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5 Best Day Trips from DC: Country Escapes to City Breaks

Break out of the ordinary with some fun day trips from DC! Below you’ll find my top travel recommendations, as someone who has spent over five years in the area.

Whether you’re looking for an escape to the country, a picturesque and historic small town, or another bustling metropolis—these are all less than two hours away by car. Many are also accessible by bus or train.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Driving distance from DC: 65 miles
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For such a small town—the official land area is barely over half of a square mile, and the population at the 2020 census was 285—Harpers Ferry has a ton to offer. It’s a great day trip idea from DC.

Harpers Ferry is located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, where West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland all meet. If you’re looking for somewhere that offers small-town charm, a rich history and a gorgeous natural landscape, it’s hard to find somewhere better and closer to DC than Harpers Ferry.

Getting to Harpers Ferry

Getting to Harpers Ferry is easy. It’s about 1-1.5 hours driving northwest, and you can take Amtrak from Union Station to get there in the same amount of time for about $20 or less. The train station in Harpers Ferry is right in the center of town, and as an added bonus, you won’t need to worry about parking, which can be in short supply on weekends.

If you are driving, your best bet for parking is to leave early. There is parking in Harpers Ferry around the train station (free), immediately off the highway with shuttle service to the town (also free), and to the west uphill from town on the street (payable by app or meter).

History of Harpers Ferry and Things to Do

Harpers Ferry is well-known for being the site of abolitionist John Brown’s ill-fated raid on a military arsenal in 1859. The National Park Service runs several small museums focused on the town’s history, Brown’s raid, and life in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries–all free.

There are also numerous trails in and throughout town, including the Appalachian Trail itself! Bring comfortable hiking shoes and plenty of water and snacks, as there are some serious hills on the trails. The views of the mountains and rivers make the exercise worth it!

Where to Eat in Harpers Ferry

After all the hiking, I recommend stopping at Cannonball Deli for a sandwich, then satisfying a sweet tooth at Bolivar Bread Bakery or one of the ice cream shops near the train station.

Make sure to stroll through the old town, parts of which were sadly gutted by a fire in 2015 but have been rebuilt since.

Annapolis, Maryland

Driving distance from DC: 33 miles
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Annapolis is the capital of Maryland, and it’s located less than 20 miles away from the eastern suburbs of DC, making it an excellent day trip. It’s a beautiful small town right on the Chesapeake Bay. Annapolis holds both the state capitol of Maryland (called the State House) and the US Naval Academy.

Getting to Annapolis

You can easily get to Annapolis by driving east on US Highway 50 from DC or via bus from Union Station (which takes around an hour outside of rush hour traffic).

History of Annapolis

The history of Annapolis goes back to the seventeenth century, and it’s been the political center of Maryland since then. It was even briefly the capital of the new United States from 1783 to 1784, when Congress met at the State House of Maryland before moving (eventually) to Washington, DC. The US Naval Academy has been there since 1845, except for a relocation to Rhode Island during the Civil War.

Things to Do in Annapolis

With stately architecture and a waterfront location on the Chesapeake, Annapolis is a great place to explore by foot during a day trip from the city. I recommend checking out King George Street and Maryland Avenue, which lie between the State House and the Naval Academy. There are lots of shops and cafes in that area, and I really liked Old Fox Books & Coffeehouse on Maryland Avenue.

Head to the southeast from the State House for the waterfront and Ego Alley, where you can spot yachts and fishermen coming and going.

You can usually enter and tour both the State House and the Naval Academy, but make sure you have a government-issued identification with you, as the Naval Academy is an active government facility with security checks. You can also visit the William Paca House on Prince George Street near Maryland Avenue, which is a beautiful eighteenth-century home that belonged to one of Maryland’s most prominent politicians from the time of the Revolutionary War.

Where to Eat in Annapolis

There are plenty of good dining options in Annapolis, but two of my favorites are Iron Rooster for brunch and Dock Street, which is a pub located at the corner of Main Street and–fittingly–Dock Street. The crab cake burger is a great lunch option there if you’re on the patio on a nice day.

Baltimore, Maryland

Driving distance from DC: 41 miles
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Baltimore is Maryland’s largest city and cultural capital, and one of the best day trips from DC. The city has a lot to offer, as you’d expect from one of its size, with world-class museums, parks, restaurants, and entertainment options.

Day Trip to Baltimore from DC

Baltimore is easily accessed by car, bus, or train from DC’s Union Station. You can be there in around an hour without bad traffic. Getting around Baltimore is easy without a car, thanks to a dense, walkable downtown and a metro system.

