by Richard Jones

IT’S not every day you get to shake hands with the President of the United States.

Okay, it wasn’t the current leader. Or even one of the surviving former presidents. In fact, it was a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln. But still, a president all the same.

I was at National Harbor, strolling down American Way, home to the sculptures of Lincoln and others.

Before my trip to Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC, I didn’t expect to encounter a president – well, not in the flesh anyway. However, I realised the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Donald Trump, was probably going to play a small part in my trip, as he continues to crop up in many conversations a year on from his election victory.

But it’s not just political landscape that has changed in the US’s Capital Region over the past 12 months – the area itself is undergoing considerable transformation.

I was a guest at MGM National Harbor, the $1.4billion entertainment venue that has brought Las Vegas glamour to the shores of the Potomac. From the second I set foot in the place I was reminded of Sin City, in particular the 5* Aria resort on the Strip. Although thousands flock to MGM National Harbor each day predominantly for the gaming, you’d be a fool to waste all your time in the sensory-overloading casino. For a start, it’s is a haven for foodies. During my stay I dined at the resort’s three flagship restaurants, the nautical Fish By José Andrés, sleek pan-Asian restaurant Ginger, and celebrity siblings Bryan and Michael’s first joint venture, Voltaggio Brothers Steak House.

Despite flying into Dulles in luxury courtesy of British Airways, the effects of jet lag (and over indulgence) are unavoidable, so I booked in at the resort’s world-class spa. After a steam, sauna and swim, I arrived for a 80-minute Sensational Fusion Signature Massage that featured a hot water foot treatment followed by a harmonising massage targeting my aches and pains.

Although you could spend your full break cocooned in the luxurious MGM property, there’s plenty to do in the National Harbor area. The Tanger Outlets are just a five-minute walk up Oxon Hill, while down the bike trail, adjacent to Woodrow Wilson Bridge, is National Harbor itself, a waterfront development of smart condos, quaint shops and quirky restaurants. I jumped on a Potomac RiverBoat Company water taxi to historic Alexandria in Virginia and took a ride on the Capital Wheel before sitting down for some afternoon seafood at Redstone Grill.

Following a few days at the MGM, I left Maryland behind and headed into DC to stay at another very special hotel. Originally built in 1917, the W Washington DC reopened its doors in 2009 after extensive refurbishment.

Hosting everyone from presidents to politicians, celebrities to CEOs, socialites to superstars, this was where Elvis Presley met with President Nixon to ask if he could become a federal agent.

After a spot of relaxation in my appropriately named Fantastic Suite, I ascended to its rooftop lounge, POV, where I sipped on Strawberry Lemonade and a chomped down on a hanger steak salad watching the sun set over the White House. For first-time visitors to DC, the easiest and most fun way to see the US capital is on a Segway tour. Our Bike and Roll DC guide Bill led our group up to the National Mall, a two-mile-long area of green space that contains many of Washington’s key landmarks. To the east is the Capitol Building, site of the inauguration and where US Congress meets. Roughly in the middle of the Mall stands 555ft-high marble obelisk the Washington Monument, while at the other end is the Lincoln Memorial temple and the Reflecting Pool. On my last morning, I had breakfast at Old Ebbitt Grill before cycling to Arlington, Virginia. Coming across the Potomac at Key Bridge, I cycled south on the scenic Mount Vernon Trail, along the river, passing Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon before reaching the Four Mile Run Trail into Shirlington, where I had lunch at Busboys and Poets. During the ride back, saw flashing blue lights coming down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the White House. “Perhaps this was Mr Trump on his way home?” I thought.

Regardless, it is still likely to be the closest I will ever get to the 45th President - unless they build a statue in his memory one day. But I’d say the odds of that happening right now are greater than winning the jackpot on a slot machine in the MGM casino.

* Richard Jones flew to Washington Dulles with British Airways ( Flights from London Heathrow from £686 return including taxes/fees and carrier charges. He stayed at MGM National Harbor ( Rooms start from £140 per night. The W Washington DC Hotel ( has rooms from £290 per night.

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