The ideal itinerary for getting the most out of a trip to DC and its surrounding hotspots

From memorials to the nation’s greatest presidents to breathtaking National Parks, Washington DC is at the heart of a great US visit.

Day 1: Washington must-sees

The itinerary kicks off with a visit to the Lincoln Memorial, a tribute to one of the most iconic architects of our time, and 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln – seated in imposing and grand style in white marble. From here it’s only a short hop to another President-honouring must-see, the Washington Monument – at over 500-feet tall this is an awe-inspiring obelisk, which is still standing proud despite a 2011 run-in with an earthquake.

Linking America’s past and present, the White House is impressive enough in its own right, but it’s also set in some astonishingly lush grounds. Leaving aside presidents, the Smithsonian Institution is a cluster of museums, each dedicated to research and preserving the United States’ heritage and history. The museums are packed with the wild, weird and wonderful, and boast exhibitions on everything from dinosaurs to America’s love affair with air travel, depending on which one you visit. Alternatively, the city’s International Spy Museum is a perfect place to indulge your James Bond fantasies – just don’t blow your cover.

Day 2: Shenandoah National Park and Luray Caverns

Get up bright and early and you should be able to get to Shenandoah National Park in under 2 hours from Washington DC, and you won’t regret it when you do. Full of breathtaking views, this hiking heaven has over 100 miles of Appalachian Trail at your disposal – be sure to wrap up warm because it gets pretty nippy thanks to all that clean mountain air. If you want to soak up some of the history of the plants and critters, you can book in time with a ranger who’ll fill you in on the wildlife, and wonders, as well as making sure you see as much of it as possible on your schedule.

If all that fresh air and hiking has you feeling energised, why not pair the trip with a visit to Luray Caverns, which are a craggy natural wonder in their own right. One of the highlights – aside from the jaw-dropping size of the rock formations – is a “stalacpipe” organ which proves you can get sweet music out of these stones. There’s also a Dream Lake to discover, while it looks like a mirror it is – no matter how hard you pinch yourself – very real.

 

Day 3: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Feeling refreshed and at one with nature? This is the time to soak up a bit more culture and knowledge with a trip to Gettysburg. It’s about 1.5 hours from Washington DC and positively teeming with US history. Gettysburg was the site of one of the most famous battles of the US Civil War – often referred to as the turning point of the whole conflict, where Lincoln proved his mettle as Commander in Chief and gave one of his finest ever speeches. These days it’s a museum without walls where military buffs and curious novices alike can get under the skin of a pivotal time in the making of democracy.

You’ll want to book a tour in advance if you’re visiting in the summer months because it’s well worth having an expert field guide to understand just what went on at this spot in 1863, and why it changed the course of the United States’ destiny. There’s also a well-maintained museum and a moving Soldiers National Cemetery to visit if you want to pay your respects to the men behind the stories you’ll encounter.

Day 4: Solomons Island, Maryland

For your last day why not see the sea, and go on a coastal exploration at Solomons Island in Maryland? An hour or so from Washington DC, it’s the perfect spot to round off your trip, whether you’re exploring the Calvert Marine Museum or fossil-hunting on the beach.

There’s plenty of sea-front dining to be had too, with boats pulling straight up into the bay as you while away a long lunch with a drink in hand. Those visiting with children will find plenty to distract the youngest members of their party too, from educational activities and hiking trips to the family-friendly sculpture garden and arts centre. Before heading home, you might want to round off your trip by sampling some local drink, whether from the popular microbrewery or the rightly popular and fabulously chilled-out beachfront Tiki bar.

There’s plenty of sea-front dining to be had too, with boats pulling straight up into the bay as you while away a long lunch with a drink in hand. Those visiting with children will find plenty to distract the youngest members of their party too, from educational activities and hiking trips to the family-friendly sculpture garden and arts centre. Before heading home, you might want to round off your trip by sampling some local drink, whether from the popular microbrewery or the rightly popular and fabulously chilled-out beachfront Tiki bar.

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