One of the great things about living in Washington, DC is being among such an international community. All countries that the United States has diplomatic relations with have an embassy here, and twice a year, many of them open to the public.

The DC embassy tours are a big draw for travelers to get a taste of the world’s cultures without having to stray too far from home. They’re a great way to discover new places to visit that you may not have considered before.

And for those visiting or living in the U.S. from other countries, they provide an opportunity to see your home country’s embassy.

Being a local, I’ve had the opportunity to check out the embassy open houses a number of times. Now, I’m sharing my tips with you so you can make the most of your visit!

Here’s what you need to know if you plan to check out the DC embassy tours.

There are two sets of DC embassy tours…

…and they take place over the first two weekends in May. The first set of tours is the Around the World Embassy Tour run by Cultural Tourism DC. More than 50 embassies across the District take part in the open houses.

The second weekend is the EU Open House run by the European Union Delegation to the USA. Here, all 28 EU member nations open their embassies to visitors.

Not all tours are treated the same.

Some embassies have a reputation for putting on a great cultural event, and others, frankly, are duds.

I recall being disappointed by the embassy of Cyprus because the only thing they had in the embassy was an unmanned spread of food and a video with no sound playing on a loop. After waiting 30 minutes in line, the least you would hope for and expect is a brochure about the country!

Other embassies really deliver. They’ll have literature available and diplomatic staff on hand to answer questions and talk to you about their country and culture. Some have performances of traditional dance, music or crafts. Many will provide a taste of regional food and drink, often provided by vendors who sometimes have giveaways. And it isn’t always the embassies you’d expect – which leads to my next point.

Plan to be wowed by embassies you wouldn’t expect to be interested in.

Some of my favorites the last two years weren’t on my list, and were countries I was mostly unfamiliar with prior to visiting. A few of the most unexpectedly cool experiences were Kazakhstan, Luxembourg and Albania.

The Kazakh embassy was decorated with beautiful, intricate crafts from the country that you could learn about. The embassy staff and their families lent their time to answer questions, and some dressed in traditional wedding attire to demonstrate traditional dress customs. Out on the patio, they had a setup with a food (apples, because they originated in Kazakhstan, and bread) and free books and brochures that visitors could take to learn more.

The Albanian embassy had a spread of food and wine as well as traditional dancers performing in one of the upstairs rooms. The building itself was also lovely, and visitors had the freedom to poke into many of the embassy’s thoughtfully decorated rooms.

What set these apart was that they were memorable. And that’s the whole point of the DC embassy tours – to generate interest in and tourism to the participating countries.

So, be sure to read the descriptions of what the embassy programming will be to help you select where to go.

Bulgarian singers take part in the EU Open Houses in Washington, DC

Bulgarian singers take part in the EU Open House.

If anything mentions food or drink, it’s probably worth checking out. Some have reputations for being consistently great. Here are my top picks after two rounds of tours, mostly focused around Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue:

When planning, pick the top three embassies you want to check out and go to those first.

Because lines get long (see below), it’s important to know in advance the top spots you want to check out. Trust me, after waiting in line for a handful of embassies, you’ll be ready to call it quits. They’re also only open from 10:00-4:00, which is a small window considering how many embassies open their doors.

You can check out a few of the reviews for the top stops here and here. Keep in mind that embassies don’t always have the same programming from year to year, so you’ll want to check what they’ll be featuring this year before you go.

Also prioritize embassies in close proximity to each other.

 

You won’t want to waste time taking public transit or walking long distances between embassies. Instead, pick a cluster of embassies and walk between those. The highest concentration is in Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue near Dupont Circle. Another good cluster is north of there, in Cleveland Park and Van Ness.

Bring good shoes and plenty of water – you’ll spend a lot of time in line.

For popular destinations, expect to spend 30 minutes to two hours in line unless you line up first thing in the morning.

That’s yet another benefit of visiting the embassies of countries that tend to fly below the radar: they’ll have shorter lines. This is especially true for the Around the World Embassy Tours, as there are so many more countries to visit that the crowds tend to spread out a bit more.

Definitely DON’T skip the tours because of the lines and crowds.

Yes, waiting in line can be frustrating, and crowds are annoying. But the ability to see, taste and experience the world’s cultures in a day is worth it. I promise you will leave with lasting memories, new travel inspiration, and likely a full belly!

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Have you done the DC embassy tours before? Tell me about your experience and your favorite stops in the comments!

Thinking of taking part in the annual Washington, DC embassy tours? Here's a roundup of what you need to know and insider tips to make the most of your experience.

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