A few miles down the Potomac River, in Prince George’s County Maryland, minutes away from Washington DC, something new and shiny has made its way into the landscape. That something is National Harbor. This mixed-use development counts with hotels, restaurants, shops, apartments, and so much more.  Just a 25-minute drive from downtown DC, it gives us something completely different to experience. Although I’ve been to the area many times for food and entertainment, I’ve never spent a whole weekend at National Harbor. We recently discovered that there’s plenty to do and eat! The Dining Traveler family (Dutchman, Piccola, and I) hopped in our car a few weekends ago for the experience…

Weekend at National Harbor Capital Wheel Closeup
Capital Wheel from Below

Getting There:

Whether you’re spending a day or a weekend at National Harbor, it’s pretty easy to get there. It’s a 10 minute drive from Alexandria, VA, 25 minutes from Downtown DC, and an hour from Baltimore. It is also pretty accessible by Metro/Bus from Washington, DC, taking around 50 minutes to get there. A car is not necessary at National Harbor as there is a circulator that takes you to the Tanger Outlets, the Gaylord Convention Center, and the MGM hotel.  More details on how to get around here.

Weekend at National Harbor Harborside Hotel Room
Piccola decked out in her new Carhartt hoodie

What to Do:

There’s plenty to do during a weekend at National Harbor. From gambling at the new MGM Casino to the Capital Wheel, there’s enough to keep the family busy. Here are some highlights of what we did during our getaway:

Capital Wheel: I don’t even remember the last time I was on a ferris wheel! This was a great experience to do with the family or as a romantic moment. Given that our trip was in the heart of winter, the lines were short and we had a carriage all to ourselves. I enjoyed taking in the views of National Harbor from the Capital Wheel.

Shopping: Make sure to make room in your luggage for shopping! Let’s start with the Tanger Outlets. No need to travel far from the city to get your outlet fix! So excited to see that some of my favorites: DVF, Tahari, and Nike have stores at the Tanger Outlets.  The Waterfront area is also home to great shopping as well with a good mix of national brands and local shops. Stay warm with sweaters and beanies from Carhartt and contemporary fashion from one of my local favorites, South Moon Under. Side note: I didn’t know Carhartt had such cute baby stuff, a must shop if you’re looking for cute and functional cold weather gear for tots.

Potomac Riverboat: We were bummed when we found out that Potomac Riverboat was closed for the season. If you read this blog frequently, you know I LOVE a boat ride. I can’t wait to return to go on the Mount Vernon boat tour.

Weekend at National Harbor Granite City
Loaded Nachos at Granite City Brewery

Where to Eat:

When spending a weekend at National Harbor, bring your appetite! There’s so many places to eat and for every taste. Some culinary highlights:

Granite City Brewery: For a casual meal, head to Granite City Brewery. They have an onsite brewery and a wide selection of beers to choose from. The beer selection ranges from a light pilsner to a chocolatey stout. If you can’t make up your mind, they have beer flights with a sampler of their offerings. The highlight of our meal were the pulled pork nachos. Sooo decadent but sooo good! What makes Granite City a great stop, especially for families is the service. Everybody was super friendly and accommodating as we were dining with an infant. Local Tip: My friend who works at National Harbor recommends their margaritas for happy hour!

Portum at Harborside Hotel: This restaurant is a hidden gem. Located at the newly renovated Harborside Hotel, Portum offers a unique and refined menu. I indulged in a succulent lamb shank as the meat just fell off the bone. Away from the crowds of the Waterfront, this space makes for quiet yet delicious culinary experience.

Old Hickory Steakhouse: What makes Old Hickory interesting is the contrast of navigating through the maze that is Gaylord Hotel to this cozy dining space. This is perfect for a romantic dinner or a business meeting.

Weekend at National Harbor Fish by Jose Andres
Fish by Jose Andres at MGM National Harbor

MGM National Harbor:

The culinary offerings at the MGM National Harbor are worth the trip! Bonus: the parking at MGM is still free! Make sure to head to Jose Andres’ newest restaurant, Fish. The restaurant features local seafood items from the Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay. Dining Traveler Tip: book a table at their kitchen bar to witness the culinary magic!  The Voltaggio Brother’s Steakhouse is also a culinary experience to be had. The highlight of dining at Voltaggio Brothers was the service. I’ve never encountered a staff who knew their menu as well as at this location. Must add the brunch buffet at Marcus by Marcus Samuelsson to your weekend at National Harbor itinerary. The quality and selection of the food, especially for a buffet is exceptional.  More about the MGM culinary experience coming up soon!

Weekend at National Harbor Harborside Hotel Lobby
Lobby at Harborside Hotel

Where to Stay:

For this getaway, we stayed at Harborside Hotel, a newly renovated boutique hotel in Oxon Hill, MD. Although the hotel is not located directly in the waterfront, they do offer a free shuttle from the hotel to MGM, Tanger Outlets, and National Harbor Waterfront. The staff is super friendly, rooms are large and comfy, their restaurant Portum is excellent, and there’s free parking. Aside from experiencing National Harbor, this hotel is a great choice for families who want to visit the DC area who can use a larger room and free parking without the hassle of the city. My only point for improvement was the breakfast. The selection was quite limited as we waited 30 minutes for sausage and bacon to be refilled at the buffet. To be objective, that weekend there was a cheerleading competition at National Harbor and the hotel was filled with hungry teenagers!

Weekend at National Harbor Lamb Shank at Portum
Lamb Shank at Portum Restaurant

Weekend at National Harbor: The Verdict

Whether you live in DC or you’re visiting the area from abroad, make National Harbor part of your itinerary.  Whether it’s been a short visit or a weekend stay, one thing is consistent: the staff at National Harbor is superb. From the friendly note from our housekeeper at the Harborside hotel to the staff at Granite City going out of their way to make sure our baby was comfortable, we encountered lovely people every step of our staycation! At every stop, we’ve encountered exceptional service from a vibrant and diverse staff. It truly reflects the richness of metro Washington, DC area.

Disclaimer: This experience was partially sponsored by National Harbor CVB. However opinions are my own and I have been to National Harbor several times on my own before this weekend staycation experience. 



  • Winederlusting

    GREAT breakdown of this new development near the DC area. Reminds me of a few of the mixed use developments popping up in Austin. Before my visit, I’ll definitely be coming back here. Seems like you’ve narrowed down the essentials and will have made the trip a piece of cake!

    • It’s great that there are so many places catching on with these developments

  • Sumti Bhadani

    Really nice guide on visiting National Harbor. It seems that it is good place to spend your weekend. I love ferris wheel so it will be some what adventurous too 🙂

  • reddel

    I had never heard of National Harbor before. There sure is plenty to do and see and more importantly eat!! I’d have to check out Fish and Marcus for sure. That photo of Piccolo is simply adorable.

  • megan_claire

    Thanks for the introduction to National Harbor … DC is probably our favorite part of the US, so we’re planning many trips back. There’s so much in DC itself that I hadn’t considered taking a weekend / day trip away, but would love to explore more of the surrounds on our next trip back 🙂

    • There are so many great places outside of DC, hope you can visit us soon!

  • Kenny T.K. Chow

    The wheel looks great and the restaurant is fancy. Thanks for the introduction and the ideas about some place away from the DC and it’s a great location to have a fun night out! @ kncyx.journeying