Discover a Northern Virginia state of mind in Fairfax County

A stone’s throw from Washington DC yet seemingly worlds apart, down-to-earth Fairfax County is where nature and rich American history live happily side by side

Team Wanderlust
17 September 2023
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Discover Fairfax County

Sitting west of Washington DC, across the meandering Potomac River, Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County blends revolutionary history with magnificent local cuisine and some unique outdoor adventures.

Unmissable things to do in Fairfax County

Cruise along the Potomac River to Mount Vernon

A cruise is one of the most stylish ways to see the Potomac River (Nautiste)

Snaking for over 650km through three states, the Potomac is one of America’s most iconic rivers, and the section between Washington DC and Mount Vernon is particularly historic. Guests aboard Nautiste’s vintage 1961 Burger Motor Yacht can even enjoy a curated meal from a Michelin-starred chef while they plot a course for George Washington’s former estate. Start with a champagne toast while the yacht glides into the Washington Channel’s vast expanse before a fine lunch is served, including superb seasonal fare like local oysters paired with hand-selected wines from around the world. When the journey is over, step out for a behind-the-scenes private tour of George’s Washington’s Mount Vernon.

Explore Great Falls Park

The sound of water crashing through the narrow Mather Gorge is the highlight of Great Falls Park, a natural oasis that serves up myriad outdoor adventures. Fanning out for 323 hectares along the winding hem of the Potomac River in northern Fairfax County, the park offers a chance to take a reviving hike, watch kayakers take on Class V rapids or soak up views at the accessible Overlooks. Alongside the outdoors, there’s unusual history here too. Don’t miss the ghostly ruins of Matildaville, a once-thriving canal town devised by George Washington but eventually went bust in the mid-19th century.

Find your zen at the Korean Bell Garden

The bronze bell is a signature sight at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens (Visit Fairfax)

Hidden away in the lush 38-hectare surroundings of Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, the Korean Bell Garden was the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere and is a delightful place to unwind, away from the hum of the city. Weighing three tonnes and sitting quietly beneath a traditional wooden pavilion, its bronze bell sits at the heart of the garden and has been handcrafted by skilled Korean artisans. The ten traditional Korean symbols of longevity (sun, mountain, water, cloud, stone, pine tree, white crane, turtle, mushroom of immortality and deer) have been engraved onto the bell alongside the Rose of Sharon (the national flower of Korea) and the Dogwood (flower of Virginia). It’s a great spot to just soak up the peace and quiet.

Fairfax County foodie experiences

Enjoy seasonal fine dining at L’Auberge Chez Francois

Find French foodie flair at L’Auberge Chez Francois (James Diedrich Photography/L’Auberge Chez Francois)

Most people wouldn’t expect to find a rustic slice of north-eastern France in Northern Virginia, but L’Auberge Chez Francois has been serving fine Alsatian cuisine here since 1976 and offers exceptional eight-course prixfixe meals near scenic Great Falls Park. Tucked within its cosy farmhouse setting, meals here are magical on chilly winter nights. Chef Jacques Haeringer’s menu includes beautifully presented French classics like aiguillettes de canard, showcasing the diversity of Alsatian cooking and the quality of local Virginian produce.

Taste the whiskey heritage of Mount Vernon

The first US president is famous for a lot of things, but perhaps less well known is his taste for whiskey. Back in the late 18th century, American whiskey was in a fairly early stage of its development, but those original methods and recipes are still used today at Mount Vernon to recreate the authentic taste of Washington’s famous rye whiskey. Pay a visit to the distillery at Mount Vernon and sample true American spirit heritage.

Visit the wineries

The Winery at Bull Run offers vintage tastings (Visit Fairfax)

Virginia boasts over 300 wineries, but only Fairfax County can claim America’s first bicoastal wines. With a sister location in Santa Barbara, California, Paradise Springs’ award-winning
wines are made on land originally granted by Lord Fairfax himself back in the 18th century. The luxurious Winery at Bull Run offers another intriguing window into US history, as it sits on land adjacent to the Manassas National Battlefield Park – the site of the first major land battle in the American Civil War.

See Fairfax spreading its culinary wings

While the produce in Virginia remains sublime, Fairfax County’s gastronomic choices are increasingly going global. Authentic Singaporean restaurants are rare in America, yet the excellent Jiwa Singapura by chef Pepe Moncayo in Tysons showcases high-end takes on classic street foods. Around the corner, Joon by chefs Christopher Morgan and Najmieh Batmanglij brings sophisticated Persian and Iranian cuisine to Fairfax, while the Kirby Club on District Avenue offers a playful spin on Lebanese and Egyptian food.

Where to stay

With its sustainable Metrorail links to both downtown Washington DC and Dulles International Airport, stylish Tysons is a superb base for exploring the wider Fairfax County.

Archer Hotel Tysons

Just a short walk from the McLean Silver Line metro station, the boutique Archer Hotel Tysons boasts an industrial chic vibe and 178 contemporary guest rooms and suites. Don’t miss sipping deliciously smoky cocktails on AKB bar’s cosy al fresco patio.

The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner

The opulent Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner is a wonderful gateway to the region – it’s just 20 minutes from the nearby Tysons metro to downtown DC’s attractions. The hotel’s plush modern rooms and suites make for a luxurious nest to return to every night.

The Watermark Hotel

Flanked by some splendid restaurants and located just around the corner from McLean station, rooms at the Watermark Hotel are classy and its lobby opens out onto the vibrant 11th-floor Perch Skypark. Summertime rooftop cocktails here are a must.

Feeling inspired?

For more information, head to the official Visit Fairfax website.

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