Yet, sometimes, getting away from a city provides a great way to see what an area really has to offer. And the towns and cities around D.C. are rich in both culture and history. So the capital has great options for visitors who would like a day trip from D.C. as well.
You don’t have to get far away from the city to find many of these fantastic day trip options. In fact, many are within just over an hour driving time. Here are 8 top itineraries for a day trip from Washington, D.C. for history lovers within an hour and a half or less from the city.
Mount Vernon and Old Town Alexandria Day Trip from D.C.
Located about 13 miles south of D.C., George and Martha Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, is both a beautiful and fascinating site to see.
Tours of the home are a great way to begin your visit. Plan to see the exhibits, a 4D film, and an interactive theater as well. Save time too to walk the immaculately kept grounds of the estate. And don’t miss “Lives Bound Together.” This exhibit depicts what life was like at Mount Vernon for the 577 enslaved persons who lived there.
Dine at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant or nearby Old Town Alexandria. Old Town boasts over 200 boutiques and restaurants. It’s an area where you’re sure to find something to appease every appetite.
Exploring the cobblestone streets of Old Town Alexandria is not to be missed either. Buy produce at the oldest farmer’s market in the U.S. Snap a photo at the skinniest historic house in America. See art in the making at a former torpedo factory.
Visitors can also take in more history through an outdoor walking tour. Tour a 1700s Georgian manor and social hub. Or visit the Gadsby’s Tavern Museum. The museum is the site of a former tavern with the distinction of having the first five U.S. presidents as patrons.
Day Trip from D.C. to Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park
A trip to this National Military Park is a trip to what is sometimes referred to as “America’s Battlefield”. More than 85,000 men were wounded and 15,000 killed in 1864 on the lands found in Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania and the surrounding land.
In addition to hiking the trails and taking a self-guided or ranger led tour, several activities are worth fitting into your day on and around the four Civil War battlefields. Two visitor centers and several historic buildings are great to explore.
On the Fredericksburg Battlefield, tours of the Chatham offer a glimpse into the makings of a historic plantation home. The home also served as a hospital, headquarters, and communication center during the Civil War.
On the Wilderness Battlefield, Ellwood, a house that served as the Union Headquarters at one time, is available to tour. Here visitors can hike the grounds or visit what is perhaps the oddest site to see in the park – the burial site of Stonewall Jackson’s arm. The arm was amputated days before Jackson’s death and subsequently buried separately from the rest of his remains.
And at Guinea Station, guests can visit the spot where Jackson died after suffering an injury during a nighttime battle.
Even history lovers can’t survive on battlefield visits alone though. So when you’re ready to grab something to eat and drink, head to downtown Fredericksburg. The downtown features historic properties, small museums, quaint shops, and great restaurants. Check out Fahrenheit 132 for dinner. Head to Sedona Taphouse to sample one of 500 beers. Or visit Goolrick’s Pharmacy, America’s oldest continuously operating soda fountain.
Visit Annapolis on a Day Trip from D.C.
A chance to explore the home of the U.S. Naval Academy is located an hour outside of the capital in Annapolis, Maryland. This waterfront college town is another great choice for a day trip from D.C.
Annapolis, the state capital of Maryland, is steeped in nautical history and built along the Chesapeake Bay. Visitors can tour the Maryland State House or take a cruise on the Bay. Other great activities include checking out the City Dock and visiting the Banneker-Douglass Museum.
Walking around the streets of downtown, visitors often see Naval cadets in uniform out and about in the town. Tourists are also permitted to explore the grounds of the Naval Academy through guided or self-guided tours. Visitors can see the chapel, museum, and dormitory and well as several monuments and other historic buildings on campus.
And while seafood fare is one of the more popular cuisines in Annapolis, options for dining include everything from farm-to-table to ethnic choices. As one of the more bustling and busy options for a D.C. day trip, Annapolis has something to suit everyone’s tastes.
Day Trip to Prince William Forest Park, the Marine Corp Museum, and the City of Manassas
At about 40 minutes outside of Washington, D.C., Prince William County, Maryland is a convenient and interesting day trip destination. The area includes at least three distinct places to see that entice both novice and experienced history buffs.
Prince William Forest Park is 15,000 acres of forest and the largest protected natural land near D.C. It began as a camp for underprivileged youth during the Great Depression. It later served as a training ground for WWII spies. Today it’s a great area for tourists and locals to camp, hike, fish, bike, and enjoy other outdoor activities.
The Marine Corp Museum is located one mile from Prince William Forest Park. It provides an in-depth look at the history of the men and women who have made the Marine Corp the standard of excellence that it is today. Exhibits highlight the impact Marines have had on global expeditions, peacetime efforts and war since they came into existence in 1775.
Nearby Manassas is worth a stop too because of its small-town feel with local shops, art galleries and restaurants. Some longtime favorite places to eat include Carmello’s of Old Town Manassas for Italian cuisine and Vera’s Kitchen for Ethiopian and American fare.
The town is also the location of Manassas National Battlefield Park, the site where the first major battle was fought between Confederate and Union armies. A great way to start a visit to the Battlefield Park is by watching the 45-minute movie that plays at the visitor’s center. Aptly titled, “Manassas: End of Innocence” the movie helps viewers imagine what it must have been like on that fateful day in 1861.
Other activities include taking part in a ranger-leg program, embarking on 20-mile self-guided driving tour, or exploring the visitor center and museum.
