When talking about the Washington DC metro area the District of Columbia gets most of the attention. But don’t overlook Northern Virginia as an add-on to your DC trip. Or plan to do Northern Virginia completely independent of the capital city. After all, many of the sites associated with DC aren’t even located there.
Furthermore, Northern Virginia offers a wide range of things to see and do. This wonderful journey will take you to historic places, ag-tourism sites, nature areas, small towns, and much more.
This 5-day itinerary can be done in its entirety or broken into multiple trips. It is based on the assumption that you will arrive during the early afternoon hours (between 12 and 2 pm) and depart the region around 3 pm on your final day. A word of advice, you may not want your last day to be Friday or Sunday, especially during the summer months as traffic in the metro area can be extremely heavy.
Where is Northern Virginia
Northern Virginia encompasses the 5 counties across the Potomac River from Washington DC. The region is comprised of Alexandria, Arlington, and the counties of Fairfax, Prince William, and Loudon.
If you want to explore areas that are closely associated with the nation’s capital then you will want to focus predominantly on Alexandria and Arlington. But perhaps you are seeking a more rural and slower-paced adventure near Washington DC that focuses on the history, agriculture, and nature, then you will likely focus on Fairfax, Prince William, and Loudon Counties.
Getting To Northern Virginia
Obviously, because we are talking about the DC metro area, the region is easily accessible from pretty much anywhere. After all, there are three major airports to choose from in the metropolitan area: one national and two international. Those airports are Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI).
But the DC metro area is also easily accessible by AMTRAK train from cities along the east coast. Washington DC’s Union Station is the central connecting point for AMTRAK lines from both northeast and southeast cities as well as cities to the west including Chicago and New Orleans.
And of course, if you are traveling by car the region is convenient to I-95 which runs the entire length of the eastern seaboard. This makes Northern Virginia a convenient stopping-off point or an easy addition to a longer road trip passing through the District of Columbia.
Day One – Mount Vernon and Alexandria
You will be starting your visit in Fairfax county but on this day you will only be visiting Mount Vernon. You will return to Fairfax County on day three to explore more of what the county has to offer.
As previously mentioned, this itinerary assumes that you will arrive at Mount Vernon between 12 and 2 pm. Of course, where you are traveling from and what time you get on the road will determine your arrival time in the region. But this itinerary is built around the idea of you getting to the area around lunchtime.
Enjoy a Southern-Syle Colonial Lunch at the Mount Vernon Inn
Start your visit to Mount Vernon with lunch at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant. I know. You might be thinking this is some overpriced tourist trap with uninspired food. But you’d be wrong. It’s a charming old inn with white table clothes and terrific cuisine.
Enjoy a colonial southern-style meal. The inn is known for its Fried Green Tomatoes and since this is a southern staple I suggest you try them. Other menu items that you won’t want to miss include the Hoecake, a colonial-era cornbread pancake served with vanilla bean butter and honey. For the main course try the Shrimp and Grits. They are superb. If you are not a seafood person, try the Braised Short ribs or the Chicken and Waffles. And finish your meal with the Colonial Bread Pudding.
Exploring George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Once you’ve stuffed yourself it’s time to burn off those calories by exploring all that Mount Vernon has to offer. And there’s a ton.
Keep in mind that George Washington’s Mount Vernon is one of the most popular points of interest in Northern Virginia and is busy year round but especially during the summer months. Purchase your tickets in advance online.
George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate encompasses property on both sides of the Potomac River. This beautifully preserved 8,000-acre Revolutionary War-era estate provides stunning river views, gorgeous gardens, Washington’s tomb where he was interred at age 67, and the Original Distillery & Gristmill.
The property includes years of Washington family history. Visitors can opt for either the self-guided audio tour included with a basic Grounds Pass or add-on the hour-long Mansion Interior tour gives visitors a better understanding of the man behind the legacy, as well as, commentary on the lives of the enslaved community at Mount Vernon.
