If you live in the district of Columbia or enter a state city, leaving the American capital can be a welcome change from the masses of tourists queuing up at historic sites.
Whether you want to get away from the beach, take a break from the city or drive on one of the most beautiful roads in the United States, Washington is close to some really great places, making it the perfect starting point for a road trip.
From the shortest to the longest journey, here’s our list of the 20 best car journeys from Washington, DC.
1. Annapolis, MD
45 minutes from Washington (32 miles)
Picturesque shops along the beautiful Main Street in Annapolis, Maryland
The city of Annapolis is often overlooked when considering a vacation in Baltimore, close to other resorts that compete for visitors.
This humble capital of Maryland is worth your time and is closest to the possibilities of travel, as it takes less than an hour to avoid the hustle and bustle of D.C. on Route 50 to Annapolis.
Annapolis lies on the coast of Chesapeake Bay, and water is what this city is all about. The U.S. Naval Academy is in town, and if you want to explore the bay or one of the many rivers, creeks, streams and coves that feed it, you can rent a boat for the day – take a picnic to enjoy on the water!
If you don’t want to sail alone, there are several tour boat options with everything from kayaks or paddles to a deep sea fishing boat with equipment and crew to catch you for dinner.
Back on land you can taste the local delicacies of the sea – oysters, flounder and crabs are the basis, and you should try them.
Don’t miss the historic city itself – its streets are filled with some of the most important elements of American history and there are important sights.
The state house doesn’t look much like it, but it is the oldest house in the country still in use. It was also the capital of the United States for several months between 1783 and 1784.
This is where George Washington resigned as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army… …about six years before he became president!
2. Baltimore, MD
at 1 hour from Washington (39 miles)
The classically refurbished berths in Baltimore have excellent shops, restaurants and hotels.
Baltimore is another town on Chesapeake Bay, further north, at the confluence of the Patapco river.
It may not have the historical and cultural heritage of Washington or Philadelphia further down the coast, but Baltimore is an extremely important city in American history, which also means there is something to see and do.
Fort McHenry is a national monument that became so famous after the 1812 war that it was inspired by the American national anthem of the Star-Spangled Banner.
If you’re lacking in culture, how about the Baltimore Museum of Art – more than 95,000 works of art are on display for free, including large collections by Matisse and Andy Warhol and a number of leading painters from Maryland.
The Walters Art Museum has large collections of ancient art, from Egypt to the Byzantine and medieval armor of Europe.
To relax you can take a walk through the Inner Harbor – there is plenty of life in the Baltimore area, and you’ll find other attractions including the National Aquarium, as well as great restaurants and bars where you can sample homemade local beers or Maryland wines.
3. Harper’s Ferry, WV
1 hour 15 minutes from Washington, D.C. (67 miles)
Historic town of Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia
Just over an hour northwest of Washington, the charming town of Harpers-Ferry. It is located where the Shenandoa River flows into the Potomac, where Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia meet.
Because of the importance of the city before and during the Civil War, it was declared a National Historical Park. The famous siege of John Brown’s arsenal took place at Harper’s Ferry, and the battlefield of Bolivar Heights is just a few minutes walk from downtown.
It’s pretty easy to get there, but once you get to the crossing at Harpers, parking can be a problem. It’s unlikely you’ll find a spot in the lower town, and public parking lots are rapidly filling up. It is therefore better and easier to park in a much larger area of the Visitor Centre and to walk around the city or take a shuttle bus.
You have to cross the river on the railroad bridge. The Appalachian Trail crosses the Hapers ferry and crosses the bridge – you get breathtaking views in all directions.
Once on the other side you can hike to the top of Marylands Heights – it’s the highest peak in the cliff area overlooking Harpers-Ferry, and if you have time to hike two hours up (and another two hours down), the views are worth it!
4. Richmond, VA
1 hour 50 minutes from Washington, D.C. (109 miles)
Main Richmond Street Station is an outstanding example of local industrial architecture.
It’s pretty easy to get to Richmond in a two-hour drive. Just take the I-395 from Washington before continuing on the I-95 to Richmond – there’s no need for complicated directions.
