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Washington, D.C., outskirts, Virginia

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Did You Know … ?

  • Arlington National Cemetery, the nation’s largest military cemetery, sees 27 to 30 funerals each weekday.
  • George Washington’s farm sold produce at Alexandria’s Saturday market, which dates from 1753.
  • The Pentagon groundbreaking occurred Sept. 11, 1941, precisely 60 years before the 9/11 attack.
  • Arlington County has the highest median family income of any U.S. county.
  • At his death (1799), George Washington operated America’s largest distillery and owned nearly 60,000 acres.

Capital extensions

Parts of Virginia nearest to Washington, D.C., are essentially extensions of the capital itself. In fact, the original capital district included Arlington County and the colonial city of Alexandria. Both Maryland and Virginia had ceded land to create a capital district that would flank the Potomac River, but in the 1840s, Congress retroceded Virginia’s portion to the state. The federal government did not need the land south of the river. Arlington County is now the site of the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, but they came later.

Washington’s Virginia outskirts also include other colonial era towns, Civil War battlefields, George Washington’s home, wine trails, horse country and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The area offers plenty for history buffs, food and wine lovers, serious shoppers and those drawn to mountains or generally scenic places for outdoor pursuits.

Visitors to the capital often add trips to outlying attractions of special interest although Virginia’s counties nearest Washington don’t have to be mere add-ons. Excursions in Washington’s environs might include the following Virginia sites:

  • Alexandria’s Old Town. Visitors step back in time when in Alexandria, with its cobblestone streets lined with 18th and 19th century buildings; some accommodate businesses that operated when George Washington lived here. His home, Mount Vernon, is less than 10 miles away.
  • Arlington County. The cemetery and Pentagon are top attractions, but tourists visit the county for more, such as the Pentagon Row shopping and entertainment complex and theater in Shirlington. There are 36 historic districts in the county, too.
  • Fredericksburg/ Manassas/Winchester. Each of these communities boasts a preserved historic district and has a nearby Civil War battlefield or battlefields. Fredericksburg and Manassas are better known, but Winchester has Civil War cemeteries and the Old Court House Civil War Museum.
  • Loudoun County. The site of two more towns with charming historic centers (Leesburg and Middleburg), this hilly area is Virginia’s largest wine-producing county, with wine routes that tourists may follow. It is horse country, too.
  • Shenandoah National Park. This is the place to follow one of the nation’s most beautiful scenic routes, Skyline Drive, and/or explore among scores of possible hiking trails.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Hike in Virginia’s Great Falls Park with its views of the Potomac. Or, head farther afield to choose among the scores of trails at Shenandoah National Park. The 200,000-acre park has camping and lodge facilities.
  • Cycle or skate the 45-mile route of the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park. It is urban at one end (Shirlington) and considerably less so at the other (Purcellville).
  • Pick up the written guide take the self-directed Historic Breweries Walking Tour in Alexandria. Use the free King Street Trolley for your transport.
  • Sign on for one of the Historic Trades Workshops offered at the three-state Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The sessions focus on 19th century trades and skills; they may include blacksmithing, cooking, gardening or tin making. Entry is in West Virginia.
  • Fill out an online tour request (between 14 and 90 days before your intended visit) to join a tour of the Pentagon. International visitors make this request through their home country’s embassy. Guides walk backwards throughout the hourlong visit, which covers about 1.5 miles inside the building.
  • Run in the autumn Marine Corps Marathon, which takes runners from Arlington through the capital and wraps up at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial (aka the Iwo Jima Statue) in Rosslyn. The race is a Boston qualifier.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Find your way to the tasting rooms at a number of Loudoun County wineries; or select Loudoun County craft breweries for your visits.
  • See a new play or a musical at Shirlington’s Signature Theatre.
  • Get an eyeful of rockets and spacecraft at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly.
  • Take a guided walking tour of Alexandria. Around Halloween, make that a ghost tour.
  • Attend a special event, say, a beer tasting with tour and dinner, at Mount Vernon.
  • Seek out the area’s prominent Civil War battlefields. Manassas National Battlefield Park was the scene of two battles of Bull Run, and four major engagements occurred within 17miles of Fredericksburg, the battles of Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania and the Wilderness.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Pay your respects at the Arlington National Cemetery. Watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and tour the Arlington House, once home to General Robert E. Lee.
  • Have a meal at Alexandria’s historic Gadsby’s Tavern, which is both a restaurant and museum. Also, sample eateries and browse the shops on busy King Street.
  • Shop at the upscale Tysons Galleria, or hunt for bargains at the Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets or Potomac Mills in Woodbridge.
  • In Alexandria, look in on, and maybe buy from, painters, sculptors and jewelers who work and sell at the Torpedo Factory Arts Center, formerly a World War II munitions factory.
  • Take one of numerous possible cruises on the Potomac, including the option to travel to Mount Vernon on water. George Washington’s home overlooks the river. Also, from Great Falls, ride a mule-drawn replica canal boat down the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
  • Time a trip to historic Winchester for the springtime Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival. In fact, there are several colonial era towns with sightseeing appeal, including — besides Alexandria and Winchester — Fredericksburg, Leesburg, Manassas and Middleburg.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Virginia Tourism Corporation at