There’s an old saying that it’s about the journey, not the destination. Well, this ultimate Washington DC to Orlando road trip certainly is both about the journey and the destination. Discover the best of the American South, including secluded beaches and romantic cities, on your way to the Sunshine State. Then have the best of times in the theme park capital.
Are you ready to hit the road?
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Washington DC to Orlando road trip guide
Highlights on the Washington DC to Orlando road trip itinerary are listed below. For even more great Washington DC to Orlando destinations you also find additional stops along the way.
- Total distance: 1,106 mi / 1,780 km
- Total driving time: 20.5 h
1. Washington DC
The Washington DC to Orlando road trip is about to leave the station. But if you’re not a capital resident, make sure to fit in time for Washington DC sightseeing before the departure.
Discover the National Mall
The National Mall is an unparalleled park in the heart of Washington DC. It presents monuments, memorials and museums of huge national significance.
In its east the US Capitol Building, with 365 iconic steps, is a must see. At the park’s western end the Lincoln Memorial is another mandatory spot.
Between the two the Washington Monument, shooting up towards the sky like nothing else, calls for your attention.
Also with celebrated museums you can spend days exploring the National Mall before hitting the open roads on the Washington DC to Orlando drive.
Wave at the White House
The White House is positioned at the northern end of the National Mall. It’s the home and workplace of the president of the United States.
You can admire the president’s home from two sides: North Lawn and South Lawn.
At North Lawn, and Pennsylvania Avenue, you get the closest views of the White House. The South Lawn, facing the National Mall, is larger and doesn’t offer as intimate views.
But regardless of north or south, waving at the White House, and possibly the president, is the perfect start to the Washington DC to Orlando drive.
Where to stay
It’s truly something special about the National Mall. Luckily, there are lots of hotels offering walking distance to all the monuments, memorials and museums that you come for.
Route info: This Washington DC to Orlando route, which goes for maximum scenery, now leads to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. But if you’re short on time, head straight south to Wilmington instead. Although you then miss out on the unique Outer Banks setting, it saves you 139 miles (224 km) and 3 hours.
2. Outer Banks, NC
- Driving distance: 286 mi / 460 km
- Driving time: 5.5 h
The first and longest drive on the entire DC to Orlando itinerary takes you from the US’ political epicenter to endless sand dunes. Welcome to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, or as the locals say: the paradise on earth.
Many come for the beaches. The easy-going beaches are the Outer Banks’ main attractions. But this place far away from the hustle and bustle also is where American history has been made.
Unwind at Cape Hatteras
For coastal scenery the Outer Banks is an area hard to match. From the Virginia-North Carolina border down to the tip of Ocracoke Island there is an abundance of beaches, lighthouses and towns to check out.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore, preserving a delicate portion of the Outer Banks, showcases it all. Its numbers speak for themselves:
- 70+ miles (113 km) of soft coastline.
- 7 sleepy towns.
- 2 proud lighthouses.
The vast Cape Hatteras, where you always find your own space, is an appreciated break from reality. When driving from Washington DC to Orlando, it’s one of those treasured places off the beaten path.
Picture the first flight ever
If you thought the Outer Banks is just about beaches, think again. This stop on the road trip from Washington DC to Orlando has played a crucial role in the history of flight.
Wilbur and Orville Wright needed a sandy, windy and isolated area for their quest towards the first human flight. The Outer Banks ticked off all three criterias, and the rest is history.
December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers took the first powered, sustained and controller airplane flight ever.
Today the Wright Brothers National Memorial, at the Outer Banks spot where it once happened, celebrates the huge feat. Learn all there’s to know about the achievement, or just visualize the first flight ever.
Where to stay
The Outer Banks accommodations spread out along North Carolina’s long coastline. Kitty Hawk, Kill Devils Hill and Nags Head are best if you prefer liveliness, while anywhere north or south is great for quiet escapes.
3. Wilmington, NC
- Driving distance: 235 mi / 378 km
- Driving time: 4.5 h
The Washington DC to Florida drive is a journey through the American South. In Wilmington, on the Atlantic Ocean but slightly off the radar, you can’t miss that. The city boasts both rich history and southern charm.
Tour the historic Bellamy Mansion
Not many hours from Washington DC you already appear to be in the Deep South. Welcome to Wilmington Historic District, a delightful place to park your car on the road trip from Washington DC to Orlando.
