With its rich colonial history, lush wine country, and beautiful mountains, Virginia is a delightful place to plan a day trip. Learn about colonial history in Williamsburg or Manassas, relax in the city of Virginia Beach, or stroll through the inviting streets of a small town like Smithfield or Abingdon. If you want to enjoy the state's incredible nature, visit Lake Anna, the Luray Caverns, or the spectacular Shenandoah National Park. You have plenty of options if you want to explore the states around Virginia as well, and some of the best out-of-state day trips include Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC.
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Tucked away in the mountains of southwest Virginia, Abingdon is a small town with a rich history. The entire town is a National Historic Landmark, and popular sites include the Fairview Historic Homestead, the Abingdon Muster Grounds, and the Sinking Spring Cemetery, where some of the graves date as far back as 1776. Another highlight is the Barber Theater, which was opened in 1933 and is the longest-running professional theater in the country. Thanks to the town's beautiful mountain location, there are also plenty of opportunities to explore the great outdoors, and hikers and cyclists will particularly love the local Virginia Creeper Trail.
Despite what the name might make you think, Farmville isn't an agricultural community. Instead, it's a vibrant college town best known for being home to six blocks of re-purposed tobacco warehouses filled with furniture for sale. Browsing the warehouses is a truly unique shopping experience that can take up the better part of the day, but there's an abundance of other things to do in the town as well. Cycle above the Appomattox River on the High Bridge Trail, visit the R.R. Moton Museum to learn about a Civil Rights-era student strike, or go ziplining at the Adventure Park at Sandy River Retreat.
Not to be confused with the Kentucky city that shares its name, Lexington is a small Virginian town nestled in the Shenandoah Valley region. The charming downtown is full of unique shops and art galleries, but it also offers historic sites like the Stonewall Jackson House and the George C. Marshall Museum. Don't forget to make some time to enjoy the beautiful nature while you're here; go for a walk along the Woods Creek trail, or if you'd rather enjoy the scenery from the comfort of your car, take a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway to admire the views.
Set on the banks of the James River, the Shirley Plantation was founded in 1613, making it the oldest plantation in Virginia. The property is still owned and operated by the direct descendants of the same family since 1638, and visitors are welcome to explore the outbuildings and picnic on the grounds with the cost of admission. The Great House still serves as the family home, and guided tours of the first floor are offered every day of the week. There is also a gift shop, which sells souvenirs and snacks.
501 Shirley Plantation Rd, Charles City, VA 23030, Phone: 804-829-5121
Boasting an incredible coastal location on Chesapeake Bay where it meets the Atlantic Ocean, the vibrant city of Virginia Beach offers world-class restaurants, wonderful family-friendly attractions, and a relaxing energy that puts you in the mood for a vacation. As you might guess, a major highlight of the city is the oceanfront, which features sandy beaches, excellent surfing, and a three-mile boardwalk perfect for walking, rollerblading, or cycling. However, you should also try to find time to stop by the Norfolk Botanical Garden, and if you're traveling with kids, make sure to visit the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center.
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One of the only cities in America that is split between two states, Bristol can be found straddling the Virginia-Tennessee border in southwest Virginia. The state line is marked by State Street, which runs right through the heart of downtown, but there are lots of wonderful shops, restaurants, and art galleries to enjoy no matter which side of the border you find yourself on. The town is also widely considered to be where country music got its start, and visitors can learn about the history of the genre at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
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Known to locals as "Mr. Jefferson's Town", Charlottesville was proudly the home of president Thomas Jefferson, and many visitors come here to tour Monticello, his former home and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It's unlikely that you'll want to spend the entire day at Monticello, but luckily, the town offers plenty of bookstores, antique shops, and eclectic boutiques to keep you entertained after your tour. The town is also an up-and-coming wine region, and visitors can tour the local wineries and vineyards or even admire them from above while floating through the sky in a hot air balloon.
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Culpeper might not be as well known as some of the other cities in Virginia, but it has more than its fair share of things to see and do. Outdoor enthusiasts can explore the nearby Shenandoah National Park or paddle around on Lake Pelham, while foodies will enjoy the town's many farm-to-table restaurants and the chance to visit the local breweries, distilleries, and wineries. A farmer's market is held every Saturday between May and November, and the town also hosts special events year-round, including the Gnarly Hops & Barley Festival in April and the Libations street fair in September.
