16 Fantastic Virginia Day Trips Near Washington DC

Updated on April 10, 2024 by Julie McCool

These 16 fantastic Virginia day trips near Washington DC offer fun and interesting places to visit, whether you've got a few hours or a full day to explore. The best day trips in Virginia include beautiful parks, quaint towns and cities, historic attractions and museums, and local wineries and breweries.

Looking for family fun and maybe a learning experience for the kids? Planning a romantic outing for a couple's day out? Or just seeking new adventures in the DC region? Whatever your goal, you'll find day trips from Washington DC for every interest below.

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These are my favorite Virginia day trip destinations after 30 years of living in Northern Virginia, exploring with and without children. Follow the links for information, photos, and tips to plan your day trips from DC.

Destinations are organized by topic—parks, cities and towns, wineries and breweries, and historic sites  Use the handy map at the end of the article to check distances and directions from your location.

Virginia Day Trips Near Washington DC for Outdoor Lovers

The Potomac River separates Virginia and DC, providing many opportunities for exploration along its banks. The George Washington Memorial Parkway, a national scenic road linking historic and natural sites, also follows the river. These parks and natural areas are ideal for sunny Virginia day trips near Washington DC.

1. Great Falls Park and the Potomac Heritage Trail, McLean

Chase waterfalls, hike along beautiful Mather Gorge, and play on land once surveyed by George Washington at Great Falls Park, part of the US National Park system. Enjoy the most stunning waterfall views near Washington DC from three overlooks, two of them wheelchair accessible.

Fun in Fairfax VA shares fun things to do and places to go in and from Northern Virginia
The Great Falls of the Potomac from Overlook 1 in McLean Virginia

Or hike the River Trail to more incredible views along the cliffs of Mather Gorge. Great Falls is one of our favorite day trips with kids near Washington DC, full of outdoor fun and a little history.

Dramatically High Levels Fill Mather Gorge After Spring Rains at Great Falls Park
Mather Gorge After Spring Rains

The Potomac Heritage Trail system follows the banks of the river, linking several parks with nice hiking. Hike to waterfalls and along streams and the river at Scotts Run, Difficult Run, Riverbend Park, and Seneca Park.

Want to make Great Falls Park part of a weekend getaway? The Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner Center is an excellent base for exploring Northern Virginia, and it's just 7 miles from Great Falls Park. Read our full review of Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner.

2. Theodore Roosevelt Island and Mount Vernon Trail, Arlington

Just across the river from the Kennedy Center is a natural gem in the midst of the city bustle. Theodore Roosevelt Island is a nice short trip from Washington DC because the park is small and easy to navigate. The island offers easy hiking, a beautiful long boardwalk over a marsh, and an interesting memorial to President Theodore Roosevelt.

Theodore Roosevelt Island in Winter
Theodore Roosevelt Island in Winter

The Roosevelt Island parking lot is also the start of the Mount Vernon trail, a beautiful paved bike trail along the river. You can ride south along the river all the way to George Washington's Mount Vernon. Or, hike north on the Potomac Heritage Trail to Windy Run.

Tip: The Roosevelt Island parking area is on the northbound side of the George Washington Parkway.

Arlington is a great base for exploring sites on the Virginia side of the river, and you'll save a little on lodging compared to downtown DC rates. Check rates and availability for an Arlington overnight.

3. Scenic Drive: George Washington Memorial Parkway and Mount Vernon

The scenic George Washington Parkway begins at Great Falls Park and ends at Mount Vernon. The national parkway ties together natural and historic sites along the way. Both the Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery are accessed from the parkway.

Fall Foliage on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, One of the Most Historic Scenic Drives in Northern Virginia
George Washington Memorial Parkway

Allow at least a few hours (a day is even better) to explore parkway sites and George Washington's Mount Vernon. Your Mount Vernon ticket also covers a visit to George Washington's Distillery and Gristmill.

George Washington's Mount Vernon in Northern Virginia
George Washington's Mount Vernon

4. Mason Neck State Park and Gunston Hall, Lorton

Drive to Mason Neck, a peninsula south of DC, for a closer look at the estuaries and marshes that feed into the Chesapeake Bay. Mason Neck State Park has family-friendly trails and seasonal boating. A nearby wildlife preserve protects an important bald eagle habitat.

Bay View Trail Fall Hike in Mason Neck State Park
Fall Hike Mason Neck State Park

Take a tour of Gunston Hall for a dose of colonial American history. Here, George Mason developed many of the core principles of the United States Bill of Rights.

Gunston Hall, home of Founding Father George Mason in Lorton VA
Gunston Hall, Lorton VA

5. Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive

A gem in the eastern United States, Shenandoah National Park is one of the best outdoor day trips from DC. Set aside a full day for your visit, and even then you won't have time to cover the whole park. If you focus on the Central District you will enjoy some of the best views, hikes, and stops within Shenandoah National Park.

Fall Foliage on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, One of the Best Scenic Drives in Northern Virginia
Skyline Drive Shenandoah National Park

For example, wow the kids with a breathtaking view when you hike Stony Man Mountain. O cool off in the summer with waterfalls and swimming holes on the Rose River Loop hike.

