These great places are perfect for a fun DC day trip or a weekend getaway from DC to explore the vibrant mid-Atlantic region near the US capital. Although there are countless things to do in Washington DC, these fun places to visit in Virginia and Maryland offer a variety of cool places to explore outside the Capital City.
Here is a map of metro Washington DC and the places mentioned in this article.
Great Places to Visit Near Washington DC
1. Fun Things to Do in Baltimore
Inner Harbor is Baltimore’s tourist highlight, but there are plenty of fun things to do beyond the harbor. Ride a water taxi to Fell’s Point and find a quaint, independent neighborhood restaurant like Black Olive or someplace in Little Italy (mangia). Camden Yards (near Inner Harbor) is one of America’s most gorgeous ballparks. During baseball season, McCool pick Boog’s Barbecue will hit the spot. With no traffic, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is a 45-minute drive from the White House. You can also conveniently ride Amtrak from Union Station.
McCool Travel tip: A stellar place to stay in Baltimore is The Ivy Hotel. The Ivy is a luxury boutique hotel and is winning all kinds of awards. I can tell you that their afternoon tea and breakfast are amazing. The Ivy is perfect for a romantic couples getaway near Washington DC.
Check out the TripAdvisor’s #1 hotel in Baltimore, The Ivy Hotel.
Another Baltimore hotel to consider is Lord Baltimore Hotel, a Historic Hotels of America property. The Lord Baltimore is located one block from Inner Harbor and the Baltimore Convention Center and two blocks from Camden Yards. Whether you stay at Lord Baltimore Hotel or not, try to visit their cool rooftop bar, Skybar.
2. Amazing Annapolis Attractions
You can also drive to Annapolis from Washington DC in under an hour. Before the White House was built, the Maryland State House (USA’s oldest capital building) hosted the Continental Congress. Tour the magnificent Naval Academy. OK, enough history, head over to Ego Alley for a Dark & Stormy or other rum drink. Boat trips from Annapolis are magnificent! I strongly suggest you make time to head across the Bay Bridge to Kent Narrows and have lunch or dinner at a crab shack. McCool Travel picks include The Big Owl Tiki Bar (best fish tacos this side of Rio Grande) and Harris Crab Shack (celeb spotting spot and great seafood).
3. Great Falls, Virginia
With no traffic, Great Falls is a quick 30 minute drive along gorgeous scenic roads: George Washington Parkway and Georgetown Pike. Great Falls National Park is historic and scenic. I absolutely love to visit the park in the late winter or early spring, a couple of days after a huge snowmelt when the falls are at peak levels. In fact, park signs show historic flooding levels. Explore Matildaville and the historic canal system—developed by George Washington for boats to bypass the rough Potomac River.
Great Falls Park is one of the most popular natural places near Washington DC, and it can be mobbed with people on nice weekend days. It is an immensely popular spot for picnics, hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, and nature activities. Oh, by the way, the Great Falls area is home to some of the country’s most expensive properties so it is fun to drive smaller roads and window shop. McCool Travel pick for a drink or meal is The Old Brogue Irish pub in the Village of Great Falls, a couple of miles west of Great Falls Park along Georgetown Pike. I live about 20 minutes away—NOT in one of those exclusive areas—and will gladly meet you at the pub (call me!).
4. Great Falls, Maryland
When you looked across the Potomac River from Great Falls National Park in Virginia, you saw Maryland. Highlights on the Maryland side of Great Falls Park include the historic tavern (visitor center), C & O Canal trails, Colonial era boats through the canal locks, and fantastic hikes. McCool Travel pick for a strenuous hike is the Billy Goat trail. Nearby Old Angler’s Inn is very popular for weekend brunch. Let me know when you visit and I will meet you there. Also nearby is the small village of Potomac, Maryland and historic Glen Echo Park. At cherry blossom time, a McCool Travel pick would be a bike ride up the Capital Crescent Trail to Kenwood Maryland.
5. Mount Vernon and Alexandria
Historic Mount Vernon, George Washington’s residence, is about 30 minutes south of the White House. The historic property is especially nice to visit at Christmas time. Bring a dollar coin and see if you can toss it across the Potomac River to Piscataway Park (in Maryland). Nearby are some gorgeous parks, including Huntley Meadows, Mason Neck State Park, Pohick Bay, and Occoquan Bay.
For more information about these parks and much more in Fairfax County, please visit McCool Travel’s local partner, Fun in Fairfax VA. You will most likely pass through historic Alexandria on your way between Washington DC and Mount Vernon; in either or both directions. Alexandria has Colonial architecture, great shopping (especially antiques), and a nice walkable Old Town. I am more likely to be distracted by Krispy Kreme or Dairy Godmother.
6. Manassas National Battlefield Park
For amazing Civil War history, head west on I-66 to Manassas Battlefield. Local residents would be shocked to know, but you can drive from the White House to Manassas Battlefield in under 45 minutes with no traffic. The key is no traffic. I suggest leaving DC early (before 7) and have breakfast near Manassas or wait until 10 (or the weekend). Fascinating history and scenery abounds around the National Park property but my McCool Travel pick is the First Manassas loop trail followed by a visit to the Winery at Bull Run—where DC residents actually picnicked and watch the Civil War battles (imagine that).
7. Loudoun County, Virginia
Speaking of wineries, your Washington DC trip should be extended by at least one day to visit the rapidly expanding Virginia wine scene. The closest winery to DC is Paradise Springs in the charming town of Clifton. While Paradise Springs and Bull Run are the only two vineyards in Fairfax County, Loudoun County has over 40 wineries. McCool Travel pick: My favorite Loudoun County winery is Bluemont Vineyard (magnificent views), only 1 hour drive from the White House with no traffic. Loudoun County also oozes history and scenery. McCool Travel picks include discovering Loudoun County’s unpaved roads, exploring Waterford VA, a scenic drive on Snickersville Turnpike, and Fire Works Pizza in Leesburg for lunch.
For Loudoun County Virginia road trip ideas, please read Explore the Unpaved Roads of Loudoun County.
8. Sugarloaf Mountain, Frederick, and Hagerstown
If you look at the topography of the metro Washington DC area, it is slightly hilly in parts. The closest significant “mountain” to DC is Sugarloaf Mountain, just under an hour drive away (with no traffic). McCool Travel geology lesson: Sugarloaf Mountain is a monadnock, what remains after the adjacent area wears away. The result is a magnificent vista, 800 feet above the surrounding area.
Definitely allow a couple of hours to hike to the summit of Sugarloaf for the views, and to explore the park. Some of USA’s prettiest farmland surrounds Sugarloaf so it is worth taking time to explore the small roads. Pack a picnic to enjoy at the top or have lunch in the nearby small city of Frederick. Foodies may want to try Volt, Bryan Voltaggio’s first restaurant. A little further west on I-80 visit historic Hagerstown Maryland. McCool Travel pick: for a unique experience, travel Historic White’s Ferry in either or both directions. It is the last remaining ferry across the Potomac River.
Wow, I hope you planned on an extra few weeks, to visit all these places near Washington DC. Of course, there is so much more to see and do in the DMV—as we locals call it (DC, Maryland, and Virginia). Everything listed is within an hour of Washington DC. Brilliant!
What other places to visit near Washington DC do you recommend?
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