I’ve visited the U.S. capital multiple times for different reasons, different durations, and different experiences. Until recently, I had not paid any attention to literary Washington DC. But, as with all the other thematic options (history, art, or government anyone?), DC has A LOT to offer. I now feel somewhat comfortable offering a Washington DC for Book-Lovers Guide. Well, at least a post about some bookish fun 🙂
To be honest, D.C. has so much to offer in this area that I couldn’t fit it in one weekend trip. Instead, I’m going to combine information from some of my earlier visits, and I’ll pass along information that I came across but couldn’t get to this time around.
Where to Stay
Okay, so we were traveling on card points for our last visit, and these two locations weren’t options for us, but they look ah-mazing! One is an upscale hotel and the other is a fantastic B&B. Depending on your travel style (and budget), these two options are perfect resting spots for your literary travel to Washington, D.C.
The Jefferson is an upscale option in D.C. If you’re more fancy than frugal, this hotel is beautiful. But the draw for bookish types is their agreement to sponsor, in partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and the DC Public Library Foundation, the purchase of a children’s book for a child living in Washington, D.C. The arrangement stipulates that the reservation must be made directly with The Jefferson so keep that in mind as you research options.
Sleep well and do well.
Akwaaba DC is a stately bed and breakfast located in Dupont Circle. Conveniently located and designed with lovers of literature in mind. Each guest room features the books of the author or genre that it is named after. You can stay in the Zora Neale Hurston or the Poetry Room or the Toni Morrison room or Modern Classics. What’s your genre style or favorite author?
Rooms are beautifully decorated to reflect their theme and comfortable accommodations abound. We didn’t stay here this time around, but I definitely have this one in my sights for another visit at some time!
Where to Eat
Recommending dining options is a tricky business. I’m not a foodie so my interests and tastes are not inclined to fuss too much about the food that I eat. However, there are a couple places in Washington, D.C. that exude the literary vibe, and whether I ate there or not, you might want to check them out!
And if wandering around isn’t your idea of a good trip, then you can camp out in one area and experience these three tributes to the literary lifestyle.
Bar Pilar is a brunch and dinner restaurant with innovative and eclectic American fare and a stocked bar pays tribute to Ernest Hemingway’s boat.
Busboys & Poets
We ate lunch at this location. Bonus because it has a bookstore! Dynamic vibe, a wide range of options on their menus, and a setting designed to be a hub for creativity and inspiration. Busboys & Poets has several locations so you can check out whichever one is closest to where you’re visiting.
The name refers to American poet Langston Hughes who worked as a busboy before he gained recognition.
Antoine d’Expeury café
The Antoine d’Expeury café was not on my radar, but we walked right by it, and then it was! I found out later that it’s operated by the same group that manages Bar Pilar. Literature lovers through-and-through! From happy hour to late-night dinner plans, Café Saint-Ex has you covered in a casual atmosphere.
Where to Go
Library of Congress
From stately steps at the front entrance, to granite columns, and high arched ceilings, nothing says “reading is impressive” quite like walking into the Library of Congress. My husband and I explored this massive Library several years ago and we engaged more of a “wander and look” approach. We peered through the glass windows at the people doing research and walked through exhibits of ancient history. The Library of Congress is a great place to experience the past and present interacting.
I visited the LOC website in preparation for this post, and it is an impressive resource! Even if you’re not able to visit anytime soon, check out their online resources. I spent a considerable amount of time getting ideas from their page with resources for families.
Check out my review for the full scoop about Planet Word Museum. For now, suffice it to say, this place does a great job of merging museum format with technological innovation to get visitors thinking about the myriad ways that we use language. My husband and I were so impressed!
Shakespeare Folger Library
The Shakespeare Folger Library was closed when we last visited D.C., but it’s another spot that is on my list for a future visit. A whole place dedicated to the Bard! A literary library must-see for sure!
Don Quixote statue
A gift from Spain to the United States, this statue of Don Quixote on his horse Rocinante is located at the northeast corner of the Kennedy Center. I think the best way to see this statue is going to be either before or after a show at The Kennedy Center!
I am certain that this list is not exhaustive. There are so many to explore! But that’s just another obvious reason why Washington DC is great for book-lovers! You can keep coming back to your favorites or explore new parts of the literary city or your favorite literary genre.
Kramers is a trendy bookstore and an icon of the D.C. bookstore scene. Stop in for the latest releases, a new coffee-table book, bookish swag, or a drink at the Afterwords Café in the back.
Capitol Hill Books
Capitol Hill Books epitomizes the used bookstore. They have a well-curated “new” section, but their used books are the best feature. Located in a walkable neighborhood, Capitol Hill Books has a cozy feel with a sophisticated selection of books.
Busboys & Poets
I talked about the restaurant aspect above, but the Busboys & Poets bookstore is designed to be equally inspiring. Books are carefully selected to reflect the activist vibe of the restaurant/bookstore so you can find titles that aren’t as readily available elsewhere. Fun and unique bookish and activist swag can also be found. Then you can sit with your purchase and grab lunch, dinner, coffee, a drink, or dessert – options!
Bridge Street Books
Located in the Georgetown neighborhood, this bookstore has a well-organized selection of books. Whether you’re looking for literary fiction, biography, poetry, plays or non-fiction, Bridge Street Books curates a contemporary inventory. From our trip, it has the distinction of also having the friendliest and most helpful staff. Don’t miss this stop if you’re in the Georgetown area.
Using this Guide to Washington DC for Book-Lovers
Take your time
Like I said at the beginning, it’s too much to cram into a weekend. I mean, I suppose you could stop in at every place and rush to the next, but I don’t know too many literary types who like to bolt and dash everywhere.
Name your priorities
Maybe you want to visit one attraction, eat at one place, and visit a bookstore. If that seems like a reasonable fit, map it out. If you want to save time, check out the bookstore/café combination vibes in a couple of the suggestions.
Go with a book in mind
One thing that I found particularly helpful when I was visiting 40 bookstores before I turned 40 was to have a book in mind that I was looking for. This helped me (sometimes and a little bit) to not buy everything in the store.
Find more ideas
If you’re still trying to do everything bookish in one visit, make sure to check out these other lists of bookish ideas at Eat this Poem and Book Riot. There is some overlap, but these also go further out of the city limits. Depending on what you’re looking for, a little exploring could be a great addition to your itinerary!
Ultimately, visiting a city to get a glimpse of their literary offerings is for loving some quality bookish connections. Don’t forget that when the overwhelming urge to DO ALL THE STUFF AND THINGS takes over. I have to remind myself of this on a regular basis, but I’ve never regretted it.
Know any other literary spots in Washington DC to add to this list? So far I’ve covered Literary Boston, Literary Charleston, Literary New Orleans, and now DC. What other destinations should I explore?