Visit D.C.’s Best Off-the-Beaten-Path Historic Homes and Gardens

History, nature and culture combine at these fascinating estates and gardens in our nation’s capital

(Image courtesy of Flickr user DC Gardens)

Washington, D.C. is a hot spot for museums, with no shortage of indoor places to visit and explore. But it's summer, which means it's time to get outside. Luckily for those who enjoy a cultural fix along with their sunshine, there are plenty of interesting historic homes that include beautiful estates and gardens in our nation's capital, too.

For many of these locations, fighting crowds isn’t a problem. These houses and gardens aren’t the typical tourist haunts. And while museums have their own charms, visiting a home where someone once lived can provide a uniquely intimate experience.

Here are six of the best historic estates to visit this summer in Washington, D.C.:

Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens

In 1955, Marjorie Merriweather Post, the owner of General Foods and one of the richest women in the United States, bought this Georgian-style mansion and estate in Northwest Washington, D.C. After extensive remodeling, Hillwood became one of the beautiful homes and grounds in the area. Today, the entire estate is open to the public.

The house itself is a museum highlighting Post’s admiration for French and Russian culture, especially Russian imperial art. (The prizes of her collection are two stunning Fabergé Imperial eggs.) But Post also wanted visitors to enjoy a sampling of the world’s cultures while strolling the grounds. The 25-acre estate includes a Japanese-style garden, a French parterre (a type of formal garden with low plantings) and a Russian dacha, or country house. There’s also a putting green, evidence of Post’s passion for golf, as well as a pet cemetery located down a wooded path, which shows her love for animals—especially her pet dogs.

Dumbarton Oaks

Hidden away in historic Georgetown, Dumbarton Oaks may have the most serene, beautiful and colorful gardens in all of Washington, D.C. Designed by the accomplished landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, the gardens were crafted to offer the “illusion of country life,” complete with wildflowers, centuries-old trees and pools of deep blue water. However, they are only one piece of what makes this 53-acre property so special.

In 1920, Robert and Mildred Bliss acquired the property and immediately turned the estate into their own private museum for their impressive collection of Byzantine artifacts. In 1940, they donated both the estate and collection to Harvard University. Today, Dumbarton Oaks is a Harvard-run research institute and widely considered one of the best institutions for Byzantine studies in the world. 

About Matt Blitz

Matt Blitz is a history and travel writer. His work has been featured on CNN, Atlas Obscura, Curbed, Nickelodeon, and Today I Found Out. He also runs the Obscura Society DC and is a big fan of diners.

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