As much as we all love celebrating the Fourth of July, there is just too much to pack into one day in terms of our nation’s history. You simply can’t learn everything about the Revolutionary War, the birth of the United States and the Civil War in just a few hours.
That’s why we created a guide to a few places close to Northern Virginia (and one as a staycation!) that you can visit to immerse yourself in the eye-opening history of our country that surrounds us every day, not just on Independence Day. Make last-minute plans to drive to these destinations this week for the Fourth, or bookmark them for later summer dates.
Estimated travel time from NoVA: Up to one hour
A city rooted in the depths of the tobacco industry, the slave trade and the Civil War, Alexandria is filled with history at every turn. The city was established in 1749 and quickly became one of North America’s busiest port cities. It is home to The Freedom House, a location dedicated to one of the largest and most frequented slave trades in the United States, the Basilica of Saint Mary, the first Catholic parish in Virginia established in 1795, and is the hometown of George Washington and Robert E. Lee.
Visitors can take self-guided tours to see the city’s signage of historical tidbits and landmarks, as well as walk most of the city to trace George Washington’s footsteps by touring the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum and the Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey House. It is also an 8-mile drive from Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate, where guests can tour George Washington’s distillery and gristmill, interact with Colonial individuals and take a tour of the first president’s mansion.
Patrons of Gadsby’s Tavern include (but are not limited to) John Adams, James Madison and Marquis de Lafayette, and the location was home to several events including George Washington’s annual Birthright Ball and Thomas Jefferson’s Inaugural Ball. The location is now two preserved buildings, and visitors can take a guided tour through the museum, or eat at the restaurant to get a literal taste of history in Alexandria. // Gadsby’s Tavern: 138 N. Royal St.; Alexandria
The Alexandrian is located on the former site of the Marshall House, a former Civil War-era inn located on King Street. It was a site that ignited the tensions of the Civil War after Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, and James W. Jackson, the inn’s proprietor, when both were shot and killed over the removal of a Confederate flag atop of the building in 1861. // The Alexandrian: 480 King St., Alexandria; $169 per night
Estimated travel time from NoVA: Up to two hours
Wars have a way of transforming towns, and that’s exactly what the Civil War did for Gettysburg. The city is home to what’s considered to be the most important battle of the Civil War, where thousands of lives were lost during the clash of the Union and the Confederacy, from July 1 to July 3, 1863. Just four months later, President Abraham Lincoln would give the Gettysburg Address to declare that all men, including enslaved persons throughout the country, were free in the United States.
Visitors can start by heading to the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center and grab a handful of guiding maps and tour the museum’s artifacts and exhibits, all while getting a lay of the land. Guests can follow a tour or lead their own to take in the views of the battlefield, experience the honorary Gettysburg National Cemetery, get a glimpse of wartime life in the Jennie Wade House, and visit the Eisenhower National Historic site, the former home of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Fully embrace the Colonial era by dining at Farnsworth House Inn Restaurant, where the building itself has over 100 bullet holes in its exterior south wall from the Battle of Gettysburg. There are dishes that take you back in time (maybe not quite as far as 1810 when the building was in its initial prime), such as peanut soup and spoon bread, and an award-winning garden to be seated in during the warmer months. // Farnsworth House Inn Restaurant: 401 Baltimore St., Gettysburg
The Gettysburg Hotel was established in 1797 as a tavern, and its attached Grand Ballroom once operated as the Gettysburg National Bank. It’s rooted in history much like the rest of the town, but especially due to its location just a few minutes from the battlefield, steps away from the site of the Gettysburg Address and the national operations center for President Dwight D. Eisenhower after he suffered a heart attack at his nearby farm. // The Gettysburg Hotel: 1 Lincoln Square, Gettysburg; $170 per night
Estimated travel time from NoVA: Up to three hours
Celebrating its 320th anniversary in 2019, Williamsburg was originally established in 1699 as the capital of the Virginia colony, after its relocation from Jamestown (just a stone throw’s distance away). The city was one of America’s first “planned” cities in terms of design, and quickly became a hub for political, religious, social and economic life in the colony. It was also the home of the College of William and Mary in 1693, where several presidents, such as Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, studied.
Visitors can immerse themselves in the living history of the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area by touring the Governor’s Place, the central location of the British royal government in Virginia, stopping in the small shops where artisan items are created (such as textiles, baked goods and more) or hearing the Revolutionary War field music with a live drum march that is held every afternoon.
A candlelit dinner doesn’t have to mean romantic, it can instead be an ambiance for the entire family to enjoy when dining in a reproduction of a local public house at King’s Arms Tavern. The servers are dressed in 18th-century attire and meals are inspired by the era with a modern take. Jane Vobe opened the original establishment in 1772 and was one of the most successful business owners of the time. // King’s Arms Tavern: 416 E. Duke of Gloucester St., Williamsburg
Rather than staying in a local hotel, guests can chose the option to stay in one of the Colonial Houses operated by the Williamsburg Inn. The homes were reproduced to be true to the time period of the Colonial era, where guests can curl up next to the fireplace and fully experience life in a colonial-style home. Several of the homes available to reserve were former local kitchens, shops and homes. // Colonial Houses: 302 Francis St. E., Williamsburg; $149 per night
Estimated travel time from NoVA: Up to four hours
There are few cities in the United States that hold as much monumental history as that of Philadelphia. As the country’s original capital, the city hosted the Founding Fathers as they established what would be the quintessential documents that laid the foundation of the United States of America’s government and democracy. Many of the historical landmarks, including Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were drafted and signed, have been preserved and welcome thousands of visitors each year.
Visitors might need a checklist to make it to all of the historic locations throughout the city, starting with the Liberty Bell. Get a photo-op next to the the famous bell that originated in 1751 with its signature crack, then walk to Independence Hall to see the Assembly Room, the various chambers and the former courtroom for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The National Constitution Center is another location to check off as the only museum dedicated to the U.S. Constitution, where visitors can walk past 42 life-size bronze statues of the Founding Fathers. Plus, don’t forget the Museum of the American Revolution to see art, manuscripts and works from the Revolutionary period in American history.
So, you want to be where the action is (or once was)? City Tavern Restaurant is the place. In May 1774, Paul Revere arrived at the tavern to proclaim that Parliament would be closing the port of Boston. The location was the unofficial meeting place of the Founding Fathers when sessions of the first and second Continental Congress were held in the city. Now, it serves up Colonial-era fare with turkey pot pie, braised rabbit and West Indies Pepperpot (a spicy soup that features beef, taro root, Habanero, allspice and greens). Grab dinner and maybe you’ll witness history before your eyes. // City Tavern Restaurant: 138 S. Second St. and Walnut St., Philadelphia
The Morris House Hotel was built in 1787 as a multigenerational home for the Morris family who were early colonists in the area, including Anthony Morris who became one of the city’s first mayors. The location now operates as a hotel and is designated as a National Historic Landmark, and is steps away from Walnut Street Theater, the first theater in the U.S., as well as other historic attractions within the city’s most-visited square mile. // The Morris House Hotel: 225 S. Eighth St., Philadelphia; $150 per night
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