Choose from 15 Fun Things to Do in Virginia
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Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819 to promote discussion, collaboration, and enlightenment through higher education. Today the UNESCO World Heritage Site is considered to be a “public Ivy,” on par with the Ivy League institutions, making it one of the top schools in the nation serving roughly 25,000 students.
Thomas Jefferson established the Academical Village—which includes the Rotunda, the Lawn, the Pavilions, and the Gardens—where students and faculty could cohabitate to foster better academic exchanges. Free guided tours of the Lawn and the Rotunda are offered throughout the year to get a feel for what life was like for students and faculty in the early days. Most tours discuss the history of Charlottesville, from its plantation days to the Civil War that ripped through the southern state to the present day. Some private Civil War tours of central Virginia stop by the university, the former headquarters of the Confederate General Hospital.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The University of Virginia is a must-visit for American history buffs and academics.
- Be prepared for a lot of walking on your visit to the UVA campus and downtown Charlottesville.
- Most of the university, including the Lawn and the Rotunda, is wheelchair accessible, as are the restrooms around campus.
How to Get There
The University of Virginia is located in the heart of Charlottesville, about two hours southwest of Washington DC. To reach campus, drive along Route 29 from DC or I-64 from Richmond.
When to Get There
The university and its grounds are open throughout the year for tours and visits. It is best to avoid the school during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Spring Break, when there are more closures and fewer students milling around the grounds.
The Academical Village
Jefferson’s vision for the University of Virginia can still be seen today on tours of the original grounds. Though the Rotunda is no longer used as a library, it is still the heart of the university and is modeled after the Pantheon in Rome. The structures that flank the Lawn are pavilions and student houses occupied by the most accomplished fourth-year students and honored faculty. The Gardens, once used for growing food, are now ideal for relaxing strolls.
Address: University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903, USA
From $ 105
Set in an old schoolhouse on ten acres of Virginia farmland, Nelson County's Wild Wolf Brewing Company is as beautiful a place to visit as it is a popular spot to drink. With a wraparound porch and views of the mountains, the brew house serves its unique craft beers in a picturesque, Southern setting, and features seasonal offerings as well as a pilsner, ale, and stout influenced by the brew master's time in Germany and Chicago.
Go behind-the-scenes on a brewery tour, or enjoy a cold one under the shade of Siberian Elm trees in the beer garden. Here, you can enjoy the brewery's grounds or have a bite to eat at its restaurant, which is known for using local ingredients and specializing in hickory smoked meats.
Revered for its hospitality, the brewery is a great stop for thirsty visitors, and often features live music and outdoor games.
Wild Wolf Brewing Company is located in Nellysford, Virginia, about 32 miles (52 km), or a 40-minute drive, southwest of Charlottesville. The restaurant and taproom is open every day from 11am to 10pm, and until 11pm on Saturday.
Children and pets are welcome, and there’s even a playground for the kids. Live music plays every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, year-round.
If in need of a designated driver, private tours offer round trip transportation to the brewery from Charlottesville, including hotel pickup and drop-off.
Did you know? Wild Wolf Brewing Company has been recognized as a green brewery for its sustainability practices.
Address: 461 Rockfish Valley Hwy, Nellysford, Virginia, USA
Hours: Mon–Fri: 11:30am–10pm; Sat: 11am–11pm; Sun: 11am–10pm
From $ 165
Jamestown was the first English settlement in the United States, beginning as James Fort in 1607 and developing into one of the most successful early colonies. It was here that the English first interacted with local Virginia Native Americans, as well as the first site of Africans and the earliest known slavery in North America. Today it’s both a national park and part of Preservation Virginia. The site seeks to preserve the history and culture of the three cultures that first coexisted here.
Archaeologists are still uncovering historic artifacts from the site of James Fort, and visitors to the area can view the growing collection of more than 1,000 artifacts at the Archaearium. It’s also famously the spot where Pocahontas married and lived with Englishman John Rolfe.
The Jamestowne visitor center also features exhibits of the area’s history and a small theater. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the visiting the historic site are the remaining structures from the era, including a 17th century brick church tower.
Historic Jamestowne can be found on Jamestown Island at the western end of Colonial Parkway. Admission to the park is $14, though remains free from children 15 and under and includes 7 days of access. The entrance gate is open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm daily. The visitors center is the perfect place to plan and begin your exploration of the park.
