I flew from Europe to DC and stayed at the Conrad DC — here's what it was like to spend a night of self-imposed quarantine in a 5-star hotel
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- With most of Washington DC's major attractions closed due to the pandemic, the nation's capital is largely free of tourists.
- I flew to DC from Europe on essential business and stayed at The Conrad Washington DC for one night as part of a week-long self-imposed quarantine.
- I selected this hotel based on Hilton's CleanStay program and mandated use of face coverings in public indoor spaces.
- Rates begin around $200 for a standard Deluxe room, which is spacious and sunny and comes with either a King-sized bed or two Queen beds.
- Read more: Is travel safe? We interviewed experts on risks associated with flying, booking hotels or Airbnbs, renting cars, and more, plus ideas on safe vacations during COVID-19
With its monuments, museums, and of course, the White House, Washington DC is a beacon for tourists, counting a record 24.6 million visitors in 2019. But after months of lockdown due to COVID-19, the nation's capital looks quite different these days.
Most major attractions, including the Washington Monument, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, and nearly all the Smithsonian Museums remain closed. Those that are open, such as the National Zoo, now require advanced timed-entry passes. There are also many new restrictions for visitors, including wearing masks, even outdoors, except when exercising, eating, or drinking.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) originally advised travelers from other countries or states with high COVID-19 rates to self-quarantine for 14 days. However, they have since removed those guidelines and are now sharing recommendations based on specific countries instead, which you may view here.
Such restrictions definitely impacted tourism. But I wasn't in DC to see the sights. I visited on essential business, flying from Barcelona, where I currently live, to pick up my visa at the Spanish Consulate. It had been waiting there for me since mid-March when flights were suspended between Europe and the US.
I also wanted to quarantine for a week in the area before returning to Barcelona. Earlier in the year, Spain enforced a strict lockdown and maintains stringent mask-wearing and social distancing policies. So, chief among my priorities when booking a hotel in DC was to find one that was serious about its health and safety measures.
I looked for a centrally located property within walking distance of my visa appointment, and accessible to the airport by Metro. I also wanted to stay in a newer, upscale hotel. I didn't have any scientific proof, I simply felt it would be cleaner and offer added peace of mind.
I decided to spend one night of my self-imposed week of quarantine at the Conrad Washington DC, a luxury Hilton Hotel, located in CityCenterDC — an aptly named high-end, mixed-use development. It had been open for less than a year before it shut down due to the pandemic.
The property reopened in August with new health measures in place, in accordance with Hilton's CleanStay program. I felt reassured by this program, for which Hilton partnered with RB, the makers of Lysol and Dettol. The guidelines were in accordance with CDC and WHO and included frequent cleaning and disinfection of common spaces, extra disinfection of high-touch areas, and a seal on guest rooms ensuring they have not been accessed after being cleaned. Face coverings were also required in indoor public areas.
Also appealing were the large, modern guest rooms where I would be spending most of my time. As such, I wanted to feel as comfortable as possible and appreciated that they featured floor-to-ceiling windows.
The prices were also attractive, starting around $200 per night for an entry-level Deluxe room, with no additional resort fees, unlike similar hotels nearby. My rate was $219; with fees and taxes, it ended up being roughly $250 per night.
Finally, the design pedigree of the 360-room hotel, created by the Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architecture team Herzog & de Meuron, sealed the deal.
- The first impression
- The room
- On-site amenities
- What's nearby
- What others say
- What you need to know
- COVID-19 policies
- The bottom line
- Book the Conrad Washington DC starting at $219 per night
Keep reading to see why I was so impressed by the Conrad Washington DC.
The Conrad DC is housed in a glassy, 10-story building on New York Avenue at 10th Street NW, a normally bustling corner that was eerily quiet when I arrived on a Tuesday afternoon in early September.
Many of the surrounding upscale stores — Gucci, Tiffany, Hermes — still had anti-looting plywood barricades over their windows, lending to the unsettling feeling that it would be some time until things returned to normal.
I pulled open the glass doors — later, I would learn to push the accessible button to open them automatically — and entered a spare, white-marble-floored entryway.
