Virginia has so much to offer travelers, especially history buffs in search of the places where founding fathers gathered. But the state has plenty beyond the well-known locales. There are also charming towns and cool city neighborhoods.
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Abingdon in Southwest Virginia is a charming town with a rich history in the arts. The Barter Theatre started during the Great Depression, when guests could “barter” for tickets, and has an impressive lineup of actor alumni.
Admire the Appalachian artwork and artifacts on early life in the region at the William King Museum of Art, located in a former school. The Southwest Virginia Cultural Center hosts live music and crafts from local makers. Don’t miss the chance to trek the Creeper Trail, a famed rails to trails path.
Dine at The Tavern, a former stagecoach stop that dates back to 1779, previously hosting the likes of Henry Clay, King Louis Phillipe, and President Andrew Jackson. The menu features American and German dishes like schnitzel and North Carolina trout.
Open since 2014, White Birch Juice & Food has healthy options like cold-pressed juices, pasture-raised meats, and farm-fresh eggs from nearby farms. Enjoy breakfast burritos, smoothie bowls, and burgers.
The best place to stay is the Martha Washington Inn, a 63-room hotel built as a retirement home for a War of 1812 general and later a college campus. It’s hosted presidents and celebrities and has a spa, restaurant, and a cozy library.
Bristol sits on the state line with Tennessee and is known for its impact as the home of the first country music recordings. The best place to learn about it is at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Opened in 2014, this museum is inspired by the 1927 Bristol Sessions that heavily influenced modern American music. It has Smithsonian-affiliated exhibits and educational programming.
Ride the Mendota Trail, a rails-to-trail path, or catch a flick at the Twin City Drive-In Theatre, one of the few remaining drive-in theaters. Michael Waltrip Brewing Co. is a great spot for a pint. Nicewonder Farm & Vineyards is a family farm with an onsite winery, multiple restaurants, and accommodations that range from yurts to a boutique inn.
Dine like the late Hank Williams at the Burger Bar, open since 1942. The menu includes burgers and sandwiches. Or grab an early-morning bite at Blackbird Bakery, which offers coffee drinks, made-from-scratch pastries, ice cream, and cozy spaces to relax.
Spend the night at one of two boutique hotels in town. The Bristol Hotel is set in a 1925 building with 65 rooms inspired by the area’s surroundings with vintage doors and railroad-inspired furnishings. There’s also a rooftop bar, an in-house restaurant, and art installations. The Sessions Hotel takes its name from the recording sessions.
Charlottesville is one of the nation’s oldest college towns, dating back to its establishment by Thomas Jefferson in 1819. Fans will spend plenty of time on campus, so in addition to admiring the Rotunda and onsite features like Edgar Allan Poe‘s dorm. The town also makes a base for wine country.
Tour the legendary homes of the founding fathers, including Monticello, the stunning home and grounds where Thomas Jefferson, and Ash Lawn-Highland, on the site of the one where James Monroe lived with his wife.
No place outside of Australia boasts a more extensive collection of Aboriginal art and artifacts than the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of UVA. It contains the combined collections of a local businessman and a professor.
Students and locals alike love the boiled bagels at Bodo’s Bagels which has a few locations around town. Enjoy a breakfast sandwich or get your bagel topped with one of their cream cheese varieties. Michie Tavern and The Whiskey Jar are other popular options.
Spend your stay at one of the downtown hotels and inns. Clifton Inn overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains with 100 acres of grounds and has an onsite restaurant. Graduate Charlottesville is a short walk from campus and has a popular rooftop restaurant.
Norfolk is a coastal city known for its nautical history. Nauticus and Battleship Wisconsin is an interactive science and technology museum that focuses on maritime and naval history from the area. The attached Battleship Wisconsin is a decommissioned ship you can tour.
The area also has an interesting arts tradition, especially glassblowing. The Chrysler Museum of Art was founded in 1933 and has an incredible collection from early Medieval pieces to glass artwork. Located in the harbor, the historic Hermitage Museum and Gardens now operates as a museum, with artwork and artifacts from the Sloane family.
Open since 1904, Doumar’s Cones & Barbecue is an old-school drive-in restaurant that is an essential stop for travelers. Home to the world’s first ice cream cone machine, the menu features Carolina-style barbecue, hot dogs, and fried ham sandwiches.
Handsome Biscuit is the perfect spot for breakfast. The heaping biscuits piled high with eggs, fried chicken, and pimento cheese are crowd pleasers, along with waffle fries and cookies. Or go for dinner at Syd’s FishPig Cafe, full of quirky folk art with Louisiana-style gumbo, house-made sausage, and fried flounder.
The Glass Light Hotel and Gallery (review here) is in the heart of downtown, set in a 1912 building with world-class art. The property also has a restaurant and bar. Guest rooms have views of the harbor, Illy coffee makers, and Nest toiletries.
The Inn at Four Eleven York is another option, a bed and breakfast convenient to downtown museums. Guest rooms have stylish decor and amenities including daily breakfast, free WiFi, and an in-house restaurant and bar.
Hampton is a historic city on the coast, home to Fort Monroe, a military base that was the site of the arrival of slaves in America and the imprisonment of Robert E. Lee. Today you can explore by bike or Segway.
Learn about the rich history of Hampton Roads at Hampton History Museum including the pirates, space and aeronautics work, and crabbing industry. The Virginia Air and Space Museum has interactive exhibits related to space and air travel. Highlights of the collection are the command capsule from Apollo 12 and early military planes.