Besides exploring parts of the estate restored to its 18th-century appearance most visitors will also want to spend some time at the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center located on-site. This is a state-of-the-art, interactive exhibition that recognizes the native American heritage and slavery at Mount Vernon in addition to the achievements of America’s 1st president.
How Much Time Should You Spend at Mount Vernon
This will depend on what activities you plan to do while there. I definitely recommend touring the mansion, the gardens (you will walk through the gardens to get to the mansion), and visiting the education center especially if you are traveling with kids. For this, you should allow 3 hours.
If you have time and want to visit the tombs, farm, and Gristmill and Distillery then you may want to add another hour to 1-½ hours to your visit.
There is no right or wrong way to do it but be sure you plan your visit to allow for enough time to see and do everything you want.
Hours, Fees, and Tour Information for Mount Vernon
Open 365 days of the year
April through October: 9 a.m. – *5 p.m.
November through March: 9 a.m. – *4 p.m.
*The Museum and Education Center remains open to guests for one hour after closing.
Purchase your tickets in advance online. Standard Grounds Pass adult (12+) pricing is $28 pp, $15 for kids (6-11), and free for children under 6. Group pricing and discounts for members of the military and AAA members are available. Check here for details.
Visitors can opt for the 60-minute in-depth guided tour which gives access to the Mansion and includes areas typically not accessible to the general public. But this access to more than 250 years of history at Mount Vernon comes with a hefty price tag of $60 in addition to the standard grounds pass.
Plan an evening visit to Alexandria, VA
If time and daylight allow, you may want to rent a bike and ride part of the Mount Vernon Trail before strolling around Old Town Alexandria. Rent a bike either from a local bike shop or Capital Bikes. Pedal from Alexandria south toward Mount Vernon. This trail meanders through woodlands, marshlands, past yacht basins, and along the Potomac river. It’s a scenic trail and popular with locals for running, walking, and cycling.
Alexandria is just a short drive from George Washington’s Mount Vernon. This nationally designated historic district founded in 1749 brings together the city’s colonial charm and cosmopolitan style. In 2022 Alexandria was voted one of Travel + Leisure’s Best Cities in the US and a Condé Nast Traveler Top 5 Best Small Cities in the US.
Shaded cobblestone streets and historic 18th and 19th-century rowhomes make Old City Alexandria picture-perfect. And speaking of pictures, get your photo snapped in front of America’s skinniest home, Hollensbury Spite House (523 Queen Street). Measuring just 7 feet wide, it has become a popular backdrop for Instagram images.
While meandering this charming city, make your way to King Street to check out its many trendy boutiques, restaurants, and specialty shops. You never know who you will run into here as this area is frequented by politicos, DC Powerbrokers, and even celebrities.
While on King Street, history buffs will want to purchase the Key to the City Pass from the Alexandria Visitor Center located at 221 King Street. This $20 pass offers admission to 9 museums and significant sites including Alexandria’s History Museum, Alexandria Black History Museum, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, and more. Tip: If you plan to visit George Washington’s Mount Vernon, then purchase your pass online ahead of time because one of its perks is a 40% discount at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
After exploring Old Town, head to the waterfront. You will find fantastic dining, shopping, and open spaces along the waterfront so wrap up your visit to Old Town Alexandria with a walk along the waterfront and dinner.
While there be sure to check out the current public art installation located at King Street and Waterfront Park. Art lovers will also want to stop in at the Torpedo Factory Art Center (105 N Union St.). Once a naval munitions factory, the building now serves as a gallery and studio space for 71 artists.
Wrap up your day with dinner at one of the many waterfront restaurants. Vola’s Dockside Grill offers indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the marina and the Potomac River. Enjoy freshly shucked oysters and a cocktail to start. Menu favorites include crab cakes, hush puppies, lobster rolls, and po-boys sandwiches.
After dinner head to your hotel. I suggest the Le Méridien Arlington. It’s a cosmopolitan hotel with a stunning view of the Key Bridge, the Potomac River, and Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood. It is an ideal location as you will be starting day two in Arlington.
Day Two – Arlington
Today will be spent exploring Arlington, a city that really isn’t a city but rather a county made up of a collection of neighborhoods, not towns. You will explore some of the neighborhoods in the morning and spend the afternoon paying your respects to those who serve.