North View Stony Man Mountain Shenandoah Park
North View Stony Man Mountain Shenandoah Park

Autumn is an especially beautiful time to enjoy Shenandoah's fall foliage. The park is a 2.5-hour drive west of Washington DC, much of it scenic. Follow the link above for tips on our favorite scenic route. We also highlight stops along the way and tips on how to spend your time in the park.

Quaint Towns and Cities to Visit Near Washington DC

Small towns in Northern Virginia give visitors a place to slow down and sample local restaurants, shops, trails, and more. Head to nearby Virginia cities for rich American history, unique outdoor experiences, and more local flavors. Or explore the unique Chesapeake Bay environment of Virginia's Eastern Shore.

6. Charlottesville, Home to US Presidents and UVA

Charlottesville is the only UNESCO World Heritage site in Virginia. It is home to three US Presidents, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, and the University of Virginia. This college town is not all about history though, there are lots of great things to do in Charlottesville. You'll find a great foodie scene, several craft breweries, beautiful wineries, and a vibrant downtown pedestrian area in C'ville.

Charlottesville Virginia Downtown Pedestrian Mall
Charlottesville VA Downtown Mall

Cville is one of our favorite day trips from Northern Virginia with a mostly scenic drive once you get past Route 66. The drive is about 2.5 hours from Washington DC so make it a longer weekend getaway if time allows.

We have had excellent stays in several Charlottesville hotels like The Draftsman and Downtown Residence Inn and boutique properties including Oakhurst Inn, and the hip new Little Mod Hotel.

UVA Lawn Charlottesville Virginia; photo credit: Katherine McCool
UVA Lawn Charlottesville Virginia by Katherine McCool

7. Richmond, Virginia's Cool Capital City

Foodies, beer lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and history buffs will find a great mix of cool and fun things to do in Richmond, Virginia's vibrant capital city. Kayak in the James River, or cross the suspension bridge to Belle Isle and lounge on the riverbank. Stroll the Canal Walk and explore the downtown core. You'll find a mix of modern bars and restaurants, historic architecture, and a very cool collection of murals.

View of the Richmond Skyline at Sunset from the Belle Isle Suspension Bridge, one of the Best Things to Do in Richmond VA
Richmond VA Skyline at Sunset

Richmond is one of the best weekend trips from DC that mix natural and urban fun. A weekend getaway to Richmond avoids commuter traffic and local sites are open for longer hours.

Treat yourself with a stay at The Jefferson Hotel, one of the most romantic hotels in Virginia. The Jefferson is even more spectacular during the Christmas holiday season. Or look for a great weekend deal at one of Richmond's many hotels.

Check more reviews and availability at The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond Virginia.

Christmas Tree and Holiday Decorations at The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond Virginia
Holidays at The Jefferson Hotel

8. Clifton, a Classic American Small Town

The small, quaint town of Clifton is a true contrast to Washington DC. Check out the historic buildings, visit local shops, and grab a bite in the pretty, walkable downtown. We love the burgers at the Main Street Pub! Nearby Trummers made the 2023 list of top 10 restaurants in Northern VA.

Main St in Clifton, one of the Best Virginia Day Trips Near Washington DC
Main St Clifton Virginia

Just outside the downtown visitors can take a hike on the Bull Run – Occoquan Trail, and sample Virginia wines at the closest winery to DC. Beautiful foliage makes this one of the best fall hikes in Northern Virginia.

Colorful fall foliage lines the riverbank on the Bull Run Occoquan Trail in Clifton, one of the Best Fall Hikes in Northern Virginia
Bull Run Occoquan Trail in Clifton

Clifton is a relaxing stop without too many distractions. And sometimes that's the point of choosing Virginia day trips near Washington DC.

9. Leesburg, History and Wine Country Near DC

The streets of downtown Leesburg are lined with historic buildings, now occupied by tasty restaurants, fun bars, and local shops. There are lots of interesting things to do in Leesburg, in the historic downtown and nearby. For example, history fans will enjoy the Loudoun Museum and George C. Marshall's Dodona Manor.

The Best Things to Do in Leesburg Virginia Include the Restaurants and Shops Lining King Street
King Street Shops Leesburg VA

Outside of Leesburg's downtown, you'll find beautiful farms, wineries, breweries, and picturesque roads. For example, follow Old Waterford Road from the center of Leesburg to the quaint and historic town of Waterford. Explore some of the dirt roads of Loudoun County, a premier Virginia wine region (see more nearby stops below). Or head north of Leesburg on a scenic drive along the Maryland border.

Tractor Mailbox on Downey Mill Rd part of the Unpaved Roads Scenic Drive in Loudoun County VA
Unpaved Roads Loudoun County VA

If you're planning a weekend getaway, Landsdowne Resort offers beautiful rooms, a spa, biking, hiking, golf, and on-site dining close to downtown Leesburg.

10. Purcellville and Bluemont

Spend a day at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the quaint towns of Purcellville and Bluemont. Here you will find excellent hiking, including a kid-friendly hike on the Appalachian Trail plus unique dining, shops, wineries, and breweries.

