Washington, DC is home to many traditions, activities, events, and historic celebrations that make it a wonderful place to visit. Stephanie and I have called the area home for more than decade, and we’re always excited to experience all the things this area has to offer. DC is an incredibly diverse city with unparalleled international influences (yet another reason we enjoy living here!), and we love how the restaurants, museums, and people themselves reflect cultures from around the world. That’s why one of our favorite annual traditions is attending the embassy open house tours.
Each spring, usually early May, the international diplomatic community opens their doors and welcomes the public to their embassies. Cultural Tourism DC organizes the annual event as part of their Passport DC celebration, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn about new countries, discover unique national customs, sample traditional food, listen to musical performances, and find new destinations to add to future vacation itineraries!
If you are planning to visit Washington, DC in early May, be sure to set aside a day to experience the embassy open house events. Here are our tips for making the most of your day!
Washington, DC Embassy ToursWith more than 175 international embassies located in Washington, DC, the embassy open house events are split into two separate days. In 2017, we spent a day at the Around the World embassy tour, the larger of the two embassy events that features more than fifty countries from five continents. It’s an incredible experience that is structured in a very similar way to the EU Open House. Be sure to check out our post on that event below.
The EU Open House is usually a week or two after the Around the World Embassy Tour, and it showcases the Delegation of the European Union to the United States and the 28 European Union member countries. There is no overlap between the two embassy events, so if there is a specific country you would like to visit you’ll want to check the schedules to find out if they are participating. The EU Open House is a popular annual event, especially when the weather is nice, and you’ll have plenty of chances to meet new people, learn about different cultures, and maybe even make some new friends!
Be sure to visit the websites for Cultural Tourism DC and the Delegation of the European Union to the United States for all the latest details on the next event.
EU Open House in Washington, DC: What to Expect
Here are a few things to know as you prepare for your day out at the embassies.
► Expect lines and crowdsThe lines for the Around the World Embassy Tour were long, but we found that the lines for the EU Open House were much longer. Many of the EU Open House embassies are located close to DC Metro stations, particularly Dupont Circle, and the convenient location combined with the nice weather attracted huge crowds. You can visit the embassies in any order, so our preferred strategy is to explore the whole area and look for the shortest lines. We noticed lines tend to move quickly, but it’s best to be prepared for some extensive queuing during your visit. While the total visitors to each embassy will vary depending on things like location and weather, to give you an idea of what to expect, the Estonian Embassy tweeted that over 6,646 visitors came to their open house between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM.
► You Can Meet the International Community!
One of the best parts of the EU Embassy Open House is getting a chance to meet the locals. The friendly staff and volunteers provide a warm welcome and are happy to answer any questions you have about their country. We loved having the chance to talk to the representatives about places we’re planning to go on future trips. You also might have a chance to meet the ambassador during your visit! Many ambassadors and their staffs welcome guests to their embassies, so you might have a handful of celebrity encounters during your day at the EU Open House. In fact, Stavros Lambrinidis, the European Union Ambassador to the United States, stopped by to introduce himself while we were waiting in line outside the Embassy of Cyprus. It was a pleasure to meet him and a very unexpected surprise to see him stopping by the very embassies we were excited to visit.
► Art Exhibits and Musical Performances
Many of the embassies will showcase artwork, books, and artifacts that have strong ties to their country and native traditions. You will also be treated to live musical performances at various locations. We enjoyed watching the musical performances at the Embassy of Cyprus, the Embassy of Romania, and the Embassy of Bulgaria. The EU Open House will introduce you to new songs, dances, and musical instruments from all over Europe!
► Public Transportation and Walking is better than Driving
Parking is very limited, and the crowds will add to the stress of driving, so we recommend taking the DC Metro into the city and then walking to the embassies. The Dupont Circle Metro stop is a great starting point since it’s just a short walk to many of the embassies. You’ll also find plenty of bus stops if you would like to minimize your walking, and shuttle buses run periodically between stops along the embassy route.
More Information: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA.com)
► You Can Discover New CuisineThe EU Open House provides an excellent opportunity to try new food and drinks at many of the embassies. Not every embassy will offer samples, but if you find a table where snacks and/or beverages are offered, we highly recommend seizing the moment! This is one of our favorite parts of the EU Open House experience. We loved trying the Riga Black Balsam liqueur at the Embassy of Latvia; combining a slight bitterness with a distinct sweetness, at 45% alcohol it was a memorable sample—and we thought Brennivín in Iceland was strong! The chicken pate at the Embassy of Slovenia and the Rose Cordial Triantafyllo drink at the Embassy of Cyprus were also great discoveries. These traditional dishes would be hard to find in most cities (even in Washington, DC), so the EU Open House offers the perfect chance to try something new and expand your palate!