Explore Middleburg, VIrginia on a D.C. Day Trip
For an upscale day trip from D.C., drive about one hour to the horse and hunt country of Middleburg, VIrginia. The small town has high-end clothing stores, equestrian shops, and other locally owned shops and restaurants. Just strolling along the streets of town is a walk through history as many of the buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Within walking distance of downtown, the Salamander Inn offers day guests access to their spa and restaurants. Overnight guests can explore the plethora of other activities offered in the 340-acre resort.
Local wineries are also favorite places to visit for many exploring Middleburg. The gorgeous countryside offers the perfect backdrop for enjoying the local Chardonnay, Merlot or Cabernet Franc.
For dining options in town, check out the highly praised Goodstone Inn and Restaurant, which has been named one of the 100 best restaurants in America by Opentable. Or eat in the beautiful stone building that houses The Red Fox Inn and Tavern or the slightly more casual King Street Oyster Bar.
And to learn more about the history of Middleburg, the National Sporting Library and Museum provides a unique take on the past. The museum is located on 6 scenic acres. It has exhibits on horsemanship, steeple chasing, fox hunting, shooting, and other outdoor pastimes.
Travel on a Day Trip to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor
One of the oldest seaports in America, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, is located about an hour from the capital. It’s location and long list of things to do make it a great day trip from D.C. It’s also one of the more urban areas making our list.
Inner Harbor offers outdoor attractions for all ages, like Federal Hill Park, the site of a former lookout during the War of 1812 and the Civil War. And it includes an opportunity to tour four fascinating historic ships that are permanently docked in the harbor. The military ships on display include a ship first launched in the 1800s and a lightship from the 1930s. It also includes a WWII submarine, and the last ship floating that fought in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
If you want to get even closer to the water that made Inner Harbor famous, board one of the many vessels available to visitors. Dinner cruises are a great way to see the shoreline. And Watermark Journeys sails a cruise history lovers will particularly enjoy. This 45-minute cruise offers views from the water of Fell’s Point, Ft. McHenry, and other famous attractions.
Indoor attractions at Inner Harbor are every bit as great as the area’s outdoor offerings. Head to the Baltimore Museum of Industry, located in an old cannery, to learn about manufacturing in the early 20th century. Or check out the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, a museum highlighting the history of African American culture and history.
Explore Antietam National Park, Harpers Ferry, and Shepherdstown on a Day Trip from D.C.
It’s not just Virginia and Maryland that offer great day trips from the nation’s capital. Nearby towns in West Virginia are also fantastic and worthwhile day trips destinations from D.C.
Start your West Virginia adventure off in Harpers Ferry, which is about an hour and a half drive from D.C. There you’ll find a 3,500 acre National Historic Park. Some of the parks most significant sites are important for the role they played in civil rights history. Visitors can tour John Brown’s Fort, the site of the abolitionist’s raid in 1859, as well as the John Brown Wax Museum. And visitors can see Storer College, which began in 1865 as a one-room school for former slaves. The school then grew into a college that remained open until 1955.
Another popular stop in Harpers Ferry is The Point, the spot where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet. See three states here at once – West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. And history-loving hikers will also enjoy exploring Bolivar Heights. It was the site of the largest surrender of United States troops during the Civil War.
Pairing a visit to Harpers Ferry, WV with nearby Antietam National Battlefield, located 20 minutes away, makes a great day trip from D.C. Antietam is one of the best-preserved Civil War sites in the country. It’s the site of the 1862 battle which was the bloodiest single day battle on American soil. In addition to exploring the grounds, visitors should plan to see the exhibits, film, observation room, and museum store.
And about 10 minutes from Antietam sits the picturesque town of Shepherdstown. Small shops and local favorites, like the German-themed Bavarian Restaurant and Taphouse or the Press Room restaurant, offer day trippers a perfect ending to a day of exploring.
Day Trip from D.C. to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is another state that might be a little closer than you realized for a day trip from D.C. History buffs know the Battle of Gettysburg as the event that marked the turning of the Civil War. So a visit to the Pennsylvania town that houses the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center surely makes a “to-do” list for many travelers.
The Visitor Center features a variety of exhibits, a 12-gallery museum, and a 30-minute movie narrated by Morgan Freeman. It also houses the largest painting found in North America, a cyclorama depicting Pickett’s Charge.
After exploring the visitor center, guests will want to head to the Gettysburg National Military Park. The park can be explored via an app listened to in your own car, through an interactive iPad tour or with a licensed battlefield guide. Bus tours, Segway tours, horseback tours and bicycle tours are other great ways to see and learn about the battlefield.
The list of things to do in Gettysburg doesn’t end in the military park. In downtown Gettysburg, the David Wills House, Shriver House, Seminary Ridge Museum, and Jennie Wade House all offer fascinating glimpses into the history of the area.
Downtown also offers lots of options for dining before heading back to D.C. after your day trip. For period dining, check out the Dobbin House or Farnsworth House. And for a sampling of a variety of what Gettysburg has to offer, try a food tour. Or to experience the craft beverage options in Gettysburg, stop by the nearby Tattered Flag Tap Room or the Adams County Winery.
About the Author
More Places to Visit in Washington, DC
About the Photo
The photo in the header above is of the railroad bridge at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia, USA. Image by Bruce Emmerling from Pixabay
About the Author
Candi Hurst is a West Virginia travel blogger at castlesandcarpools.com.
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