So your favorite airline is running some incredibly cheap flights to Washington, D.C., and you're tempted to take an impromptu vacation to the nation's capital. Trouble is, you've already done D.C. You've seen the museums, the monuments, the National Mall. And — no offense to the nation's capital — you're over it.
Here's the good news: There are some incredible, overlooked destinations to explore in Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland that are easily accessible by flying into Dulles. Check out these five day trips from D.C.
When you fly into Dulles, you're surprisingly close to the border of West Virginia, a state which holds plenty of natural wonders for D.C. day-trippers to explore. Just an hour northwest is Harpers Ferry, a historic town situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. Made famous by John Brown's 1859 anti-slavery raid, much of the town is a national historical park staffed by living history interpreters.
Drive another hour northwest and you'll reach Berkeley Springs, a picturesque town with a spiritual vibe. Right in the heart of town is Berkeley Springs State Park, a quaint village green that's home to hot springs visited by George Washington. Take a dip in a private Roman bath (bathing suit optional) or get an inexpensive massage.3
Many people think of Northern Virginia as endless suburban sprawl, but once you pass the outer orbit of the capital you'll find charming countryside and historic towns. Some of the best day trips from D.C. take you to Virginia wineries perched in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. VisitLoudoun.org suggests the "Wine With a View" tour. It includes a stop at Bluemont Vineyards, where "on a clear day, you can even see the Washington Monument from the tasting room." History hounds can hike through Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Regional Park, see Civil War-era graffiti on the walls of Mt. Zion Baptist Church and lunch at the Red Fox Inn & Tavern, the oldest continually operating inn in the United States.4
National Harbor — not to be confused with Baltimore's Inner Harbor — is a new development in Maryland about 45 minutes from Dulles International Airport. With shops, fine restaurants and hotels, National Harbor is a grown-up playground on the banks of the Potomac River. MGM is opening an enormous casino at National Harbor in late 2016.5
Shop high-end brands at the Tanger Outlets. Ride the Capital Wheel, a 180-foot Ferris wheel that gives its riders glimpses of the White House and the Capitol.6 Rent a kayak or take a sightseeing cruise. The perfect end to your D.C. day trip? Dinner on the waterfront as you watch the sun set. If you're having too much fun to leave, then head to the Cadillac Ranch for a drink and a chance to ride the mechanical bull.
A contributor to the Fodors forums suggests a military history day trip from D.C. The National Museum of the Marine Corps, an hour from Dulles, is free to enter. Artifacts on display include a Huey helicopter and Panther jet, as well as the original American flags raised by the Marines during the battle of Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945. There's even a playground on site, as well as children's exhibits and uniforms to try. About 45 minutes from the museum is the Manassas National Battlefield Park, with walking trails and historic sites.
Just across the Potomac River from Washington is Old Town Alexandria, a popular destination for escaping the capital hustle. A seaport in Colonial times, the old town consists of gracious homes, antique shops, boutiques and restaurants. Make time to explore the Torpedo Factory Art Center, a collection of galleries and studios where you can watch artists at work. Savor fresh oysters on the water at Blackwall Hitch or craft beer at John Strongbow's Tavern. The free King Street trolley will carry you around.