18 Washington

PopulationMetro: 5,180,000
Power meets play in America’s intriguing capital city.

Although America’s capital may surprise in its Top 20 ranking, its recent ubiquity in dramas on screens small and large (to say nothing of the real-life stuff) has escalated its resonance in the zeitgeist.

Say what you will about the level of intelligence perceived by a gobsmacked human race coming out of America’s capital these days, but the reality is that Washington is the world’s smartest city, topping the globe in Educational Attainment (a percentage of the population with tertiary education, at level 5 ISCED or above). It’s also increasingly rich, finishing Top 10 in our Prosperity category, including #8 in both the GDP per capita and Global 500 companies subcategories.

Place 38
Product 29
Programming 10
People 82
Prosperity 69
Promotion 26

The city scores well in our Culture subcategory (#27 globally) and our overall Product category, including #39 in the world for its free museums—from the two Smithsonians (Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum) to the sprawling National Gallery of Art. But D.C. is stepping up its museum game, big time with plenty of new cultural heavyweights just opened or on the horizon.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture was a long time coming and finally opened in the fall of 2016, becoming the only national museums dedicated to documenting African-American life, culture and history. Its 36,000 artifacts include a slave cabin from a South Carolina plantation and Chuck Berry’s red convertible Cadillac. The museum also features “lenses” that look out at prominent Washington—and thereby American—landmarks like the White House and Washington Monument that were built by slave labor.

Also recently opened (in November 2017) is the stunning Museum of the Bible—the largest dedicated to the best-seller. Modern technology presents the ancient teachings, a result of years of collaboration between scholars, techies and designers, including an immersive 17-projector theater that brings the stories to life.

Chinatown Matt Popovich

The city is also a rising star as an American food city, as well, sure to build on its current #59 ranking globally.

It’s a crest that’s been building for several years. In 2016, Washington was named U.S. “Restaurant City of the Year” by Bon Appétit magazine, followed by the designation of “Hottest Food City” by Zagat. Then Michelin launched its first dedicated restaurant guide to the city. Today, visitors and locals have their choice of international arrivals like José Andrés and home-grown musts like ramen perfection at Erik Bruner-Yang’s Toki Underground.

The city’s cultural and culinary ascent is manifesting at The Wharf development on the Southwest D.C. waterfront. The $2-billion, mile-long project, opened Phase 1 in late 2017 and will eventually boast 3.2 million square feet of residential, hotel, office, restaurant, retail and cultural space. This destination neighborhood will further abet the city’s culinary innovation with plans for a dozen independent restaurants. Culture will be served with two live music venues, and the city’s already impressive public transit system will be supported by its first water taxi fleet, based in The Wharf.