Things to Do in Baltimore

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor has many attractions, but I would highly recommend a visit to the National Aquarium there–it’s one of the best in the US.

There is so much to do in Baltimore no matter what your inclinations are, from visiting Fort McHenry–where the British attack on the fort in the War of 1812 inspired Baltimore resident Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner”–to the Baltimore Museum of Industry and the Walters Art Museum.

Baltimore’s two professional sports teams call the area west of Inner Harbor home. A baseball game with the Orioles at Camden Yards is a great way to pass a summer afternoon or evening on your day trip from DC.

Where to Eat in Baltimore

If you head east from the aquarium and Inner Harbor area, the Little Italy and Fells Point neighborhoods have some delicious dining options. I can recommend Verde for Neapolitan-style pizza and Ale Mary’s for a classic American tavern and hangout spot.

Middleburg, Virginia

Driving distance from DC: 44 miles
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Located in the Virginia hills, Middleburg itself is a charming, historic small town both well worth a visit on its own merits. Even Jackie Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor called this special place home. Middleburg is the gateway to Virginia’s wine country and natural beauty.

The town was founded around the same time as the United States, in the late 1700s, and many stone buildings from the country’s early history still stand in the town and the surrounding countryside.

Things to Do in Middleburg

Middleburg calls itself the Horse and Hunt Capital of America, with horse farms and a rich history of fox hunting and other aristocratic pastimes. Today, you can visit the National Sporting Library and Museum, which has a massive bronze statue of the famed racehorse Secretariat.

The main drag through town, Washington Street, is well worth a stroll, with charming, quaint architecture and inviting shops. There are enough taverns and breweries in central Middleburg to quench your thirst or quell your appetite, but one of my favorite aspects of Middleburg as a day trip is what’s immediately at the town’s doorstep.

Virginia’s wine country largely begins where the DC suburban sprawl ends, and there are several wineries both in the town of Middleburg and dotting the surrounding countryside. You can usually stop by any of them for a wine tasting, or buy a bottle there and enjoy the scenery. One of my favorite wineries in the area is Chrysalis Winery, located a bit to the east of Middleburg.

Sky Meadows is an excellent state park in the area that’s worth dropping by. Go for the 24 miles of trails, stay for the stunning views of the rolling hills and clear skies. If you want to make it longer than a day trip, you can also camp overnight at the park. The nighttime skies are spectacular there, since you’re far enough from the light pollution of DC.

Where to Eat in Middleburg

Just west of Middlesburg is Hunter’s Head Tavern, a gastropub in an eighteenth-century farmhouse serving up organic fare and heritage breeds of livestock. It’s a beautiful spot for a nice dinner after visiting the wineries or parks nearby.

Dine inside for a cozy experience in inclement weather surrounded by centuries-old walls, or have your meal outside and enjoy the natural beauty of the Appalachian foothills. The food is outstanding at Hunter’s Head, which is the only farm-owned restaurant in the region–a true farm-to-table experience!

Great Falls Park – Virginia and Maryland

Driving distance from DC: 17 miles
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You don’t have to go very far from central DC to find great hiking trails to visit on your day trip. If you follow the Potomac River upstream from the Georgetown neighborhood, you’ll find yourself very quickly surrounded by picturesque cliffs, lush forests, and raging rapids–before you even leave the District.

The Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal towpath follows the canal dug in the nineteenth century that once moved barges more than 180 miles from Cumberland, Maryland to Georgetown. Today, the canal doesn’t move any goods or even have water in most places, but you can bike, walk, or hike any stretch of the trail where it has stood for over 200 years.

One of the best spots along the trail is Great Falls Park, which lies along the river on both the Maryland and Virginia sides barely a half-hour from DC.

Admission to Great Falls

Admission to the park is either $20 per car or $10 per person entering on foot or by bike, or $35 for an annual pass (for a car) with unlimited entry–which pays for itself if you plan on going back even once, which I highly recommend if you live anywhere near it.

Both sides have miles of trails, picnic areas, and breathtaking views of the Potomac rapids, but my favorite is the Maryland side, which has some really cool, challenging trails along the river (hello, Billy Goat Trail!).

Make sure you bring food and water, particularly in the summer, as the trails can be intense.

Popular Day Trips from Washington DC

No matter your preferences, there’s something for everyone in the area around DC—avid hikers, history lovers, or wine connoisseurs. These five spots are some of my favorites. What are yours? I’d love to know!

Traveling America? Be sure to check out my other helpful articles about visiting the USA!

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