The small town of Purcellville is a great base for sampling Virginia craft beer and wine plus a fantastic distillery and some great restaurants. Outdoor lovers can hike or bike the Washington and Old Dominion bike trail which travels 45 miles back to the edge of DC.

Bike Riders on the W&OD Bike Trail in Purcellville VA
W&OD Bike Trail

Nearby, fun activities in Bluemont include local farms, breweries, wineries, and outdoor play. Hike a section of the Appalachian Trail to a spectacular view at Bear's Den Overlook. For a more challenging hike, climb the AT's “roller coaster” to a great view at Raven Rocks. After the hike, reward yourself with more views and great craft beer at Dirt Farm Brewing.

View from Bears Den Overlook, One of the Best Hikes in Northern Virginia
Bears Den Overlook Hike

The newest Virginia State Park opened in 2023 just north of Purcellville. Visitors to Sweet Run State Park will find great hiking, equestrian trails, children's activities, fishing, and more. The park includes forests, fields, and wetlands, and is surrounded by the Short Hill and Blue Ridge Mountains.

11. Chincoteague and Assateague Island on the Chesapeake Bay

Take a Chesapeake Bay day trip from DC and enjoy a day of nature and beach town fun. Chincoteague Island, site of the beloved Misty of Chincoteague book series, offers a family-friendly mix of classic beach town pursuits and unique natural adventures.

Sunset and Adirondack Chair LOVE Work on a Chincoteague Virginia Getaway
Chincoteague VA Sunset

Hike, bike, and look for the wild ponies in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, or explore from the water on a boat tour around the island.

Virginia's Eastern Shore is an ideal beach day trip from Washington DC. Head to Assateague National Seashore to relax and swim at a beautiful stretch of beach on the Atlantic Ocean. Wild ponies and ocean fun make Chesapeake one of the best day trips in Virginia for families.

Chincoteague ponies in water, photo courtesy Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce
Chincoteague Ponies, photo courtesy Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce

Virginia Day Trips to Sample VA Wineries and Breweries

12. Hike and Beer, or LoCo Ale Trail, Loudoun County

Want to combine a little effort with a local craft beer? Check out these 5 Hike and Beer day trips. They all combine a beautiful Virginia hike with one of the state's excellent craft breweries.

Dirt Farm Brewing Patio in Bluemont Virginia
Dirt Farm Brewing Patio

Or skip the hike and focus on the brews. Just grab your designated driver and visit a few stops on the LoCo Ale Trail. There are breweries scattered throughout Loudoun County, offering plenty of scenic drives and stops.

13. Day Trip to Wineries and Vineyards in Northern Virginia

If wine is your preference, we've got a selection of short and lovely hike and winery outings that make for fit and happy Virginia day trips near Washington DC. If you'd rather skip the hike and get right to the wine, point your designated driver to these Virginia wineries with beautiful views.

Stone Tower Winery Patio and Northern Virginia Winery Views
Stone Tower Winery

Need a designated driver for your group? Book a highly-rated Private Loudoun County Wine Tour and let your guide do the driving.

Historic Virginia Day Trips From Washington DC

14. Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington

Walk or bus across the river from the Lincoln Memorial to visit Arlington National Cemetery, the closest in our list of Virginia day trips near DC. You can cover the basic bus tour in a couple of hours. However, we highly recommend a slower walk through this hallowed ground.

Arlington National Cemetery with Flags In for Memorial Day
Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Day

15. Manassas National Battlefield, Manassas

Manassas National Battlefield was the site of two important U.S. Civil War battles. The first gave locals hope that the war would be over quickly. The second, a year into the conflict, underscored the unpredictable and devastating impact of the ongoing war.

Henry House and fence Manassas Battlefield VA
Henry Hill, Manassas Battlefield

Driving and hiking trails help visitors understand both battles and their role in the war. After your hike, visit The Winery at Bull Run for tasty Virginia wine and an interesting tie to the battlefield. You can extend your trip with a visit to nearby Historic Manassas.

Historic Winery at Bull Run
The Winery at Bull Run

16. Smithsonian Air and Space Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly

Aviation lovers flock to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on DC's National Mall, but we prefer the massive collection at the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. The Udvar-Hazy museum houses aircraft too large for the Smithsonian's DC location.

View from the catwalk at the Smithsonian Air and Space Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Northern Virginia.
Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center

A Space Shuttle, Concorde, Blackhawk, and other stars of aviation are housed in 3 massive hangers just south of Washington Dulles International Airport. The Udvar-Hazy Center is one of the best places to visit on a rainy day in Northern VA, and is one of our favorite winter day trips from DC.

Virginia Day Trips Near Washington DC Map and Tips

These Virginia day trips close to Washington DC offer fun all year long. Parks and hikes are particularly beautiful in spring when wildflowers line the trails and green fills the forest. During Autumn, fall foliage colors the hills and mountains, and weather patterns are usually mild. Wherever you go, avoid driving during rush hour if at all possible.

Virginia Day Trips Near DC Map:

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Best Virginia day trips near Washington DC for nature, history, wineries, breweries, quaint towns, and more.