My 11 Favorite Things to Do in Fairfax, VA (From a Local)

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Fairfax County, Virginia has been my home for most of my life, and I’m here to tell you all about some of the best things to do in the area! 

Fairfax is located just south of Washington, D.C. in Northern Virginia, and it has a wide range of attractions, including famous historic sites, like Mount Vernon, plus incredible National Parks, like Great Falls, plus high-end shopping, like Tysons Corner

My Top 4 Favorite Things to Do in Fairfax, VA
Visit Mount Vernon – This is the famous home of George Washington and the most visited historic home in America!
See the grandeur of Great Falls National Park – Watch the awe-inspiring rapids and cascading waterfalls just steps from Washington, D.C.!
Learn about air and space at the Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center.
See a world-class performance at Wolf Trap Center National Park for the Performing Arts. 

Map of the Best Things to Do in Fairfax, VA

Below is a map of the best things to do in Fairfax, VA. You can save and download this map to help you plan your next trip!

11 Best Things to Do in Fairfax, VA

Here are some of my favorite things to do in Fairfax, VA. 

1. Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon is probably the most famous attraction in Fairfax County. In fact, the home is the most visited historic home in America! 

Mount Vernon, one of the best things to do in Fairfax, VA

The expansive property was the home of founding father George Washington for 38 years, from 1761 until his death in 1799. 

Because of its popularity, be prepared for large crowds and big tour buses at Mount Vernon. But it’s well worth the visit! 

The property is 500 acres and includes the main mansion house, a separate kitchen, stables, wash rooms, a separate farm, a wharf, multiple gardens, a greenhouse, and much more. 

One of my favorite places to explore is the beautiful and colorful upper gardens, which tend to be less crowded and offer a quiet and lovely place to admire the butterflies and bright flowers. 

I also enjoy taking a stroll through the lovely and peaceful forest trail. It’s a short trail through the woods, but it provides some welcome shade on hot days and it is similarly less crowded. 

One of the most moving sites at Mount Vernon is the tomb of George Washington. It’s rather awe-inspiring to see the final resting place of the founding father. 

I also make sure to say “hi” to the animals of Mount Vernon, which include many sheep grazing near the stables. 

When you visit, definitely make sure to spend time at Mount Vernon’s excellent museum. It’s very extensive and includes an interactive walk through Washington’s eventful life, from his birth in Pope’s Creek, Virginia (which is another fabulous historic building worth visiting), through the French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, his presidency, and his retirement to Mount Vernon. 

The museum includes many incredible artifacts, including his actual dentures (which are not wooden!) as well as a famous bust of Washington that was created in 1785. 

Mount Vernon also includes two excellent and large gift shops, where you can find everything from clothes, to wine, to Virginia peanuts, ceramics, books, and much more. 

And for long tour days, you’ll find a food court with pizza, sandwiches, and burgers, plus the more formal Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant. 

You can easily spend up to five hours exploring everything that the historic site has to offer. 

The admission price is a little high. It is $28 for grounds admission, plus an extra $2 to reserve a time slot to tour the mansion (which I recommend.) 

You can also add one of many specialty tours, including a ferry tour of the Potomac River that runs beside Mount Vernon, as well as tours focusing on the enslaved people of Mount Vernon, a Gardens and Landscape Tour, and a Hamilton the Musical Tour. 

Note that many of these tours sell out in advance, and so you will want to book them ahead of time. 

2. Great Falls National Park

For nature lovers, you will definitely want to check out the most famous national park in Fairfax, VA: Great Falls National Park. It’s also one of the best waterfalls in Northern Virginia!

Great Falls National Park

The centerpiece of the park is a series of spectacular waterfalls and rapids over sculpted rocks in the Potomac River. The falls are a combination of many small waterfalls and rapids. 

There are three overlook platforms that you can walk to for an excellent up-close view of the falls. I also recommend taking the time to go on one of many hikes around the park. 

