Explore Riverfront Towns on Your USA Holiday

America’s Capital Region was founded on its waterways and rivers, which are both beautiful settings for holiday retreats and historical transportation routes that played an integral role in the founding of the nation. Discover the wonders of just 10 of our riverfront towns and cities, where you can tour the Smithsonian museums and other cultural hubs, enjoy fresh seafood, marvel at natural beauty on sailing tours or paddling trips and, of course, visit historical sites and attractions.

Washington, DC, USA

America’s capital city was founded along the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. Once vital for shipping and transportation, these waterways now serve as places to enjoy DC’s natural side. Book dinner or sightseeing cruises on the Potomac or opt to canoe, kayak or paddleboard in the area, including the Anacostia Water Trail. Several of DC’s neighbourhoods line the rivers, such as Georgetown, Anacostia, Capitol Riverfront and Southwest Waterfront. Each offers its own treasures, from historical fish markets and trendy dining scenes to boutique shopping, professional sports games, Smithsonian museums and US National Parks sites.

Alexandria, Virginia, USA

Located just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, Alexandria’s waterfront offers plenty of chances to dive into area history and modern culture along with stunning views of DC’s skyline. One of Alexandria’s many highlights is Old Town, with its brick pathways, historical buildings and the King Street Mile, where you can walk the cobblestone streets or ride the free trolley to dip in and out of independently owned shops and restaurants. While in town, take a weekend sunset sail on the tall ship Providence, book a ghost tour or watch artists at work in their studios at Torpedo Factory Art Center.

Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Affectionately called “Charm City,” Maryland’s largest urban centre is located on the Patpasco River, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. The city’s Inner Harbor is a lively hub of shops, restaurants and attractions. Savour the state’s iconic jumbo-lump crab cakes at the Rusty Scupper Bar & Grill and then stroll to the American Visionary Arts Museum to see eclectic sculptures and paintings. A paved walkway lines the harbour, so you can walk to the other side to view sea turtles, sharks and tropical environments at the National Aquarium, tour historical ships (ranging from a 19th-century warship to a WWI submarine), and learn about dinosaurs at the Maryland Science Center.

Richmond, Virginia, USA

The James River slices through the heart of Virginia’s capital city, making Richmond a unique American playground. In fact, it’s the only US city where you can raft and kayak on challenging Class III and IV rapids — and then hop out of the water to unwind at numerous local restaurants, breweries and bars. If you’re looking for a tamer adventure, explore the hiking and biking trails around the James River or sign up for a boat tour with Riverfront Canal Cruises to learn about the city’s 400-year history. Richmond is also home to the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, Belle Isle State Park, Kings Dominion Amusement Park and so much more.

Cambridge, Maryland, USA

Cambridge is set on the Choptank River along Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The charming town is known as "The Heart of the Chesapeake Bay," in part due to its robust maritime heritage. Learn more about Cambridge’s history and culture at the Richardson Maritime Museum and the Choptank River Lighthouse (the latter offers lovely views of the river). In Cambridge, you’ll also find the Harriet Tubman Museum & Educational Center, where you can view a powerful mural of Tubman helping Black freedom seekers and learn about the activist’s life. Kayak and canoe water trails through the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge to explore how the marshlands played a role in freedom seekers’ self-liberation and to see waterbirds, otters, rare sika deer and fascinating swamp blooms.

America’s Historic Triangle, Virginia, USA

History buffs will delight in America’s Historic Triangle, made up of JamestownWilliamsburg and Yorktown. Living-history museums and interactive experiences explore the nation’s first permanent English settlement, the American Revolution and life in 17th and 18th centuries. The scenic Colonial Parkway runs 23 miles (37 km) from Yorktown to Jamestown, connecting these historic sites. Step out of the past to stroll Yorktown’s Riverwalk Landing, where you can pop into shops, dine on the York River or pose for pictures in front of one of the Virginia’s iconic LOVE sculptures — the letters are 16 feet (4.9 metres) tall! In Williamsburg, don’t miss the rides and slides at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA, shop for souvenirs at charming 18th-century Merchants Square or check out numerous cool galleries and museums.

Annapolis, Maryland, USA

Annapolis — Maryland’s capital city — sits at the mouth of the Severn River in the Chesapeake Bay and is brimming with nautical culture. Book a guided tour of the US Naval Academy to take in architectural marvels and, possibly, the noon formation. Along the water, you’ll also find Ego Alley, where boats parade up and down on evenings and weekends. Annapolis is known as the Sailing Capital of the US; you’ll see why aboard a schooner, sloop or yacht cruise — or with sailing lessons. Off the water, tour historical homes and gardens, savour amazingly fresh seafood and shop for everything from pottery to clothing in the city centre.  

Norfolk, Virginia, USA

With 144 miles of coastline, you’re never far from the water in Norfolk — a charismatic city and US Navy hub. Head to the Waterside District for an array of restaurants, including celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse. Local restaurants also host a variety of events, ranging from sports-watch parties, dancing, drink specials and holiday celebrations. Book river cruises to tour naval fleets — think aircraft carriers and submarines — or opt for explorations and sunset sails on a yacht or schooner. Stroll the scenic 10.5-mile (17-km) Elizabeth River Trail, take a free walking tour through the artistic NEON District or visit numerous museums, like the Chrysler Museum of Art.

Havre de Grace, Maryland, USA

Tucked into the confluence of the Chesapeake Bay and the Susquehanna River is Havre de Grace. The town’s scenic promenade follows the river and leads to numerous attractions, including 22-acre Tydings Memorial Park (where you can fish without a licence), the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum and Concord Point Lighthouse & Keeper’s House. Don’t miss the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum for exhibitions on the past and present of carving wooden duck decoys for hunting. In the historical city centre, shop. Those wishing to soak up the sunshine can book a tee time on the lush fairways of Bulle Rock Golf Course or see the town by kayak and stand-up paddleboard on history and eco tours.

Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA

Located on the Rappahannock River, this prominent Colonial port town lays claim to several historical homes and businesses that belonged to the family of George Washington, the nation’s first president. Most of these sites — including the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop, Kenmore mansion, the Rising Sun Tavern Museum and the Mary Washington House — offer guided or self-guided tours. Fredericksburg was also the site of several significant American Civil War battles. Experience the history of the area through the four battlefields of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park — a US National Parks site — where you can book a private guide or check the calendar to see if any ranger-led talks are on.