Take a bike tour of Arlington in the morning.
A wonderful way to explore Arlington is by bicycle. I have put together a 12-mile self-guided bike tour of Arlington on my other site Beans Bikes and Blooms. You will find the full 12-mile route and a downloadable map here. In this section, I will cover the highlights and most important information for this ride.
While only a 12-mile ride, you should anticipate spending 2 to 2-½ hours for this ride. You will want to stop along the way for pictures and to take in the sites.
Once you’ve got your bike, head up Wilson Blvd and fill your belly at EClairons, a great little cafe serving hearty breakfast sandwiches, coffee, and the prettiest pastries.
From Rosslyn head for the Mount Vernon trail. You can pick it up near Gateway Park. Once on the trail, you will head south toward Roosevelt Island. You might want to make this the first stop, however, bikes are not permitted on the island.
After snapping a few pictures, continue on the Mount Vernon Trail for 4 miles. The trail takes you along the Potomac River and offers a scenic ride with views of DC. You will pass the Navy Merchant Marine Memorial on your way to Gravelly Point and Reagan International Airport, a popular spot for watching planes arriving and departing this busy runway.
If you are comfortable riding city streets then head into Crystal City which is the location for the new Amazon H2Q now under construction. Because Amazon and other businesses have chosen the area for their headquarters, Crystal City is seeing massive growth in recent years.
As you head back to Rosslyn you will pass Arlington National Cemetery. There are a few interesting spots outside the cemetery where you can stop including the Seabees Memorial, Arlington Ridge Park, the Netherlands’ Carillon, and the US Marine Corps War Memorial.
Return your bikeshare to one of the kiosks and head back to the hotel to freshen up before tackling the second half of the day. If you are looking for lunch at this point, you may want to try District Taco (1500 Wilson Blvd) for a quick and casual meal.
Spend the afternoon at Arlington National Cemetary
Arlington National Cemetery is a place for reflecting on our country’s armed forces lost in military service going back centuries. Walking these hallowed grounds will surely leave a lasting impression. You should allow 3 hours here to do it justice.
At 639 acres, Arlington National Cemetery is the nation’s largest military cemetery. Over 400K servicemen and women along with their dependents have been buried here since 1864 when Private William Christman became the first soldier buried at Arlington. This is a very active cemetery where there are up to 30 interments a day. Please be respectful.
Visitors to Arlington National Cemetery can pay their respects to some of America’s heroes including Presidents William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Senator Robert Kennedy. Of course, there are many other notables interred here including Supreme Court Justices, military leaders, politically influential figures, and even astronauts.
Witness the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
On November 11, 1921, three unidentified (the Unknown) soldiers who had been returned from France, were carried through Washington, D.C.and across the Potomac by a horse-drawn caisson. A state funeral ceremony was held at Arlington National Cemetery and the Unknowns were interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. To this day the tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Visitors can witness one of the most solemn observances—the changing of guards. The inability to identify the remains of some soldiers has always been a consequence of war. The Tomb of the Unknown honors all of them. If you do nothing else at Arlington Cemetary you should attend the Changing of the Guard Ceremony.
View the Women in Military Service for America Memorial
As you entered Arlington Cemetery you most likely noticed the Court of Valor; a large curved facade with a reflecting pool and fountain located at the Ceremonial Entrance to the cemetery. This is the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, the only major national memorial honoring all women who have defended America throughout the nation’s history.
But this is much more than a memorial. Housed within the arced building there are 16 exhibit halls for permanent and rotating exhibits. You will find displays commemorating the service and bravery of women in military service as well as a computerized registry of female service members.
Hours, Fee, and Tour Information for Arlington National Cemetery
Admission to Arlington National Cemetery is FREE however, you can opt for a hop-on-hop-off tour of the cemetery by tram with narration. Trams depart every 30-minute and tours last approximately 45 minutes. There are 6 stops during the week and 9 on weekends. The cost for the tour is $19.50 for adults 13-64, $10.75 for children 6-12, Seniors over 65 pay $15, Military and Veterans pay $8.75 and children 4 and under are Free.