The capital of Virginia, another historic city, Richmond was a remarkable seeker of independence and was the capital of the Confederations during the Civil War. After more than 5 years of defending the city against the Union, most of the city was burnt down when the Confederate troops withdrew, but the historic city still has a lot of history to offer.
If you want to learn more about the history of the Civil War in Richmond, you have a choice: the American Civil War Center offers five historic buildings to visit, including the Confederate White House.
The historic Church Hill district with its 1700 houses, the State Capitol Building built in 1788, the Virginia Museum of History and Culture and much more can be seen on a walk along the promenades along the James River Canal.
A stone’s throw from downtown is Richmond National Battlefield Park, with walkways that take you through important battlefields with fortifications and interactive exhibits.
If you want a little more history, John Marshall House is a museum that shows life in the early 19th century, when Marshall was the fourth judge of the United States Supreme Court.
I know I’ve already talked about the history of this place, but don’t forget to take the time to see the city as it is now. In the parks along the James River that runs through Richmond, you’ll find great cuisine, excellent local breweries and endless entertainment.
5. George Washington and Jefferson National Forests + Appalachian Trail
2 hours from Washington (106 miles)
Appalachian Crossing the George Washington and Jeffersonian National Forest
Although there are many ways to reach the Appalachian Trail from Washington. The Harpers Ferry, at number 3 above, has the Appalachian Conservancy Trail, and both Skyline Drive (#10) and Blue Ridge Parkway (#20) follow this track.
However, if you want to do more than just explore the path itself and immerse yourself in the wilderness, the National Forest of George Washington and Jefferson is a place you can reach by car from Washington, DC.
The forests can be found along the Appalachian Mountains and stretch from Virginia to West Virginia and even Kentucky. Depending on the forest you wish to visit, this can mean a driving time of 1 to 6 hours per ride.
A little further away is the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, but near Washington are the Lee and North River Rangers – the Appalachian Trail follows a ridge further east along Skyline Drive, but there are also excellent (and much less travelled) trails west of the South Fork-Shenandoa River.
The Massanutten Storybook Hiking Trail is an easy hike – it is asphalted and less than a kilometre long, but it offers beautiful views of the valley from the viewing platform and the more secluded viewing platform.
6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
2 hours 30 minutes from Washington, D.C. (139 miles)
Philadelphia’s Independence Hall is one of the most important historical monuments in the United States.
I know we’ve covered many historically important cities, but Philadelphia should be on the list of those who want to take a road trip from Washington.
If you’re already in Washington, you probably won’t mind a dose of classical architecture or national monuments. Take the Washington-Baltimore Parkway, then follow I-95 from Baltimore (or just follow I-95 from Washington to Philadelphia).
How much time you have to spend in Philadelphia depends on how much time you have. You can spend a week and feel like you haven’t seen everything the city has to offer!
The main historical site to visit – Independence Hall and the outdoors of George Washington – you should get free tickets for the trips, but they can fill up quickly, especially on weekends, so plan ahead.
In 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed here by the founders, and a copy of this declaration can be found inside. 11 years later, 12 of the 13 founding colonies met here to agree the principles of the U.S. Constitution, with only Rhode Island boycotting the Constituent Assembly.
Other historical sites include buildings that are part of the Independence National Historic Park, the Liberty Bell, City Hall and the Society Hill Historic District.
The Philadelphia Art Museum is just one of the many great art galleries and museums in the city, but the majestic building and the long staircase upstairs are so famous that outside the museum there is a statue of the Rocky Mountains.
Finally, don’t forget to visit the reading terminal on the market. This market has existed since 1893 and besides fresh meat and fish you can find everything from freshly grilled products to ice cream and doughnuts, Philadelphia has some more authentic places to eat.
7. Bethany Beach and Rehobot Beach, EN
2 hours 45 minutes from Washington (141 miles)
At Rehobot Beach, Delaware, you can watch the waves for hours.
Two small Delaware coasts are only a few kilometers apart and are separated by the Delaware Marine State Park. You can walk across the Indian River Bay Bridge in a few minutes, so if you come for more than a day (and you have to) you can be anywhere along this part of the coast.