I love taking the Ridge Trail, which meanders through the nearby woods and skirts the Potomac River. You’ll be treated to many beautiful views of the river and cliffs along the trail.   

Great Falls is also a popular place for picnics and outdoor parties. There are many picnic tables near the falls. 

Insider’s Tip: There is a fee for parking and parking can fill up on weekends when the weather is nice. If you don’t mind a nice hike, I recommend parking at nearby Difficult Run and walking to Great Falls. The water views along the way are well worth it! 

3. National Air & Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is part of the Smithsonian Institution. It’s located in Chantilly near Dulles International Airport. 

It is an Air and Space Museum companion to the original Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. 

One of the highlights of the Udvar-Hazy Center is its large collection of air and space craft, which are all on display in the immense hangar-like interior. You can get up close to the Spaceshuttle Discovery, the Enola Gay, a Lockheed Blackbird, a Concorde, and much more. 

They also feature special exhibitions that highlight topics like World War II Aviation, the history of Spaceflight, Aerobatic Flight, Satellites, and more.  

And no Air and Space Museum would be complete without an incredible IMAX theater! In fact, the Udvar-Hazy Center has the largest IMAX screen in Northern Virginia! You can see the latest releases on an immense 86-foot-wide screen! 

They also show several special films related to aviation and space, such as the awesome The Blue Angels film and Deep Sky, which features images from NASA’s Webb Telescope. 

A huge bonus is that the center, like other Smithsonian museums, is free to the public. Parking is available for a fee. 

4. Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

If you want the perfect setting to hear the birds, watch the butterflies, and be surrounded by beautiful fields, trees, flowers, and ponds, then Meadowlark Botanical Gardens is the magical escape for you! 

Pond and gardens at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, VA

The sprawling 95-acre property has almost 5 miles of paved and unpaved walking trails that will lead you up and down gently rolling hills, through fairy gardens, azaleas, water lilies, towering forests, and fields of wildflowers. 

There are several large ponds that you can walk around. The gardens are alive with wildlife too: there are large koi, turtles, frogs, butterflies, dragonflies, geese, and many birds. 

A highlight that you don’t want to miss is the grand Korean Bell Garden, which features elaborate walls decorated with Korean lettering and statues, several small water features, large totems, and an immense bell housed in an ornate pagoda. 

Meadowlark is a great destination year round. Don’t miss visiting during the winter holiday, when the gardens are decorated with bright lights, including shimmering light icicles, string lights, and lighted animal shapes. They also have hot chocolate and cider for sale! 

Winter Lights takes place every year from early December until early January.  

5. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts

Wolf Trap has the unique distinction of being both a national park and a performing arts venue!

Filene Center at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, one of the best things to do in Fairfax, VA

Many people flock to the expansive site to watch eclectic world-class performances. There are several main venues at Wolf Trap. The Barns at Wolf Trap is a smaller, intimate inside venue that hosts concerts year round. 

The Filene Center is a much larger outdoor, covered amphitheater that hosts concerts and performances during the warmer months between June and September. The calendar of performances includes pop acts, dance, jazz, classical, movie music, and much more. You can find a full calendar online.     

The Filene Center is a gorgeous wooden structure set amidst the backdrop of the surrounding woods and fields. In fact, there are a series of trails around the center that you can take to explore the beautiful woods and streams of Wolf Trap park. The park has about 5 miles of trails in total. 

One of the trails even leads to another theater! The Children’s Theater in the Woods is actually located in the middle of the woods, a short ten-minute walk beyond the Filene Center. 

You’ll cross a bridge and go over a peaceful stream to reach the theater. The stage hosts children’s concerts throughout the summer. 

6. Tysons Corner

Tysons Corner is probably the most popular shopping destination in Fairfax. It includes several large malls, plus many of the best restaurants in the area. 

