Baltimore is only a little over an hour northeast of Arlington, Virginia—but when a drive is going to take you through great cities like Washington, DC, and Annapolis, how can you be worried about the time that it’ll take? If you’re driving from Arlington to Baltimore, we’ve got some stops that will take your ordinary car ride into an unforgettable adventure. This road trip has a little bit of everything: nature, art, history, and so much more! And from lesser-known destinations to none other than the nation’s capital, the stops on this drive are sure to create memories that will have you wanting to experience it all over again. Let’s get started!
Great Falls Park is about 30 minutes northwest of Arlington, and if you’re someone who can’t get enough of the outdoors, then this is a stop that you don’t want to miss. A (relatively) small but mighty national park, Great Falls is the perfect place to hike, kayak, snap some photos, and just generally appreciate the beauty of Mother Nature. The terrain in the park is quite versatile, and across the park’s 800 acres, you’ll find forests, swamplands, open meadows, clifftop vistas, streams, a pond, and, of course, the Potomac River. What’s more, the land itself has a lengthy, dynamic history with over 10,000 years of traceable human activity.
The Great Falls for which the park is named can be viewed from three different overlooks with viewing platforms. (Overlooks 2 and 3 are handicap accessible!) All of the overlooks are within walking distance from the park’s visitor center, and because each overlook offers a different vantage point of the falls, it’s worth visiting all three, if you can. Speaking of the visitor center, if you’re interested in learning more about the park, including its history and geology, then you can stop by the visitor center from 10 am to 4 pm and take a look at exhibits, brochures, and informational displays containing more background about the land and the people who occupied it in the past.
Potomac, Maryland, is a little more than a half-hour northwest of Arlington, and in addition to ample green space and rich scenery, the town boasts a somewhat hidden treasure: Glenstone, an unorthodox art museum that’s just slightly north of central Potomac. An institution that combines art, architecture, and landscape, Glenstone showcases a wide range of post-World-War-II visual art, creating a modern, dynamic environment where ingenuity abounds.
Inside the museum, you’ll find rotating exhibitions that vary in style, form, and topic. Outside, sculptures dot the facility’s 300 acres, which feature walking paths, streams, and meadows in addition to the art. Glenstone is open Thursday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm, and admission is always free. While walk-ins are welcome, reservations are strongly encouraged, and the museum does not guarantee admission to those who arrive without a reservation. (Please note that due to the fragile nature of the artwork, Glenstone does not admit visitors who are below the age of 12, and all visitors under 18 must be accompanied by an adult while on the premises.)
Around 40 minutes northwest of Arlington, Wheaton Regional Park is another delightful place to stop on your way to Baltimore. With over 500 acres of both paved and natural trails, picnic areas, sports facilities, stables, a nature center, a lake, and a playground, Wheaton Regional Park has outdoor activities for everyone to enjoy. But, perhaps the park’s most prestigious section is its botanical garden, Brookside Gardens, which can be found in the northern portion of the park.
This 50-acre public display garden is separated into a variety of themed collections: the Aquatic Garden, Azalea Garden, Butterfly Garden, Children’s Garden, Rose Garden, Japanese-Style Garden, Trial Garden, Rain Garden, and the Woodland Walk. Additional designated spaces include a perennial garden, yew garden, the maple terrace, and a fragrance garden—plus, two year-round conservatories. While the garden is in peak bloom during the spring and summer, it still makes for a lovely walk during the colder months. And, unlike most botanical gardens, Brookside Gardens offers free admission! (That being said, select special exhibits do charge admission.)
Of course, no road trip from Arlington to Baltimore could be complete without a stop in Washington, DC! Aside from being the country’s capital, DC is an upbeat, energetic city with an array of attractions and points of interest. You already know the big ones—the US Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the Smithsonian Museums, and (last but certainly not least) the White House. But, there are plenty more places to go, like the International Spy Museum, the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America (AKA, the DC Catacombs), and the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Another one of our favorite DC attractions (that, as an added bonus, is also free!) is the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum in the US National Arboretum (also home to the National Capitol Columns).
Voted “Best Place to Take an Out-of-Towner” and “Best Museum Off the National Mall” by Washington City Papers, the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum is run by the National Bonsai Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to celebrate the art of bonsai and penjing while simultaneously encouraging intercultural learning and relationships. Located in the northeast section of the arboretum, the museum is open from every day 8 am to 5 pm. The permanent collection is primarily divided among the Japanese Pavilion, the Chinese Pavilion, and the North American Pavilion, and the museum also has a comprehensive collection of viewing stones, plus a series of courtyards and gardens.
Watkins Regional Park is located about 40 minutes east of DC, and in it, you’ll find campsites, picnic areas, playgrounds, a nature center, a carousel, sports fields, and more. Open daily from dawn until dusk, Watkins Park is the perfect place to go to take a break from the car, stretch your legs, and engage in some classic family fun.
Whether you play a game of tennis, go for a ride on the carousel, or see the animals at the Old Maryland Farm, you’re sure to have a blast at this activity-filled park in Upper Marlboro. In the surrounding area, you can grab a bite to eat in one of the local restaurants, like Marlboro Grille, Mrs. K’s Restaurant, Carolina Kitchen, or New Olde Towne Inn.
Around 40 minutes south of Baltimore, Edgewater, Maryland, is a charming waterfront town that’s home to a number of parks and restaurants, not to mention marinas and boat charters. Edgewater’s main attraction, however, is arguably Historic London Town & Gardens, a 23-acre park that fuses together history, archaeology, and horticulture. As its name suggests, the park’s two defining features are its historic area and gardens. Founded in 1683, London Town was once a county seat and trading port. But, its prosperity was not meant to last, and the colonial town soon fizzled in popularity when trade routes changed.
The historic area of the park encompasses several remnants of London Town’s past, including a restored tavern, carpenter’s shop, and tenement house. London Town is also a Site of Memory in the UNESCO Slave Route Project, as London Town played a very active role in the Atlantic Slave Trade. The gardens at the park allow visitors to explore the land’s natural history all year-round, and even in the winter, Historic London Town & Gardens sports camellias, which bloom during the colder months. Hours and admission prices are seasonal, so make sure you check the park website to see when it’s open and how much it will cost to get in.
Maryland’s capital city, Annapolis is just over 30 minutes southeast of Baltimore. Some of the top attractions in Annapolis include the William Paca House & Gardens, the Annapolis Maritime Museum, the Banneker-Douglass Museum, and the US Naval Academy Museum. But, if you’ve never been to the Maryland State House (and even if you have), this is one state capitol that definitely warrants a visit while you’re passing through. In addition to bearing such monumental significance to the state of Maryland, the State House also happens to be the oldest state capitol in continuous legislative use, and it also served as the national capital at a point in time (1783–1784).
A few historically significant events took place within the Maryland State House, which is a National Historic Landmark, including George Washington’s resignation as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in December of 1783 and the ratification of the Treaty of Paris in January of 1784. All in all, the Maryland State House is brimming with history and state heritage, and you won’t believe how much you’ll learn during your free self-guided tour of the building, which is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm,
Baltimore is a historic seaport that also happens to be Maryland’s biggest city. The birthplace of the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Baltimore has established itself over the years as a hub of creativity, art, and culture. And at the center of it all is Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, where you’ll find attractions like the National Aquarium, Top of the World Observation Level, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, the Maryland Science Center, and the American Visionary Art Museum. Other headlining points of interest in the city include Fort McHenry, the Walters Art Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Maryland Zoo. As you can see, Baltimore is an eclectic blend of history, enrichment, and excitement—it’s no wonder they call it Charm City!