Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Virginia
Experience military and maritime history aboard the USS Wisconsin, one of the biggest battleships ever built. Having been through three wars, “Wisky” now serves as a floating museum docked next to the Nauticus Maritime Center in Norfolk.
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.
Americana of the 50s and 60s lives on at Water Country USA, the largest water park in the Mid-Atlantic region. Music from the time period complements rides and live shows, including more than 15 water slides. Dare devils live for the high-thrill ride Vanish Point, on which the ground falls out from under riders as they fly down the 75-foot, nearly vertical water slide. For those who prefer to chill out, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Island fits the bill, with a large pool encompassed by a lazy river. The newest attraction, Colossal Curl, features funnels, twists and seconds of complete weightlessness.
Water Country USA makes the Mid-Atlantic summer heat and humidity bearable, with rides and attractions to keep the entire family cool. Live shows, including the dive show “Aquabatics” take place daily in the summer. Water Country USA and Busch Gardens Williamsburg are sister theme-parks and are located only three miles from one another.
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.
Located in Colonial Williamsburg, Bruton Parish Episcopal Church is a National Historic Landmark. Visit to view the well-preserved example of colonial religious architecture and perhaps take in a concert at the active church. First built in 1674, the current structure dates back to 1715.
Also known as the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum annex at the Dulles International Airport, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center opened in 2003 and is home to some 760,000 square feet of galleries, display area and storage used to showcase and house items from the main museum located in Washington DC’s National Mall.
Travelers who wonder at the world of air and space exploration can wander the collection of this impressive museum, which includes the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar. Visitors can get a bird’s eye view from the second-floor deck designed to highlight all the work taking place below. The collection is vast and travelers will be able to see the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima, as well as an Air France Concorde supersonic airline, a Redstone rocket and more.
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is the perfect place for those traveling with families and small children to spend the day and get an up close look at some of the most impressive machines to take to the sky.
On Oct. 19, 1781, General George Washington’s allied American and French forces declared decisive victory over the British Army, bringing an end to the American Revolutionary War and with it, independence to the United States. The Yorktown Battle remains one of the most famous and important battles fought on American soil, and the site now sits in the Colonial National Historic Park, where visitors get a glimpse into the last major battle of the war.
Over 3 million people visit the sites here every year, and two of the most prominent pieces of the battlefield are the 1724 Nelson House, where British General Cornwallis resided, and the nearby Moore House, where negotiations for British surrender took place.
Visit the Virginia Living Museum to escape the static setting of your average museum. Instead, the zoo-like natural heritage site comes alive with interactive and educational displays of native animals and plants. View endangered wildlife, touch live marine creatures, and explore the region’s distant past on the Dinosaur Discovery Trail.
For many travelers, the highlight of a trip to historic Williamsburg is a tour of the ornate Governor’s Palace, which served as the official residence of the Royal Governors of the Colony of Virginia. Construction on the Governor’s Palace began in 1706, and although updates and remodeling continued for decades, official construction concluded in 1722. Thomas Jefferson was the last governor to live in the palace.
The 30-minute guided tour of the site takes visitors back to the early 18th century. Docents lead the tour dressed in period-era clothing through the palace's three floors, each spanning over 3,300 square feet, an extensive cellar and numerous outbuildings. The main house burned down in 1781 but has since been restored to much of its former grandeur.
Travel back in time to the year 1784 at Michie Tavern, a Virginia Historic Landmark. Owned originally by Scotsman William Michie, the site served as the epicenter of social life in Earlysville, Virginia. The Tavern offered travelers food, drink and lodging before the Commonwealth of Virginia purchased it in 1910. The Tavern operated in Earlysville until 1927, when the current owner, Josephine Henderson, moved it to its present location, a half mile from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home.
Visiting Michie Tavern today feels much the same as it may have 200 years ago. Servers don period outfits and serve up both traditional southern cuisine and hospitality. Before or after dining, guests are invited to tour the oldest section of Michie Tavern to learn more about its history. In addition, guests can peruse any of four shops: the Tavern-Museum Shop, the Metal Smith Shop, the Clothier and the General Store.
More Things to Do in Virginia
After stepping foot on the ground where America secured its independence in the final, decisive battle of the Revolutionary War, head to the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown to experience what post-war life was like in the newly free colonies. A living-history museum, the Yorktown Victory Center features indoor exhibitions, a Continental Army Encampment and a 1780s farm.
Two of the most fascinating exhibits include an early draft of the Declaration of Independence, before it was given to Congress members to sign, and one that covers the fates of British ships lost in the York River during the war. At the outdoors Continental Army Encampment, historical interpreters detail the lives of American soldiers at the end of the war. Also outdoors, a fully recreated 18th-century farm showcases the types of crops tended to in that time period and the lifestyles of many Americans during the war.
Nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park is full of wildlife, natural beauty, and opportunities for outdoor recreation. The 105-mile (169-kilometer) scenic Skyline Drive cuts through the park, and hundreds of miles of hiking trails lead to stunning vistas, waterfalls, protected wilderness, and historic sites.
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.
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.
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.
Charlottesville’s Monticello, former home of President Thomas Jefferson, is full of living history. Mulberry Row, the industrial hub of the 5,000-acre (2,023-hectare) estate, is arguably one of the most important areas of the complex. Everyone who worked the plantation—including slaves—lived here, just a few hundred feet from the main house.
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.
One of Virginia’s most innovative breweries, Champion Brewing Company is home to a 30-barrel brewhouse specializing in craft beers. Flavors range from traditional, such as a chicory IPA, to unique, such as a lavender and coriander wheat ale. The Charlottesville microbrewery features an intimate taproom pouring regular and seasonal brews.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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