Tysons Galleria at Tysons Corner, VA

The heart of Tysons Corner is Tysons Corner Center. This is the main mall, and it features the flagship stores Macy’s, Nordstroms, and Bloomingdale’s, plus over 300 additional stores and restaurants! So it’s safe to say that you’ll definitely find something for everyone at Tysons! 

Nearby you’ll find a second shopping mall called Tysons Galleria. This mall is more upscale than the main Tysons Corner Center Mall. It features high-end luxury stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Dior, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Prada. 

There’s even a towering Ritz Carlton luxury resort attached to the mall, with direct mall access! (The Ritz Carlton is also one of my top resort recommendations in northern Virginia.)  

Beyond shopping, you’ll find some of the best restaurants in Fairfax near Tysons Corner. Founding Fathers is a popular farm-to-table restaurant right next to Tysons Galleria. 

The popular Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chao is right across the street from Founding Father. Tysons Galleria has more restaurants right in the shopping mall, including Lebanese Taverna (a personal favorite of mine!), Maggiano’s Little Italy, and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro. 

Tysons is also a great destination for entertainment. Tysons Galleria has the fancy combination movie theater and restaurant called CMX Cine Bistro, where you can order fabulous dishes delivered right to your reclining chair as you watch the latest movies.  

ShowPlace ICON Theatre and Kitchen is another combination movie theater and restaurant located near Tysons Corner. 

One of the newest entertainment spots at Tysons is Capital One Hall, a modern concert hall where you can see concerts and shows such as Broadway musicals, dance, international music, and much more. 

7. Burke Lake Park

Burke Lake Park is another top destination for nature lovers in Fairfax County. It’s also the largest lake in the county! And it has some of my favorite hikes in Northern Virginia!

The lake is 888 acres in size and has some nice walking trails that lead you around the lake and through the surrounding woods. Keep an eye out for deer as you walk along the dirt paths! 

Burke Lake Park has a number of other amenities, including a frisbee golf course, a miniature golf course, a carousel, and even a miniature train that runs through the park!   

There are plenty of water activities, including regular boat tours that are held from April to October. 

8. George Mason Eagle Bank Arena  

Eagle Bank Arena is another top entertainment venue in the area. It’s located on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax. 

The arena is similar to the large and popular Capital One Arena in D.C., but it’s located right in the heart of Fairfax! 

The arena hosts a wide variety of events throughout the year, ranging from sporting events, to pop music concerts, Disney on Ice, Cirque du Soleil, kids concerts, and much more. 

You can find a full schedule of upcoming events online. 

Parking is generally pretty easy near the venue. There are a number of large outdoor lots nearby, though getting in and out of the parking lots can be crowded, particularly during popular events. 

Food options are a little limited at the venue. You can find concession stands selling hot dogs, burgers, fries, beers, and other typical arena fast food choices. There are a handful of restaurants across the street at University Mall on Braddock Road.

9. Gunston Hall

If you’re looking for a quieter alternative to Mount Vernon, then I definitely recommend checking out Gunston Hall. 

Gunston Hall, one of the best things to do in Fairfax, VA

The underrated historic home of founding father George Mason is one of the best hidden gems in Fairfax. It features the main house that you can explore, with glimpses into the life of an 18th-century Virginian. 

The home includes sitting rooms, a dining room, and bedrooms, all of which are decorated with period furniture, wallpaper, and ornate decor.  

You can also walk around the grounds, where you’ll find the kitchen, enslaved people’s quarters, the family cemetery, and the schoolhouse. 

Gunston Hall also includes a small but nice museum where you can learn more about the life of George Mason, who was the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and the Virginia Bill of Rights and Constitution. 

Gunston Hall is essentially a smaller-scale version of Mount Vernon, and it’s a great way to learn about history without the crowds of its bigger, more famous neighbor. 

10. Fairfax County Rec Centers 

The Fairfax County Rec Centers are a collection of nine recreation centers located throughout Fairfax County. Each rec center has a gym, but it’s much more than just a fitness center.

