Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Virginia
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.
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.
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.
Located at the site where English settlers first landed in America, First Landing State Park is Virginia’s most-visited state park. A diverse ecosystem of beach, lagoon, marsh, maritime forest, and cypress swamp, it offers a wide range of activities for visitors, including hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, kayaking, boating, and camping.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More Things to Do in Virginia
Explore the first English settlement in the United States at Historic Jamestowne, part of the Colonial National Historical Park. Located on Jamestown Island, the town was founded as James Fort in 1607. Learn about the ongoing excavation work and see the ruins and thousands of artifacts that have been unearthed so far.
Discover the art of glassblowing, as it was done centuries ago, at the Jamestown Glasshouse. Part of the Colonial National Historic Park, Jamestown Glasshouse is a recreation of a colonial-era glasshouse, complete with costumed artisans and interpreters who create glass products by hand, using traditional tools and techniques.
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 home of George Washington’s mother gives visitors insight into the life and final 17 years of Mary Washington. Period-clad docents welcome you to the 18th-century Mary Washington House and invite you to take a mental step back in time as you explore the original kitchen, guest room where George Washington slept, and gardens.
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.
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.
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.
See the country’s first hospital devoted to the care of the mentally ill, and learn about the treatment of mental illness in early American history at the Public Hospital of 1773. The building is located in the Colonial Williamsburg living history area, and features exhibition cells, galleries, and artifacts.
The hospital was first founded in 1773 and reopened as a museum in 1985. There are six exhibition cells on the first floor of the east wing, set up to show the types of treatments used over the years. Additional galleries and artifacts illustrate the history of the hospital and the practices of 18th and 19th century medicine. Guided tours offer additional insights.
Entrance to the Public Hospital of 1773 is included as part of your Colonial Williamsburg ticket.Guided tours are held on Mondays and Wednesdays at 9am and last for about an hour. The topics and displays of the museum may not be suitable for young children. The museum is wheelchair accessible.
The museum is located south of Francis Street in Colonial Williamsburg. The shuttle bus stops just outside. There’s also an underground concourse that leads to the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.
The Public Hospital Museum is open daily from morning until evening. Since it’s open later than many of the other attractions on the Colonial Williamsburg tour, it makes sense to save the museum for the end of the circuit.
It's easy to visit the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, which includes the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, as it's located in the same building as the Public Hospital of 1773. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s holdings include more than 70,000 antiques and works of art, 15,000 architectural elements, and 20 million archaeological artifacts, including clothing, instruments, toys, furniture, and paintings.
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.
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.
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.
Embrace history at the Rising Sun Tavern while surrounded by 18th-century furniture and period-clad docents. Originally built as a private residence in 1760 by George Washington’s brother, the home was later leased as a tavern. It is now a historic attraction and one of the four Washington Heritage Museum sites in Fredericksburg.
Walk through the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop, a restored 18th-century pharmacy, and experience the medicine of George Washington’s era. Period-clad docents explain the medical practices of the era and share medicinal uses of leeches, cobwebs, and snakeroot. You can even smell and touch the old-time medicines for a full sensory experience.
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