5 Weekend Trips and Getaways From Washington DC

The spectacular Blue Ridge Parkway winds its way past the Appalachian Mountains
The spectacular Blue Ridge Parkway winds its way past the Appalachian Mountains | © Malcolm MacGregor / Getty Images
Chloe Byrne

As the capital of the United States of America, Washington DC is brimming with prestigious marble monuments and fascinating museums. Decades of presidential history seeps from the bones of its emblematic White House, but it takes a trip outside the city limits to discover the diverse natural landscapes of its bordering states, Maryland and Virginia. The region is rife with cascading waterfalls, undulating dunes and a wild ocean, all of which promise days of exploration and adventure. Escape the city by road or railway to find yourself in a fresh and bucolic setting.

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a serpentine stretch of road that weaves for more than 460mi (740km) through North Carolina and Virginia. The concrete route carves its way past the colossal Appalachian Mountains, gentle waves of verdant farmland and the Pisgah National Forest – the untamed wilderness chosen as the setting for The Hunger Games (2012). The route also offers a glimpse into the region’s Cherokee history, and you’ll find its distinctive influence immortalized in the crafts, music and art you see along the way.

Outer Banks

A string of barrier islands sitting off the coast of North Carolina, the Outer Banks were once inhabited by Native American tribes who used to fish in the Atlantic Ocean. In more recent years, the area has become a hive for vacationers who flock to its golden beachfront, quaint campgrounds and untouched landscape that’s home to herds of wild horses. The islands are awash with legends, owed in part to their treacherous seas that destroyed enough ships for the area to be nicknamed Graveyard of the Atlantic. There are plenty of calmer coves, however, that are perfect for water sports.

1. Outer Banks Wild Horse Tour

Tours, Activities

Encounter the beloved four-legged beasts that roam the Outer Banks on this enlightening tour. A combination of ecological facts, local knowledge and historical tales will spill out of your friendly guide as you travel by open-air vehicle, skirting the coast and bouncing along the swells of dunes. Keep your eyes peeled for wild horses as they graze on grassy flourishes, and you may get the perfect photo op – particularly when traveling through the Wild Horse Conservation Area.


Not to be confused with the decadent cream cheese, this sprawling Pennsylvania city has found on-screen fame as the setting for numerous films and TV shows. Channel your inner Rocky Balboa with a triumphant run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, relive the heart-wrenching courtroom scenes of the Oscar-winning film Philadelphia (1993) in City Hall or see what inspired the wild-card antics of the gang from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia with a pint of Guinness in Paddy’s Pub Old City.

2. The Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia

Tours, Admission

Delve into the pivotal past of Philadelphia on a walking tour that gives you a behind-the-scenes peek into America’s birthplace. The city has no shortage of historic stops to swing by, including Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Franklin Court and the Betsy Ross House, along with many others. As you stroll, a passionate guide will paint a picture of America’s inception and how Philadelphia played a significant part (as the meeting place of the Founding Fathers). By the end, you’ll be well acquainted with the city’s colonial architecture and rich history.

Virginia Beach

Virginia Beach hugs the southeastern coast of Virginia at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. Veined with rivers that spill into the Atlantic Ocean, the vibrant city is also fringed by a golden ribbon of beach that has been recognized by the Guinness World Records as the longest pleasure beach in the world. The resort city is infused with a creative spirit, which is evident at its annual Boardwalk Art Show and weekly Old Beach Farmers Market.

3. Small-Group Dolphin Kayak Eco-Tour

Tours, Activities

See dolphins thriving in their natural habitat on this engrossing eco-tour that takes you up close to the playful creatures without interference. After an initial safety introduction, you’ll be paddling out from North End Beach. Keep an eagle eye out for a friendly bottlenose peeking up through the waters. Follow your guide along the coast to the Cape Henry Lighthouse, and learn about the magical marine life that lives both above and below the cobalt surface. If you’re lucky, you may spot a sea turtle gliding below or have a dolphin play alongside your kayak.


Not to be confused with the New York neighborhood, the city of Williamsburg in Virginia made its mark in history as a political hub preceding the American Revolution. Plunge into the city’s past at Colonial Williamsburg, a frozen-in-time living-history museum (and private foundation) with restored 18th-century buildings and actors in period costumes. Elsewhere, Virginia’s largest winery lures you in with refined tastings, while kids can get their adrenaline kicks at one of two major theme parks.

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