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m
$3 per hour, with a daily maximum of $12 a day for passenger vehicles.
$10 an hour, with a daily maximum of $40 a day for commercial vehicles, such as tour buses and RVs.
As you wrap up day two, you might find yourself exhausted (and who would blame you) from two extremely active days of exploring. If so, you might want to simply get something at the Amuse Bar and Terrace (open til 10 pm nightly) located in the hotel or pick from one of the neighborhood restaurants within walking distance of the hotel.
Day Three – Vienna, Great Falls, and Reston
The primary destinations for day three are Great Falls National Park and the unique planned community of Lake Anne in Reston. On the way to your first destination, you will make a brief stop in the quaint town of Vienna. Day three is the busiest day on this 5-day itinerary so you may want to get an early start.
Either plan to have breakfast at the hotel before checking out or if you can wait then you may want to enjoy your morning meal at your first stop in Vienna.
Spend the Morning exploring Vienna Virginia (about a 25-minute drive)
If you’ve opted to wait to have breakfast then make Caffe Amouri your first stop in Vienna. This is a coffee shop and roastery serving up specialty coffee drinks, breakfast sandwiches, pastries, and grab-and-go snacks. It is the kind of place people hang out and work on their laptops and locals chat it up. Additionally, they offer live events such as open mic nights. But the most unique offering at Caffe Amouri is their private cupping sessions and Specialty Coffee Association Certification courses.
The town of Vienna sits on the W&OD Trail a popular biking trail built on a former rail line. Snap some photos by the old Red Caboose and former train depot, as well as, at the Vienna Mural.
Explore Vienna on foot. Stroll the downtown area and browse its antique and boutiques including the indie bookstore Bards Alley. Chocolate lovers will want to pick up some decadent treats at Cocoa Vienna. And historians can learn a bit of local historia at the Freeman Store & Museum.
Unless you plan to do a significant amount of shopping or window browsing, you should plan to spend an hour and a half at the most in Vienna.
Explore Waterfalls and more at Great Falls National Park (a 20-minute drive)
This 800-acre park which sits on both sides of the majestic Potomac River offers stunning vistas overlooking cascading waterfalls. The park provides many outdoor recreation options including hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, and birdwatching.
But of course, the falls are the main attraction!! On the Virginia side of the river, there are three vantage points from which to view the falls including 2 that are wheelchair accessible. Unfortunately, the two accessible trails are the furthest from the parking lot and visitor center. But with the furthest viewing point being just a 10-minute walk, the falls are easily accessible by people of nearly all fitness levels.
Overlook one gets you closest to the falls and offers spectacular views. There are large boulders at the end of the trail. Visitors should be cautious when climbing on rocks particularly if they are wet and never pass the fencing as this could result in serious harm.
The second vantage point is accessed either by stairs or a ramp leading to a large viewing platform.
And finally, overlook three offers the best view of the falls and offers two viewing platforms. As you make your way there, be sure to check out the High Water Mark Pole indicating the water levels during various major floods.
This unique attraction is surrounded by amazing wildlife and 15 miles of nature trails including 5 miles of mixed-use trails for hiking, and biking (Old Carriage Road, Ridge, and Difficult Run trails) and a total of 10 miles of trails shared for horseback riding (Old Carriage Road, Difficult Run, Mine Run, Matildaville, and Ridge Trails).
Remember the rules of the trail. Humans yield to horses. Bicycles yield to humans and horses. Horses yield to no one!!
The most popular hiking trails include the 2.5-mile Patowmack trail. The trail begins at the upper parking lot near the Visitor Center and follows the river. It leads to all three overlooks and ruins. It is a fairly easy walk mostly on a packed dirt surface.
Finally, with over 160 species of birds including waterfowl, songbirds, woodpeckers, vultures, and kingfishers Great Falls Park is a favorite among birders. Don’t forget the binoculars!!