Both have hotels and other accommodations, but perhaps you should rent a house in Bethany Beach for a few days – you’ll have a lot more space at a reasonable price. This option is chosen by many citizens who come to the Delaware coast.
The beaches themselves offer everything from a relaxing summer holiday to dawn, a wake-up call and urgent appointments.
You’ll find long stretches of fine sand, a beach promenade and some chic neighbourhood shops and cafes where you can drink and sit for an hour without typing angrily on your laptop. The rolling waves are much more visible.
8. Sea City, MD
2 hours 50 minutes from Washington, D.C. (146 miles)
The beach of Ocean City, Maryland, can be very crowded on hot summer days.
Eliyahu Yosef Paripa/Shutterstock.com
Ocean City is just a few miles south, on the same coast. As you cross the state border from Delaware to Maryland, the barrier island that separates the continent from the ocean continues and Ocean City covers most of it until you reach Assateague State Park.
Unlike Bethany Beach and Rehobot Beach in Delaware, Ocean City is busier in a resort. The hotels, bars and the tourist beach promenade give you a better idea of your holiday destination.
Despite the hustle and bustle, Ocean City’s waterfront is a great place to make kitsch gifts, seafood you’re not allowed to have but must have, and people watching.
For those who want to be a bit more active, there are a few small amusement parks (don’t expect too much – it’s a local shop) and a golf course nearby.
If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle, go a few kilometres south to Assatega State Park, which I mentioned earlier – there are far fewer people here, the beaches are pristine and you can see the wild horses that live on the island where the park is located and ride through it all year round.
9. Atlantic City, NJ
at 3 hours 15 minutes from Washington (190 miles)
Antantic City Beach, Iron Pier and Iron Pier are perfect for relaxing by the ocean.
To stay on the beach: Atlantic City is further from D.C. than the coastal cities of Delaware and Maryland, but it won’t take long.
If you arrive in Philadelphia via the I-95, the Atlantic City Expressway leads directly to the coast of New Jersey and takes just over 3 hours.
Everything in Atlantic City will be slightly larger than the other coastal destinations on our list – the beach is wider and longer, the anchorage is large enough for an amusement park, and the promenade is wide and full of shops, restaurants, bars and evening entertainment.
Atlantic City became known as Vegas on the east coast when casinos were built and the city, located near New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia, wanted to make a name for itself as a place for parties and gambling.
This reputation has begun to fade in recent years and some major casinos have closed their doors for the last time, but ten major casinos are still in operation and there are more than enough slot machines and blackjack tables for those who want to relax until late at night.
10. Intersection of Shenandoa National Park by Skyline
at 3 hours 30 minutes from Washington (175 miles)
Skyline Drive is considered one of the most picturesque streets in the United States.
Skyline Drive is one of the two exceptional routes that follow the Appalachian Trail on our list. The second (and much longer) is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which follows the Skyline Drive to Cherokee in the Great Smoky Mountains on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.
Skyline Drive starts just outside Washington – follow I-66 west to the exit of Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive starts right at the entrance to the Royal Park – about an hour from the city centre.
The drive through the park takes more than 3 hours, but if you like to drive and enjoy beautiful roads with breathtaking views, these 3 hours can simply make you feel like you are in paradise.
It is an ideal road that winds and turns along a mountain range, with a view that stretches over kilometres of forests, valleys and mountain peaks.
There are many stops with small parking spaces, places to stop along the road and some of the best views along the way.
You’ll notice that the landscape becomes more and more mountainous as you head south, and it can be amazing to park along one of the paths and stretch your legs for an hour or two of walking – you’ll hear the light, fresh air and swaying trees in the wind.
11. New York, New York
4 hours from Washington (225 miles)
The city that never sleeps is not far from Washington and is a great destination.
Luciano Mortula – LGM/Shutterstock.com
When you’re ready for a city break, there are many cities in the world that can rival everything the Big Apple has to offer.
I may be a little biased when it comes to spending almost a year in New York City, but Manhattan’s vibrant, amazing architecture and rich neighborhoods make it an extraordinary destination, whatever your interests.