Address: Island Drive, Jamestowne, Virginia, USA
Hours: Open daily from 9 am - 5 pm
Admission: $14 (free for children 15 and under)
From $ 41
The Virginia land on which Keswick Vineyards stands was handpicked by the Schornberg family, who still owns and operates the estate today. Spread across 400 acres, a historic mansion serves as the center point for the estate. The scenic surrounding vines produce some of the area’s best grapes, which are then hand picked and hand sorted to ensure top quality. Their process emphasizes quality ingredients and a minimalist approach to winemaking. As such, the grapes undergo very little manipulation, using natural yeast and no filtration.
The vineyard’s location allows for nice views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Tours give valuable insight into the winemaking process and the unique geography of the area. The tasting room has a relaxed feel, with the courtyard and porch open as weather permits and games and activities typically present. The winery is known for producing award-winning wines; their Chardonnay, Viognier and Heritage wine are particularly tasty.
Located just east of Charlottesville, Keswick is part of the Monticello Wine Trail. It’s about a 15 minute drive from the city. Tastings are available daily; the fee is $10 per person. Picnic facilities are available seasonally and are highly encouraged for use.
Address: 1575 Keswick Winery Drive, Keswick, USA
Admission: Tasting fee is $10
From $ 250
Drink up incredible scenery along with award-winning wines during a visit to Trump Winery, nestled into the foothills of Virginia’s idyllic Blue Ridge Mountains. The winery sits just a few miles from Monticello, the historic home of Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe’s Ash Lawn-Highland. With 165 acres of grapes across the 1,300-acre estate, Trump Winery clocks in as the largest vineyard in Virginia. Its wines are critically acclaimed, especially the sparkling varieties—the 2007 Trump SP Reserve is the highest-rated wine in Virginia—while the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay rate highly as well.
Trump Winery is located about 20 minutes outside of Charlottesville, along the Monticello Wine Trail. Visitors can stop in at the tasting room to sample Trump’s award-winning wines any day of the week. Tastings cost $10 and include a souvenir wine glass. The winery also offers overnight stays at the luxurious Albemarle Estate.
Address: 3550 Blenheim Rd, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902, USA
Hours: 11a.m. to 5 p.m., daily
Admission: Free, but tastings start at $10 per person.
From $ 250
A visit to Virginia’s wine country is a trip back in time to when Thomas Jefferson planted the seeds of America’s first vineyards. Jefferson Vineyards, wanting to continue the Founding Father’s dream of wine in the region, offers visitors a rustic spot to sip chardonnay, meritage, and petit verdot while taking in Virginia’s lush landscape.
The historic location of Jefferson Vineyards, just 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) south of the historic Monticello estate, offers guests a well-rounded experience to learn about American history and Virginia wine. See how Jefferson and Italian viticulturist Filippo Mazzei imagined the state’s vineyards as you tour the winery, taste its varietals, and admire the beautiful views of Monticello and beyond. You can also hop on a private tour of the Monticello Wine Trail to explore other wineries in the Charlottesville region and learn how the unique climate of Virginia affects the wines. If traveling independently, you can spend the day exploring Jefferson Vineyards and other wineries along the Monticello Wine Trail, or visit Monticello itself and the University of Virginia.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Jefferson Vineyards is a must-visit for American history buffs and wine lovers.
- Wine tastings are available for a small fee and come with a souvenir glass.
- Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on the grassy hillside.
- The vineyards are wheelchair accessible and family friendly.
How to Get There
Jefferson Vineyards, located on the eastern side of Monticello, is a 10-minute drive from Charlottesville. If you’re coming from farther afield, take Route 29 from Washington DC or I-64 from Richmond. The Monticello Wine Trail is accessible only by car or organized charter bus.
When to Get There
The vineyards are open daily from 11am to 6:15pm; see the website for seasonal closures. Fall is the best time to visit Virginia, when the weather is crisp and the trees explode in hues of yellow, orange, and red.
The History of Jefferson Vineyards
Convinced by other Founding Fathers, Filippo Mazzei ventured across the Atlantic with European vines to plants America’s first winery on lands donated by Thomas Jefferson. The two neighbors aspired to produce some of the world’s greatest wines in the New World. When the American Revolution began in 1776, Mazzei enlisted as a private with the colonists—and soon after, wine production seized up until the 1980s.