Unless you plan to hike the trails, you will probably spend about 1-½ to two hours at the falls. This will provide enough time to view the falls from all three vantage points and take a short hike to the ruins.
Hours, Fee, and Tour Information for Great Falls National Park
Open: 7:00 a.m. to thirty (30) minutes after sunset, daily, except December 25.
Passes can be purchased either using cash or a major credit card at the park entrance or online.
Great Falls Park Vehicle Permit: Admits one single, private, non-commercial vehicle and all its passengers. Cost: $20.00
Great Falls Park Motorcycle Permit: Admits one single private motorcycle and its passengers. Individuals 15 years of age and younger are admitted free of charge. Cost: $15.00
Great Falls Park Individual Permit: Admits one individual when entering by foot, bicycle, or equestrian. Individuals 15 years of age and younger are admitted free of charge. Cost: $10.00
NOTE: All passes are valid for admission to Great Falls Park for seven consecutive days including the date of purchase and entrance into the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
Enjoy lunch and Explore Great Falls Village Centre
By this point, you are probably ready for lunch. If you are on schedule then I suggest heading to the town of Great Falls to enjoy a meal at The Old Brogue: An Irish Pub located in Great Falls Village Centre. Owned by the Kearney family since 1981, this place oozes Irish hospitality and offers American favorites and traditional Irish cuisine.
Save some room for ice cream at the Great Falls Creamery located within the same cute village. The family-owned creamery offers a wide selection of hand-scooped ice cream. Get your frozen treat to go and enjoy it on their outdoor patio or while you stroll the quaint village shops.
Alternatively, you could go directly to Lake Anne and enjoy lunch on the water at one of the restaurants there.
Discover Reston’s Surprising Lake Anne (a 15-minute drive)
Reston Virginia’s Lake Anne Community is a fascinating place. This early planned community from the 1960s is considered the first modern, post-war planned community in the country. Its unmistakable mid-century modern design blending nature, shopping, residential and commercial space make it unique.
Robert E. Simon Jr., the man behind Lake Anne’s construction, had a passion for creating utopian communities that paid homage to the ideals of New Urbanism while being suggestive of Europe’s great coastal villages. He relocated his family to Reston in the early 1960s and began forming a plan that would become his own utopian dream—a natural and cultural crossroads uniting residential units, commercial spaces, and a 50-acre body of water. Don’t forget to get a picture with Simon on the waterfront.
While here take a stroll around the lake or better yet, rent a kayak, canoe, or pedal boat and relax on the water. Either way, be sure to stop by the picturesque Van Gogh Bridge.
Learn more about this unique planned community and its founder as well as its history at the Reston Museum. This fascinating museum offers both permanent and rotating exhibits.
Enjoy a bit of shopping at the village’s boutique shops. You won’t want to miss the Reston Used Book Shop. Browse the bookshelves and find a cozy nook to take a deeper dive into your selections. This bookstore offers a wide selection of gently-used books from children’s books to the classics.
Take a break from the activity by relaxing at Lake Anne Coffee House and Wine Bar. Whether it’s a frothy cappuccino, a medium-bodied Pinot, or a savory brunch you desire, you are sure to find it here.
Next Stop: Prince William County
You will be making your way to Prince William County in preparation for exploring the area on day four. Your dinner recommendation and accommodations are both in Prince William County.
Enjoy Dinner and Entertainment at Farm Brew Live
This evening is all about delicious food, great entertainment and generally having fun at Farm Brew Live. Located at Innovation Park in Manassas, this 12-acre entertainment complex offers something for everyone.
Dining options here range from food trucks to fine dining at THE BLACK SHEEP: whiskey + wine + noshery Housed in a two-story historic barn boasting exposed beams and vaulted ceilings, The Black Sheep serves inspired dishes made from locally sourced ingredients. Be sure to order the Bacon Tower to share as a starter. It’s not just delicious but it’s also about the presentation. Have your camera handy and set to video.
Beer aficionados will want to check out 2 Silos Brewing Co, Farm Brew Live’s onsite brewery and casual eatery. 2 Silo’s is committed to bringing together the best local brewers, chefs, and entertainers to create one unforgettable experience.
