25 Best Places to Visit in Virginia
Virginia is a beautiful vacation destination, filled with historical attractions, sandy beaches and the Blue Ridge Mountains where visitors can spot an array of species of birds and land animals. The birthplace of eight U.S. Presidents, Virginia has a rich history and many well-preserved historical sites. Here are the best Virginia destinations, including Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, Charlottesville, Norfolk, Alexandria, Roanoke, Richmond and Hampton. Photo: Tom Mc Nemar /Fotolia
» Old Town Alexandria
Alexandria, Virginia is the place that George Washington called home. The Old Town Historic District, with its traditional cobblestone streets, is a hive of activity. There are historic buildings, including General Robert E. Lee’s boyhood home, art galleries, antique shops, and restaurants, all set against the backdrop of the Potomac River.
The center of the district is Market Square, which has been operating since 1753 and was once the site of the second largest slave market in the United States. You can follow George Washington by visiting his favorite pub, Gadsby’s Tavern, checking out the pharmacy where he and Martha shopped, or viewing his pew at Christ Church. The Torpedo Factory Art Center, which was an actual torpedo factory in World War II, is now a creative space for over eighty artists, and visitors can watch them as they create modern masterpieces. Things to Do in Alexandria
Photo: jon bilous/Fotolia
» Virginia Beach
There is a wealth of things to do in Virginia Beach, and first and foremost is the beach itself. Three different beaches and fourteen miles of sandy shores give every visitor the beach vacation they desire, whether it’s in the heart of the action or in a secluded cove. The three-mile Virginia Beach boardwalk is the place to be for walking, inline skating, and cycling; along the way there are excellent outdoor restaurants, nautical statues, shopping, and four oceanfront stages featuring live entertainment.
Virginia Beach offers amusement rides, golfing, sea kayaking, boat tours, and nightlife, and it’s perfect for families, couples, and solo travelers. First Landing State Park commemorates the first English settlers, who came ashore in 1609. Back Bay National Wildlife Preserve connects visitors with nature and offers the chance to see wild horses, feral pigs, loggerhead turtles, and bald eagles in their natural habitat. Things to Do in Virginia Beach
Photo: Tom Mc Nemar /Fotolia
Williamsburg will always be associated with America’s Colonial History and is home to some of the best tourist attractions in Virginia. Founded in 1632 as a fortified settlement between the James and the York Rivers, Williamsburg was the capital of the Colony of Virginia from 1699-1780. Colonial Williamsburg and Historic Jamestown are hugely popular open-air museums stretching for several city blocks.
They feature restored buildings from the 17th, 18th, and 19th century, and are staffed by historical reenactors dressed in period costume. The highlight of Colonial Williamsburg is the Governor’s Palace, a stately structure that was the residence of two of Virginia Colony’s early governors. There is also a lot of excitement to be found in the Williamsburg area: Busch Gardens has thrill rides, notably rollercoasters, and lots of fun rides for smaller children, while Water Country USA has exciting slides, a wave pool, and a lazy river, and it is the perfect place for a day with the kids. Things to Do in Williamsburg
Photo: Paul Hakimata/Fotolia
»Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park was created in the 1920s and encompasses much of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as the rolling hills of Virginia’s Piedmont. The winding Shenandoah River and its valleys run through the park, as does the Skyline Drive, a 105-mile road that runs the length of the entire park. Skyline Drive is meant to be driven slowly, and drivers stop regularly at one of the seventy-five lookout posts along the route that have stunning views of the park’s scenery.
Shenandoah National Park has 500 miles of hiking trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and camping, lodges, and restaurants can be found throughout the park. Cascading waterfalls and beauty spots are everywhere. The park has a multitude of wild creatures, including black bears, coyote, beavers, foxes, deer, and cougars, and over 200 species of birds, including wild turkeys, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, and barred owls.
Photo: Zack Frank/Fotolia
It is not difficult to find historical sites in Abingdon, Virginia. The entire town, from its outskirts to its brick-paved sidewalks downtown are a National Historic Landmark and full of historic connections. Visitors can see how poverty-stricken people lived until the mid-20th century at the Yeary Cabin, an old Appalachian homestead, view a genteel home of the middle class at the Fields-Penn 1860 House Museum, or visit a living history museum, the Fairview Historic Homestead, to discover firsthand how immigrants lived in their new land.
The Sinking Spring Cemetery has graves dating back to 1776. Around town are fine places to walk: the Virginia Creeper Trail and the Appalachian Trail. In town, the center of arts and culture is the Barber Theater, which has been in use since 1933 and has hosted actors such as Gregory Peck, Hume Cronyn, and Ernest Borgnine.
Photo: Melinda Fawver/Fotolia
»Appomattox Court House National Historic Park
The Appomattox Court House National Historic Park encompasses the lands where the American Civil War ended on April 9, 1865. On that day, the sorely tried Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Commander Ulysses S. Grant at the McLean House in Appomattox, Virginia.
