Located at the intersection between Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire avenues is one of the most famous traffic circles in Washington, D.C.: Dupont Circle. The grassy park in the center of the roundabout is adorned with a stunning fountain that honors the area’s namesake, Samuel Francis Dupont, an admiral in the Mexican-American War and a naval officer for the Union during the American Civil War.
Dupont Circle and the area surrounding it serves as a microcosm for Washington, D.C. It is an area with impressive historical depth, complemented with many changes over the years, and is now a cultivated and trendy location for both residents and tourists. What makes Dupont different from other areas in the city, though, is its juxtaposition of sophisticated cultural centers with more casual hotspots.
There is no better illustration of this contrast at work than the art community. For example, The Phillips Collection, the first modern art museum in the country, provides people with a cosmopolitan taste of the arts. The building houses pieces from some of the most famous painters in the last few centuries. From Henri Matisse and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, to Vincent Van Gogh and Willem de Kooning, the variety and notoriety of the modern art on display is unparalleled.
With regard to viewing experiences, the Collection offers many different options for visitors to choose from. There is the Rothko Room, which serves as a meditation space, where guests sit with walls covered in Mark Rothko’s signature abstract blocks of color. Additionally, there is the family gallery, which offers different activities for children. Visitors can also pay to have private tours of parts of the gallery that are not available for free.
In contrast to The Phillips Collection, Dupont Underground is a staple of Dupont that is located underneath the circle. Accessed by walking down the stairs under a red Dupont Underground sign at the intersection of 19th St. and Dupont Circle, the space is used for music shows, art exhibitions and interactive theater performances.
Georgetown students should be sure to visit the World Press Photo Exhibition, which showcases selected visual journalism of the past year. Another current exhibition, “Sounds from the Underground,” gives local singers and musicians the opportunity to showcase their talents.
In addition to the underground scene, independent bookstores are other great places to visit in Dupont. Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café, located on Connecticut Avenue, is a combined bookstore and coffeeshop with a well-curated collection of books, with a particularly large section devoted to current affairs and politics. The bookstore is cozy, with wooden floors and several small rooms that are usually crowded with browsing customers.
The cafe is at the back of the store and remains open until 1 a.m. People sit at the small tables with coffee and pastries and books, journals and laptops. Afterwords Cafe is the kind of place that is impossible to get bored in: One could easily spend a couple of hours browsing through the extensive literary catalogue and nibbling fish tacos at the cafe.
Another Dupont Circle gem, Second-Story Books, is only a five-minute walk away from Kramerbooks & Afterwords, with a selection of literature just as awe-inspiring. Second-Story Books has a less-harried atmosphere than the bustling Kramerbooks & Afterwords. Cell phone conversations are forbidden in the store, and the atmosphere is calm and peaceful. Second-Story is the perfect place to browse through second-hand books uninterrupted, and it is also very easy to lose yourself amongst the neat stacks lining the deceptively large store.
Second-Story Books is also home to cool graphics, DVDs and CDs, as well as collector’s items such as the first American and first edition in English of “Les Misérables,” available for purchase for $4,000. The store is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and has been named one of the best bookstores in the Washington metropolitan area by Washingtonian Magazine.
When visitors are tired of book browsing, they can gaze at the impressive architecture of Embassy Row, a stretch of Massachusetts Avenue extending northwest from the circle. When strolling through Dupont, Hoyas can find many embassies representing countries from all corners of the globe.
Some notable locations are the Indonesian Embassy, which features a 16-foot statue of the Indonesian goddess of knowledge and wisdom Dewi Saraswati, and the Finnish Embassy, which is the first environmentally friendly embassy in the United States. The unique aspect of these offices is that many of the buildings in the area were not initially designed for consular services. Most of the Dupont embassies are located in historic residences, which provide a more old-school feel than many newer, modernist embassies.
For those looking for the perfect junction between tradition and modernity, Dupont Circle is the place to be — located just a 10-minute car ride away, there is no excuse for Hoyas not to enjoy a stroll around the area. Dupont has a plethora of opportunities for classy activities, whether visitors prefer books and a snack, underground music performances and art galleries or the architectural grandness of the Embassy Row.
Students can reach Dupont Circle by a 30-minute walk, taking the Georgetown University Transportation Shuttle or taking the metro to the Dupont Circle station.