Dine at one of Hampton’s incredible restaurants featuring fresh local ingredients. Brown Chicken Brown Cow is known for its burgers, including dry-aged beef. The Deadrise is a great place to enjoy fresh seafood, sandwiches, and tacos. Eat on the deck for the full experience
Wake up with harbor views at the Hampton Marina Hotel. Swim in the outdoor pool or walk to the marina for boat tours. The Element Hotel Hampton is next to a shopping and dining district, offering rental bikes and free breakfast.
Richmond is the capital city with plentiful history around every corner. Edgar Allan Poe spent much of his life in the Richmond area and the Edgar Allan Poe Museum is set inside the city’s oldest homes and covers his early life, time at the University of Virginia, and career success. The Virginia Holocaust Museum tells stories of those affected by the Holocaust at this downtown museum.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is home to 35,000 works, the collection features African, American, Asian, and ancient art as well as one of the largest collections of Faberge eggs in the world.
Indulge in Richmond’s underrated food scene, including L’opossum, a cozy James Beard-nominated restaurant is filled with colorful lanterns and has a cheeky menu of items like escargot on a ham biscuit and Beef “Swellington.”
Perly’s is Richmond’s version of an old-school Jewish deli with classic items like bagels and lox along with “Jewish egg rolls” and the “Jewbano” sandwich. The Roosevelt has won awards for its cocktail menu. It’s also been named the best restaurant in the city.
Graduate Richmond (review here) brings the brand’s signature style to the area around the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, including a rooftop bar and lobby restaurant. Quirk Hotel (review here) is a media darling with its impeccably designed spaces, chic rooms, and rooftop bar.
Charming is one of the best stops along the famed Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs between Virginia and North Carolina. One of the photo spots nearby is The Mill Mountain Star, originally built in 1949 and lit up throughout the year.
Taubman Museum of Art is another must-see, set in a building designed by architect Randall Stout. It contains a permanent collection made up of works by artists like John Singer Sargent and John Cage.
Enjoy the terrific restaurants in town, starting with the Italian-style pies at Fortunato. Bread Craft Bakery creates artisinal baked goods in its cafe. Sip on wine with creative dishes at Bloom or start your day at Scratch Biscuit Co.
Built in an 1882 Tudor building, Hotel Roanoke has over 300 guest rooms. The hotel also has eco-friendly details like electric vehicle charging as well as a spa, restaurant, and a coffee shop. Another option is The Liberty Trust, set in a former bank.
Virginia Beach has deep ties to the military and was the site of early inhabitants in America. Stop by landmarks lie the Cape Henry Lighthouse, built in 1792 as one of the many lighthouses that dot the Virginia coast. Because it’s on a military base, the hours for tours vary so you might have to make multiple attempts.
Set on 2,000 acres, First Landing State Park on the bay has a large beach for sunseekers as well as 19 miles of hiking and biking trails. Get up close with creatures at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Center and soak up culture at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art.
Head to Rudee Inlet for fresh local seafood and tiki-inspired cocktails at Big Sam’s Inlet Raw Bar. The Pink Dinghy is a little pink house in the ViBe District turned organic wine shop and restaurant serving tropical flavors.
With locations in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Commune has a large menu that includes breakfast sandwiches, bowls, and crepes incorporating local ingredients.
The Historic Cavalier Hotel & Beach Club opened in 1927 and has welcomed notable guests over the years. It’s right across the street from the water and has a restaurant and bar, spa, and fitness center.
Williamsburg is a historic city known for Colonial Williamsburg, a restored village and living history museum. But the sprawling complex, with multiple museums, is only one of many things to do in the area.
Hit up the rides at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, which has some of the tallest coasters in the country. Williamsburg Winery has a tasting room, vineyards, two restaurants, and a boutique hotel. Try their albarino, cabernet franc, and dry rose, which they sell in cans.
Dine at one of the local restaurants in town, including Fat Canary, a cheese shop and bistro that becomes a lively bar at night. Grab dinner beforehand, enjoying dishes like seared sea scallops and free-range guinea fowl. Amber Ox Public House is a brewery and restaurant with American pub fare.
Williamsburg Lodge (review here) at Colonial Williamsburg has rooms and suites featuring artisan furniture and folk art. Guests have access to on-site parking, a local shuttle, a fitness center, and two pools as well as multiple restaurants.
Visiting Wytheville is like taking a step back in time, with a quaint downtown home to local shops. Learn about the town’s most famous resident at The Bolling Wilson Museum, home to Edith Bolling Wilson, second wife of President Woodrow Wilson.
The Thomas J. Boyd Museum has exhibits on local history, including the devastating polio epidemic. Big Walker Lookout offers stunning views of the area, plus locally made products and ice cream. New River Trail State Park has hiking and kayaking, plus riverside camping.
Skeeter’s World Famous Hot Dogs has been open since 1925 and is a local favorite. While the hot dogs are what it’s known for, the chicken salad is also great. Another spot is The Log House 1776, which dates back to the early period in American history, with a wide variety of menu items.
The Bolling Wilson Hotel is the most popular option in town, named for the First Lady. It has a restaurant and rooftop bar. The Trinkle Mansion Bed and Breakfast is a few blocks away, offering lavish Southern-style breakfasts daily.