Got a couple of extra days to spare in the nation’s capital? Make some serious memories by adding some of the best day trips from Washington, DC, to your itinerary.
From glorious national parks, such as Shenandoah National Park to historic Charlottesville, VA, to thriving Baltimore, MD, you’ll find plenty within a few short hours’ drive of Washington, DC. Whether you’re traveling solo, with friends, or with a gaggle of kiddos in tow, you’re sure to find a Washington side trip to meet everyone’s criteria.
Want to use up that extra time in the District? Have your pick of the bunch with our complete Washington, DC, side trip guide!
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Shenandoah National Park, VA
Need to escape the city and spend some time in the wide open spaces of Virginia? Just an hour and 15 minutes west of The District, you’ll find the Shenandoah National Park. Spanning 311 square miles across the outstanding Blue Ridge Mountains, this beautiful national park will take your breath away!
Start your day at Shenandoah National Park at one of the visitor centers. The closest and most accessible is the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, located near Front Royal, Virginia, about 70 miles west of the city.
Grab yourself a map of the miles and miles of hiking trails, including stretches of the iconic Appalachian Trail. Take your pick of scenery from skyline vistas to forests to waterfalls—all accessible with well-maintained trails ranging from short beginner routes to intensive multi-day treks.
For day-trippers, the Fox Hollow Trail is a great option. On the hike, you’ll stroll past historic rock walls and a cemetery. As it’s only 1.2 miles long (and a designated TRACK Trail), the Fox Hollow Trail is a fantastic choice for families traveling with younger kids.
As you hike and wander, keep a keen eye out for the park’s residents. Home to deers, squirrels, a plethora of bird species, and even the rare black bear, Shenandoah National Park is a paradise for twitchers and wildlife enthusiasts. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars and camera!
Park strategically so that you can experience sunset skyline vistas while still being able to get back down the trail safely. Watching the sun dip beyond the horizon in this natural wonderland is simply transcendent.
Mount Vernon, VA
Interested in the life of one of the most famous founding fathers? Drive 30 minutes south of his namesake capital city to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. This former plantation was the home of George and Martha Washington. The famed historic site marks their burial spot, as well as a long line of Washingtons.
Commence your visit to Mount Vernon with a guided tour around the mansion itself. Learn more about how the Washingtons lived in this space, where key historical moments took place, and the efforts taken to preserve this important American landmark.
Don’t forget to stop by the burial tomb where Washingtons throughout time have been interred and to pay your respects to the father of modern-day America. To round out the story, be sure to take the enslaved people’s tour of Mount Vernon and learn more about the harsh realities of 18th-century America.
Afterward, head outside and explore the expansive grounds. Within the 202 hectares of land, you’ll find plenty of space to roam, discovering the secret nooks where George and Martha may have spent their time, lapping up the Virginia sunshine.
All that exploration must have worked up an appetite, right? Go to the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant for some refreshments and a delicious dinner before heading back to D.C.
Looking for a small-town feel in a city with some serious historical providence? Take the two-hour and 15-minute scenic drive along the Blue Ridge Mountains to Charlottesville, VA. Known as Thomas Jefferson’s playground, Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia campus, designed by Jefferson himself and his plantation mountaintop mansion, Monticello.
Home to many National Historic Landmarks, Charlottesville has a lot to recommend itself. Start your side trip at the iconic Monticello plantation. As Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello is an outstanding historic and architectural property with expansive grounds. Be sure to take one of the enslaved people tours; Jefferson owned over 600 enslaved people in his lifetime, and their story is one that demands to be heard.
After you’ve spent time reflecting at Monticello, head down to Charlottesville itself. Spend some time perusing the boutiques and cafes dotting the quaint streets. Feel the history around you, and people watch from an al fresco dining hotspot.
Before you head back to Washington, DC, check out one of Charlottesville’s many wineries and vineyards. The southern sunshine and moist soil from the Blue Ridge Mountains make the region a perfect wine-growing ecosystem—and a delicious one at that!
Gettysburg National Military Park, PA
“Four score and seven years ago…”: It’s an opening line that brings back memories of history lessons at school. The site of this famous speech, Gettysburg National Military Park, is just an hour and 20 minutes away from Washington, DC.
Made famous, of course, by Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, this National Military Park is home to the Soldiers’ National Cemetery and the site of one of the Civil War’s most intense and integral battles.
Start your trip to Gettysburg National Military Park at the visitor center, where you can grab a self-guide map or join one of the many battlefield tours. Wander around the historic site, taking in the reverent atmosphere. As you explore, take a moment to enjoy the recreations and reenactments found across the site.
Traveling with kiddos? You’ll find plenty of interactive tours and activities where they can entertain themselves as well as learn a ton of new information about the US Civil War. It’s the best of both worlds!
Want to escape to a city with an old-worldly feel? Drive just 20 minutes south along the Potomac River to Alexandria, just over the border in Northern Virginia. Known for being George Washington’s home before relocating to Mount Vernon, Alexandria holds historical secrets around every corner.
Begin your visit in Alexandria’s Old Town area. Wander along the charming cobblestone streets, weaving in and out of the cute boutiques and cafes. Wind your way down to the Gadsby Tavern Museum, a former ale house turned museum where the founding fathers drank, chatted, and strategized over the future of their new nation. Discover how the founding fathers developed America in this living museum, filled with artifacts and photographs.
