While Washington, DC has plenty of attractions to keep you occupied for a couple of days—most of them are located on the National Mall—there are also a few amazing DC day trip destinations you can visit.
You should definitely start with visiting a couple of museums on the National Mall. Also, stop by the Mall’s memorials and monuments dedicated to influential U.S. presidents, such as Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. When done properly and without rushing things, this will take up two days.
If you have more time to spend in the capital of the United States, you can opt to visit one (or all) of the following day trip destinations near Washington DC.
Day Trip Destinations near Washington DC
Just off Interstate 66, you will find Manassas Battlefield, the very setting of the well-known Battle(s) of Manassas (or Bull Run). The first of those two battles effectively started the American Civil War, being the very first meeting of the Union and Confederate armies. This iconic battlefield, amazingly well-preserved by the National Park Service, was where General Jackson became immortalized and got his nickname “Stonewall.”
The Manassas Battlefield lies approximately 40 minutes from the capital and is one of the top day trip destinations near Washington DC. There’s a great visitor center with an exhibit and an informative film explaining the first battle and the events leading up to it. Interpretive hiking trails lead you around Henry Hill, where the height of the battle took place, as well as to other historic sites in the area. Count on at least two hours for a brief visit to Manassas Battlefield; add more time if you want to explore the area around the battlefield as well.
Great Falls Park
Occupying both banks of the Potomac River, Great Falls Park is managed by the National Park Service. It lies on the wonderful George Washington Memorial Parkway, which also happens to be a unit of the national park system (in case you’re interested in that).
Great Falls Park is reached directly from downtown Washington, DC on the G.W. Memorial Parkway, a super-convenient way of getting around greater DC. It’s about 30 minutes by car from the heart of the capital.
The park is home to about fifteen miles of hiking trails, mainly running along the Potomac River. I recommend picking one of the trails and simply walking along the river for some spectacular waterfall views. There are three main viewpoints, the second and third of which are the best ones. Additionally, for those of you who want to spend more time there, expansive lawns, picnic areas and an informative visitor center offer more recreational opportunities. Set aside about three hours for Great Falls Park, including time to visit the visitor center, admire the views from the lookouts and enjoy a picnic.
Just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, Alexandria is only fifteen minutes by car from the National Mall but is a completely different world. This old harbor city of 150,000 people, many of them young professionals working in DC, is one of the most vibrant places in Virginia.
From a tourist’s point of view, the Old Town of Alexandria is the city’s highlight. This large area is home to the largest collection of 18th– and 19th-century buildings of any city in the United States. Colorful boutiques, seafood restaurants, modern coffee houses line its streets while the riverfront parks offer great walking opportunities.
Easily one of the most livable cities on the U.S. East Coast, when walking around Alexandria, it’s hard to grasp that you’re only fifteen minutes away from downtown Washington, DC. One of the best day trip destinations near Washington DC, this lively city deserves a full-day visit.