Visiting Washington D.C. is on everyone's bucket list at some point. After all, it's our nation's capital - and the site of some of the most important events in American history. Fairfax County is one of the closest neighbors to D.C., making it the perfect launchpad for your adventure. If you're a first-timer looking to get the quintessential Washingtonian experience, here's the ultimate guide to your day trip to Washington D.C.
How to Get To Washington D.C. From Fairfax County
One of the best ways to get between Virginia and Washington D.C. is to take the Metrorail system. It's quite simple to use, and you can even utilize Google Maps navigation which will tell you each train to take if you're unsure. Fairfax County is served by ten Metrorail stations located at West Falls Church, Merrifield/Dunn Loring, Vienna/Fairfax/GMU, Huntington, Franconia/Springfield, McLean, Spring Hill, Tysons Corner, Greensboro, and Wiehle-Reston East. Four additional stations will open in fall 2022, including a station at Washington Dulles International Airport. Many of these stations also offer daily parking facilities and bicycle racks, though not all stations have parking.
If it's outside of rush hour, driving is the fastest way to get between Virginia and Washington D.C. You may consider parking your car in a garage or side street in Washington D.C. for the day. Hot tip - download the ParkMobile app to make your parking experience a piece of cake! You can then get around within the city by walking, using the Metro, or renting a budget-friendly Capital Bikeshare or scooter.
Closest Hotels to Washington D.C. in Fairfax County, Virginia
Fairfax County is known to be one of the best and most economical places to stay while visiting the Washington, D.C. area. The best thing about staying in Northern Virginia is that you’re incredibly close to the nation’s capital with additional access to great shopping, dining, hotels, and more in Fairfax County. Here's the full list of Fairfax County hotels, and below are a few that are surprisingly close to the city. You can also tour our full selection of hotels and proximity to landmarks with this virtual map of the county.
Archer Hotel Falls Church
Distance to National Mall: 10 Miles | 20 Minute Drive
Located in the Mosaic District, just 10 miles to D.C., is the chic, boutique Archer Hotel Falls Church.
Hampton Inn & Suites Falls Church
Distance to National Mall: 7 Miles | 15 Minute Drive
Hampton Inn & Suites Falls Church provides free underground parking as well as complimentary shuttle service to the nearby metro station and within the local area.
Homewood Suites by Hilton Alexandria/Pentagon South
Distance to National Mall: 7 Miles | 11 Minute Drive
Homewood Suites by Hilton Alexandria/Pentagon South, VA is a prime hotel for both extended stay and short-term visitors. The hotel's central location is close to attractions such as the Pentagon, National Mall, Smithsonian, Old Town Alexandria, and much more.
Get an up-close-and-personal introduction to American history with a self-guided walking tour of the National Mall. This area is jam-packed with memorials dedicated to notable figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, as well as monuments and other iconic sites. If you'd like to really dive into facts and information, be sure to download the National Park Service (NPS) app
📍 1: The Washington Monument
Start your tour off at one of the most recognizable landmarks in the D.C. skyline, the Washington Monument. Completed in 1884, the structure stands at 555 feet and 5.125 inches tall. In fact, it was the tallest building in the world at the time of its completion. The monument was erected to evoke the awe, respect, and gratitude for one of our nation's most essential Founding Fathers, George Washington. Although it's no longer the tallest building in the world, it still holds the title of the world’s tallest stone structure and obelisk. You can also purchase tickets to go inside to the top if you'd like!
Hot Tip: Did you know that George Washington was a resident of Fairfax County? Be sure to visit his expansive mansion and grounds at the Mount Vernon estate while you're in town.
Walk 👣: 6 Minutes
📍 2: The World War II Memorial
From the Washington Monument, head south toward the large Reflecting Pool to find the World War II Memorial. The ring-shaped landmark honors the soldiers who sacrificed and served in the war and on the homefront. You'll stroll past large stone columns that represent each U.S. state and territory at the time of the war, and a wall of stars to represent the servicemen who laid down their lives in defense of their country. Depending on the time of year you visit, there's a central fountain to sit near and reflect on.
Walk 👣: 10 Minutes
📍 3: Vietnam Veterans Memorial
From the World War II Memorial, face the Reflecting Pool again and follow the footpath on the right around the water. You'll pass the beautiful Constitution Gardens on your right, with beautiful willow trees and a shallow lake (great photo opportunity alert!). About 10 minutes down is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, etched with the names of over 58,000 servicemembers who gave their lives between 1957 and 1975 in one of America's most controversial wars. Remember to also see the adjacent Three Servicemen Statue - a heroic depiction of those who served in Vietnam that was added to the memorial in 1984.