Once you’ve had your fill of the Gadsby Tavern Museum, journey across to Gadsby Tavern Museum, home to independent stores and specialty shops, including gorgeous and intriguing antiques. Get lost for a few hours, buy a souvenir or two, or just window-shop, imagining a big enough house to fit all these items in!
After soaking up the sights, head to the waterfront end of King Street, where you’ll find some great bars and restaurants. Settle in on one of the outdoor terraces and sip a glass of wine as you gaze out over the Potomac River. It’s the ideal end to a day in Alexandria, VA!
Looking to travel from one capital city to another? Take the journey one hour and 50 minutes south until you hit Richmond, the state capital of Virginia. Not only is Virginia’s capital city jam-packed with historical sites and events, but it’s also home to some amazing outdoor adventures.
Start your day in Richmond, VA, at the American Civil War Museum. Filled with artifacts, recollections, and exhibitions detailing various aspects of the Civil War, this museum offers multiple perspectives on the conflict. With interactive exhibitions for the kiddos, it’s a great place to learn and have fun.
Just across the James River from the American Civil War Museum, you’ll find Belle Isle. Set in the middle of the river, this 54-acre island is a natural playground in the heart of the city. Hike, cycle, and swim all around this beautiful island. Bring a picnic and settle in for the day, or include it as one part of your wider Richmond itinerary.
Looking for thrills? Slip and slide down the James River on your very own white water rafting adventure. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but it’ll definitely provide memories for life!
Want to check out an artsy and vibrant city with a historical side? You’ll find Baltimore, Maryland, just over an hour away from Washington, DC.
See a different side to Baltimore by avoiding the touristy harbor area, opting, instead, for the trendy Fells Point neighborhood. The area is famous for its panoramic views of the Chesapeake Bay and its plethora of delicious fresh seafood restaurants. Wander Fells Point’s cobblestone streets and eat until your hearts’ content!
Eaten as much as you can manage? It’s time to hit up Fell Point’s independent boutiques and stores. Browse the vintage stores, record shops, and indie galleries spread all across the neighborhood, picking up a souvenir or three!
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Finish off your day in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore by checking out a few of the many pubs and taverns in the area. Combining historic buildings and landmarks with modern and quirky decor and themes, they create the perfect modern Baltimore vibe.
So, you’ve seen the modern US capital city. Now, it’s time to visit its predecessor: Philadelphia, PA. Head two hours and 40 minutes northeast to the original American capital and take in some serious history.
If you’re traveling to the area with US history in mind, you’ll be in paradise while spending a day in Philadelphia. At the iconic Independence Hall, stare in wonder at the cracked Liberty Bell and the room where the original Declaration of Independence was signed.
Wander around Old City Philadelphia, slipping into history museums like the Museum of the American Revolution and the Benjamin Franklin Museum or exploring other top Philadelphia points of interest like Elfreth’s Alley, Christ Church, and Betsy Ross House.
After taking in some major US landmarks, you’re probably feeling famished, right? Well, when in Philly, there’s only one thing that you have to try: a Philly cheesesteak. The best one in the city is a highly contentious issue, with Max’s Steaks, Geno’s Steaks, and Dalessandro’s Steaks all vying for the top spot. Maybe try all three and make the ultimate decision!
Need to work off that delicious cheesesteak? Head up the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, located at the northwest edge of Philadelphia’s Center City. Live out your Rocky training fantasy before either journeying inside for some arts & culture or heading back to Washington, DC.
Ocean City, MD
Got a hankering for a day at the beach? Head just under three hours east to Ocean City, Maryland. Located on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, this seaside town is a fast favorite among families, friends, and couples.
Grab your gang and hit up the over 30 miles of gloriously sandy beaches hugging the coastline around Ocean City. Bring a book and sunbathe, splash around in the Atlantic, or hit the beach volleyball courts and work up a sweat.
Hungry or thirsty? Either pack up a picnic and return to the sands or check out one of the many bars, restaurants, and cafes along the Ocean City Boardwalk. Need a break from the sun? Grab your quarters and enjoy some much-needed downtime in one of the amusement arcades. It’s a classic recipe for the perfect beach day trip!
Harpers Ferry, WV
Searching for a small, historic town to spend the day in? Located just an hour and a half from Washington D.C. is the charming town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Most known for its Civil War battle and the historic raid on abolitionist John Brown, Harpers Ferry played a huge role in shaping US history, despite its quaint size.
Begin your discovery of the town at the National Historical Park. Located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and crossing three states (West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland), Harpers Ferry Historical Park offers plenty of trails, hikes, and bike routes. Hop on one of them to enjoy the beautiful natural setting.
Worked up a sweat? Check out the town’s picturesque streets, browse boutique shops and museums, and even take in living history demonstrations.
Gunpowder Falls State Park, MD
Want to take advantage of the great outdoors on your trip to Washington, DC? Check out Gunpowder Falls State Park, just an hour and 15 minutes north in neighboring Maryland. If you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, you’ll find no better spot than this natural paradise.
Spanning 14,949 acres, Gunpowder Falls State Park lets you feel the freedom of spending a day out on the trails. Start your day off at the visitor center to plan your hiking or biking routes. With plenty of waterfalls and wildlife to spot along the way, you’ll be in awe no matter which route you choose.
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Want to take to the water? Bring your kayak or rent tubes to float along the serene waters, enjoying the Maryland weather and tranquil surroundings. Feel like fishing? Cast in a line at one of the park’s designated fishing areas. (Check the visitor center for more details.)