Room to the graceful lines and natural sunlight of the Philip Johnson Pavilion, visitors can admire art dating back to antiquity, as well as innovative special exhibitions.
You can easily spend a few hours wandering through the gardens and discovering every hidden corner.
Everything is well-kept up – space, lighting, staff, historical rooms, terraces, gardens, and security.

Make sure you get the booklet and follow the suggested garden route as it helps to understand the layout. Also look out for birds and small mammals.

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