Swimming Pool and mural at Franconia Rec Center

Each rec center also has an indoor pool, which can be great for lap swimming and play. There are also diving boards and shallow beach areas at each pool. The pool areas also include hot tubs, which can be great for unwinding! 

Many of the rec centers also have tennis courts, basketball courts, pickleball courts, handball courts, volleyball courts, and much more.

Some of the rec centers have even more special amenities. For instance, Mount Vernon Rec Center in Alexandria has a full ice skating rink. You can take ice skating lessons or sign up for ice skating sessions. 

Oak Marr Rec Center in Annandale has a miniature golf course and South Run Rec Center in Springfield has a Go Ape Zipline and Adventure Park. 

Cub Run Rec Center in Chantilly has one of the coolest features: an indoor water park that is opened year round! The water park has a water playground with slides, water jets, cannons and sprays; a 30-foot-high slide; a 20-foot-high slide; a lazy river; and a water vortex. 

One of the best things about the rec centers is that you can get one of several membership packages, including annual memberships and family memberships. You can also just pay for single visits, which makes it a very flexible place to visit.

Learn even more about all of the Fairfax County Rec Centers in my ultimate guide!

11. Paradise Springs Winery

Paradise Springs Winery is one of my personal favorite wineries in northern Virginia, and it’s the only major winery that’s located right in Fairfax County! 

Outside picnic area at Paradise Springs Winery, one of the best wineries near Washington, D.C.

The winery is right next to Hemlock Regional Park and close to the town Clifton, so it can be a good place to visit when you’re visiting either of those sites. 

Paradise Springs has a tall, wood-beamed tasting room, where you can enjoy wine by the glass or bottle. They also have wind tastings that you can try. One of my favorite wines there is Melange, which is a robust red.

You can sit indoors or outdoors at picnic tables in the nearby fields. 

They have some light food dishes for sale, like crackers and cheese, as well as food trucks on weekends. 

Note that because of its close proximity to Washington, D.C., the winery tends to get very crowded, especially on weekends. 

Sometimes parking can be difficult, but there is a second large parking lot beyond the main parking lot further down the road. This second parking lot is located right next to Hemlock Regional Park. 

How to Get to Fairfax, VA

Many of the most popular sites in Fairfax are easily accessible by plane, car, or metro.

If you’re traveling by plane, there are two major airports in and near the county (Reagan National Airport in Arlington and Dulles International Airport in Chantilly). 

Learn even more about all of the airports in the D.C. metro area.

By car, you can take major interstates throughout the county, including I-66, I-95, and I-495 (otherwise known as the Beltway, which circles around Washington). 

And by metro, there are several lines that travel from one end of Fairfax County to the other, including the Silver Line, Orange Line, Blue Line, and Yellow Line. Metro is also an affordable and convenient way to go between Fairfax County and nearby Washington, D.C. 

Where to Stay in Fairfax, VA

Fairfax County is a big region with many places to stay. Tysons Corner is generally a good place to stay, because it is centrally located in the county, and it’s close to many of the top attractions, including Tysons Corner Center, Tysons Galleria, Wolf Trap, and Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. You’ll also find plenty of top restaurants nearby.

Tysons is also located on the Silver Line of the metro, which means you can easily travel out to Dulles International Airport and into Arlington and Washington, D.C.

For a luxury stay, I recommend the Ritz Carlton Tysons Corner, which is also one of my favorite resorts in Northern Virginia! The gorgeous, towering building features top amenities like a full-service spa and multiple restaurants. 

🛏️ Click here to book a stay at the Ritz Carlton Tysons Corner 🛏️

For a more affordable option, I recommend the Doubletree by Hilton McLean Tysons. The hotel is within walking distance to Tysons Galleria, plus it has a restaurant and gym, and it’s pet friendly!

🛏️ Click here to book a stay at the Doubletree by Hilton McLean Tysons 🛏️

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