Hang out into the night beside one of the fire pits and take in the best local entertainment performing on the outdoor Yard Stage. Or strike up a lively game of cornhole while sipping on local craft brews.
Drive to your overnight accommodations in Haymarket (20-25-minutes away)
Spend the night at either The Inn At Evergreen, a stunning country inn situated on an 18-hole championship par 72 golf course and country club, or the new Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Haymarket offering the convenience of an in-town location. These are two very different stays. Which one you choose will probably depend on your price point and the amenities you prefer.
Day Four – Prince William County
Today you will be exploring Prince Williams County. Day four will take you to historic sites and a truly unique ag-tourism destination before moving on to Loudoun County.
Breakfast in Haymarket or at Your Overnight Accommodations
If you’ve stayed at the Inn at Evergreen breakfast will mostly be included in your stay but check their website for details. Though, if you choose you can still opt to head into Haymarket for breakfast.
Located across the street from the Hilton Garden Inn is Hidden Julles Cafe. This family-owned and operated cafe offers natural, organic, and locally sourced meals and scrumptious bakery items. The breakfast selection includes sandwiches, burritos, and a variety of egg benedict options, as well as, delicious fresh juice blends and smoothies. Vegan, Paleo, Keto, and Gluten Free options are all available on the menu.
Grab a Coffee for the Road at Haymarket Coffee Shop
This small local coffee shop operates out of the Haymarket Museum on Washington Street. All their coffee is grown on a 48-acre coffee farm in El Salvador directly supporting coffee farmers. Additionally, a portion of the proceeds supports the educational and medical needs of the community. Haymarket Coffee Company serves a cuppa Joe you can feel good about drinking. And it’s a damn fine cup of coffee.
Manassas National Battlefield Park – (10-minute drive from Haymarket and 20-minutes from the Inn)
The Manassas National Battlefield Park (6511 Sudley Road Manassas, VA) is one of the most storied battlefields in US history. It’s home to the Battles of Bull Run and First Manassas, two major Civil War battles that shaped the course of the war.
The park provides educational opportunities for young and old alike – perfect for learning about American and Civil War history. Families will not only be able to take part in learning activities while visiting this beautiful park but also enjoy a picnic lunch with family and friends.
There is also the Manassas National Cemetery at the park, where over 5,000 Union and Confederate soldiers are buried – a great reminder of their sacrifice and contributions to our nation’s history.
Hours, Fee, and Tour Information for Manassas National Battlefield
Admission to Manassas Battlefield is FREE and Park grounds are open daily from dawn to dusk. Check the National Park Website for specific hours for the Visitor Center and Brawner Farm Interpretive Center as the hours fluctuate based on the season and holidays
Daily Walking tours with a Park Ranger are offered at 11 am and 2 pm, weather permitting. Tours convene behind the Visitor’s Center. The tour takes approximately 45 minutes and leads visitors over the rolling terrain of Henry Hill and offers perspective on the Battle of First Manassas.
Ben Lomond Historic Site
After exploring the Manassas Battlefield, pay a visit to the Ben Lomond Historic Site. This quirky museum is for people who claim to not like museums. It attempts to take you inside a working Civil War-era hospital through a full sensory experience.
Ben Lamond House was used by Confederate soldiers after the Battle of First Manassas as a hospital. The museum tries to replicate what it might have been like to be at the Ben Lomond house during that time. They do this through the display of artifacts, audio recordings, and even piping in the smells that one might have encountered.
The walls of the Ben Lomond house have the signatures of Confederate Soldiers scribed on the walls. Most have been covered over but the museum has left one wall visible.
Graffiti is a tradition as old as time but who knew that Civil War graffiti is a thing?? So much so that if you are inclined you can take a tour of historic homes and buildings that were all vandalized during the war and now make up the Northern Virginia Civil War Graffiti Trail.
Visitors to Ben Lomond are encouraged to view the restored slave quarters, the smokehouse, and the dairy. Before leaving be sure to take a stroll through the Old Rose Garden which holds one of the largest collections of Old Garden Roses in the DC Metro area.
