Washington, D.C., provides ample opportunities for groups to discover the rich history and heritage of America. Groups can explore a variety of public museums during the day and tour majestic monuments at night. Of course, the real thrill of the capital is the tangible atmosphere of democracy in action on every corner.

Destinations north of Washington provide an ideal itinerary stop between the capital and the Northeast Corridor. Annapolis, Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay capital, invites visitors to explore the stories and streets of the historic district. Groups can arrange a guided walk with a costumed interpreter to unlock the secrets of these charming colonial streets. Groups will pass middling home, gentry mansions, and the storied United States Naval Academy en route to the Maryland State House, the oldest state capital still in continuous use—and the only one ever to have served as America’s capitol. In the shadows of these buildings, guides share tales about Maryland’s role in America’s birth.

A visit to Maryland would not be complete without experiencing the energy of Baltimore. From museums celebrating the contributions of personalities like Babe Ruth and Edgar Allen Poe to taking in a game at Camden Yards, Maryland’s largest city offers a variety of choices.

The Inner Harbor waterfront is a hub for activity and boasts many attractions suited for groups. Science-minded travelers can explore the planetarium and observatory or the world-class National Aquarium, while folks interested in maritime history can enjoy the floating museums of Historic Ships in Baltimore. Visitors also can experience one of the most impressive collections of military vessels. Farther afield, the Fort McHenry National Historic Site welcomes groups to explore the events that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

To the north and nestled in the idyllic landscape of Pennsylvania and Delaware, Brandywine Valley beckons visitors with its cultural treasures. “The Brandywine Valley is a wonderful year-round destination with something extraordinary on the horizon,” says Courtney Babcock, director of sales at Chester County Tourism. Chester County’s Brandywine Valley is in the heart of America’s Garden Capital, as Greater Philadelphia offers more than 35 public gardens within 30 miles, including the magnificent Longwood Gardens.

In fact, Longwood is a renowned horticultural paradise. Situated on 1,077 acres, Longwood features 20 outdoor gardens and a breathtaking conservatory, plus the most significant fountain collection in North America. The majestic Main Fountain Garden takes center stage from spring to early fall and features a mix of grand architecture, horticultural artistry, and soaring fountains. Visitors soak up the fun at Festival of Fountains from May 9 through Sept. 29. Fountains dance and soar up to 175 feet with dazzling Illuminated Fountain Performances on Thursday through Saturday evenings.

Nemours Estate, Wilmington, Delaware;
Credit: Chester County Tourism

Longwood Gardens will debut a 32,000-square-foot West Conservatory as the centerpiece and largest component of Longwood Reimagined later this year. Like many of Longwood’s renowned features, it has a close relationship with water. Its asymmetrical peaks will rise from a pool on which the entire building will seemingly float, while its islands of interior Mediterranean-inspired gardens will be set amid pools, canals, and fountains in an exquisite tapestry-like design. Just imagine!

There are many additional itinerary-worthy attractions in the Brandywine Valley, including Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library with amazing antiques collections indoors and a 60-acre garden of natural beauty. A narrated garden tram ride is a great way to experience Winterthur’s gardens for any size group. Meanwhile, the Nemours Estate is the 77-room mansion and formal gardens of the DuPont dynasty. The home is furnished with fine antiques, famous works of art, beautiful tapestries, and other treasures. The grounds surrounding the mansion extend for 1/3 of a mile along the main vista from the house and are among the finest examples of French-style gardens in the United States. Groups can explore the estate’s opulence while learning about the family’s fortune from its innovations in science.

Whether your group is filled with history buffs or floral fanatics, these alluring destinations north of D.C. invite travelers to discover so much more history and adventure just beyond the beltway.

By Michael McLaughlin

Main Image: “Colonial Annapolis Walking Tour” by Watermark in Maryland; Credit: Wendy Hickok Photography