A park dedicated to this seminal event was created in 1935, and it now contains approximately two dozen restored 19th century buildings, a museum, a theater, a bookshop, and the grounds where the final battles of the Civil War were fought. The history trail is a 4.5 mile route taking hikers to Lee’s headquarters, to the plains where the battles were fought, and to Sweeney’s Prizery, a tobacco-packing house that was built in 1790 and is the park’s oldest building. The park’s uneven terrain makes it unsuitable for wheelchairs.
»Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is on the Virginia half of Assateague Island. Visitors to this barrier island come mainly to see the Chincoteague ponies, feral horses of diminished size due to their poor diet of salt marsh plants and grasses. The entire Virginia half of the island is a refuge for animals, some of them endangered, such as the sika deer and the piping plover.
Visitors may also see brown pelicans, merlins, red fox, fox squirrels, and white-tailed deer. There are areas on the island for ocean swimming, boating, horseback riding, and driving over-sand vehicles. Snorkelers love to explore the shipwrecks that dot the island’s shores and that were the reason for the installation of a lighthouse in 1833. Fishing, crabbing, and clamming are permitted in designated areas with a valid Virginia fishing licence.
Photo: Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
»George Washington Birthplace National Monument
George Washington’s home no longer stands; it was completely destroyed in a cataclysmic fire in 1779. The house where America’s first president was born in 1732 has been recreated according to typical upper-class homes of the time and filled with period furnishings. The Memorial House may be visited, along with the Kitchen House, where historical reenactors demonstrate how candles and soap were made in Washington’s time.
The Colonial Herb and Flower Garden displays the plants of Washington’s time, while the Colonial Living Farm, with its barn, pasture, and livestock, uses traditional farming methods and even has two Red Devon oxen descended from Washington’s stock. In the Visitor’s Center, there are artifacts from the burned-down home as well as a 15-minute film about the Washington family. The monument’s cemetery has 32 Washington family graves that may be visited.
Photo: Zack Frank/Fotolia
» Scenic Places near me: Charlottesville
Charlottesville, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is best known for its history. It is here that Thomas Jefferson built his home, the UNESCO World Heritage site called Monticello. Presidents Monroe and Madison lived here as well, and visitors can tour Monroe’s home, Highland. Jefferson also designed the grounds and the early buildings of the beautiful University of Virginia, and visitors flock here to see the rooms where Edgar Allan Poe studied.
Virginia is making some of the most popular new wines on the market, and there are twenty vineyards in the Charlottesville area to visit for tasting tours. The outdoors are perfect for kayaking on the James or the Rivanna Rivers, hiking or cycling on miles of trails, taking scenic drives, or visiting one of the many orchards in the region.
Photo: spirit of america/Fotolia
Staunton, Virginia is probably best known as the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States. The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum reside in his birthplace, a Presbyterian manse with twelve rooms and twelve fireplaces. History lovers will also be delighted at the Museum of Frontier Culture, four working farms inhabited by interpreters in historical costume, displaying life as it would have been on a farm in the 17th, 18th, or 19th century.
The city is popular with lovers of arts and culture; the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Theater puts on Shakespeare plays year round, and the Heifetz International Music Institute has both a summer school and a summer festival. Staunton has several art schools, a university, and historic houses in the old part of town.
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» Virginia Destinations: Richmond
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and it has been incorporated as a city since 1742. The city was the capital of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War and the site of Patrick Henry’s famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech during the American Revolution. It is a city known for its magnificent architecture, significant monuments, museums, and arts and culture.
The Virginia Repertory Theater is the largest company in Virginia, and crowds come to see performances of it and of the Richmond Symphony, the Virginia Opera, and the Richmond Ballet Corps. Edgar Allan Poe made his home here, and a museum containing artifacts and some of his writing is a popular tourist destination. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has fine collections covering 5,000 years of art from around the world. Next read: Romantic Richmond Restaurants
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Norfolk is located on the beautiful shores of Chesapeake Bay and bounded by the Elizabeth River. Its shoreline boasts great beaches and the largest navy base in the world: Naval Station Norfolk, which safeguards one of two NATO Strategic Command Headquarters. Completely destroyed by fire after bombardment during the American Revolution, the rebuilt city became a center for arts, culture, and entertainment.
The most popular tourist attraction is the floating museum of the USS Wisconsin, an American battleship that served in the Pacific theater of World War II. To get to the ship, you must first pass through the Nauticus Center, a science museum devoted to the sea, and housing hands-on interactive learning modules and touch pools. The Chrysler Museum of Art is one of the finest in the world and has paintings by noteworthy artists such as Rubens, Matisse, Manet, Cezanne, and Gaugin. Things to Do in Norfolk
Photo: Sara Eser/Fotolia
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Roanoke is nestled in the Roanoke Valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains and can easily be accessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway. For nearly two centuries, Roanoke has played an important role as a transportation hub for passengers and for the coal mining industry in Virginia and West Virginia. Visitors can explore the city’s railway heritage with a visit to the Virginia Museum of Transportation, which has a splendid collection of steam locomotives.
