Passport DC: Around the World Embassy Tour and EU Open House
As a proud DC resident, I can easily say Passport DC is my all-time favorite annual event in the city. This event is so special to me that I’ve attended every year since I moved here, and I can tell you from experience that it’s one of the most exciting and popular events in the city, attracting a large number of tourists and locals alike. Passport DC is a month-long celebration which typically includes various cultural events on each weekend in the month of May, including Around the World Embassy Tour, which typically falls on the first weekend of May, and European Union (EU) Open House, which follows Passport DC on the second weekend of May.
The Embassy Tour allows the public to visit 50+ embassies and experience the culture, food, and traditions of different countries. But it’s not just about visiting embassies – each location has a unique set of activities, performances, and demonstrations. It’s an opportunity to immerse yourself in a different culture without ever leaving the city.
The EU Open House is another event that should not be missed. This event includes embassies of all 27 European Union countries, and it’s an opportunity to learn about the EU’s institutions, programs, and initiatives. You can enjoy cultural displays, musical performances, and even visit the EU’s ambassador’s residence. And don’t forget about the food – each country brings out its best dishes for visitors to try—and I mean BEST. Yum!
As you’re probably already thinking, attending Embassy Day and EU Open House can be overwhelming with so many events and activities packed into just a few hours on back to back weekends. And, you’re absolutely right, it is! However, with some simple, but strategic planning, you can make the most of these events and avoid missing out on all the fun.
There’s nothing that causes FOMO (feeling of missing out) more than scrolling through social media and seeing all the cool photos of the embassies you didn’t get a chance to visit or didn’t think to visit. That’s where I come in to help. In this blog post, I will share with you the top 10 rookie mistakes to avoid for Passport DC, ensuring you capture those amazing memories for yourself, and to share with your friends and family.
Not planning ahead
First things first, plan your visit! Passport DC attracts a lot of visitors, so it’s essential to make a plan in advance. Make a list of the embassies you want to visit, their opening and closing times, and their locations. (Don’t assume that the participating embassy is at their regular location.) Passport DC has all the information you need about what types of performances and activities are available at each embassy, and whether they’ll be serving food. Trust me, planning will save you from wandering aimlessly and missing out on your favorite embassy.
Not carrying a small bag
Next up, carry a small bag! You’ll receive a ton of free stuff, and some embassies provide cute carrying bags, but some don’t. If you go later in the day, you’ll be less likely to get a bag and will be left holding any gifts you acquire.
Carrying prohibited items
Carrying prohibited items or large items that will slow the security screening process is a rookie mistake you want to avoid at all costs. Don’t bring large personal bags, food, or drinks. China, in particular, does not allow any open drinks, and you will be asked to finish it or chuck it before entering.
Not carrying money
Don’t forget to carry cash or a card with you, as some embassies do charge for food. And trust me, the food is delicious and worth it!
Not wearing proper shoes
Ah, the shoes. Don’t make the mistake I made, and wear the wrong shoes. There is a LOT of walking involved, even for the embassies that are clustered together. You still have to find the end of very long lines, which may be wrapped around the embassy. Be smart and wear comfortable shoes. Your feet will thank you later.
Not taking public transportation
Avoid driving to Embassy Day and EU Open House, unless you’re a glutton for punishment. The event attracts a large number of visitors, making parking a nightmare. Taking public transportation can save you time and money. Not to mention, if you’re not familiar with DC parking, this is not the day to attempt it. Parking Enforcement will be out in full force and will ticket cars that are not abiding the parking rules (I pass a ton of ticketed cars every year during this event). But if you must drive, be prepared to circle the block a few times, or park far away from your desired embassy.
Not trying new cuisines
Embassy Day is an excellent opportunity to try different cuisines. Don’t miss out on this experience, but also don’t be a greedy monster like me. All the food just looks so tasty and smells so delicious, so it can be hard to hold back. But don’t take more than you can eat. It’s never a good feeling to throw away food. Yikes!
Staying on embassy row
Embassy Row is a great place to be, but don’t limit yourself to that section of Massachusetts Avenue between Dupont Circle and the Observatory Circle. Some of the coolest embassies, in my opinion, are not on Embassy Row. For example, the Embassy of Saudi Arabia, which is located south of Embassy Row in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, was a standout for me. The people were so welcoming, the decorations were amazing, the food was top tier, and the cultural performances and activities were well organized and super interesting.
Not staying cool
Remember to bring sunscreen and maybe an umbrella/parasol. It gets hot out there, and some embassies are located in open areas, like Thailand, India, and Indonesia. But some are in nice shaded areas, like Sri Lanka and Algeria. If it’s important enough to you, try checking Google Maps ahead of time to get an idea of the area you might be standing in for 20-50 minutes, depending on the line to the embassy. (Heads up, Asian countries and other popular destinations like Morocco tend to have the longest lines. Be prepared to wait in line for close to an hour for some of them!)
Not confirming the schedules of the individual embassies you plan to visit
Check the embassy’s schedule before you go, as each embassy can have its own schedule, and some may not run the full scheduled event time, which is typically 10 am to 4 pm.
Not checking accessibility concerns
It’s important to make sure the embassy you plan to visit is accessible before you go. Sadly, this isn’t always a given, and I’ve seen cases where certain areas open to the public weren’t very wheelchair-friendly. In some instances, the ramps provided to enter the building were located in obscure places, far from the main entrances, making it difficult to find them. Additionally, the embassy’s public area setup can also play a vital role in determining accessibility. Due to the high volume of people in comparison to the available space, it can be close to impossible to navigate freely.
If you’re concerned about accessibility, contact Passport DC in advance to address any questions or concerns you may have. They will be able to provide you with the necessary information to ensure that your Embassy Day experience is enjoyable and accessible.
Only exploring big embassies
Don’t limit yourself to just the big embassies. Some of the best experiences can be found in the smaller embassies that most visitors tend to overlook. For instance, the Embassy of Belize may be relatively small compared to its neighboring embassies, but don’t let its size deceive you. As you approach the embassy, you can already hear the lively outdoor performances and catch a whiff of the delicious food they offer. Trust me, it’s definitely one of my personal favorites that I highly recommend checking out.
Starting your embassy tour after noon
Lastly (and maybe even most importantly), start early! The earlier you get out there, the more embassies you can visit, and the more you can enjoy the experience without feeling rushed.
Making it out to the embassies by opening time has its perks! If you arrive during the first hour or so of the event, you can avoid the long lines that form later in the day and have a chance to savor the delicious food, drinks, and free gifts without any hassle. You can even grab a spot in the front row to watch some early performances. Additionally, the weather is generally cooler in the morning, which means you can explore a few embassies without sweating through your clothes.