EU Embassy Day: exploring foreign soil in our own backyard
Despite living in the D.C. area for some time I always seemed to miss out on Embassy day. It wasn’t until after I moved to Philadelphia that I decided to take the three-hour drive down to Washington, D.C. for European Union Embassy Day this past May. During this event all of the participating European Union embassies open their doors to the public. The first lesson I quickly learned is that Embassy Day is no secret. People travel from all over to take advantage of this prime opportunity to explore the interior walls of EU Embassies. The sidewalks of Embassy row were stacked with spectators waiting in seemingly endless lines just to get a glimpse inside.
We first stopped at the EU headquarters building to get a map of the route and general information. The headquarters featured great presentations and interactive activities. However, if you are not planning on taking a bus tour, you can probably cross this stop off of your list. Instead, print a map off from their website and consider a game plan prior to arrival. You won’t be able to hit all of the embassies in one day so prioritize your top must-see locations. Most of the embassies are located on Embassy row, which is very walkable. The trick is to get there early. Lines form quickly and the freebies are limited.
Our first stop was the Embassy of Sweden. This was roughly a 10-minute walk from the EU headquarters towards Georgetown. The Ambassador of Sweden was available to answer questions and talk with visitors. The building itself was architecturally stunning and very interactive. The Embassy of course included furnishing from Ikea, offered delectable Swedish cuisine and a fun photo booth. A must see at the Swedish Embassy is their rooftop deck. Their building sits beautifully on the Potomac River with 360-degree views of the city.
Our next stop was Embassy Row. If you are not Fitbit obsessed and want to give your feet a break, grab a bike share and cycle over to your next location. It is an affordable and time-saving option. There are locations on most major intersections allowing users to easily return the bikes.
After deciding to ditch the one hour wait to get into Ireland, we made our way up to the Embassy of Denmark. The embassy itself is tucked away as it sites atop a large hill past the massive Embassy of Italy. Denmark was fascinating. They offered a private tour of the Ambassador’s entertaining quarters guided by a Danish employee of the embassy. The Ambassador came out to answer questions at the conclusion of the tour. You can enjoy Danish cookies and cheese as you relax on their patio and pool deck (sorry, no swimming!) Their interactive exhibits give great insight on Danish society and living. The building itself is a stunning example of “green” architecture, true to Denmark culture. It is modern, open and simple as the Danish embassy encourages transparency. If you are looking for something off the beaten path, Denmark is worth the stop.
By the time we left Denmark, the line for the Italian Embassy had died down and we were able to walk right in. The Embassy of Italy has authentic pizza and libations for purchase. If you’ve already had lunch, simply sit back and enjoy the aroma. The building itself was very modern but included unique Italian flair. The embassy offers a lot for children including an interactive make-your-own-pasta station, a martial arts tutorial, and soccer on the green out front. If you have a sweet tooth, hop in line to try the authentic Italian gelato. The Italian Embassy is a great stop if you are traveling with children. Be mindful, Italy is very popular all day long. We stopped in around 3:00 PM with no line but a lot of the free giveaways were gone.
We then made our final stop over to the Embassy of the United Kingdom. The UK grounds are absolutely stunning. This was one of the larger Embassies that we saw all day. We toured the gardens and the entertaining quarters. This included a formal dining room set for at least 20 guests. The British Embassy also had several interactive stations for both children and adults. This is probably one of the more highly visited embassies so plan to get in line early or make it your last stop, as we did. You’ll have to scrape the bottom of the barrel for the freebies but viewing the grounds made it worth the trip.
Embassy Day is a fascinating way to get a glimpse of different cultures without packing a bag and jet setting across the world. As you would with a cross-continental trip, definitely do some research before arriving. The EU Headquarters website features plenty of information to help plan your trip. Make a decision on your top locations to visit and formulate a logical route. Take advantage of the free or low-fare transportation options including the prearranged tours, buses, metros and bicycles. Hit the ground running and enjoy a fun, unique opportunity.