Most visitors take a trip to the summit of Mill Mountain to take a close look at the eighty-eight foot manmade star, the world’s largest, which sits atop it, and to admire the view of the city and the surrounding mountains. Mill Mountain has a beautifully landscaped park, a zoo, and hiking trails, and it is a perfect family destination. Things to Do in Roanoke
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»Virginia’s Natural Bridge Park
Virginia’s Natural Bridge is a geological formation, a natural arch carved out of limestone and dolomite over hundreds of thousands of years. In the years before European incursions into the area, the Monacan Indians viewed it as a sacred site. It was first seen by Europeans in 1742, and in 1750 George Washington, then a young surveyor, saw the Natural Bridge and purchased 157 acres of land in order to possess the arch himself.
The Natural Bridge was a great tourist attraction of the 18th and 19th centuries, and Herman Melville even compared the whale in Moby-Dick to the size of the natural arch. Visitors to the region may stay at the park’s historic hotel, visit the re-created Monacan village, and go down into caverns thirty-seven stories below ground on a 45-minute walking tour.
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»Virginia Attractions: Manassas National Battlefield Park
Manassas National Battlefield Park is where two American Civil War battles took place: the First and Second Battles of Manassas, often known as the First and Second Battles of Bull Run. The first battle took place on July 21, 1861, and the second from August 28-30, 1862. It was here that General Thomas J. Jackson earned his nickname “Stonewall.”
Nearly a million visitors come to Manassas National Battlefield Park annually to participate in the 45-minute ranger-led tours of the fields overlooking Bull Run and to watch the informative 45-minute video that thoroughly explains the historical background. The park has a small museum with interesting artifacts from the battles, a gift shop, and hiking trails. Visitors can stop by Stone House, the building used as a hospital in both battles, and Stone Bridge, over which the Union Army retreated after both battles, still stands in the park.
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Bristol, Virginia is a town divided. Right down the middle of State Street, the town’s main road runs the Virginia-Tennessee border, and crossing that border is as easy as crossing the street. This town in southwest Virginia is considered by many to be the birthplace of country music. In 1927, a record label looking to record the folk music of the region came to Bristol and discovered the Carter family, whose music delighted the airwaves for decades, and whose daughter was June Carter, who married and performed with Johnny Cash.
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum is a centerpiece of the town, and it explores Bristol’s rich musical heritage and the role it continues to play in worldwide country music. Every September, the town hosts the Bristol Rhythm and Roots show, a three-day festival of the music of Appalachia past and present.
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»Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historic Park
Cedar Creek was the site of a decisive Union victory in the American Civil War, a battle that took place on October 19, 1864. Today, much of the battlefield is privately owned and not accessible to the public, but ranger-led tours and self-driving tours on public roads highlight the main locations of the battle. Belle Grove is a plantation house that was given as a wedding present by descendants of German settlers; it was built of local limestone in 1797 in Federal style architecture.
It still stands to this day and is one of the best-preserved 18th century manor houses in America. Tours of the house and grounds are available, and take in the house itself, the icehouse (which was erected in 1815), the smokehouse, the slave cemetery, and the heritage orchard. The park affords beautiful vistas of the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains.
Photo: NPS Photo
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»Claude Moore Colonial Farm
Claude Moore Colonial Farm is the only privately run park in the National Park Service and is heavily reliant on volunteers. It recreates and re-enacts life on a poor working farm of the late 18th century, when tenant farmers grew tobacco to pay their rent and grew food to sustain their families. The farm still grows wheat and tobacco, has pigs, hens, and geese, and uses traditional farming methods for planting and harvesting.
The third weekends of May, July, and October are Market Fairs, during which the public can come and view blacksmiths at work, learn to make soap, candles, spin and dye wool, watch potters, and enjoy a puppet show. The farm has an excellent bookstore and sells food such as ale and sausages on market days.
Photo: Claude Moore Colonial Farm
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»Virginia Destinations: Winchester
Winchester lies in the Shenandoah Valley of northwestern Virginia. Its strategic location made it a major part of the American Civil War; seven battles were fought in the area, and there remain the ruins of five Civil War-era forts. Today, the city sits in the midst of farmland, mainly orchards, and pick-your-own apples is an important part of the fall season.
May brings the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, which has been running since 1927 and includes a carnival, a parade, fireworks, dances, and the crowning of the Apple Blossom Queen. The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley is housed in a striking 18th century house. It focuses on the history and art of the region and includes six landscaped acres of gardens. Many visitors come to see the headquarters of Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson or to ride horses in the mountains led by guides at the Rocking S Ranch.