Wilmington’s historic downtown area encompasses hundreds of historic buildings and sites. Around every corner there’s something interesting to explore.
But one place that stands out, where you need to stop for a while, is the Bellamy Mansion. It was built as the Civil War was about to unfold, and every inch of it has a story to tell.
Touring the Bellamy Mansion adds unique perspectives to a Wilmington visit.
A few blocks west of the Bellamy Mansion the calming Cape Fear River flows. Wilmington Riverwalk, dotted with restaurants and bars, is a great spot to recharge before the Washington DC to Orlando road trip continues.
Let the beach bum loose at Wrightsville Beach
Wrightsville Beach offers a welcome contrast to the history-filled streets of Wilmington. Here, less than 10 miles (16 km) from Wilmington Historic District, you can live your best beach life.
Is there a sweeter combo than history and beaches?
The soft Wrightsville dunes are treasured by sunbathers, while its wild Atlantic waves attract surfers from far and wide.
At the island’s southern end you find its most iconic views. There the landmark Crystal Pier shoots out into the Atlantic Ocean, offering spectacular perspectives of the salty surroundings.
Where to stay
For history and southern charm the historic district is the best place to stay in Wilmington. But if you prefer a beach location, Wrightsville Beach is an easy drive from the historic district.
Additional stop: South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach is an addition to the Washington DC to Orlando road trip itinerary that appeals to the beach bum. Roughly halfway between Wilmington and Charleston the city is a hub for joy in the sand and sun.
4. Charleston, SC
- Driving distance: 176 mi / 283 km
- Driving time: 3.5 h
The coastal Lowcountry region presents a world of islands, rivers and antebellum homes. Its biggest component Charleston is for its appreciated characteristics often referred to as America’s favorite city.
Stroll the inviting Battery
Charleston Historic District is filled with history to such a degree that it appears like a huge open-air museum. One that also has a fun ambience.
Its foundation, providing safety for the city through centuries, is the Battery. The seawall, named for its Civil War artillery battery, carefully follows the southern shores of Charleston.
As the Battery also functions as a promenade, it’s a place where the past and present stunningly intersect.
The Battery is a meeting point for locals and visitors alike. On the historic promenade, surrounded by proud palm trees and colorful antebellum homes, it’s easy to see why Charleston is called America’s favorite city.
Enter eminent plantations
Several of the most renowned American plantations are located in the Charleston area. It’s truly a golden opportunity for the DC to Orlando drive.
These plantations offer glimpses of a world that no longer exists. Some parts are delightful, while the darker plantation chapters make you shudder.
Prepare for a multifaceted experience.
Where to stay
Charleston’s historic district gives you the quintessential experience on the Washington DC to Orlando drive. The area, where you find the Battery, delivers a lovely mix of the past and present.
Additional stops: The Lowcountry is a road trip adventure on its own. Charleston and Savannah are the region’s two biggest cities, but there’s much more to explore in between. Impeccable additional stops as you road trip the Lowcountry include Hilton Head Island, Beaufort and Kiawah Island.
5. Savannah, GA
- Driving distance: 107 mi / 172 km
- Driving time: 2 h
Georgia’s Savannah welcomes you to the southern end of the Lowcountry. Its huge oaks, cozily covered in Spanish moss, and concentration of antebellum homes offer the perfect setting for a good old time.
Have a blast on River Street
Savannah, and the entire American South, is unique in the way it welcomes visitors. Its overwhelming warmth and kindness has a name: southern hospitality.
As you walk Savannah’s River Street, you can feel it on your skin. An inviting ambience radiates out from the many eateries and watering holes that line Savannah River.
Savannah’s waterfront is an excellent location for a night out on the Washington DC to Orlando road trip.
But for quieter moments just stroll deeper into Savannah’s historic downtown. There the moss-covered oaks, antebellum homes and jaw-dropping monuments continue to show you a good time.
Learn at Fort Pulaski
Savannah is located upriver from the Atlantic Ocean. If you head east, towards the open ocean, you encounter several Lowcountry islands.
On one of them, Cockspur Island, Fort Pulaski impressively stands. The fort represents a turning point in American military history.
Fort Pulaski’s thick brick walls was thought to protect it from attacks. However, with revolutionary rifled artillery the Union managed to breach its wall an April’s day in 1862.
As you take the Washington to Orlando road trip, learning about Fort Pulaski’s history is intriguing.