A motion-activated hand-sanitizing station was set up inside, and a masked attendant greeted me warmly from behind a plexiglass barrier. Due to Covid-19, entry was closely monitored and the former welcome desk and concierge area now served as the reception.
Usually, check-in would be on the third floor, and this small, reconfigured space didn't feel like the grand lobby one would expect at such a fancy hotel.
As this was my first time staying at a hotel since the pandemic, and my first return to the US since it began, I wasn't sure what to expect. Would there be many guests? Would they, and the staff, follow the health and safety rules? Given the low occupancy rate — hotels in urban markets are only 38 percent occupied — I certainly didn't need to worry about social distancing.
However, I was the only person checking in, which was quick and my early arrival and request for a late 1 p.m. check-out the next day was easily accommodated.
I was given two key cards, however, Hilton Honors members can go contactless by using the app to check-in, choose a room, access it with a digital key, and check out on their phones.
I was also advised about the changes in the hotel's amenities and the policy on using the gym (see the amenities section below for more details).
Signage at the front desk and next to the elevators outlined Hilton's social distancing policies, which requested that guests keep a six-foot distance between other guests and staff, as well as markers on the floors and in the elevators to indicate safe distancing. Motion-active hand-sanitizing stations and sanitary wipes were located next to the elevators on all floors.
While the current hotel entrance was underwhelming, it was a whole different story on the third level, where Herzog & de Meuron's cutting-edge architecture truly came into play.
Guest rooms wrapped around this soaring lobby atrium, topped with circular skylights and dominated by a giant, glowing, moon-like fixture that lent a space-age vibe to the space. A chain-mesh curtain draped over the undulating wood walls, which I was told by a staffer mimicked the shape of Switzerland (a nod to the architects' native country).
Radiating off the atrium was the bar, restaurant, and former reception desk, all surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows and two terraces. White marble floors and columns ran throughout, and contemporary artwork dotted the walls.
I liked the clean, minimalist design, which I thought seemed especially suitable in the COVID era, but some might find it a bit sterile and impersonal.
I booked the lowest-priced, standard Deluxe room category, priced at $219 per night.
It was located on the sixth floor, and through floor-to-ceiling windows, I enjoyed excellent views overlooking the CityCenter park and down the length of New York Avenue. This was lucky and likely due to the fact that there were so few guests in the hotel. Rooms on the opposite side overlook a lot that's currently under construction.
The room measured a comfortable 415 square feet but felt even bigger thanks to the wall of windows. The design kept in line with the rest of the Conrad's neutral, minimalist stylings: gray carpeting, beige drapes, sleek lighting fixtures, a low-slung blue sofa, and a white-marble desk/table with two bent-wood chairs. A large flat-screen TV was situated directly across from the bed.
There was a safety seal on the door I had to break before entering the room, which was a welcome reassurance that nobody had been inside since it was cleaned.
Signage announced Hilton's CleanStay policy and detailed the 10 high-touch areas that received extra disinfection including the television remote, which was wrapped in a Lysol-branded paper sleeve.
Another note indicated that housekeeping would only enter the room upon request. I appreciated the free "PPE Welcome Kit," with a disposable face mask and two sanitizing alcohol wipes.
If there was any doubt that extraneous items were removed, a quick glance at the minibar made it clear. All those overpriced snacks and bottles of wine and water were absent and the fridge was empty.
However, Nespresso coffee capsules, tea bags, creamers, and sugar were provided.
I also noticed that inside the entryway closet, only a single bathrobe was hanging, rather than the customary two.
There was a large marble bathroom with two sinks, a walk-in rainforest shower, and a toilet behind a glass door. It was stocked with luxury Shanghai Tang products, but missing the toothbrush or shaving kit I've come to expect in five-star hotels.
The water pressure was excellent, and a true pleasure after a hot, sticky ride from the airport. There were also plenty of plush white towels. But the lighting also bright quite enough when trying to apply makeup and I would have appreciated a lighted makeup mirror.
Images of the Premier Corner King rooms show an improved layout, with floor-to-ceiling windows in the bathroom that would have solved this low-lighting issue.
