If you’re long on wanderlust but short on time, Alexandria is the perfect home base for day trips to DC, Virginia wine country or pristine national parks and beaches. From historic sites to mountain hikes, you can find it all in Alexandria’s backyard, with a host of attractions all within a few hours of our extraordinary city. Even better? You get to come home to ALX. Read on for our list of the top day trips from Alexandria:
1. Washington, DC
Image courtesy of Potomac Riverboat Company
Getting to DC from Alexandria is one easy day trip—you don’t even need a car. Hop on the water taxi from Old Town to the National Mall for a stress-free 30-minute cruise, docking just steps from the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial. Or you can take Metrorail from any of Alexandria’s four Metro stations and you’ll find yourself in the heart of DC in less than 20 minutes.
What do you do once you get there? No matter whether you’re a first-time visitor or a Washington regular, no trip to DC is complete without a visit to the National Mall. It’s got 10 Smithsonian museums (all free), nine national monuments and memorials, and miles of green space to picnic or play. My favorite things to do near the Mall? Go from desert to jungle inside the greenhouses of the U.S. Botanic Garden, or catch a baseball game at Nats stadium, 1.5 miles south of the Capitol building.
After the game, catch the Baseball Boat or Metro back to Alexandria for an evening in walkable Old Town. Relax at independent restaurants tucked into 18th- and 19th-century architecture, explore unique boutiques and art galleries and see history where it happened in our intimate museums for a refreshing break from crowded Washington.
2. Virginia Wine Country (and beer!)
Image courtesy of Visit Loudoun
Just one hour from Alexandria, climate meets craft in Loudoun County, known as DC’s wine country and home to more than 40 wineries. Follow winding roads past horse farms and historic estates to lush vineyards, where you can sip a glass of organic Raspberry Merlot (Fabbioli Cellars) and look out over rolling hills and mountain valleys (Breaux Vineyards). If you’re more of a beer drinker than a wino, you’re in luck: Loudoun also boasts an emerging craft beer scene, with many a tasting room to choose from.
Your Virginia wine tour doesn’t have to end after you leave Loudoun, though. Once you’ve sampled Virginia varietals direct from the vineyard, order a glass of your favorite at one of Alexandria’s top eateries serving locally-sourced wine. Not a wine person? Nurse a pint from Alexandria’s own local craft brewery, Port City Brewing Company, recently named the Best Small Brewery in America at the Great American Beer Festival. Now you’re set for an after-dinner stroll or trolley ride.
3. Great Outdoors: Shenandoah National Park and Great Falls
Image credit: Flickr user Robert Burakiewicz
Secluded waterfalls, guided horseback rides and ancient rock formations make Shenandoah National Park, just 1.5 hours from Alexandria, the perfect getaway for the outdoors enthusiast. More than 500 miles of trail wind through the park, including the popular (though strenuous) climb up Old Rag Mountain. Drive or bike along Skyline Drive, running along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, for stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley and gorgeous displays of wildflowers in the spring, summer and early fall.
Another great option for nature-lovers is nearby Great Falls National Park, only 40 minutes from Alexandria. Visitors can follow easy walking paths along the historic Patowmack Canal or tackle the popular Billy Goat Trail for rock-hopping fun. The real star of the show, of course, is the falls themselves, where the Potomac River cascades over a series of steep, jagged rocks in a narrow gorge.
4. Mount Vernon
Image courtesy of Mount Vernon
As George Washington’s adopted hometown, Alexandria is a “best of” when it comes to sites associated with our nation’s first president. Only eight miles south of Alexandria lies George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the most popular historic estate in America. Today, you can tour Washington’s iconic mansion and the meticulously-preserved grounds, including Washington’s farm, gardens and even his final resting place. A museum showcases documents and ephemera belonging to some of the key players in American history, while interpretive spaces like the Pioneer Farm and Gristmill & Distillery give visitors a glimpse at what daily life at Mount Vernon might have looked like in the 18th century.
In Old Town, follow in Washington’s footsteps by visiting Gadsby’s Tavern, one of his favorite pubs to pause for a pint, or Christ Church, where Washington worshipped and owned a pew. Washington traded goods at Market Square, the heart of commerce in Alexandria since 1749; danced and slept at Carlyle House; and dined in many of the private homes along Captain’s Row (the 100 block of Prince St.).
5. Water Lovers: Annapolis and Virginia’s Eastern Shore
Image courtesy of flickr user m01229
Alexandria is in the center of it all, making our city an ideal base camp for visits to both Virginia’s Eastern Shore and the seaport city of Annapolis. Virginia’s Eastern Shore is a quick beach getaway that’s full of unique outdoor fun. With miles of sprawling beaches, remote islands, and even a chance to check out NASA rocket launches, the Eastern Shore has something for everyone.
Or, try heading north to Annapolis, home of the US Naval Academy. It’s all about the water in Annapolis, it just depends how you want to explore the city. Learn about its history with tours of the Naval Academy or visit one of several museums and historic sites. The adventurous travelers can jump right in and go for a kayak, canoe, stand up paddleboard or boat ride.
Back in Alexandria, enjoy locally sourced seafood right on the river, then take a stroll along the waterfront to explore the Torpedo Factory Art Center. Hop on a boat to learn about the city’s history on the Alexandria Seaport Cruise, take in the National Mall with a Washington by Water Monuments Cruise, or try the narrated boat cruise to George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.
BONUS: Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts
Image credit: Flickr user bigbirdz
Just 30 minutes from Alexandria is Wolf Trap, the only national park dedicated to the performing arts. From May through September, Wolf Trap’s multiple open-air amphitheaters play host to live music ranging from opera to jazz, pop and country music. If you sit outside the theater on the lawn, you can even bring your own food and drinks for a serenaded picnic. In addition to the 7,000-seat, architecturally stunning Filene Center, the park also contains 117 wooded acres with hiking trails, picnic areas and year-round recreational opportunities.
You can also find incredible live music in Alexandria any day of the week. Groove to jazz, country, R&B or bluegrass in the Birchmere’s intimate setting that has launched many artists to world renown.
For more things to do in Alexandria, click here.
Header image credit: Visit Alexandria