With so many attractions in Fairfax County, planning a visit to the region can be overwhelming - so what better way to take out the guesswork than with a pre-planned tour? Whether you're tracing the footsteps of our founding fathers, sampling award-winning wines, or marveling at life-sized murals, there is a variety of established tours you can join to uncover the stories of this region. Here's our roundup of the best tours to take in Fairfax County, offering an immersive exploration of history, culture, and the hidden gems that make this area a treasure trove for both locals and visitors alike.
George Washington's Mount Vernon
Walk in the footsteps of the Father of our Country at George Washington's Mount Vernon, the most visited historic estate in America. The mansion on the property is 10 times larger than the average colonial Virginia home, and on the standard Mansion Tour, visitors will see a guided tour of each room. Get an intimate look into Washington's private study, visit family bedchambers, and even lay eyes on the iconic Bastille Key in the Central Passage. Each detail has been meticulously restored to represent the estate as it appeared in 1799, down to the wallpaper designs. Advance online ticket bookings are recommended for guaranteed entry, as same-day tickets may sell out.
Mount Vernon also offers an array of seasonal specialty tours, including the Enslaved People of Mount Vernon tour (February-December), the National Treasure: Book of Secrets tour (March-December), the Hamilton The Musical Tour (April-October), the Garden & Landscapes Tour (May-October), and more. Keep tabs on their calendar for what's happening during your visit.
Hot Tip: Make it a double-header and take a tour of the seasonal Distillery & Gristmill where George Washington made his whiskey and the gristmill that produced thousands of pounds of flour and cornmeal a day! (Open April - October, annually.)
A tour of Gunston Hall offers a profound journey into the life of George Mason, shedding light on his roles as a family man, community leader, and founding father. Beyond the stylish residence that showcased the Masons' wealth and prominence, this historical site delves into the stories of all those who called Gunston Hall home, from his family to the enslaved individuals who labored there. George Mason's home unfolds a story of political influence, global connections, and the collective effort of numerous individuals, both free and enslaved. The guided tour, which happens daily at various hours, allows visitors to connect with the grounds, museum, and, through guided exploration, the mansion itself.
Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey House
Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey House offers the unique opportunity to tour two historic homes in one day, homes that were built 135 years apart from one another.
Begin your visit at Woodlawn Estate, an elegant Georgian mansion dating back to 1805, designed by the renowned architect William Thornton. George Washington helped to design this home as a gift to Eleanor (Nelly) Park Custis, Martha Washington’s granddaughter who was raised at Mount Vernon. The home is a National Historic Landmark and the first site ever owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Woodlawn hosts several house tours and experiences driven by the stories of all those who have lived and worked here, including the first owners and those enslaved there, the courageous Quaker families who transformed the property into working farmsteads for freedmen and immigrants, and the many diverse and inspiring owners since then.
Step forward in time to visit the Pope-Leighey House, a masterpiece of modern architecture designed by none other than the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright in 1939. The property showcases the architect's innovative Usonian designs and how two different families adapted this dwelling to fit their mid-20th-century lifestyles.
Tours of both sites are available from April - December, typically on Thursdays - Mondays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Hot tip: Don't miss checking out the Arcadia Farm for Sustainable Agriculture, a third site that shares land with these two iconic houses.
Sully Historic Site
Image courtesy Fairfax County Park Authority
Explore the rich history of Sully Historic Site on a 45-minute Historic House Tour of the 1794 dwelling, once home to Northern Virginia's first Congressman, Richard Bland Lee. Learn about Lee's family, political career, and the enslaved community that kept Sully operating. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and part of the National Park Service's Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, a visit to Sully offers a unique glimpse into the past. You can reserve your tours online in advance.
Photo courtesy Alan P. Goldstein / Wikimedia user Goldpost2
Take in a breathtaking view at Historic Huntley, overlooking acres of trees and the Potomac River. Dating back to around 1825, this Federal-style villa served as the country residence of Thomson F. Mason, a prominent attorney and former mayor of Alexandria, who also happened to be the grandson of George Mason IV. The Masons' affluent lifestyle was sustained by the labor of as many as 48 enslaved individuals, including notable figures like Daniel and Rachel Humphreys and their descendants, whose post-Civil War destinies remain a mystery.
In 1868, Huntley was acquired by Albert and Angeline Harrison, who transformed it into a thriving dairy farm. In the wake of World War II, the Amlong family found their haven here, concluding Colonel Amlong's military journey. Witness Huntley's ever-evolving story by registering for a tour and adding your voice to its rich history. Tours take place from March - November on Saturdays at 10:30am and 12:00pm.
Paradise Springs Winery
Located in the quaint town of Clifton, Virginia, and bordering Bull Run River, Paradise Springs Winery is the first winery established in Fairfax County. Fairfax County's wineries serve as the gateway to Virginia Wine Country, and Paradise Springs' property features an 1800s log cabin, which was renovated in 1955 by a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright. Take a tour (Saturdays & Sundays, 12pm) of the historic cabin, vineyard, production facility, and barrel room at Paradise Springs Winery - all while enjoying a tasting of their award-winning wines. Plus, grab food from their artisan food trucks and check their calendar for a full slate of fun, including trivia, bingo, and live music.