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»Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile road that was designed to join Shenandoah National Park with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The longest linear park in the United States, the route is incredibly beautiful and known for stunning vistas, beautiful wildflowers, and stately forests. The forested land is made up of oak, hickory and tulip trees, with fir and spruce at higher elevations.
The Blue Ridge is part of the Appalachian Mountain chain, and the sights of Appalachia are still present; there is a self-guided trail at Humpback Ridge which takes visitors through old Appalachian farm buildings. At Raven’s Roost, visitors photograph the incredible views, hang-glide off the cliff, or climb the sheer cliff face. Sherando Lake is a National Recreation Area with swimming, picnicking, and camping. Hikers will find magnificent trails up Onion and Roanoke Mountains, and restaurants and lodging can be found all along the parkway.
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Smithfield is a river city. First colonized in 1630, Smithfield’s location on the Pagan River made it a safe harbor during times of war, a place to offload supplies and arms for soldiers fighting nearby. Smithfield’s main claim to fame is the Smithfield Ham, which has been produced in town for nearly a hundred years, making Smithfield the largest pork processor and hog producer in the world.
Visitors often come for guided tours of St. Luke’s Church, which dates to 1632 and is the oldest church in Virginia. Its cemetery has gravestones that are four centuries old. The Old Courthouse of 1750 is a striking sight on the downtown streets. Two abandoned forts are close to town: Fort Huger, a Civil War-era fort that sits on a bluff overlooking the James River, and the archeological site of Fort Boykin, erected in 1623 to protect early settlers from Native Americans and Spanish marauders.
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»Virginia Attractions: Virginia Creeper Trail
The Virginia Creeper Trail is a 35-mile multi-purpose rail trail in the bed of a former railway. It was converted from rail lines to rail trail in 1977, and it is an extremely popular hiking, biking, and equestrian trail due to its easy riding and beautiful scenery, particularly in fall when the tree leaves change color.
The first trains, from the Abingdon Coal and Iron Railroad, rode these lines in the 1880s, and when they had financial difficulties, the Virginia-Carolina Railroad bought them out in 1900. The trailhead is at Abingdon, and a rare 4-8-0 steam locomotive sits at the beginning of the trail. Along the way are several restored train stations and two cabooses. Emergency call boxes have been installed along the trail for those who need them.
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»Virginia Attractions: Luray Caverns
Luray Caverns is the largest commercial cave system in the eastern United States. Discovered in 1878 by four local men, its size and features attract visitors from around the world and have led to its designation as a National Natural Landmark. The caverns are 164 feet below ground and stay at a temperature of 54 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.
There are amazing stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, mirror pools, and flowstones, but the central attraction is the Great Stalacpipe Organ, a natural lithophone, which is a musical instrument created from stone. When struck, it makes a sound similar to that of a xylophone. The Great Cavern is large enough that weddings have been performed in it. The guided cavern tour is a trek of 1.5 miles, which takes 45 minutes to an hour. Sneakers are recommended for best grip on the stones, and the attraction is not accessible to those with limited mobility.
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25 Best Places to Visit in Virginia
- Old Town Alexandria, Photo: Courtesy of jon bilous - Fotolia.com
- Virginia Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Tom Mc Nemar - Fotolia.com
- Williamsburg, Photo: Courtesy of Paul Hakimata - Fotolia.com
- Shenandoah National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Abingdon, Photo: Courtesy of Melinda Fawver - Fotolia.com
- Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, Photo: Courtesy of steheap - Fotolia.com
- Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Photo: Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
- George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Scenic Places near me: Charlottesville, Photo: Courtesy of spirit of america - Fotolia.com
- Staunton, Photo: Staunton
- Virginia Destinations: Richmond, Photo: Courtesy of Sean Pavone Photo - Fotolia.com
- Norfolk, Photo: Courtesy of Sara Eser - Fotolia.com
- Roanoke, Photo: Courtesy of digi dream grafix - Fotolia.com
- Virginia’s Natural Bridge Park, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Virginia Attractions: Manassas National Battlefield Park, Photo: Courtesy of steheap - Fotolia.com
- Bristol, Photo: Bristol
- Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historic Park, Photo: NPS Photo
- Claude Moore Colonial Farm, Photo: Claude Moore Colonial Farm
- Virginia Destinations: Winchester, Photo: Courtesy of jon bilous - Fotolia.com
- Blue Ridge Parkway, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Smithfield, Photo: Courtesy of Pakhnyushchyy - Fotolia.com
- Virginia Attractions: Virginia Creeper Trail, Photo: Courtesy of jonbilous - Fotolia.com
- Virginia Attractions: Luray Caverns, Photo: Courtesy of jgorzynik - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Tom Mc Nemar - Fotolia.com
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