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.