Hours, Fee, and Tour Information for Ben Lomond House
Open for self-guided tours Friday-Monday 10 am-4 pm with guided tours offered at 11 am and 2 pm. Grounds are open from dawn to dusk.
Adults (over 6) are $5, children under six and active military are FREE.
Though Ben Lomond is not wheelchair accessible, visitors with disabilities are able to experience rooms and spaces with 360-degree views plus videos, and narration. Virtual 360* Tour tablets are available at no additional fee.
Lunch at Taste of Old Country
Just a short drive from the Ben Lomond house in an unassuming commercial center is Taste of Old Country, a bistro and market reminiscent of Mediterranean traditions. They offer tapas-style small plates, shared charcuterie boards, as well as, sandwiches and salads.
The perfect lunch might be to pair the Old World Country Platter with a flight of 4 wines. Magnificent!!
Sample their wide selection of estate and flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegar. The owner, Elias is incredibly knowledgeable and can help you find the perfect EVOO or balsamic. These products are a perfect way to savor your visit to Northern Virginia or to give as gifts. And they will ship your selection home for you. Try the Vanilla Fig Balsamic Vinegar on vanilla ice cream. Absolutely exquisite!
Add Some Sunshine and Sunflowers to Your Day in Nokesville
If Instagram is your thing then this will be your happy place!! During the summer (mid-July through Labor Day) Burnside Farms (11008 Kettle Run Rd) in nearby Nokesville has acres of u-pick sunflower fields for as far as the eye can see. You will be shuttled to the fields aboard a tractor-pulled trailer. While on the way you will learn how to select the best sunflowers and how to appropriately harvest them.
Once in the field, you will find baskets and shears for collecting your flowers and props for those Instagram pictures. Even if you are not into having your picture taken you can’t help but have fun posing for the camera amongst all the cheery blooms.
But summer isn’t the only time you can enjoy magnificent fields of flowers at Burnside Farm. During the spring the fields are filled with literally millions of colorful tulips. But timing a visit during the Spring Festival might be a bit tricky because the bloom period is dependent on the spring weather patterns. But typically, the festival runs for 3 weeks in April.
Reminder: Please do not trample the flowers when you are there. If you do this then others can’t enjoy them too.
Next Stop, Loudoun County VA (about a 40-minute drive)
On your way to Leesburg, where you will be spending the night, I suggest stopping in Middleburg. You may even want to have dinner at one of the town’s fine, yet casual establishments. Take a stroll on the town’s main street to explore antique stores and boutique shops. The entire main thoroughfare is only a few blocks long.
Tonight you will be staying in Leesburg in preparation for exploring Loudon County on day five. I suggest booking at Stone Gables Bed & Breakfast (19077 Loudoun Orchard Road, Leesburg). This historic B and B is in a renovated stone gable barn, one of the last remaining in the county making it a special place. The rooms are nicely appointed. Exposed beams and rock walls give the place a rustic feel while offering all the amenities. Enjoy the onsite pool, homemade cookies, snacks, and an amazing fresh, hot breakfast in the morning.
Day Five – Leesburg in Loudon County
Though Loudoun County is just 25 miles from Washington DC, it feels like a world away. Loudoun County is known for its charming small towns, horse farms, and vineyards.
Spend the Morning visiting Oatland Historic House and Gardens
After what is sure to be a delightful breakfast and checking out of your accommodations, make your way to Oatlands Historic House & Gardens (20850 Oatlands Plantation Ln, Leesburg) a stunning historical plantation offering over 200 years of history.
The mansion built in 1804 by George Carter, was a thriving wheat plantation up to the Civil War. Like other plantations of the time the family enslaved around 133 black men, women, and children to perform the farm’s work. The trustees of this property make no attempts to hide this but rather work to build a fact-based history around Oatland.
As such, the “Telling of All Stories Project” was created. This database strives to include the name of every enslaved person at Oatland to help descendants trace their ancestry. The database includes names taken from George Carter’s will and Elizabeth Carter’s diaries. Those documents contain over 900 entries and make references to approximately 120 distinctly different people.