Address: 1353 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy., Charlottesville, Virginia 22902, USA
From $ 250
Mount Vernon—the former Virginia home and final resting place of George and Martha Washington—is a carefully restored National Historic Landmark on the banks of the Potomac River. The site is comprised of a 21-room, white-brick mansion, a 23-gallery museum, a four-acre farm, and elaborate gardens featuring fruit trees and a red-brick greenhouse. Visitors can experience Washington’s waterwheel gristmill and learn about the long-held tradition of distilling small-batch rye whiskey onsite. A world away from the hustle and bustle of Washington DC’s action, George Washington’s Mount Vernon continues to transport visitors to a regal but rural retreat for American colonial gentility.
Mount Vernon is commonly visited on a day trip tour from Washington DC, either by river cruise, group tour, or private tour. If visiting independently, be sure to book your tickets in advance to gain flexibility on your mansion tour time. A visit to the site is often combined with a tour of Old Town Alexandria or the Arlington National Cemetery. To truly appreciate how the Washingtons lived, join one of the regular on-site tours of the first two of the estate’s three floors (included in general admission). Guests should also head to Orientation Center for a 25-minute educational film, then visit the museum and education center to see popular George Washington artifacts including letters and his famous wooden teeth.
Things to Know Before You Go
- It’s best to wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes while exploring the grounds.
- Free WiFi is available throughout the Mount Vernon estate, and the site’s downloadable app offers audio tours, a map, and even a scavenger hunt.
- Photography is prohibited in the mansion, and all bags and containers must be smaller than 16x16x8 inches.
- Fans of the ”National Treasure: Book of Secrets” film can take an hour-long tour highlighting historical details and settings employed in the onsite production of the blockbuster.
- The off-site gristmill and distillery can be reached via a shuttle that runs regularly from April to October.
How to Get There
Mount Vernon is located 18 miles (29 kilometers) south of Washington DC and just under 10 miles (15 kilometers) along the Potomac from Alexandria, Virginia. By road, cross the Memorial Bridge and take George Washington Memorial Parkway, which ends at Mount Vernon. By public transit, take the metro to Huntington Station and then connect to bus 101 for a 25-minute ride to the estate. Potomac cruises are also a leisurely and enjoyable arrival method—the Spirit of Mount Vernon departs from Pier 4 in downtown DC and the Potomac Riverboat Company docks in Old Town Alexandria.
When to Get There
Though the site is open 365 days a year, it is busiest from March to June, September to October, and on holiday weekends, especially Presidents Day (George Washington’s birthday and an admission-free day).
Visiting Mount Vernon in Winter
Offered from late November through December, special character-guided, candlelit evening tours of Mount Vernon highlight traditional festive holiday celebrations and draw huge crowds to the historic estate during an otherwise slow season. Purchase tickets well in advance to experience period dancing, 18th-century holiday traditions, and rooms lit by lantern light.
Address: 3200 George Washington Memorial Parkway, Mount Vernon 22309, USA
Hours: Apr-Oct: 9am-5pm, Nov-March: 9am-4pm
Admission: Adults: US$20, Seniors(ages 62+): US$19, Youth(6-11yrs): US$10
From $ 18
Take a fascinating tour of a seasoned, battle-tested U.S. Navy warship at the Nauticus maritime museum on the docks of Norfolk. The USS Wisconsin is an Iowa-class battleship, one of the largest ever built, that started her career in the Pacific during WWII, and served in both the Korean War and Operation Desert Storm. Eventually donated to Nauticus to become part of the museum, today visitor can do tours on the decks to see the massive 50-cal gun turrets, and below decks to explore the sailors’ bunks, mess deck, offices and more. Nauticus also has exhibits about the ship’s history, technology and daily lives on the sailors on board.
The USS Wisconsin is located along the Elizabeth River waterfront in downtown Norfolk, that same port she based in during many years of her service. Visitors can take a self guided tour of the ship as part of the admission price to Nauticus, but guided tours cost an additional fee.
Address: 1 Waterside Drive, Norfolk, Virginia 23510, USA
Hours: Memorial Day to Labor Day: Open every day from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. The rest of the year: Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Admission: Admisson to Nauticus starts at $15.95 for adults
From $ 52
Spend an afternoon shopping and people watching around the hip and vibrant Carytown neighborhood in west Richmond. The nine-block shopping area sits just south of the Museum District, only a couple blocks from the Museum of Fine Arts. Carytown boasts more the 250 shops, with everything from big name clothing stores to local boutiques and craft shops. You’ll find dozens of restaurants, cafés and bakeries, so there are plenty of choices when it’s time for a lunch break. Carytown is also home to the Byrd Theatre, a national historic landmark that is still in daily operation. Stop in to catch second-run movies for only $2.