The Winery at Bull Run
The Winery at Bull Run doesn't just promise award-winning wine, but a step back in time to the 1800s where you can find rich American history and walk in the footsteps of Civil War soldiers. This 21-acre property is adjacent to 5,000 countryside acres of the historic Manassas National Battlefield Park, providing you with a beautiful vista of preserved 19th-century farmland. Take your pick from a variety of tours they offer, including:
Past to Present Historical Tour: Travel through time as you walk the hallowed grounds of the winery and discuss the Civil War battles, Hillwood Estate, the vineyards, and the present-day life of this working farm winery. Offered Friday, Saturday, & Sunday at 12PM.
Grape to Glass Production Tour: Experience the wine production process as if you were a grape: from the vineyard to the crush pad, through the state-of-the-art Production Barn, and into the Barrel Room where wine is aged to perfection. Enjoy 4 tastes of wine on this 1-hour walking tour led by a personal tour guide. Offered Friday, Saturday, & Sunday at 2PM.
Witness to History Museum Tour: Explore the winery's collection of over 200,000 artifacts with exclusive access to their new Civil War museum. Become a witness to history as the relics, and tour guide, tell you stories of real Civil War soldiers. Enjoy 4 tastes of wine on this 1-hour walking tour led by a personal tour guide. Keep tabs on available dates here.
River-Sea Chocolate Factory
River-Sea Chocolates makes organic, ethically produced chocolate from small-scale growers who use sustainable farming methods. The result is exceptional, award-winning, artisanal chocolate you won’t find anywhere else! At their factory in Chantilly, you can learn all about their production process and taste their delicious chocolate for yourself by embarking on one of their tour or tasting experiences, including:
Tasting Flight and Tour: On the tasting flight and tour, be guided through the flavor notes of five bars made at River-Sea Chocolate Factory. Go behind the scenes to observe the production, where you can see the different machines and learn about what each one does to make delicious small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate!
Kids Tasting Tour: Embark on the Kid-Friendly Tasting Tour to learn about how chocolate is made with an interactive, hands-on presentation. See the cacao pod, cacao beans, and machines River-Sea uses to make chocolate. Each kid and adult can take home a piece of chocolate they wrapped themselves. This tour is recommended for elementary ages.
Chocolate Bar Making: Let your creative self indulge in a delicious and artistic experience with the Chocolate Bar Making Tour! Decorate your own milk chocolate bars with natural ingredients (rose petals, Himalayan salt, spices, nuts and seeds, coconut flakes, cherries, strawberries, and more). Each person will get to make two, single-origin organic milk chocolate bars.
Wine and Chocolate Tasting: You've been to a winery wine tasting, but, have you been to a chocolate factory wine tasting? See how chocolate is made while sipping on perfectly paired wine, selected from Virginia vineyards and international wineries that follow sustainable growing practices. You'll sample five chocolate bars and three wines, then observe the production, where you can see the different machines and learn about what each one does to make delicious small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate.
Herndon Historic Walking Tour
Embark on a journey through Herndon's unique history with these self-guided walking tours offered by the Herndon Historical Society. Founded in 1971, the society's mission is to bring together history enthusiasts, particularly those interested in Herndon's unique past. Be sure to visit the iconic Depot Museum that houses a fascinating collection of artifacts - including relics from Commander Herndon, the town's namesake, and the USS Herndon DD638. As you set out on a self-guided adventure through the historic town, you'll encounter homes and buildings adorned with plaques, each recognized for their significant contributions to Herndon's history and character. With two distinct tours, East and West, you can choose an immersive journey of Herndon's heritage centered around your interests.
Reston Public Art
Did you know that Reston is home to more than 50 public artworks? All of this public art in Reston can be viewed by foot and bicycle, and many can also be viewed by car. Public Art Reston, a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring an ongoing commitment to public art and creating a new generation of artworks in Reston, has created a map of several artworks located at parks, underpasses, and on buildings throughout Reston. Grab your walking shoes, bike, skateboard, roller skates, or any other mode of getting active, and take a self-guided tour of these unique works of art! To get you started, here are 7 Must-Sees of Reston's Public Art!
Clifton Historic Homes
As one of the region's most preserved historic towns, Clifton's small-town Main Street, historic homes, and locally-owned businesses make it feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of our nation's capital. Here, you'll find several homes and churches from the 1800s and 1900s that will take you back in time. Built in 1871, the Clifton Primitive Baptist Church is the oldest African-American church in Fairfax County and a nod to the emancipated slaves that once lived in the town. The Buckley House (pictured above) is where Jeff Arch wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Sleepless in Seattle in the early 1990s. These are just two spots, among countless others, where you can take a self-guided stroll to see the historical markers that tell the story of several Civil War-era structures that are still standing today.
Civil War Trails
Speaking of the Civil War era, there are numerous Civil War sites throughout Fairfax County and Northern Virginia. From antique shops to battlefields, historic inns to churches, the trails throughout this region tell the stories of civilians and soldiers during the war. Here is the Northern Virginia Civil War Trails Brochure to show you the many landmarks in the region where you can witness this pivotal period in American history.
From culinary delights to public art to historic homes, there are a variety of tours to take around Fairfax County. Which adventure will you embark on first? Be sure to tag us in your adventures using #FXVA and @visitfairfax! Happy tour-ing!