DC day trips that take you beyond the capital
There’s no question that visitors could spend an entire trip discovering the multitude of treasures waiting in the nation’s capital. This, however, would mean missing all the riches that exist just beyond city limits, too. Whether you hop on a train or rent a car for the day, you’ll love discovering the charisma and quirks that define these nearby cities and towns.
OLD TOWN ALEXANDRIA
Colonial charm meets modern chic in Old Town Alexandria , located across the Potomac River — on the Virginia side of things. The destination’s easily accessible by Metro , and a free shuttle picks passengers up from the King Street station. (Or, you can enjoy a 25-minute stroll toward the waterfront.) Wander the history-filled, cobblestone streets where our forefathers once roamed, or enjoy the modern-day boutiques, galleries, pubs, and eateries that line happening King Street. Down by the water, board a cruise or water taxi to check out destinations like National Harbor and Mount Vernon , or get dropped back in DC (at Georgetown’s waterfront ). Be sure to stop by Kimpton Lorien Hotel & Spa for a one-of-a-kind spa treatment and a bite to eat at one of the European-inspired restaurants — Brabo or Brabo Tasting Room.
Step back in time at George Washington’s Mount Vernon , once a vibrant 18th-century plantation that’s now one of the country’s most visited historic sites. Tour the beautiful grounds, which include a riverside mansion, lush gardens, a distillery, and gristmill. In the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center , 23 galleries and theaters educate visitors with the help of interactive displays, an action adventure movie, short films produced by The History Channel, and a collection of 700-plus objects, like Washington’s dentures. Located about 15 miles south of DC, the site can be reached by boat (from Georgetown, Old Town Alexandria, or National Harbor), by bike (cycle along the 18-mile-long Mount Vernon Trail), or by tour bus.
Our neighbor to the north — easily reached by MARC train from DC’s Union Station or car — features waterside attractions and a quirky personality that counts crab cakes, Natty Boh, Old Bay seasoning, “Hon” culture, film director John Waters and Orioles baseball among its favorite things. While in Baltimore , otherwise known as “Charm City,” be sure to stroll the Inner Harbor , home to the famed National Aquarium , or board a water taxi to travel to Fort McHenry and charming neighborhoods in between (like Fell’s Point ). Just across from the Inner Harbor, find the American Visionary Art Museum , an eccentric, family-friendly venue designed to showcase art produced by self-taught talents. Don’t forget to stop by Kimpton Hotel Monaco Baltimore for seasonal craft cocktails and must-try crab cakes at B&O American Brasserie.
MIDDLEBURG/LOUDOUN COUNTY WINE COUNTRY
To slow things down, drive into stunning “horse and hunt” country, located less than 50 miles west of DC. Established in 1787 by American Revolutionary War Lieutenant Colonel and Virginia statesman John Leven Powell, Middleburg once served as the halfway point between Alexandria and Winchester along the buzzing Ashby Gap trading route (today’s Route 50). While in town, get out on the trails, or indulge in a treatment at Salamander Resort & Spa, high-end boutique shopping in the quaint historic district, or an intimate meal at the historic Red Fox Inn and Tavern. Soak in the town’s culture at the National Sporting Library & Museum , which features equestrian- and field sports-centric artwork and books. Be sure to also explore Loudoun County’s bounty of wineries , with some tasty favorites including Breaux Vineyards and 868 Estate Vineyards.
In Frederick , located less than an hour from DC, enjoy being surrounded by mountain views, wineries, orchards, and a vibrant Main Street vibe. Here, “museums meet martini bars, scenic landscapes provide thrill seekers with adventure, and cutting edge cuisine is served up in Civil War-era buildings alongside unique specialty shops, galleries, museums, and theaters.” This destination can be reached via MARC train from DC’s Union Station, and activities range from hiking the Appalachian Trail and visiting Maryland's largest brewery to touring a battlefield.
Cross the border into West Virginia (via a 65-mile drive or Amtrak train journey) to experience a quaint, picturesque community that sits at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. The Appalachian Trail runs through the heart of the tiny, 19th-century village; highlights here range from museums and shops to historic battlegrounds. Harpers Ferry National Historic Park features about 20 miles of hiking trails span from easy, riverside strolls to eight-mile mountain adventures. In warmer months, look into tubing and rafting excursions offered by local adventure companies.
Get a dose of history in Gettysburg , located just 10 miles from Pennsylvania’s southern border and about 78 miles from DC. The destination can be reached by car and — on weekdays — via Amtrak train and Rabbit Transit , which is designed for commuters and therefore only available during select times of day. Aside from visiting the famed Gettysburg Battlefield , known for three dramatic days in July 1863, build an exciting itinerary that revolves around Segways, ghost tours, horseback rides, farm visits, cider and wine tastings, and perhaps some palate-pleasing feasts, too.