It’s very easy to get to New York from Washington – I-95 goes all the way to the end, although you can follow the bend in New Jersey to avoid the traffic jams in Philadelphia.
One day in New York, park your car. Believe me, there’s no point in looking for a parking space in New York – taxis and the subway are much better. If you plan to visit New York and have nowhere else to go, you can even opt for a Greyhound train or bus – both are fun and very simple.
Times Square, Central Park, Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Tip of the Rock, 9/11 Memorial and Rockefeller Center should keep you busy. Is there anything else you want to see? It’s no problem. Brooklyn Bridge, High Line, Metro Museum, Grand Central Station and Ploskoye Iron Building.
Reason enough to take a trip to New York? We haven’t even touched Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island and the incredible communities that live there.
After the guided tours you can enjoy world-class cuisine, the best Broadway musicals and music clubs for all tastes. Well, what are you waiting for? Get in the car and it’s only four hours away!
12. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
4 hours from Washington (245 miles)
The mighty Ohio River begins its course in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers.
Pittsburgh, west of Pennsylvania, is about 4 hours from Washington, DC. The intervals 270, 70 and 76 make the journey easy, although relatively irregular.
Unlike other cities further down the list, Pittsburgh is the refreshing breath of an ordinary big city where waiting in line to get to world-famous museums is not the right thing to do.
The city of Pittsburgh lies at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, the Ohio River, which flows into the Mississippi River.
Nature is a large part of what Pittsburgh has to offer and you can climb a steep cliff on the south side of the river in the Duquesne Inklin wagon. From Points of View or Grandview Overlook Park, which is just a few hundred metres away, you can see the city bridges, the city centre skyline and the fountain of Point State Park right in front of you.
In Pittsburgh there is the Andy Warhol Museum, the largest museum of a single artist in the United States, and a very unusual mattress factory where local artists create contemporary art installations.
Head to the striptease district, where the old factory buildings have become a bustling centre of bars and restaurants, shops and markets – from breakfast to midnight snacks!
13. Rolling mills, NC
4 hours 15 minutes from Washington (278 miles)
Take a stroll through downtown Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina.
Roles may not be at the top of your list of potential Washington destinations – after all, there are a lot of big cities in all directions with a bucket full of history, culture and everything else you can do.
But Raleigh is a decent town for a weekend getaway or as a stopover if you’re heading south to Charleston or Savannah.
The city was founded in 1792 and, rather unusually, was specially built as the capital of the state, with the original city plan covering slightly more than the areas around the State Capitol building.
Today Raleigh is a dynamic and promising city. The technology boom has led to many start-ups and big technology companies in the city, so there’s something to do here – from big museums to artisan breweries and food stores.
Live music is an important activity in Raleigh, where large open-air concerts are held throughout the summer and continued in closed halls during the cold winter months.
14. Delaware River, Calliquin and Catskills
6 hours from Washington (320 miles)
The Catskills are not the highest or most famous mountain ranges, but they do have a prominent place on relaxation maps.
Colin D. Yang/Shutterstock.com
The Catskills may not be the highest mountain, nor do they have the large ski areas that can be found in other parts of the country.
However, the Catskills should be one of the most relaxing places on the East Coast. So if you don’t do anything for a couple of days, separated by restaurant trips in the cities, then it seems good to go.
The ideal place to explore the Katskills is a small town called Callikun. It is located directly on the Delaware River, on the edge of the Catskills, but do not follow your browser to get there.
Instead, go to Philadelphia and take I-476 to Allentown. From there you will pass Bethlehem and Strudburgh and then the Delaware breakthrough to Port Jervis.
Here on the Delaware River, continue north on Route 97. This road runs along the river and is one of the most beautiful roads I know in the United States. Hawkeye Nest is a small part of this road with a series of sharp curves that have been used in commercials, movies and television because of the great landscape.
Callicoun may seem small – there’s a brewery, several shops and two restaurants, but if you’re around for a day, you start to understand what it’s all about. The best accommodation option is to find an apartment on AirBnB – there are some great options nearby.
From here you can navigate the river or go to the Catskills to see some of the small towns, waterfalls and paths that are so popular with visitors.
