10 Nature Retreats to escape Washington, D.C.


Nat Harbor-Hotel Aerial

Nat Harbor-Hotel Aerial by Duane Lempke from Wikimedia Commons

Within a 3-hour drive of Washington, DC, these 10 exceptional weekend getaway places provide stunning scenery, delicious food and drink, urban experiences, and rich history. These retreats offer locals and tourists a weekend of fun and adventure, whether you seek a tranquil break in nature or an energetic city experience.

1. Old Town Alexandria, Virginia

Old Town Alexandria

Old Town Alexandria by Sarah Stierch from Wikimedia Commons

Getaways near Washington DC don’t have to be far away. Old Town Alexandria, just over the Potomac, is a great destination to visit for a staycation close to home. Fortunately, many of Alexandria’s top attractions are free or inexpensive.

All of the monuments, shops, and restaurants in Old Town are just steps away whether you stay at The Alexandrian or the Kimpton Lorien on King Street. Even your automobile might be left at home. To get to Old Town, take the Blue Line Metro to King Street – Old Town station, then either walk down King Street or use the free Old Town Trolley.

2. Charlottesville, Virginia

George Rogers Clark by Robert Aitken

George Rogers Clark by Robert Aitken by Wikipedia Saves Public Art from Wikimedia Commons

Charlottesville, Virginia, has a gorgeous country setting with a vibrant pedestrian mall, wonderful restaurants, and world-renowned American history. Cville, as it’s affectionately called, is one of the greatest weekend escapes for foodies near Washington, DC. In and around downtown, you’ll find an amazing selection of local Charlottesville eateries, as well as fantastic breweries and vineyards.

Allow at least a couple of hours to tour the downtown pedestrian mall, where you may buy, eat, and listen to live music most weekends. Then visit the University of Virginia, which, along with adjacent Monticello, is Virginia’s sole UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Residence Inn Charlottesville Downtown, located a block from the pedestrian walkway, is a great place to stay when visiting Charlottesville.

3. Chincoteague, Virginia


Chincoteague by Acroterion from Wikimedia Commons

The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and a pleasant Atlantic Ocean beach are located on the town’s eastern outskirts. Rent bikes at the refuge entrance and ride into the reserve, keeping an eye out for horses and other animals. (In the late afternoon, the loop is available to automobiles.) Climb the Assateague Lighthouse for spectacular views over the refuge, then visit Assateague National Seashore for some Atlantic Ocean beach time.

Back in town, lunch at Ropewalk with your toes in the sand, then take the kids to Island Creamery for wonderful handcrafted ice cream. Take a family shot in front of the LOVE sign fashioned out of Adirondack chairs.

The Fairfield Inn & Suites, which is situated next door to Ropewalk and features a pool and playground, is a terrific place to stay. By driving, Chincoteague is slightly over three hours from Virginia.

4. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania


Gettysburg by Doug Kerr from Wikimedia Commons

A trip to Gettysburg brings Civil War history to life while also providing gorgeous scenery and enjoyable diversions away from the battlefield. It’s only 90 minutes away and one of the most interesting weekend getaways in Washington DC for history buffs.

To see all of the gastronomic venues in and around the ancient town, you’ll need a weekend (or longer). In the fall, the neighbourhood comes alive with brilliant foliage, apple harvesting, pumpkin fields, and corn mazes. Gettysburg celebrates Christmas with decorations and events around the town throughout December. The yearly Tuba Fest in Gettsyburg is not to be missed!

5. Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania

Laurel Highlands

Laurel Highlands by Ii2nmd from Wikimedia Commons

Couples, outdoor enthusiasts, and Frank Lloyd Wright aficionados will enjoy the scenic natural splendour and renowned architectural attractions that make Laurel Highlands Pennsylvania one of the greatest weekend getaways near DC. Small villages, parks, and trails around the region provide wonderful hiking, biking, picturesque driving, and more.

