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8 Fun Day Trips from Washington, D.C.
Explore historic attractions, natural wonders and more near our nation's capital.
About 90 minutes from the nation's capital, Harpers Ferry offers visitors hiking trails, museums and exhibits.(Getty Images)
The District of Columbia has enough attractions to keep anyone busy. But if you’re looking for a change of pace from the National Mall, a number of fun places just beyond the city limits offer a slice of American history along with some beautiful scenery – and, in some instances, a boat ride, a trip to the ballpark or a sumptuous meal.
Local experts recommend these eight day trips from the nation’s capital.
If you want to learn more about the nation’s first president, George Washington’s 500-acre estate is just a 40-minute drive from the District of Columbia. Visitors can tour the grounds of the plantation and visit Washington’s tomb. The staff at Mount Vernon “does brilliant work in educating people about who George Washington was as a man and a leader,” says Julie Saunders, head concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC. Visitors should find time to see Mount Vernon’s newest exhibition, “Lives Bound Together,” which details the lives of the plantation’s slaves and how Washington’s attitude toward slavery changed throughout his life.
[Read: The Best Washington, D.C., Bus Tours.]
Mount Vernon is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., April through October and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., November through March. Tickets are available online at a discount: $18 for adults, $9 for children ages 6 to 11 and $16 for seniors. Children age 5 and younger get free admission, and members of the military, veterans and their dependents get a $3 discount from general admission prices.
President Lincoln’s Cottage
One of the city's best-kept secrets is President Lincoln’s Cottage, located just 3 miles from the downtown area. Because it’s not on the National Mall, most people don’t know about it, says Jack Nargil, concierge at the Mandarin Oriental, Washington DC hotel. “This is where Lincoln spent 25 percent of his presidency, to get away from the hot, scorching weather of D.C. It’s where he drafted the Emancipation Proclamation," he says. "If someone is into Lincoln, this is really the place to visit.”
You’ll need to join a guided tour and purchase a ticket to enter the cottage, but there are opportunities to take self-guided tours of its permanent art galleries and exhibits. The visitors center is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tours take place throughout the day until 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 to 12 and $12 for military members. Lincoln Cottage members and National Trust for Historic Preservation members can purchase discounted tickets.
Baltimore is an easy hour’s drive from the nation’s capital and includes attractions like the American Visionary Art Museum, the National Aquarium and the water taxi at the Inner Harbor. “Baltimore is a very neighborhood sort of city. Unlike D.C., which is very transient, Baltimoreans are attached to their city. They never leave,” Saunders says. If you’re a sports fan, drive to Baltimore’s downtown to catch an Orioles game at Camden Yards or see the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
This national historic park in West Virginia is about a 90-minute drive from the District of Columbia. With its hiking trails, museums and exhibits, Harpers Ferry is a perfect day trip, according to Joaquin McPeek, director of communications with the District of Columbia’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. It’s worth stopping at the park’s visitors center to find out about daily events and to pick up trail maps and other information. The center’s park shuttle bus will take you to the Lower Town, where you can visit abolitionist John Brown’s Fort and the Point, a scenic overlook where three states and two major rivers converge.
The park is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. year-round, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Entrance fees are $10 per vehicle and $5 for those arriving on foot or by bicycle.
President Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, Virginia, is worth the 2.5-hour trip from the nation’s capital. The mansion’s 43 rooms feature his personal inventions such as the seven-day Great Clock in the entrance hall. Visitors touring the Monticello grounds will learn about the history of the slaves who worked on his plantation. Once you’re done walking the grounds of Monticello, take an hour or two to visit the beautiful University of Virginia campus, which was founded by Jefferson.
[Read: The Best Washington, D.C., Tours.]
Monticello is open all year except Christmas Day. It offers all kinds of tours, depending on your interests. For adults, online tickets for a day pass and house tour are $25 March through October and $20 November through February. Tickets are $9 for children ages 5 to 11, and kids younger than 5 get free admission.
Historic Annapolis, Maryland, is an hour’s drive from the nation’s capital and is located on the Chesapeake Bay. You can take a boat trip or visit the U. S. Naval Academy. Greg Leinweber, general manager at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Washington DC, suggests that visitors take the time to walk down its beautiful cobblestone streets and enjoy some Maryland crabs at one of its many waterfront restaurants.
Another good historical pick is the Gettysburg battlefield, about two hours away from the District of Columbia in southern Pennsylvania. Visitors have the option of touring the battlefield by car, bus, bike carriage, Segway – and even on horseback. Visit the Gettysburg Museum of History and see artifacts from the Civil War and other moments in history. If you have extra time in the evening, schedule a ghost tour and learn about historic hauntings in the area, or go on a food tour and enjoy the best eateries of downtown Gettysburg.
Gettysburg National Military Park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., April through October and 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., November through March. Visit Destination Gettysburg Pennsylvania to learn about prices and hours for various tours and local attractions.
The Inn at Little Washington
This is a great option for an overnight trip that promises bucolic scenery and a satisfying culinary experience, Nargil says. Located in historic Washington, Virginia, near the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, The Inn at Little Washington is about one hour and 40 minutes from the District of Columbia. The luxurious hotel offers beautiful rooms and three elaborate tasting menus at its award-winning restaurant, which recently earned two Michelin stars. Visitors can supplement their trip by exploring nearby Luray Caverns or by traversing the scenic Skyline Drive, about 12 miles from the inn.
To experience more of what Washington, D.C., has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.
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