I’ll give you about 3 days before you start investigating what it would cost to sell all your material goods and settle here at the slow pace of life.
15. Visit to Long Island, the cellars and Montauk
6 hours 30 minutes from Washington, DC (360 miles)
Montauk Beacon right at the end of Long Island tells you it’s time to turn around.
Long Island may be a second home to New York’s super rich and a place where locals come for long weekends, but there’s so much more going on than a trip from Washington is absolutely worth it.
To get to Long Island, try to get to the busy streets of New York City before the daytime traffic increases dramatically. This is the advice of someone who has traveled to New York often enough to know that there is no quickest way to get through the city to Long Island.
Whether you’re crossing Staten Island and Brooklyn, taking the Dutch Tunnel, crossing Midtown after the Lincoln Tunnel, or trying to bypass Manhattan via the George Washington and Bronx Bridges, the journey is just as long.
Just choose the direction of the sound – whether it’s the view of the city as you cross the Brooklyn Bridge or in the middle of it and half as fast as you’d normally do on 36th Street, it’ll take as long as it takes.
Although Brooklyn, Long Island City and Queens are technically located on Long Island, each Long Island will tell you that you actually just arrived in Nassau County and left Queens behind.
Nassau County and the much larger county of Suffolk are very different. Nassau is a fairly suburban and built-up city. Long Beach and Fire Island are popular spots, but they can be crowded, and you won’t be able to relax on Long Island away from the skyscrapers of Manhattan until you’ve driven a little further.
Once we get to the Hamptons, Long Island itself appears. The beaches on the south coast are great because you can watch the sunrise and sunset and do everything in between. Go north and you’ll see a wine country that is really something and produces great wines at North Fork.
Then there’s the beautiful town of Montauk. The famous lighthouse has been attracting tourists for decades, and more and more people have started using it after the installation of The Affair series in the sleepy city.
16. Bus trip to Boston, Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island
7 hours 30 minutes from Washington (455 miles)
Boston, Massachusetts – one of the best journeys you can make from Washington.
New England seems a long way from Washington, D.C., but you may be surprised that you can get to the best places like Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and even Maine and New Hampshire, not as far as you think.
If you need about 5 hours to get from Washington to Stamford on the Connecticut coast. On the way, you’ll have to go through Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. So try to determine your travel time to avoid rush hour.
An early departure is a good way to get through New York until late at night. Even better: You can make your journey even more epic by adding one or more of them as stops along the way!
Many of New England’s historic cities are on the coast, so follow the ocean and you’ll find places like Mystic, Connecticut and Providence and Newport, Rhode Island.
Boston is a great city to visit – the weather changes a lot during the low season, so if you want to drive in February, make sure your car enjoys driving in deep snow!
There’s so much to do in Boston that you can easily spend a week there and feel like you’re leaving too early. The two best universities in the country are located in the city, and you can walk around the campuses and see what Harvard and MIT stand for.
Watching a game in Fenway Park is a unique experience, whether you’re a baseball fan or not. Here you will find some of the best museums in the United States, classic buildings such as the Old State House from 1713 and the USS Constitution, the oldest active American naval vessel dating back to 1797!
17. Large Smokey Mountains Study in North Carolina
8 hours from Washington, D.C. (500 miles)
The blue smoke of the Big Smokey Mountains is hypnotic
Dave Allen Picture/Shutterstock.com
If you had to name the most visited national park in the United States, you would probably think of Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, or maybe even the Olympic National Park near Seattle.
The Great Smokey Mountains in North Carolina attract more visitors than these two mountains, and more than 11 million people come to see for themselves the blue haze of the national park’s valleys.
The park stretches over a long stretch of the Appalachian, so you won’t notice the crowds despite its popularity. It’s pretty easy to get from Washington, because we almost completely follow the I-81.
If you want to come here in style, you’re in luck. Connect the length of Skyline Drive (#10 above) to Blue Ridge Parkway (#20 below) and you will arrive here without stopping on the highway.
The journey takes about 20 hours, a few days longer than the direct route, but if you have the time, it’s worth it. On the way back you can always use the quick and easy option!