► The Event is Free
The EU Open House is open to the public as a free event, but it’s still a good idea to bring a little cash in case you find opportunities to purchase authentic items during your Embassy visit. Some embassies offer unique crafts and artwork for sale, and others have food trucks with more substantial bites available if you are hungry during your tour. Also, since you will be entering buildings on foreign soil, it wouldn’t hurt to bring along a government issued ID just in case you need it.
This video from the EU in the US shares some of the highlights of the European Union Open House. It provides a great overview of what you can expect from this exciting event.
Tips for Visiting the EU Open House Embassy Tour
If you’re planning to visit the European Union Open House, these tips will help you get the most out of your day.
► Come as you are (as you were)There is no formal dress code for the event, so casual clothing is perfectly fine. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes to make the walking and standing in line a little easier. Depending on the weather forecast, you may also find value in wearing sunscreen and/or bringing an umbrella; both would be useful while you are waiting in line to enter the embassies. Also, many embassies require a brief security check (much like what you would encounter entering a museum or a stadium—no more than a metal detector and bag check), so you may want to minimize the amount of baggage you carry with you during your visit.
► Consider bringing a snack
While the EU Open House embassies offer a wonderful opportunity to try traditional food, wine, beer, and other beverages, you won’t easily find full meals. The embassies are, for the most part, located away from the Metro and in more residential areas, so while restaurants aren’t far away they aren’t immediately accessible. Consider bringing a snack or two to enjoy while waiting in lines—and a bottle of water will be worthwhile as well!
► Think about your vacation plans as you prepare for the EU Open House
One of our favorite ways to experience the Around the World Embassy Tour and the EU Open House is to prioritize our embassy visits based on vacations we are planning. Visiting the embassies is a great way to connect with people who know the countries and can give tips and ideas that can add a whole new dimension to your vacation planning. We’re looking forward to spending time in Romania this summer, so a visit to the Romanian embassy was at the top of our list. Even if you aren’t ready to book a vacation, think about the places you want to visit in the future: it will help you decide which lines you want to brave and which lines you don’t mind skipping.
► You don’t have to enter the embassy to enjoy the experience!We noticed many of the embassies had their representatives outside to welcome the public waiting in line. The Irish Rugby team was celebrating with people outside their embassy, and we enjoyed watching traditional dances outside the Romanian Embassy and musical performances outside the Bulgarian embassy. If you don’t have time to wait in every line, consider walking by the embassies anyway—you may be surprised at how much you can experience from the outside!
► Get an early start
The 2019 event started at 10:00 AM and went until 4:00 PM, and although we did not spend the entire day there we were only able to visit four embassies; Cyprus, Slovenia, Latvia, and Romania. As mentioned above, the lines may take up a substantial portion of your day, so the earlier you can start your day the better chance you will have to see more embassies. The wait to enter some embassies stretched longer than 30 minutes, and combined with the amount of time you will need to travel between embassies and enjoy some time once you get in you may want to arrive early to make the most of your day.
What Countries Participated in the 2019 EU Open House?
Here is the full list of embassies that participated in the 2019 European Union Open House event in Washington, DC:
Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Bulgaria, Estonia, EU Delegation to the US, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
But Wait, There’s More!
► Christmas Market at the Embassy of the Czech RepublicIn addition to the EU Open House, some embassies offer special events throughout the year that provide great ways to experience the country with slightly reduced crowds. The Czech Republic was part of the European Union Open House, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to make it to their embassy during our visit. We did, however, visit their embassy during the holiday season to experience their traditional Christmas Market! The embassy hosts an open house Christmas Market where you can shop for beautiful holiday decorations, try authentic Czech wine, sample Czech snacks and desserts, and purchase handmade items. As with the EU Open House, the Czech Republic Christmas Market is also open to the public and free of charge!
If you’ve always wanted to visit a European Christmas Market but haven’t been able to get to Europe during the holidays, this might be the next best option!
Where to Stay in Washington, DC
Are you planning a trip to Washington, DC and need to find a place to stay? There are plenty of great hotels in DC, but you might also consider nearby locations in Maryland and Northern Virginia since they’re connected via DC Metro. Here are a few hotel options you might consider.
Visit the EU Open House Embassy Tour in Washington, DC!
Spring in Washington, DC is famous for the Cherry Blossom Festival (and rightly so), but it should also be famous for the embassy events! If your travels takes you to the capital city of the United States, the EU Open House, Around the World Embassy Tour, or any of the additional Embassy Events throughout the year would be fantastic additions to your itinerary!
If you would like to learn more about Cultural Tourism DC, or if you would like to volunteer, donate, or get involved with future events, be sure to visit their website!
More Information: CulturalTourismDC.org
Planning a visit to the USA’s capital city? Here are a few more articles to inspire you!
* From time to time, our travels are directly impacted by a service or company. In this case, we visited multiple locations as part of the EU Open House, and this post includes our candid review of our experience. We selected these locations based on our own research and travel needs; we were not offered and did not receive compensation of any kind from them or any other party in exchange for our review. Learn more about our travel philosophy here.