Still history isn’t this stop’s only draw. Fort Pulaski National Monument, covering most of Cockspur Island and the adjacent McQueens Island, also showcases prime Lowcountry nature.
Where to stay
The blend of friendliness and history makes Savannah Historic District a great place to be. It’s for history buffs and nighlife seekers alike the best option for where to stay in Savannah.
6. Amelia Island, FL
- Driving distance: 127 mi / 204 km
- Driving time: 2 h
It’s time to exit the highway just 10 miles (16 km) after crossing the Florida-Georgia state line. Amelia Island is a hidden treasure up in the very northeastern corner of Florida.
Explore Fernandina Beach
Fernandina Beach is the town on Amelia Island. It’s a unique place to celebrate that you have arrived in Florida from Washington DC.
Overlooking Amelia River, Fernandina Historic District holds more than 50 blocks from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The striking collection of Victorian-era structures is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Homes, businesses and churches form a complete downtown area that appears to have frozen in time.
Centre Street is its main hub of activiy. There restaurants, bars and shops offer timeless experiences. As you explore the area, you might ask yourself if this really is the 21st century.
Look back on Georgia
Fort Clinch State Park covers the northernmost part of Amelia Island. Above all the park is home to the well preserved Fort Clinch, another historic highlight on the Washington DC to Orlando itinerary.
The strategic position of Fort Clinch is apparent. Just across St. Mary’s River the neighboring Cumberland Island is Georgia territory.
Once upon a time the possession of Fort Clinch was crucial.
But if you paid attention during your Fort Pulaski stop, you might already know what eventually retired Fort Clinch. The two East Coast strongholds, one in Georgia and one in Florida, faced similar destinies.
Where to stay
The historic Fernandina Beach is located at the northern part of Amelia Island. But no matter where on Amelia Island you stay, you find a laid-back ambience and easy beach access.
Related: Bookmark our ultimate Florida guide too.
7. Orlando, FL
- Driving distance: 175 mi / 282 km
- Driving time: 3 h
Well done, the final 175 miles (282 km) finishes the epic Washington DC to Orlando road trip.
Orlando is, of course, the undisputed theme park capital. So if you’re up for some theme park fun, you have arrived at exactly the right destination.
Make dreams come true at Disney
Disney World has provided entertainment to Orlando visitors since 1971. It’s a complex that has become both an Orlando and Florida symbol.
Here meet and greets make dreams come true every day. Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck are just a few of the many favorite characters who welcome you to the magical world of Disney.
Disney World is the ultimate stop on a Washington DC to Florida family road trip, at least if you ask the kiddos.
But it’s not only a happy place for younger roadtrippers. With four different theme parks, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, there’s something for everyone at Disney.
Where to stay
Lake Buena Vista is where you find the fun-filled Disney World. However, I-Drive and Kissimmee are other popular options for where to stay when visiting Orlando.
Final words about the Washington DC to Orlando drive
This Washington DC to Orlando road trip itinerary is a true beauty. From remarkable beaches to fascinating history and southern hospitality, there’s something for everyone to enjoy along the way south.
Orlando, home to Disney World and Universal, is a city where the fun never ends. Yet, with so much to see as you drive from Washington DC to Orlando, the journey is as great as the final destination — at least.
Road trip from Washington DC to Orlando FAQ
You find the answers to some frequently asked questions about the road trip from Washington DC to Orlando below.
The ultimate Washington DC to Orlando road trip is 1,106 miles (1,780 km) long. Driving it takes roughly 20.5 hours, not including any stops along the way.
If you just take the quickest route from Washington DC to Orlando, the drive is 846 miles (1,362 km) and 12.5 hours. But then you miss out on a lot of the coastal scenery along the way.
A middle course is to save the Outer Banks for another time. That cut, which means that you go directly from DC to Wilmington, alone saves you 139 miles (224 km) and 3 hours.
The main stops included on the road trip from Washington DC to Orlando are DC, Outer Banks, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, Amelia Island and Orlando.
Additional DC to Orlando destinations along the route include Myrtle Beach, Kiawah Island, Beaufort and Hilton Head Island,
With so much to see along the way the Washington DC to Orlando road trip is one that deserves a significant amount of time. Just stops such as Charleston and Savannah deserve at least a couple of days each.
So for the full itinerary it’s wise to allow at least close to 10 days, but preferably more. The road trip from Washington DC to Orlando can entertain you for several weeks.
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