Virginia is all about the history. The land was inhabited for 12,000 years before the English debarked in 1607, and the first African slaves were brought here in 1619, starting a plantation system that led eventually to the Civil War. In the 1700s, Virginia was home to such historic statesmen as Washington, Jefferson, Mason, Madison, and Monroe. Today, Virginia is a state of preservation and pride—museums and historic homes are everywhere—that also revels in the present. The food, wine, and craft beer scenes are red hot, and Virginians love to dance and make merry. Slow down, take the back roads, and create some history of your own.
When’s the best time to go to Virginia?
Spring and fall are Virginia’s prime seasons: comfortable, colorful, and usually sunny. The hot, humid summer means long, warm nights, ideal for alfresco dining, dancing, and concerts. Stay cool at the state’s many beaches, rivers, lakes, and pools. Winter tends toward the cold and dry, and with tourist sites less crowded, it’s a great time to visit museums and get cozy with history. Virginia’s weather is notoriously fickle, though, and temperatures can vary wildly from day to day. Keep an eye on the forecast and layer accordingly.
How to get around Virginia
Virginia is most easily traveled by car. Interstate 95 brings East Coast travelers from the north and south. I-64 heads west from Norfolk through Richmond and Charlottesville, connecting at Staunton with I-81, which runs southwest the length of the state, from Winchester to Bristol. Both these routes are scenic, but Virginia also has wonderful back roads.
You can also reach Virginia via Richmond, Norfolk, and Charlottesville airports, all of which are small and are uncrowded. Washington D.C.'s airports, Dulles and Reagan are also located in Virginia.
Amtrak runs several trains daily through Richmond and to Norfolk, the southern terminus of Amtrak’s Northeast route from Boston. Trains from Charlottesville’s Union Station can take you to or from New Orleans, Chicago, New York, or Boston, though trains are a slower way to get around.
Can’t miss things to do in Virginia
Charlottesville’s must-see sites are Jeffersonian: the University of Virginia and Monticello.
In Richmond, tour the state capitol, and spend some time contemplating the James River—perhaps from Historic Tredegar, Hollywood Cemetery, Maymont, or the Boathouse at Rocketts Landing. Devote a few hours to the stunning Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and neighboring Virginia Historical Society.
Heading south on I-64, you can experience time travel at Colonial Williamsburg, the best large-scale historic site in the country, where restored and recreated buildings, costumed interpreters, and a beautiful, human-scale setting give a compelling sense of Virginia’s past.
Outdoor lovers won’t want to miss a chance to explore Shenandoah National Park or portions of the Appalachian trail that pass through the state, while the beaches and wild horses at Chincoteague are a totally different experience.
Wine lovers will enjoy Northern Virginia’s wine region, which is just west of Leesburg, Virginia (close to Dulles Airport and an easy day or weekend trip from Washington D.C.).
Food and drink to try in Virginia
Eat some seafood—blue crab, oysters, and fish from the Atlantic, Chesapeake, and the state’s dozens of rivers. Look for salty dry-cured ham (Smithfield is legendary), barbecue, biscuits, spoon bread, and chess pies. Williamsburg’s historic tavern restaurants offer time-honored Southern specialties and a fun immersion into the past. Virginia’s contemporary food scene is booming, as restaurants old and new reimagine the classics, often paired with bourbon-centric cocktails, local craft beers, and highly palatable Virginia wines.
Culture in Virginia
“Virginia is for Lovers,” goes the slogan, and it’s true. The state offers something for everyone to love. Climb or ski a mountain, relax on a beach or at a spa, take in a show or game, enjoy city excitement or small-town tranquility, and immerse yourself in history, festivals, and the arts. It’s a great blend of urban and rural, with distinct geographic cultures. The Chesapeake Bay, Atlantic Ocean, and Blue Ridge Mountains invite exploration. You can check out the watermen’s world at Tangier Island, go underground at Grand Caverns, surf-cast at Virginia Beach, explore Civil War battlefields, or hike more than 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Museums, historic homes, and historical highway markers are everywhere. Virginians love music, horses, boats, and sports—especially college basketball and football—and they’re always up for a party, so keep an eye out for the many annual festivals.
In Charlottesville, both UVA and Monticello are family-friendly, with lots to learn and plenty of room to roam. Downtown, ice-skate year-round at the Main Street Arena or do some hands-on exploration at the Virginia Discovery Museum. You-pick farms like Carter Mountain Orchard make for great outings, and there are wonderful day hikes nearby. In Richmond, downtown Capitol Square and riverside Historic Tredegar let you delve into the past and also run around outside. Maymont, a former estate, is fun for all with a mansion to tour, gardens, a petting farm, a nature center, and hills for a picnic and play. The Science Museum of Virginia is impressive, the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is gorgeous, and active families will want to get out on the James River in kayaks, canoes, or inner tubes.
Will Jackson is a freelance writer who loves art, architecture, cooking, eating, and any kind of watery place. He is an avid collector of travel brochures and likes to find the offbeat stories and venues that bring a city’s history to life.