The King-sized bed and pillows were extremely comfortable and the room was pin-drop quiet. However, I had a hard time figuring out the ambient lighting controls, which were located on a panel next to the bed. Due to jet lag, I was awake at 3 a.m. and ready to work, but couldn't get the room bright enough. One of the floor lamps and the desk lamp never came on no matter which button I pushed.
Which brings me to another design flaw: the electrical outlets. All of them (except the one in the bathroom) pop up at a 45-degree angle and I found it impossible to plug in a square-shaped Apple computer power adapter. As I didn't want to charge my computer in the bathroom, I had to call reception and ask for a power strip to be delivered to my room, which to the hotel's credit, was done very quickly.
Also, while the bent-wood chairs were gorgeous, they weren't very comfortable for sitting and working for long stretches. This struck me as strange since the Conrad DC is known as a business hotel. Though I didn't see additional rooms on my stay, a peek at the other categories on the website showed the same table/chair setup until you reached the pricey Park View Suite, which features a dining room table.
For this reason, I don't know that I would choose this hotel again if I needed to work extensively. For leisure travelers, however, the bright, spacious room, plush King bed, and high-end contemporary furnishings should be extremely appealing, especially given the accessible price.
And while the room's minimalist decor might not appeal to those wanting a more romantic vibe, I thought the clean, modern design was ideal for these post-COVID times. I would have been wary of a room with lots of antiques and fabrics. Here, everything looked new and the marble and wood surfaces seemed easy to keep clean.
If, like me, you plan to quarantine and spend most of your time in your room, you'll need to be prepared for a very stripped-down experience. The usual amenities associated with a room in a five-star hotel, such as fancy minibar items, turndown service, and room service, were all not available. Such luxuries weren't important to me, particularly room service, which I think is generally overpriced, but others might feel that they weren't getting the full experience.
Compare room types and prices for Conrad Washington DC
Currently, most of the drinking and dining options at the hotel are closed, and there is no room service.
The Summit rooftop, one of the crowning glories of the hotel, isn't due to reopen until 2021, and the 10th-floor Sakura Club restaurant, which had been accessible to guests with premium access, remains closed with no opening date scheduled.
The signature restaurant, helmed by James Beard Award-winning chefs Bryan and Michael Voltagio, is also not in operation. The menu concept is now being revamped and the dining rooms are being redesigned with social distancing in mind, but according to Andy Finn, the hotel's Director of Sales & Marketing, its reopening depends on several factors, including demand. However, he does note that plans are in the works to introduce a unique dining concept on the restaurant's terraces.
The lounge-like lobby bar is open, though only from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Now referred to as the Conrad Marketplace, it serves a limited menu of juices, smoothies, healthful bowls, salads, and gourmet breakfast sandwiches. You can take items to go or dine inside or out on the bar terrace, with everything served in to-go containers and plastic flatware. Prices aren't exactly affordable, but not extravagant for a luxury hotel: $9 juices, $13 salads and sandwiches. Still, with a flat white for $6, I opted for a cheaper version at the Starbucks across the street.
You may also order from food delivery services or nearby restaurants like Del Frisco's, but you will need to go to the ground-floor lobby to pick it up.
The gym, also on the third floor, is available by appointment only and limited to four guests at a time. I didn't have time to work out, but peeked into the large, bright, two-room space, which had floor-to-ceiling windows and plenty of high-tech equipment.
While the hotel's dining choices are limited, there are a handful of restaurants open just steps away in CityCenter.
Most are on the higher end, and out of my budget (Del Frisco's, Fig & Olive), but Chinatown is just a few blocks away with many bargain eateries. Finding a table at any restaurant shouldn't be difficult. I observed many offering both indoor and outdoor seating when I went for an early evening walk.
CityCenter also caters to the well-heeled, with a slew of fancy boutiques including Tiffany & Co. (right next door to the hotel), Gucci, Ferragamo, Hermes, and Burberry.
The hotel is less than 10 minutes' walk to several major sites, including Ford's Theater and the National Portrait Gallery, and just 15 minutes on foot to the National Mall and all its museums and monuments. However, keep in mind that many of these attractions remain closed due to COVID-19. Check the websites first to see what's open.
Check flight prices to Washington DC on Expedia
Conrad Washington DC has a 4.5 rating on Trip Advisor and 9.2 out of 10 on Booking.com.