Oatlands is a National Trust Historic Site and a National Historic Landmark. The estate was donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation by the home’s last owner, Edith Eustis, after her passing in 1964. The home was opened to the public shortly thereafter.
The terraced gardens situated behind the Greek Rivival-style mansion were built by Carter, the original owner. When the estate was purchased in 1903 by William Corcoran Eustis and his wife Edith, members of a prominent political family, the gardens were in a state of disrepair. Mrs. Eustis, seeing the potential, planted the garden with fragrant and colorful flowers such as tulips, peonies, iris, and lilies as well as boxwoods.
Since Edith’s passing, the estate has undergone restoration but hasn’t evolved much. However, the garden has continued to be a work in progress.
The mansion, its gardens, and its outbuildings have become a favorite spot for weddings. And it’s no wonder. This breathtaking estate makes a fabulous backdrop for photos and offers drop-dead gorgeous event space.
Today the historic Inn at Oatlands Hamlet, the charming Stone Cottage, and the newly renovated Gap House are available to rent through Airbnb.
Hours, Fee, and Tour Information for Oatlands
Garden & Grounds open 10:00 am – 5:00 pm daily.
Adult Gardens and Grounds tickets cost $10, and Children 5 and under are FREE – Purchase tickets here.
Guided Tours by appointment – Last tour at 3:00 p.m. – Call for Appt. 703-727-0670
Wrap up Your 5-day Road Trip Exploring Downtown Leesburg
Historic Leesburg (and Middleburg), the capital of Virginia horse country, as well as, the county seat of Loudon County is home to many locally owned shops, fine and casual dining, about half a dozen craft breweries, historic sites, and more.
Take a leisurely stroll around the bustling small town and take in its southern charm. Some significant sites to watch for include the war memorials located on the grounds of the Loudoun County Courthouse, the Methodist Meeting House and cemetery, the Silas Randall House, and the John Janney House.
History buffs may want to take one of the self-guided Leesburg audio tours available on iPhone or Android. Tours include the African American History Tour, Highlights of Historic Leesburg, and Loudoun County War Memorials Tour.
To take a deeper dive into Loudoun County history, stop by the Loudoun Museum. The museum is the “official repository” for Loudoun’s culture, history, and natural treasures.
The downtown area of Leesburg is a designated arts and cultural district. Browse the town’s art galleries and antique shops. In addition to the history audio tours, Leesburg also offers a Leesburg Public Art Tour. The tour highlights over 20 pieces of artwork at 11 locations.
If you are an art enthusiast and nature lover but opt to skip the audio tour, you may still want to take a stroll around Raflo Park and Garden Sculpture. This pretty little three-acre park situated on the edge of town has an eclectic mix of sculptural designs. Be sure to get a picture in front of the LOVE sign (because Virginia is for Lovers) made from bicycle parts.
This is also an access point for the W&OD Trail. This 45-mile trail connects Arlington to Purcellville in the western part of Loudoun County. You could easily ride the roughly 13 miles from Leesburg to Purcellville in about an hour on the paved mostly flat bike path that takes you through woods and farmland.
Before getting on the road home, fill your tank, I mean belly, at one of the many restaurants located downtown. If you’re looking for an exceptional meal, try Tuscarora Mill Restaurant, known as “Tuskie’s” to the locals. Located at Market Station, this remarkable eatery is housed in a 19th-century grain mill. Owner Kevin Malone has been a trendsetter in the “buy local” movement since opening in 1985. Tuskie’s offers an inspired menu using the freshest ingredients. Be sure to ask about the daily specials.
As stated at the start of this article, this itinerary should allow you to get on the road by around 3 pm. If you are able to stay a bit longer or have decided to tack on an additional day then you may want to check out some of Northern Virginia’s fine wineries.
This itinerary allows you to see all the highlights of Northern Virginia at a relaxed enough pace that you don’t need a vacation from your vacation when you get home. If you decide to follow this plan, I would love your feedback. Tell me in the comments!!