Updated July 8, 2020.
Washington, D.C., has enough going on to keep you busy for weeks—or months!—but sometimes you just want to get out of town. Lucky for you, D.C. has tons of beautiful, exciting, fun, historic things to offer within driving distance! Here are my favorites, organized by state.
All distances are calculated from the D.C. city center. Please check the traffic from your starting point for a time estimate, and please allow extra time if you are coming from within D.C.’s borders and taking I-95!
Alexandria: 8 miles
It’s not secret I’m in love with historic Old Town Alexandria. The museums, the cobblestone streets, the ghost tours, the amazing restaurants, the location just across the river from D.C.—what’s not to love? Many people stay in D.C. for their entire trip, not realizing that Alexandria was not only part of D.C. at one time, it was also George Washington’s hometown! Take the yellow or blue line and spend the whole day here. You’ll be so glad you did!
Must read next: 10 Reasons to Visit Alexandria, VA
Charlottesville: 115 miles
Charlottesville has three very interesting things to offer besides being a hipster college town: three Presidential estates! You’ll find James Monroe’s Highland, James Madison’s Montpelier, and Jefferson’s Monticello. You can visit all three in a day, but it takes some planning in, especially in the spring and summer high season. Or you can just choose one or two and spend some quality time in the homes that interest you most!
Monticello is by far the most popular, so if you want to do all three, go online to get your tickets for that home first. I actually can’t choose a favorite—they are all worth visiting for a lot of great reasons!
Fredericksburg: 53 miles
Civil War buffs and George Washington fans alike should put Fredericksburg at the top of their list. The Civil War battlefield and visitor center for the Battle of Fredericksburg are run by the National Park Service and give a fascinating look at Civil War history. Chatham Manor is a beautiful 18th century plantation home that’s open for tours. The Mary Washington House is right in downtown Fredericksburg, and Ferry Farm is just south of there and is George Washington’s boyhood home!
Great Falls: 17 miles
Love a good hike? Great Falls Park is for you! You can also kayak and canoe here in the summer if you need a good upper body workout. You’ll feel far away from the bustling streets of D.C. when you’re standing in awe of the Potomac River’s Great Falls.
Leesburg: 35 miles
Leesburg is this amazing little town with so much to offer, yet it’s largely overlooked! You’ll can explore Ball’s Bluff Civil War battlefield, the historic Marshall House (as in, George C. Marshall of the Marshall Plan), and beautiful Morven Park Plantation. And then there’s the food! Leesburg has wonderful restaurants, many of them in historic buildings downtown!
Manassas: 33 miles
The site of not one but two epic Civil War battles, Manassas is just a short drive down I-66, but it’s a world away. Make plans to visit any time of year, but check their schedule for re-enactments and special programs!
Mount Vernon: 17 miles
This one might be on your “D.C. to Do” list already! George Washington’s Estate and Gardens are very popular, not to mention quite close to D.C. You can take public transportation, but consider renting a bike and taking the Mount Vernon Trail, or simply drive yourself if you have a car on hand. It’s a definite favorite all year round, but it is busiest in spring, when 8th grade trips from around the country descend on D.C.!
Want something special? Take a Sightseeing Cruise from Alexandria or National Harbor and get the view from the water!
Purcellville: 47 miles
Purcellville is so cute! The people are nice, there are some unique shops out there, and they have crazy good food options! If you’re an avid cyclist, you can take all 45 miles of the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail all the way from the trail head in Shirlington, VA, to its end in Purcellville. Or you can simply drive! The surrounding area boasts some of the state’s best wineries, and did I mention the people are so nice?! I liked this little town so much I plan to do a little more exploring in the near future!
Skyline Drive (North Entrance Station): 76 miles
This one is particularly popular for fall foliage. Skyline Drive is part of the Shenandoah Valley National Park, and the Appalachian Trail goes through here as well. It’s a bit of a drive, but once you get there you can hike to your heart’s content!
Staunton: 155 miles
If you want a taste of rural Virginia in the best possible way, check out adorable Staunton. It’s a beautiful little town, and history lovers will be delighted to find that President Woodrow Wilson’s Birthplace is here! It’s worth a day trip to explore the town and its surroundings.
Winchester: 70 miles
Winchester is home to a diverse set of history. You’ll find French and Indian War sites like George Washington’s Office, Civil War sites (six battles took place here) like Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters, and even country music legend Patsy Cline’s home! You’ll also find great restaurants, farms and outdoor markets, and beautiful B&Bs if you want to spend more than just a day!
Harpers Ferry: 64 miles
Charming Harpers Ferry offers hiking, white water rafting, and Civil War history from before Civil War was declared! This is where John Brown’s raid took place, back when West Virginia was still part of Virginia, and Robert E. Lee was a Colonel in the U.S. Army. You’ll also find history here from the Lewis and Clark Expedition—less famous than the town’s Civil War history, but incredible nonetheless! You can explore on your own or take guided tours for more information about the things you’ll see.
Love hiking? The Appalachian Trail, Chesapeake and Ohio Trail, and the Potomac Heritage Trail all converge here at Harpers Ferry!
Gettysburg: 81 miles
If you’re a Civil War buff, you must take a day trip to Gettysburg. You’re so close, you’d be crazy not to! The Battlefield and museum are certainly enough to take up your day, but don’t miss the Eisenhower House! If you have the time, take a walking tour of the town as well. There is so much to see and do in Gettysburg, and it’s a very doable day trip.
Must read: What to Know Before You Visit Gettysburg
Annapolis: 35 miles
It may be known for the Naval Academy, but the Naval Academy is there because of the town’s history! On a day trip to historic Annapolis, you can tour the Naval Academy, eat crab until your face turns blue, explore 300 years of history, tour the Maryland State House, and take in the views from their lighthouse!
More here: 10 Things to Do in Annapolis
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