15 Best Day Trips from Washington DC

As one of the most important cities in the world Washington DC has a wealth of history and culture to explore.

Home to the White House, Capitol Hill and the Lincoln Memorial there is so much to discover in DC. Outside of the city limits there are a whole host of day trips to enjoy.

Being the capital city Washington DC is well connected to other major American cities, New York, Baltimore and Pittsburgh to name but a few.

Here are 15 day trips from Washington DC that will complete any American adventure.

1. Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon

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Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon holds great significance for the American people for it was the plantation house of the first President of the United States, George Washington.

Lying on the banks of the Potomac River a visit to the Mount Vernon estate make for an enjoyable and educational day.

Did you know, for example, that the building is not symmetrical, as requested by Mr Washington himself.

Set just outside the Old Town of Alexandria, Mount Vernon is best explored by bicycle and there are a number of reputable outlets from which you can rent cycles for the day.

2. New York

New York City

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New York City

Admittedly New York is an American city deserving more than just a day trip.

However, if your time in the US is short and you want to cram in as much as possible, a day trip to New York is more than achievable.

Walk down 5th Avenue, take in the bright lights of Time Square or take a stroll around the beautiful Central Park.

Let’s not forget the Statue of Liberty and of course the Empire State Building too.

If you are keen to create the ultimate American day trip it doesn’t get better than a flying visit to New York.

3. Arlington Cemetery and Museum of American History

Arlington Cemetery

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Arlington Cemetery

The United States of America has a rich and varied history that has played an important role in the creation of the nation as it stands today.

To gain a greater understanding of America’s past travellers can take a day trip to the Museum of American History combined with a humbling visit to the Arlington National Cemetery, just outside of Washington DC city centre.

The Arlington National Cemetery is a stunning tribute to men and women who have shaped the course of American History.

The cemetery is the final resting place of American heroes like President John F Kennedy and Marguerite Higgins.

4. Gettysburg

Battlefield & Monument In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

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Battlefield & Monument In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought on the 1st – 3rd July 1863 between the Union and Confederate forces and was one of the most significant battles of the American Civil War.

Over the course of just three days there were over 46,000 casualties and as such the Battle of Gettysburg goes down in history as the USA’s most costly battle.

The Gettysburg Battlefield can be explored on foot, by horse-drawn carriage or even by Segway.

Keeping with the times it is now possible to take an iPad led guided tour of the battlegrounds.

5. Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay

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Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay makes for a truly enjoyable day trip from Washington DC. Lying 100 miles from Washington DC you can have a relaxed or jam packed day in Chesapeake Bay.

A highlight of any visit to Chesapeake Bay is the Maritime Museum.

Home to the world’s largest collection of Chesapeake boats, the Maritime Museum offers fascinating insights into the history of the waterways of Maryland state.

Chesapeake Bay is one of the closest beaches to Washington DC and is a popular escape from the city for both travellers and locals alike.

6. Baltimore

Baltimore

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Baltimore

Baltimore is a bustling city with plenty to explore.

Home to the American Visionary Art Museum and the National Aquarium, Baltimore has something for everyone.

The Maryland Science Center is a particularly good day out for young families and children.

Fort McHenry is the most significant historic site in Baltimore and is certainly worthy of a visit.

It was the battles of Fort McHenry in 1812 that inspired poet Francis Scott Key to pen the poem ‘Defence of Fort M’Henry which is the basis for the national anthem of the U.S, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’.

7. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

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Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

For travellers keen on expanding their knowledge of American history a visit to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello would be truly valuable.

Monticello was the tobacco plantation owned by the USA’s third president, Thomas Jefferson.

As his primary residence, Monticello was Jefferson’s pride and joy and he started to create the estate when he was only 26. Forever a work in progress Jefferson was still working on the estate when he died in 1826. The Monticello estate spans 2,500 acres and includes beautiful garden areas and plenty of natural woodland too.

Monticello is in fact a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

8. Kent Island

Kent Island

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Kent Island

Kent Island is the largest island in the Chesapeake Bay and is one of the most historically significant places in Maryland state.

Thanks to the Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway and the American Discovery Trail, established in 2006, many of Kent Island’s most important historical spots have been preserved forever more.

Must visit spots on the island include Cray House, the old Stevensville post office and the Stevensville Train Depot.

The Christ Episcopal Church to the north of Kent Island is widely regarded to be Maryland’s oldest Christian congregation, founded way back in 1632.

9. Atlantic City

Atlantic City

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Atlantic City

Lying on the coast of New Jersey Atlantic City is an easy day trip from Washington DC and is a great way to tick off another American state.

