Northern Virginia is for lovers

Feb 14, 2023

Northern Virginia is a deliciously eclectic destination. Its quaint towns are brimming with independent stores (and giant shopping centre Tysons!), making it a shopper’s paradise. Culture-lovers will be intrigued by its many art centers and performance spaces, while foodies can go from delight to delight in Northern Virginia’s rolling countryside, which is home to a host of wineries, breweries and farm-to-table dining experiences. Adjacent to Washington D.C., this area of the state is also home to countless historical gems, including George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. Plus, with over 30 parks — including five state parks, three national parks and a portion of the Appalachian Trail — Northern Virginia has something for all types of nature enthusiasts.

Whether you are a lover of shopping, history, nature, arts or food and wine, the five destinations that make up Northern Virginia – Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax County, Loudoun and Prince William – will welcome you with open arms.

Northern Virginia is for ... shopping lovers

King Street Mile, Alexandria

Old Town in Alexandria is known for more than its historic architecture. The King Street mile in Alexandria is home to the largest concentration of independent boutiques in the D.C. area. You’ll find shops selling antiques, sustainable fashion, stationery, books and novelties, all on a quaint street that ends by the waterfront, which is an excellent spot for dining venues… But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Prince William, meanwhile, offers the one-stop shopping you just might need. The town of Occoquan’s riverfront historic district is best known for its Spring and Fall Arts and Crafts Shows, which are not to be missed if you happen to find yourself there in the right season. Even if you’re not, the quaint town’s more than 100 arts, antiques, specialty stores and eateries are open year-round for your enjoyment.

In Fairfax County, the big draw (especially for Canadians) is Tysons Corner Center, the largest East Coast retail area outside of Manhattan. You'll find hundreds of stores, ranging from luxury brands to big-name department stores and independent boutiques. Dozens of restaurants and entertainment venues offer the opportunity to recharge between stores.

For outlet shopping , we recommend the Potomac Mills Mall in Woodbridge; it's the largest outlet mall in Virginia, with 200 stores and counting. The best part? You can visit rain or shine since the mall is fully indoors! Notable stores include Bloomingdale’s – The Outlet Store, Kate Spade, Nordstrom Rack and Saks off 5TH. If your travelling companions are not so fond of shopping, they can watch a movie at the AMC Potomac Mills 18 Theatres, go bowling or grab a bite at one of the mall’s many dining options. 

Northern Virginia is for ... history lovers

Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington

If there’s one thing that ties the five destinations of Northern Virginia together, it's the region’s rich history. After all, Virginia was the first of the thirteen U.S. colonies to be established, way back in 1607, so it’s arguably the most historical state in the nation. For visitors, this translates to copious landmarks from the distant and recent past.

Arlington is a great place to start. Arlington National Cemetery is the resting place of historic figures ranging from Civil War soldiers to John F. Kennedy to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The cemetery is also home to the Canadian Cross of Sacrifice, a 1927 monument commissioned by Prime Minister Mackenzie King to honour the 40,000 U.S. civilians who enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and lost their lives in the First World War. A more recent monument, the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, pays tribute to those who lost their lives at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

To the south, the city of Alexandria offers a selection of intriguing museums. With the Key to the City Attractions Pass, visitors can explore nine historic sites and enjoy a discount at Mount Vernon. There are also three free-admission museums, including the National Inventors Hall of Fame, celebrating 600 inductees including Madam C.J. Walker, an inventor and entrepreneur who became one of the first female self-made millionaires. Save time for a walk in Alexandria’s Old Town, a national historic district stretching along the Potomac River. It’s a melting pot of architecture, with buildings ranging from Georgian to Victorian to mid-century modern, and many National Historic Landmarks to check out.

The most iconic attraction in Fairfax County is George Washington’s Mount Vernon, which is the most-visited historic estate in the U.S. Visitors can tour the estate’s main building as well as the onsite distillery, gristmill and the Founding Father’s final resting place.

Military history lovers won't want to miss the National Museum of the United States Army, which retells the history of the U.S. Army since 1775 through the stories of the more than 30 million men and women who have donned the uniform. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center will regale any travel (or outer-space) lover with the many air and space artifacts on permanent exhibition, including the Space Shuttle Discovery, a Blackbird SR-71, an Air France Concorde and much more.

Loudoun boasts a National Historic Landmark District – the village of Waterford is one of only three of these landmarks in the United States. Founded by Quakers in 1733, Waterford had its heyday in the 19th century as a flour milling town. Most of the original colonial and red brick Federal homes have been preserved so that visitors feel like they are travelling back in time. The town also hosts an annual English colonial-style fair which attracts over 15,000 attendees.

National Museum of the Marine Corps, Prince William

Finally, the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Prince William is a testament to the U.S. Marines. World-class interactive installations immerse visitors in everything from the making of a Marine to the Marine Corps’ role in the Second World War.

Northern Virginia is for ... nature lovers

Great Falls Park, Fairfax County

Northern Virginia is a rewarding destination for lovers of the outdoors, with over 12,000 acres of rolling countryside and woodland protected by regional parks. Here are a few highlights of what the region has to offer.