Carytown is a neighborhood in west Richmond, near the Museum and Fan Districts. It’s bordered by VA-195 to the south and west, Ellwood Ave. and S. Boulevard to the north and east, respectively. You can park on the street or find free lots at either Crenshaw and Dooley or Sheppard and Colonial.
Address: Richmond, Virginia 21221, USA
Hours: Most shops open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., though some also open Sundays or have extended hours during holiday seasons.
From $ 65
Feel the reverence of history and the weight of time at Christ Church in Old Town Alexandria, where visitors today sit in the same pews where George Washington and Robert E. Lee once worshipped. Commenced in 1767, Christ Church is a living testament to American history, and so is the site's cemetery, which memorializes 34 Confederate prisoners of war who perished in prison camps during the Civil War.
Christ Church measures a mere 60 feet by 50 feet, but despite its small size, the brick landmark looms large over the town and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970. The church consists of the main worshiping space, galleries in the upper level, a tower and the cemetery. Today, there are still regular services and events, as well as a congregation of more than 2,000 members. Tradition has it that every new president visits Christ Church on Washington's birthday.
Christ Church is located in Old Town Alexandria, a short drive from Washington DC. Free docent-led tours are offered and last about 40 minutes. Christ Church is an active, operational church with regular Sunday services and special services throughout the year.
Address: 620 G St SE, Alexandria 20003, USA
From $ 20
The first British colonists to land in America didn’t arrive on the Mayflower or land on Plymouth Rock. It was at Jamestown where colonists from the Virginia Company first settled in 1607. And the spot where they landed is now First Landing State Park, a National Natural Landmark that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. There are no manmade vestiges of this history to see here, but visitors can explore the same beaches, waterways and cypress swamps that early colonists encountered on their arrival. Aside from the history, First Landing State Park is also a great spot to enjoy nature, with 1.5 miles of beach, campground, cabins, and nine hiking and biking trails that run for 19 miles through the park’s lagoons, dunes and beachfront.
First Landing State Park is about 15 minutes north of Virginia Beach. In addition to hitting the beach or the trails, visitors can take guided kayak tours to explore the marshes and bays, or join one of the nature or history programs offered at the park office.
Address: 2500 Shore Dr., Virginia Beach, Virginia 23451, USA
Hours: Day-use areas open every day at 8 a.m. and close at dusk.
Admission: Admission costs from $4 to $7 per car, depending on the day and residency.
From $ 35
In the midst of the summer heat, is there any better way to cool down than a visit to the waterpark? Northern Virginia’s SplashDown, just outside of the nation’s capital, has been keeping it cool during the summer months with water slides, fountains, pools, a lazy river, and even a beach area. There are varying levels of thrills for all ages, including the long lazy river for those who prefer to keep it relaxed. There is also an Olympic-sized lap pool for adults who want to swim, and a wading area for smaller children.
Facilities include an on-site snack bar to keep you satiated, a volleyball and tennis court, log walk, and the Kahuna Beach, which contains real sand. There’s also a park nearby if you prefer to have your own picnic. SplashDown offers an area for birthday parties, as well as swim lessons outside of its operating hours.
Located about 30 miles from Washington D.C., SplashDown Waterpark is open from late May to September. Hours vary, but the park is generally open 12 pm to 6 pm at a minimum. Admission is $15.75 for children and adults over 48 inches in height, and $11.75 for children under 48 inches. Daily locker rentals are available and lifeguards are on duty.
Address: 7500 Ben Lomond Park Drive, Manassas, Virginia 20109, USA
Hours: Late May to early September. Hours vary; check the website for exact times.
Admission: $15.75 for children and adults over 48 inches in height, and $11.75 for children under 48 inches.
From $ 40
Located along the Monticello Wine Trail in Virginia, Blenheim Vineyards is a family-owned operation dedicated to making high-quality wines that reflect the climate of the surrounding piedmont landscape. The winery’s two vineyard sites produce chardonnay, viognier, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and cabernet sauvignon varieties.
