Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia’s Historic Triangle brings the state’s rich history to life © John McDonnell / The Washington Post via Getty Images
With its mild climate, diverse terrain and welcoming spirit, Virginia offers a wide range of things to do for explorers of all ages.
In this commonwealth, you’ll find everything from remote wilderness and bustling cities to beaches, pastoral farmland and the beautiful Chesapeake Bay. Whether you’re part of a couple, a family or a friend group on an adventure, here are some of the very best things to do in Virginia.
Explore the Blue Ridge Mountains
Rising through the western portion of Virginia, the Blue Ridge Mountains are a segment of the Appalachian Range that descend to the Shenandoah Valley. (At more than 1 billion years of age, they’re some of the oldest mountains in the world.) You can easily explore these picturesque peaks in a car: just hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway or Skyline Dr. You can also take a hike on the Appalachian Trail, as nearly a quarter of the trail’s length lies in Virginia. In the winter, skiers flock to the slopes at Wintergreen or Massanutten Resort.
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Thomas Jefferson spent four decades designing his home of Monticello, a top attraction in Virginia © N8Allen / Shutterstock
Admire Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
Declaration of Independence author and US president Thomas Jefferson spent 40 years building his dream home at Monticello, which was completed in 1809. Located just outside of Charlottesville in the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the site is the only US presidential and private home in America designated a Unesco World Heritage Site. Visitors can explore the first floor of the home and its grounds on guided or self-guided tours, and learn the fascinating history of Jefferson’s life as well the stories of some of the hundreds of people he enslaved.
Soak up the sun in Virginia Beach
Beach lovers of all types can find their ideal patch of sand in Virginia Beach. A loud and lively area of the city, the Oceanfront plays host to high-rise hotels, restaurants, arcades, music venues and more on the 3-mile-long Boardwalk. A few miles away, quieter, more laid-back beaches beckon, at Sandbridge, First Landing State Park and the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
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Museum-hop in Richmond
Virginia’s capital city is also its capital of culture, and Richmond’s many museums and cultural institutions rank high on the list of top things to do in this historic city. Families flock to the Science Museum of Virginia, while art lovers adore the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University. History buffs can hit up the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, the American Civil War Museum, the Valentine or the Virginia Holocaust Museum. You can even enjoy an “Unhappy Hour” at the Edgar Allen Poe Museum, which celebrates the 19th-century author’s life and career.
Step back in time in the Historic Triangle
Experience what life was like for Virginia’s earliest residents by spending a day or two exploring the commonwealth’s Historic Triangle. This compact area invites travelers to visit Colonial Williamsburg, the site of the Jamestown settlement and the Yorktown Battlefield. Williamsburg is an ideal home base for area explorations, with plentiful hotels, restaurants and, for bargain shoppers, the Williamsburg Premium Outlets. For some modern-day fun, Busch Gardens theme park is just down the road.
Sip your way through Virginia’s wine regions
Virginia’s wineries are spread across a diverse array of regions, from the rocky mountains to the sandy shores. The state has eight officially designated wine-growing regions, or American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), and numerous wine trails – which means you’re never far from an excellent local tasting room. The Monticello Wine Trail in Central Virginia is considered one of the commonwealth’s premier wine-growing regions, while Northern Virginia, the Blue Ridge and Hampton Roads offer dozens of options as well.
Head underground for a cavern tour
In the Southwest and Shenandoah Valley regions, visitors will find eight different caverns to explore. Luray Caverns are the largest in the eastern United States, with awe-inspiring formations like the Frozen Fountain, a massive rounded white flowstone, and the Empress Column, formed where a stalactite and stalagmite meet. It’s also home to the Stalacpipe Organ, known as the largest musical instrument in the world. Shenandoah Caverns in Quicksburg, Skyline Caverns in Front Royal and Endless Caverns in New Market are just a few of the other spots worth adding to your itinerary.
Photogenic wild ponies wander freely around Assateague Island © Andrea Izzotti / Shutterstock
Search for wild ponies at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
On the northern tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore at the Maryland, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on Assateague Island is home to a well-known herd of wild ponies. You can hike or bike around this lush preserve in search of the charismatic animals, who roam freely around the island. Make a stop at the Assateague Lighthouse and relax on the secluded beachfront before heading into the quaint town of Chincoteague for a taste of local oysters, clams and crabs.
Relax in the healing thermal springs of Bath County
Named for the English city of Bath, Virginia’s Bath County is home to some of the commonwealth’s best-known thermal springs. Visitors have been drawn to this region bordering West Virginia for over 200 years in pursuit of the healing powers of the natural springs. At the Omni Homestead Resort, you can even take a dip in the same mineral waters enjoyed by Thomas Jefferson back in 1818.
Stroll the King Street Mile in Old Town Alexandria
Located just across the Potomac from Washington, DC, Alexandria’s charming Old Town feels like a world away. King Street is the main artery of this well-preserved historic district, which is lined with centuries-old buildings, cobblestone alleyways and hundreds of independent shops and restaurants. Dine alfresco at one of the many restaurants along the waterfront, and be sure to snap a selfie in front of the Spite House, one of the skinniest historic homes in America.
Look up and take in Natural Bridge
An extraordinary natural wonder, Natural Bridge is a National Historic Landmark and State Park in Virginia’s southwest: over millions of years, the flow of Cedar Creek sculpted a 215ft-tall gorge in the limestone hills. Look for George Washington’s initials carved into the side of the rock: America’s first president once famously surveyed the site. A nature trail within the park will take you through a recreation of a Monacan Indian village and then to Lace Falls, a 30ft cascade.
The rows of gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery make for a moving tableau © Orhan Cam / Shutterstock
Pay your respects at Arlington National Cemetery
One of the world’s largest national cemeteries is in Arlington, just outside of Washington, DC. Walk or take a shuttle tour of the expansive Arlington National Cemetery, home to John F Kennedy’s gravesite as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Looking for a specific grave? Find it using the ANC Explorer.
Hike with the family in Great Falls Park
The 800-acre Great Falls Park in Northern Virginia is best known for the dramatic cataract created where the Potomac River flows through the narrow Mather Gorge. Easy, family-friendly hiking trails will take you to three scenic overlooks along the river. You’ll also find the Patowmack Canal here, which was one of the first in the nation.