A popular resort city, Atlantic City is a fun and fabulous place to explore.

Home to countless casinos, spas, music venues and bars Atlantic City a great place to let your hair down.

The most quirky and interesting spot in Atlantic City has to be Lucy the Elephant, a six-storey novelty structure right on the beach side.

Opened way back in 1882 Lucy the Elephant is a real icon of Atlantic City.

10. Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park

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Shenandoah National Park

If nature and the great outdoors is what you seek then a visit to the impressive Shenandoah National Park is surely in order.

Including a section of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park is perfectly picturesque and features waterfalls and rolling hills aplenty.

If you are driving from Washington DC be sure to take a jaunt down Skyline Drive; a 105 mile road that spans the length of the park with a number of scenic lookout points.

Hiking is a popular option in Shenandoah National Park and information about trails and pathways can be found at either of the Visitor Centres.

11. Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, View

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, View

The city of Pittsburgh makes for a great day out for all the family.

The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens make for the most romantic of day trips, Kennywood is perfect for the adrenaline junkies and the Andy Warhol Museum is perfect for the culture vultures.

Named by Harper’s Bazaar as one of the best places to visit in 2017, Pittsburgh PA is a buzzing and vibrant city that provides a modern contrast to historical Washington DC. Lying on the banks of the Ohio River be sure to stay until after sunset to see the city lights dance on the water below.

12. Ocean City Beach

Ocean City Beach

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Ocean City Beach

A brisk sea breeze and the feeling of sand between your toes is the best way to brush the city smoke away.

Ocean City Beach in Maryland is a popular seaside town that is just under 3 hours from Washington DC. The perfect spot for sunbathing in the summer, and swimming year round if you’re brave enough, Ocean City Beach is a relaxing and enjoyable destination for travellers looking to escape the inner city.

A great surfing beach, it is possible to rent boards and suits and hit the waves throughout the year.

13. George Washington & Jefferson National Forest

George Washington National Forest

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George Washington National Forest

Lying a pleasant drive from Washington DC city centre is the blossoming and blooming George Washington & Jefferson National Forest.

Featuring a section of the gorgeous Appalachian Mountains the George Washington & Jefferson National Forest can be explored on foot or on mountain bike.

Particularly beautiful in the autumn months the forest can be enjoyed come rain or shine.

There are more than 1,925 miles of trails to explore so day visitors are really quite spoiled for choice.

At the visitors centre park rangers can suggest appropriate hiking routes for you and your companions.

14. Antietam National Battlefield

Antietam National Battlefield

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Antietam National Battlefield

The Antietam National Battlefield can be found along Antietam Creek and is a preserved area that was the site of a bloody and costly battle in 1862 during the Civil War.

Open throughout the year the Antietam National Battlefield offers visitors the opportunity to connect to history through walks and talks from expert guides who are truly passionate about this historical spot.

The visitors centre is a treasure trove of artefacts and fact sheets depicting the battle as a whole and its significant consequences to modern America.

15. Green Ridge State Forest

Green Ridge State Forest

Encompassing over 46,000 acres the Green Ridge State Forest is the perfect day trip for hikers, ramblers and lovers of the great outdoors.

Cycling, hiking and fishing are all permitted in the park and should you arrive and not want to leave camping is also available too for a small fee.

Something of a hidden gem Green Ridge State Forest is quiet and attracts a small number of visitors throughout the year.

There are Black Bears in the park so keep your wits about you.

There are a number of bird species to be observed in Green Ridge State Forest including Pileated Woodpeckers, Wild Turkeys and owls too.

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List of Image Sources

15 Best Day Trips from Washington DC:

George Washington National Forest

  • Mount Vernon: Steve Heap / shutterstock
  • New York City: shutterupeire / shutterstock
  • Arlington Cemetery: Jon Bilous / shutterstock
  • Battlefield & Monument In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Shutterstock
  • Chesapeake Bay: Jon Bilous / shutterstock
  • Baltimore: Sean Pavone / shutterstock
  • Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello: Andriy Blokhin / shutterstock
  • Kent Island: Yvonne Navalaney / shutterstock
  • Atlantic City: Felix Mizioznikov / shutterstock
  • Shenandoah National Park: Jon Bilous / shutterstock
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, View: Shutterstock
  • Ocean City Beach: Chris Parypa Photography / shutterstock
  • George Washington National Forest: Jon Bilous / shutterstock
  • Antietam National Battlefield: Adam Parent / shutterstock
  • Green Ridge State Forest: MotoWebMistress / Flickr