Guests praised the large, quiet rooms, sleek design, and location, which is within walking distance of major tourist sites. There were also many positive comments about the friendly, welcoming staff and excellent service.
Though there have only been a few reviews since the hotel's reopening, they positively noted the extra precautions due to COVID-19, including many sanitizer stations and the PPE provided in the rooms.
Several negative comments were directed at the price of parking, which is a hefty $60 per day for valet parking and $40 for self-parking. You're better off parking at one of the nearby garages, where daily rates are lower.
Read reviews, compare prices, and book the Conrad Washington DC on Trip Advisor
Who stays here: Though business travel has largely been put on hold, the hotel normally hosts corporate clients and government officials during the week. It has multiple conference rooms and ballroom facilities and is within walking distance of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and government buildings on the National Mall.
Weekends and holidays, you'll find upscale leisure travelers, most of them couples, since there are few amenities for children. Though again, with most of DC's attractions closed, the property remains fairly empty. As they have just started hosting small events, mainly weddings, there has been an uptick in family stays.
Are guests adhering to COVID policies?: Since I only saw a few guests on my overnight stay, it's difficult to say. Those I did see were eating in the Conrad Marketplace, so masks weren't required, and upon check-out, I observed a couple sitting on the lobby sofa with masks dangling around their necks.
We like: The incredibly cool design of the lobby atrium and its glowing moon fixture, which is programmed to change its color based on the time of day.
We love (don't miss this feature!): Spacious entry-level rooms offered at a fraction of the price of other five-star hotels, and with no daily resort fee.
We think you should know: Food options at the hotel are extremely limited, nothing is served after 3 p.m., and the minibar isn't stocked. Be sure to plan ahead if you're arriving late.
We'd do this differently next time: I might wait to return until there was more food and drink choices available at the hotel and more guests. Although I was thankful for easy social distancing, the lack of activity was a bit unnerving.
In accordance with CDC and WHO guidelines, Hilton Hotels, which includes the Conrad brand, requires the use of face coverings by guests and staff in indoor public areas in all their properties in the U.S., the Caribbean, and Latin America. Hilton's CleanStay program takes a scientific approach to cleaning and disinfection practices; it was created in consultation with the Mayo Clinic's Infection Prevention and Control team and with RD-branded cleaning products such as Lysol.
Some of the safety measures that have been enacted include:
- A Hilton CleanStay room seal is on put on doors, indicating to guests that their room has not been accessed since being thoroughly cleaned.
- 10 high-touch areas in guest rooms receive extra disinfection, including door handles, TV remotes, telephones, nightstands, and climate control panels.
- A free PPE welcome kit with a mask and sanitized wipes.
- Increased scheduled cleaning of public spaces—and I did observe elevator panels being wiped down frequently.
- Signage advising guests of social distancing.
- Providing hand-sanitizing stations at primary entrances and high-traffic areas such as elevators.
- Contactless check-in using digital key technology for guests who wish to have a contactless arrival experience. However, this option was only available to those enrolled in Hilton Honors, which requires a $95 annual fee.
The newly reopened Conrad Washington DC occupies a glassy tower with plenty of unique design flourishes, contemporary art, and architectural pedigree, courtesy of Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron.
While the hotel definitely appeals to business travelers, casual visitors and tourists will appreciate the proximity to major landmarks and luxury designer boutiques, just steps away.
Entry-level Deluxe rooms are pleasantly spacious, with lots of light thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows. Plush beds, double sinks, and plenty of closet space make it ideal for couples, but business travelers should be aware that these rooms lack a proper desk and comfortable office chair. Also, be sure to request a room that doesn't overlook the neighboring lot currently under construction.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions and low occupancy rates, hotel dining options were severely limited and surrounding restaurants are quite pricey, so be prepared to open your wallets.
However, starting rates are low, especially for a five-star hotel, and because of low occupancy, I never encountered another guest while going in and out of my room. As it may be some time before travelers return to the city, you can likely expect a similarly quiet stay.
Perhaps most importantly, the Conrad did an excellent job of making me feel safe while traveling during COVID.
Book a room at the Conrad Washington DC starting at $219 per night
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