Arlington has been named the Fittest City in America for five consecutive years, and it’s easy to see why. It has over 121 kilometres of trails explorable on foot or by bike. Our recommendation: hop on The Washington & Old Dominion Trail, a 71.6km point-to-point trail that stretches from Glencarlyn Park in Arlington and passes through Loudoun. This trail was once a railway, but it is now paved all the way, making it perfect for a bike excursion.

Wolf Trap in Fairfax County is not only a park with trails to explore; it's also an out-of-the-ordinary venue for performing arts. The only National Park in the United States dedicated to the performing arts, Wolf Trap has seen prestigious acts like Diana Ross, Van Morrison, Sting, Jennifer Hudson and the National Symphony Orchestra take the stage. Grab a picnic basket, a blanket and a bottle of wine, and an evening in the park can turn into a special, romantic date. If you're looking for a more conventional National Park, Great Falls might be up your alley. Apart from watching the impressive falls, you can bike, kayak, climb, fish, hike and ride horses around the park.

Experienced and casual hikers alike will enjoy hitting the trails in Loudoun. For those seeking a full-day hike, Virginia’s Rollercoaster — the portion of the Appalachian Trail that runs through Loudoun — is strenuous but spectacular. If you’d like a more relaxed hike, there are plenty of other options, including Algonkian Regional Park. It boasts a variety of trails, some paved, some for hiking and even one — the “Dr. Ira Gabrielson” trail — for horses.  Speaking of horses, Loudoun is known for equestrian sports. Middleburg, at the southernmost end of Loudoun, is considered the “Nation’s Horse and Hunt Capital.” Every year, it hosts the Middleburg Spring Races, where thoroughbreds compete in a steeplechase race. Morven Park, also in Loudoun, hosts the International Fall Horse Trials as well as Polo in the Park in the summer.

Finally, Neabsco Regional Park is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. A 1.2-kilometre boardwalk traverses the Neabsco Creek, taking visitors into the wetlands which are a habitat for great blue herons, wood ducks, mallards, sparrows and many other bird species. Don’t forget to pack your binoculars!

Northern Virginia is for ... art lovers

Torpedo Factory Art Center, Alexandria

From art galleries in unconventional spaces to a Tony-Awarded theatre company, Northern Virginia is a feast for the senses.

The Signature Theatre in Arlington received a Regional Theatre Tony Award in 2009 for artistic excellence. Upcoming shows include Sweeney Todd, on stage from May to July, 2023.

If you’ve ever wondered what inspired an artist to create the piece in front of you at a gallery, the Torpedo Factory Art Center is for you. You can walk through three floors of artists’ studios and see them in action as they create their next masterpiece. And in case you were wondering, yes, the art center was once a torpedo factory. It’s unlikely that the thousands of employees who made munitions between 1918 to 1946 ever imagined that their workplace would one day host 71 artists’ studios as well as several exhibitions.

The arts are also rather unconventionally enjoyed in Fairfax County. Who would have thought that a former correctional facility would make the perfect venue for a working arts studio as well as a performance and exhibition space? Community leaders repurposed the prison complex into the Workhouse Arts Center, which opened in 2008. You can now stroll through galleries, attend workshops and see live theatre at the arts center. Travelzoo tip: If you’re visiting from March to June, head to the Workhouse to see the musical Urinetown.

Northen Virginia is for ... food, wine and beer lovers

Vineyard, Loudoun

Northern Virginia’s farm-to-table cuisine will delight foodies with dishes crafted with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. In urban areas like Arlington, an array of diverse restaurants make it possible to travel around the world with your taste buds, from Balkan and Bolivian to Ethiopian and Salvadorean.

While visiting Old Town Alexandria’s historic district, satisfy your appetite at one of the 100+ independent restaurants. The neighbourhood is renowned for its creative takes on comfort food, waterfront dining venues (hello, photo op!) and independent restaurants. You can feast on moules et frites at Brabo Brasserie (owned by a Michelin-starred chef), New York-style pies at Andy’s Pizza Old Town or nibble on some bar fare alongside creative cocktails at Captain Gregory’s.

Loudoun is the place to be when it comes to beer and wine. It boasts 50 vineyards nestled in its rolling hills, earning it the official title of DC’s Wine Country. You can join one of the many wine tours organized by connoisseurs of the region’s vineyards or carve your own path through the vines with Loudoun’s convenient Wine Trail Guide. From family-run establishments to wineries offering farm-to-table dining, there is a winery for every taste in Loudoun.

Beer aficionados will also find their bliss in Loudoun. The LoCo Ale Trail includes more than 30 breweries broken down into four categories: Brews with a view, Dulles Corridor, Leesburg Downtown and Brews by bike via the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. You can even collect stamps at each brewery in your Beer Passport to earn a LoCo Ale t-shirt.

Whether you like unique boutiques, museums and architecture, the outdoors, arts, food and wine — or any combination of these — Northern Virginia is the perfect destination for your next trip. Consider making it a road trip if you live in Quebec or Ontario, or add Northern Virginia to your D.C. itinerary when you visit the U.S. capital.

Ready to go? Find more inspiration on what to do in Northern Virginia based on what you love.

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