Fallingwater, Kentuck Knob, and Polymath Park are three amazing Frank Lloyd Wright locations to see. When you dine and stay at a Wright home in Polymath Park, you can thoroughly immerse yourself in Wright’s work.

6. National Harbor, Maryland

National Harbor, just 20 minutes from downtown DC, is a delightful, family-friendly destination for a break from the norm. From riding the Ferris wheel to climbing the enormous sculpture growing from the sand to shopping at the Peeps store, kids will have a blast.

National Harbor is also a popular weekend retreat for couples from Washington, DC. Take a trip on the Capital Wheel or a Potomac River cruise. Visit one of the numerous restaurants and pubs to eat and drink. Take the complimentary bus to the local outlet mall or go eccentric shopping. Or simply sit back and take in the scenery.

The Gaylord hosts an extensive Christmas light show and the annual ICE! exhibit throughout the holidays.

7. Northern Neck, Virginia

On a quiet weekend visit to Virginia’s Northern Neck, you’ll enjoy delicious seafood and wine, stunning scenery, and intriguing history. The northern end of the neck is only 90 minutes from DC, so plan time for a leisurely trip to the southern point.

8. Richmond, Virginia


richmond by VCU Libraries Commons from Wikimedia Commons

The city of Richmond stands on the banks of the James River, and it makes full use of the waterfront. Take a walk over the historic pedestrian footbridge on Belle Isle, or cross the T Tyler Potterfield Bridge for spectacular views of the river and city. The Canal Walk in Richmond is full of fascinating paintings and rich history, which you can view.

Virginia’s capital has been featured by National Geographic as a gastronomic destination, and there are superb eateries in every price range. Dine at favourite locations like Kuba in some of Richmond’s neighbourhoods. Lunch or Supper in Scott’s Addition, Kuba in The Fan, Perly’s Deli in the Arts District, and Kuba in The Fan. Richmond is also home to a number of good brewers as well as several entertaining rooftop pubs.

You’ll have easy access to the waterfront and historic districts if you stay in one of the downtown Richmond hotels. For a romantic weekend trip in Richmond, we recommend the Jefferson. Try the Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown, which is a little closer to the river and has a more relaxed ambience.

9. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

national park

national park by Stolz Gary M from Wikimedia Commons

Shenandoah National Park is stunning all year, but especially in the fall when the mountains are blanketed in leaves. The park is conveniently located within two hours from Washington, DC. 

The 75 overlooks provide wonderful views, but if you have the opportunity, venture out on the trails. Short excursions to beautiful Virginia vistas, one of three easy Stony Man Mountain hikes, or a longer day trip on the Appalachian Trail are all options.

Off the path, two Visitor Centers provide information on the park’s geology and history. Stop at Skyland and Big Meadows, two park lodges, for a dinner and souvenir shopping. The Central District of Shenandoah contains many of the greatest vistas, treks, and stops.

10. Winchester, Virginia

Winchester Cathedral

Winchester Cathedral by Chris Talbot from Wikimedia Commons

The Shenandoah Valley is a lovely and easy weekend vacation spot near Washington, DC. If you establish yourself in Winchester, Virginia, you’ll be surrounded by mountains, woodlands, and valley farms.

Begin your journey on the pedestrian mall in Old Town Winchester. Unique boutiques, historic attractions, and some of Winchester’s greatest restaurants and breweries surround the mall. Take the kids to the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum for some hands-on learning fun if you’re on a family vacation. And everyone deserves a scoop of Red Fox Creamery’s handcrafted ice cream.

For art and nature enthusiasts, the adjacent Shenandoah Valley Museum is a must-see. Enjoy a stroll around the beautiful Glen Burnie Gardens, a climb through the museum trails, and a visit to the permanent and rotating art galleries. Explore rural roads, see pumpkin farms and farm stores, and go apple picking just outside of town. After all, Winchester is recognized as the “Apple Capital” of Virginia.