The Blenheim Vineyards winery was built in 2000 using environmentally friendly practices, such as offering white and red house wines on tap. It provides an intimate setting for wine tastings with large windows looking over the sea of green vines and paneled glass floors offering views to the production below.
You can visit the winery on your own—spend the day visiting several wineries or go apple picking in the nearby orchard before stopping to Blenheim. Alternatively, book a private behind-the-scenes wine tour to explore Blenheim Vineyards and other wineries in the area—and leave the driving to someone else.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Blenheim Vineyards is a lovely spot for wine aficionados visiting the area.
- There is a small fee for wine tastings and a slightly higher fee to sample the reserve wines.
- Due to the size of the tasting room, groups larger than eight cannot be accommodated from November to March.
- For groups between eight and 15 guests, you must reserve in advance.
How to Get There
Blenheim Vineyards is located 20 minutes southeast of Charlottesville, just off of VA-20 South. Take Route 29 from Washington DC or I-64 from Richmond to get to Charlottesville. The Monticello Wine Trail is accessible only by car or organized charter bus.
When to Get There
The best time to visit Blenheim Vineyards and the Monticello Wine Trail is during the fall when the leaves begin to change color. Fall in Virginia offers crisp days and wonderful leaf peeping, perfect for sipping wine and enjoying the surrounding landscape.
The History of Blenheim
Blenheim Vineyards is built on a historic estate once owned by the Secretary of the Colony of Virginia, John Carter, during the 1700s. It is still home to a few 18th- and 19th-century buildings such as a school-chapel and library. In the year 2000, folk singer Dave Matthews purchased the estate and transformed it into the winery you see today.
Address: 31 Blenheim Farm, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902, USA
From $ 250
One of the most awarded breweries on the East Coast, Virginia’s Starr Hill is the largest independent craft brewer in the state. The regional brewery distributes mostly in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast, and stays close to its historic roots. Founded in Charlottesville's Starr Hill Music Hall in 1999, live music plays a big role in the brewery's story.
Though the facilities have since moved to a larger industrial property, Starr Hill Brewery still has a stage for performers and now hosts food trucks every weekend on its patio area. The brewery has been recognized as a leader in the growing craft beer scene, with 16 different beers on tap—and many of them award-winning.
Tour this brewery and many more on a private or hop-on, hop-off bus tour of Crozet's breweries and wineries, which include beer tastings and round trip transportation from Charlottesville.
Starr Hill Brewery is located in Crozet, Virginia, just a few miles west of Charlottesville at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Together with other local breweries it forms part of the Brew Ridge Trail.
The taproom is open Tuesday to Friday from noon to 9pm; Saturday from 11am to 9pm; and Sunday from noon to 6pm. It is open Monday from 9am to 5pm, but only for purchasing beer to-go. Free tours take place on the hour between 1pm and 4pm on weekends.
The taproom features food items from local restaurants, and there are food trucks available in the patio area on weekends.
If in need of a designated driver, private tours offer round trip transportation to the brewery from Charlottesville, with included hotel pickup and drop-off.
Address: 5391 Three Notched Road, Crozet, Virginia, USA
Hours: Tues–Fri: 12pm–9pm; Sat: 11am–9pm; Sun:12pm–6pm
From $ 59
The vineyards at Barboursville surround an 18th century estate that once belonged to James Barbour, the governor of Virginia (for which the area is named.) They are inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s nearby Monticello estate, who in fact designed the stately mansion.
The grounds were once farmland deemed unworthy of making wine, until an Italian man purchased the property and brought with him his family’s winemaking legacy. Wines are still created in a European style. Today the star of the vineyards is undoubtedly its Cabernet Franc, served both in its tasting room and with culinary pairings in its Library 1821 building.
Other varietals depend upon the year, though the vineyard has made Nebbiolo, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and others throughout the years. Tours grant insight into the history of the estate and the winemaking process, as well as the story of the vineyards’ signature wine.
Barboursville is a 30 minute drive from Charlottesville, 1.25 hours from Richmond, or 2 hours from Washington D.C. Tours take place on weekends only from 12 to 4pm. Tastings take place in the Tuscan Tasting Room every day. The entire estate is open to the public, and bringing a picnic is highly recommended.
Address: 17655 Winery Rd, Barboursville, Virginia, USA
Hours: Open daily 10am-5pm
Admission: Free to visit; Tastings are $7
From $ 250