Walk👣: 5 Minutes
📍 4: The Lincoln Memorial
From the Three Servicemen Statue, you can look southwest to see the Lincoln Memorial through the trees past the flagstaff. Head in that direction by walking alongside Henry Bacon Drive NW. Perched on the western end of the National Mall, the iconic memorial honors the 16th U.S. president and the “virtues of tolerance, honesty, and constancy in the human spirit.” The memorial includes 36 marble columns, each one representing a state in the Union at the time of Lincoln's death in 1865.
Aside from President Lincoln's legacy, this important landmark also tells a story central to the Civil Rights Movement as the site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech." In 1963, the address was given from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in front of over 200,000 people.
Walk👣: 2 Minutes
📍 5: Korean War Veterans Memorial
From the Lincoln Memorial, face the Reflecting Pool and follow the footpath to the right to the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which honors those who served in the Korean War between 1950-1953. The stainless steel soldiers at this memorial represent the different branches of service, including the Army, Marines, Navy, and Air Force. The faces on the black stone wall are those of real war veterans. The memorial evokes the experience of walking with the soldiers - a unique format among the many war memorials in D.C.
Walk👣: 6 Minutes
📍 6: The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
You've seen the site of the "I Have a Dream Speech." Now, you'll honor the man who gave the speech. From the Korean War Veterans Memorial, follow the footpath along Independence Avenue and cross the road to reach the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Honoring Dr. King’s life and legacy, this is the first memorial on the National Mall devoted to a citizen activist for civil rights and peace. The MLK, Jr. Memorial is a tribute to a man of conscience, the freedom movement, and his message of equality, justice, and love. Be sure to step close to read the many inspirational quotes etched in the structures.
Alongside the MLK Memorial is the Tidal Basin, a 100-acre manmade body of water created by the Army Core of Engineers. The water comes from the Potomac River, so in the warmer months, you'll spot people fishing along the banks. Hot tip: This is the spot to visit if you're here during springtime, as the Basin is lined with hundreds of blooming Japanese cherry trees. Across the Tidal Basin, you'll see the final stop on your National Monument tour: The Jefferson Memorial.
Walk👣: 15 Minutes
📍 7: The Jefferson Memorial
Ready for the last stop on your tour? With the Martin Luther King, Jr. statue to your back, follow the footpath to the right alongside the Tidal Basin until you reach The Jefferson Memorial. The landmark was officially dedicated by President Roosevelt on April 13, 1943 - the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's birthday. Walk up the marble stairs, gaze at the iconic dome, and stand on the portico while you reflect on Jefferson's contributions and authorship of the Declaration of Independence.
Depending on what time you started your National Mall tour, you probably still have a good portion of the day left. Here are more activities to enjoy during your day in our Nation's Capital.
See the White House
Ready to see where all the action happens? Visit the White House, one of the most easily recognizable buildings in America. Due to a number of security factors, it's not quite as easy as it used to be to get up close. However, the best views of the president's pad can be found on Lafayette Square, directly north of the White House on H Street.
Public tours are typically available from 8:00 AM to 12:30 PM Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, excluding Federal holidays. White House tour requests must be submitted a minimum of 21 days in advance and no more than 90 days in advance of the requested tour date(s).
Visit The U.S. Capitol Building
Another place where the action happens! The U.S. Capitol is the meeting place of the United States Congress and the seat of the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government. It's worth stopping by to snap a photo and witness the scene of so many iconic moments in history. Tours can be booked to see the inside Monday - Friday between 9:00am and 3:00pm, but reservations must be made in advance.
World-Class Museums ... For Free!
The Smithsonian's footprint in the D.C. area includes 19 museums and galleries and the National Zoological Park. Most Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are free and open every day of the year except December 25. Many of the sites close between 4:00pm and 7:00pm, so be sure to check the hours prior and plan your day accordingly.
Note: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall is currently closed for renovations. But don't worry, you can still visit its sister museum, the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located in Fairfax County adjacent to Dulles Airport.
As you can see, there's no shortage of historical wonders and beautiful architecture to experience on a day trip to Washington D.C. Take your knowledge from the history books to real-life during your stay in Fairfax County. Share your experience with us on social media using #FXVA and @VisitFairfax.