Whatever the season, when you come to the Great Smokey Mountains, there are incredible things to do. Hiking for beautiful wildflowers in spring, kayaking in the mountain lakes in summer and watching the mix of pines and forest flowers falling in autumn are all good reasons to come here.
18. Myrtle Beach and Charleston, SC.
8 hours 30 minutes from Washington (530 miles)
Charleston’s historic center is steeped in charm, culture and centuries of American history.
Charleston is a large city on the coast of South Carolina. The descent can be long, but you can interrupt the trip and make interesting stops in Richmond (#4 above), Raleigh (#13) and Myrtle Beach.
The city was built on a narrow strip of land between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers and, with first-class space, developed rapidly in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Much of historic Charleston has retained many villas and unique architecture, especially on the south side of the street near Battery.
Some of the colonial buildings can be visited as museums, but for a good dose of the local culture of the South, check out the historic Charleston City Market, which has been held here for over 200 years.
Myrtle Beach, on the way to Charleston, is almost across the street, a relaxed coastal town where things are a bit less serious.
Stroll along the beach promenade, build a sandcastle on the seemingly endless beach and sample the local Moscadian dessert wines, which are actually quite good – you should spend the night here! Large Muscadian grapes only grow in the southeast of the United States, so this is the only place in the world where you can taste this product!
19. Savannah, Georgia
8 hours 40 minutes from Washington (575 miles)
Classic villas, parks and tree-lined streets, Savannah, Georgia, is a must and one of my favorite cities.
Savannah might be my favorite city in the United States, so even if it takes you a day to get rid of it (or more with stops), I’d say it’s definitely worth it.
The usual argument that you have to fly there if you can fly there doesn’t work for me if you’re planning a car trip from Washington to Savannah.
The flight takes two hours and you must be at the airport at least one hour before departure to go through security and board. Add an hour to get from Washington D.C. to the airport, half an hour to get off on the other side, another hour and a half to pick up your rent and go to Savannah, and we’ll talk for at least six to seven hours if everything goes perfectly and you don’t leave your free time anywhere on the way.
Suddenly, the stress of having to put everything you need in your hand luggage on your suitcase and wondering if you will get to the airport on time by hanging it from the seat next to some guy on the plane, you wouldn’t want to sit next to him and then photograph every scratch on his rental car in case it wasn’t worth it.
Savannah is a unique city where it is best to walk around today. The city network focuses on parks – there are 22 or 24 parks in the city.
The streets and avenues that cross the savannah are covered in oak and lined with colonial wooden houses with panelling that give you the feeling of being in the south.
Add to that the excellent Georgian food (if you have the chance to try the sticky chicken wings with peanut sauce, you’ll understand what I mean) and the incredible local curiosities. The world famous oak avenue of Wormsloe Historic Site is a must and you should find time to visit one of the many museums dedicated to local history and plantations.
If you want to do more things on your trip, Richmond, Raleigh and Charleston are good stops (see 3 above). If you really have the time, the Skyline Drive (#10 above) and the Blue Ridge Parkway (below) take you in the right direction, but it takes much longer than on the highway!
20. Follow the iconic Blue Edge on the highway
17 hours and 30 minutes from Washington, D.C. (610 miles)
The view from the Blue Ridge Parkway is breathtaking along the entire length of the course.
There are several roads in the world that come close to the Blue Ridge Parkway in terms of quality of experience, making it one of the best road trips you can do anywhere in the world.
The route starts at the north entrance, which is only 140 miles from D.C.. The journey takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes.
From here, however, the route stretches for 469 miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains, alternating breathtaking views while following the bends of the longest linear park in the United States.
The construction of the main section of the Parkway took 30 years, from 1936 to 1966, and the last section, which required a complex viaduct around Grandfather Mountain, was not completed until 1987. Yes – it took 52 years to build a technical masterpiece so you could ride it with a smile on your face.
After completing the course, spend some time in the Great Smokey Mountains (see #17 above) before returning.
If you don’t find the 15 hours of your trip long enough, don’t worry. You can start your journey further north, first via Skyline Drive and then the Blue Ridge Parkway. This should extend your trip by a day, and these two roads together are probably the most epic routes ever built.