Nestled in the spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains, the little town of Damascus is a wonderful destination for hikers, cyclists, and anyone who wants to relax in a beautiful natural setting. Seven of the nation's best known trails pass through the town, including the Virginia Creeper Trail and the Appalachian Trail, and hundreds of miles of other trails can easily be accessed from the town. It's easy to rent a bicycle here if you don't want to bring your own, and at the end of the day, you can relax with a cold beer in the local microbrewery.
Located in the Piedmont region less than 20 miles away from Charlottesville, Gordonsville is a quaint Southern town full of charming boutique shops and surrounded by jaw-dropping scenery. It's home to a notable Civil War museum, which is housed inside the majestic Exchange Hotel, a historic building that served as a hospital for more than 70,000 soldiers during the Civil War. However that's not the town's only impressive achievement; in the 19th century, it achieved fame as “The Fried Chicken Capital of the World”, an honor that's celebrated with an annual fried chicken cook-off and festival.
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As one of the biggest cities in North Carolina, Greensboro boasts hundreds of wonderful restaurants and exciting attractions for visitors to enjoy. Some of the top attractions include the family-friendly Greensboro Natural Science Center, the Wet ‘n Wild Emerald Pointe Water Park, and the unique Elsewhere living art museum, which is housed inside a former thrift store. If you're looking for a more relaxing way to spend the day, you can also stroll through the Tanger Family Bicentennial Garden, enjoy a cup of coffee at one of the trendy cafes, or try the local brews at Gibb’s Hundred Brewing Company.
Spread out over more than 13,000 acres in central Virginia, Lake Anna is easy to reach from anywhere in the state. It's the perfect destination for a summer day trip, and it offers endless opportunities to enjoy aquatic recreation activities like sailing and boating, swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, and fishing. If you'd rather stay on dry land, you can hike, cycle, or horseback ride along the 15 miles of trails in Lake Anna State Park. There are also several excellent wineries in the area, which make for great little stops on your way to or from the lake.
Discovered in 1878, the Luray Caverns are the largest cave system in the eastern United States, and they're one of Virginia's most popular outdoor attractions. Some of the caverns have ceilings that are an incredible ten stories high, and they're filled with colorful stalactites and beautiful crystal-clear pools. The guided tour takes visitors on a 1.25-mile loop, and unlike many other show caves, the accessible walkways are paved and step-free. Several other attractions on the property are covered by the price of admission as well, including the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum, Toy Town Junction, and a fascinating one-acre hedge maze.
101 Cave Hill Rd, Luray, VA 22835, Phone: 540-743-6551
Situated in northern Virginia, Manassas is a great place to learn about the country's history. Most visitors come here to tour the Manassas National Battlefield Park, where two important Civil War battles took place in 1861 and 1862. Highlights of the site include a building that was used as a hospital during the battles and a landmark stone bridge that dates back to the war. The Manassas Museum offers even more information about the war, but if you'd rather lighten the mood, you can visit the Historic Manassas Train Depot, the Ben Lomond Historic Site, or the Hylton Performing Arts Center.
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With a population of less than 1000 people, Occoquan is a decidedly small town, but don't let that fool you into thinking there's nothing to do here. Start your day at the Visitor's Center, where you can pick up a map of the town, and take yourself on a guided walking tour of historic sites like the Mill House Museum, the elegant Rockledge Mansion, and the busy downtown Mill Street. The town also happens to be located right on the Occoquan River, and one of the best spots for a meal is Madigan's Waterfront, a riverside restaurant with plenty of outdoor seating.
Established in 1680 as Port Scarborough, Onancock is a welcoming little port town set right on Virginia's eastern shore. The streets are extremely pedestrian-friendly, and the best thing to do here is park your car and simply stroll around town to see the elegant Victorian homes and browse the local artisan shops. If you're here in the evening, you can also catch a show at the North Street Playhouse or watch a movie at the vintage Roseland cinema. Once a month on Fridays, many of the town's shops and art galleries stay open late so visitors and locals can indulge in some evening shopping.
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Surrounded by the beautiful vineyards of Orange County, the town of Orange is a charming little place to visit if you want to have a relaxing day. Learn about the town's history at the James Madison Museum of Orange County Heritage, or take a walk through the Orange Historic Commercial District to see the town's oldest structures firsthand, including the St. Thomas Church and the Orange County Courthouse. The town also boasts plenty of beautiful parks with fountains and benches, but if you'd like to do something more active, head to the County Disc Golf Course to play a game or two.
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Fondly referred to as Philly by locals and visitors alike, Philadelphia is one of the best cities in the entire country to visit if you're interested in American history. There are more than enough attractions here to fill a week-long visit, but if you only have the day, you'll still have plenty of time to see highlights like Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Animal lovers will also want to make time for the Philadelphia Zoo or the Academy of Natural Sciences, while visitors with young children should stop by the Please Touch Museum and the Smith Memorial Playground.
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Found just outside the Town of Brookneal, Red Hill is the final home and resting place of Patrick Henry, a prominent 18th-century Governor of Virginia known for the famous declaration, "Give me liberty, or give me death!" There are seven historic buildings on the property for visitors to tour, including Henry's reconstructed family home, which was originally built during the 1770s. Visitors can also see the cemetery where Henry and his second wife are buried, and during the summer, the site hosts a yearly 4th of July celebration with fireworks and live re-enactments of Revolutionary War scenes.
20.Shenandoah National Park
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Encompassing approximately 200,000 acres of land in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in America. Almost the entire park is covered in forest, and there are approximately 500 hiking trails for visitors to enjoy, some of which lead to shimmering waterfalls. If you'd rather explore the park by car, you can take the scenic Skyline Drive, which traverses the entire length of the park and passes by some incredible viewpoints. Like many places in Virginia, the park is at its most beautiful in the fall, when the leaves put on a colorful show.
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Originally colonized in 1630, Smithfield is a welcoming Southern town located along the Pagan River. The town is proudly the home of the Smithfield Ham, and it's perhaps best known for being the world's biggest pork processor, but there are many other things to see here as well. The Old Courthouse of 1750 is a definite highlight, and visitors can also tour St. Luke’s Church, the oldest church in the state. If you'd like to learn even more about the area's history, you can visit the two abandoned forts outside town, one of which was constructed in 1623 to protect the early settlers.
The capital of the United States, Washington DC is an obvious choice for a day trip, particularly if you've never been before. Some of the most iconic sights include the United States Capitol and the towering Washington Monument, but the green space known as the National Mall offers a seemingly endless collection of museums, including the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the National Gallery of Art. If you have time, you can also venture away from the museums and into the neighborhoods of Georgetown and Dupont Circle, where you'll find an excellent selection of shops and restaurants.
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Formerly the capital of the Virginia Colony, Williamsburg is one of the most historically significant cities in the state. It's the perfect place to take a step back in time; at the heart of the city is the appealing Colonial Williamsburg, which has been transformed into a living history museum where costumed actors act out scenes from colonial life. Visitors can sample traditional dishes in the city's 18th-century-style taverns, tour the stately Governor's Palace, and admire the artwork in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. Outside the city's historic district, popular attractions include the Busch Garden and Water Country USA amusement parks.
23 Best Day Trips in Virginia
- Abingdon, Photo: Melinda Fawver/stock.adobe.com
- Farmville, Photo: Todd/stock.adobe.com
- Lexington, Photo: Travel_Bug/stock.adobe.com
- Shirley Plantation, Photo: spiritofamerica/stock.adobe.com
- Virginia Beach, Photo: refrina/stock.adobe.com
- Bristol, Photo: Melinda Fawver/stock.adobe.com
- Charlottesville, Photo: Melinda Fawver/stock.adobe.com
- Culpeper, Photo: Anton/stock.adobe.com
- Damascus, Photo: digidreamgrafix/stock.adobe.com
- Gordonsville, Photo: nullplus/stock.adobe.com
- Greensboro, Photo: Kevin Ruck/stock.adobe.com
- Lake Anna, Photo: Robert/stock.adobe.com
- Luray Caverns, Photo: miami2you/stock.adobe.com
- Manassas, Photo: refrina/stock.adobe.com
- Occoquan, Photo: davin/stock.adobe.com
- Onancock, Photo: sportpoint/stock.adobe.com
- Orange, Photo: Colby/stock.adobe.com
- Philadelphia, Photo: Samuel B./stock.adobe.com
- Red Hill, Photo: Alex/stock.adobe.com
- Shenandoah National Park, Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
- Smithfield, Photo: Mark/stock.adobe.com
- Washington DC, Photo: Crin/stock.adobe.com
- Williamsburg, Photo: Jill Lang/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Gary/stock.adobe.com