Williamsburg, Virginia has long been a favorite destination for travelers for the historic buildings, costumed interpreters, and family-friendly attractions. But it’s not the state’s only historic town worth visiting!
There are plenty of others that compare with the restaurants, award-winning accommodations, and things to do. Come see a few of our favorites, most of which are a short drive from major cities, but feel worlds away.
Located in Southwest Virginia, historic Abingdon is an ideal base for exploring the region. It was established in 1778 and was where troops gathered before the Battle of Kings Mountain during the Revolutionary War.
Today the city is a cultural hub, home to the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center, the William King Museum of Art, and the famed Barter Theatre, which counts Gregory Peck among its alumni. The Arts Depot supports local artists, with exhibitions and sales in a former train depot.
The Virginia Creeper Trail is a rails-to-trails path for cyclists and hikers that connects Abingdon to the North Carolina borderthrough 34 miles.
Dine at The Tavern, a former 1779 stagecoach stop with American and German dishes like schnitzel and North Carolina trout. 128 Pecan is another favorite, open for lunch and dinner with a casual menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, and daily specials.
The Martha Washington Inn and Spa is the best place to stay, formerly a retirement home for a war hero and later a college dormitory. Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Abingdon is another alternative.
The city that became Fredericksburg was established in 1671 in the Tidewater region of Virginia. A number of Native American tribes lived in the area before the arrival of European colonists. It was also the boyhood home of George Washington, whose home is now a museum called Ferry Farm.
The Mary Washington House, where his mother lived, is also a museum, along with Kenmore, a plantation owned by his sister and her husband. The James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library honors where the president practiced law.
The Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park is another notable attraction, where four battles of the Civil War were fought. Thousands of the fallen soldiers are buried at Fredericksburg National Cemetery.
Park Lane Tavern is a popular spot to eat, inspired by the European taverns with dishes like corned beef and fish and chips. Foode is known for its burger and shrimp and grits. Visitors can also sample the spirits at A. Smith Bowman Distillery, the oldest in the state, or visit one of the many craft breweries, including Strangeways Brewing.
Spend the night at The Richard Johnston Inn & 1890 Caroline House, a historic inn property with complimentary daily breakfast, comfortable rooms, and a convenient location in downtown Fredericksburg.
The city now known as Hampton dates back to before the founding of America and was the site of one of the first slave ships’ arrival in America. Native American tribes had called the area home since 10,000 BCE before European colonization.
Fort Monroe was established around 1812 for its strategic coastal location and was used during the Civil War. The cells that held prisoners of war, along with the lighthouse and preserved buildings, can be seen on a tour.
The Hampton History Museum focuses on the rich history of Hampton Roads including the pirates, space and aeronautics work, and crabbing industry. The Virginia Air and Space Museum is the ideal follow-up, with interactive exhibits related to space and air travel including the command capsule from Apollo 12 and early military planes.
Located in a former armory, The Vanguard Brewpub & Distillery also doubles as a music venue. Enjoy dinner and a tasting at the distillery before a show. The Deadrise is a laid-back seafood restaurant on the harbor with fresh seafood, sandwiches, and tacos.
The Element Hampton Peninsula Town Center is an eco-friendly hotel near the shopping district with daily breakfast and evening wine. The Landing at Hampton Marina, Tapestry Collection by Hilton is right on the harbor with two onsite restaurants and stylish rooms.
Known as the “City of Seven Hills,” Lynchburg was established on the James River and the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1757 on Native lands. It was the only city in the state that wasn’t captured by Union troops during the Civil War.
The Lynchburg Museum highlights the town’s history with exhibits on women’s suffrage, religion, and quilting traditions in the old courthouse. A short drive away is Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s country house.
The Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College was founded in 1907 and started with a commissioned piece by William Merritt Chase. There are also outdoor experiences like skiing at Liberty Mountain, kayaking the James River, and hiking.
Bootleggers is a Southern-style speakeasy with burgers and sandwiches. My Dog Duke’s Diner has all-day breakfast and is the best place to start the day.
Craddock Terry Hotel is one of the world’s only shoe-themed hotels, set in an 1888 factory. The Virginian Lynchburg, Curio Collection by Hilton is another option, with free WiFi and continental breakfast for guests.
The town of Roanoke was established in 1852 in the Blue Ridge Mountains and is named for the Algonquian term. It was a popular trading hub on the wagon trail through the Shenandoah Valley and later the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad.
Roanoke is still a popular hub, serviced by Amtrak train lines. Visitors can’t miss a stop at the Mill Mountain Star and Park, a neon star overlooking the city that started as a Christmas decoration in 1949. It’s also on the Blue Ridge Parkway and has the 1,000 acre Roanoke County’s Explore Park.
Admire the works of American art at The Taubman Museum of Art and the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University. Or play a round at the Roanoke Pinball Museum, an interactive space with games dating back to the 1930s.
Visit Black Dog Salvage, an eclectic store seen on TV, or visit the best restaurants in town on the Roanoke Downtown Food and Cultural Tour. Roanoke is also popular for those interested in mountain biking and craft breweries.
Open since the 1930s, the ten-seat diner Texas Tavern is known for its chili, burgers, and breakfast plates. Enjoy vegetable-heavy dishes at Lucky Restaurant like homemade gnocchi with mushrooms and lamb shank with polenta.
Built in 1882 in the Tudor style, The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center, Curio Collection by Hilton has over 300 rooms with an outdoor pool, a spa, and onsite dining.
Wythe County was established in 1790 and the town that became Wytheville was renamed in 1839. Edith Bolling Wilson, wife of President Woodrow Wilson, came from the town. Today, the area is surrounded by protected land, ideal for mountain biking and hiking.
The Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum documents the First Lady’s life and her ancestry as a relative of Pocahontas. The Thomas J. Boyd Museum is the town’s history museum, with exhibits on the polio epidemic that plagued the town in the 1950s.
The Great Lakes to Florida Highway Museum is in a 1926 Texaco station. Seven Sisters Brewery is one of the craft breweries in town. Grayson Restaurant is a popular Southern cooking restaurant with pork chops and macaroni and cheese. Chau’s Corner Bakery is another favorite, serving pho, kolaches, and freshly baked bread.
The Bolling Wilson Hotel, Ascend Hotel Collection honors the First Lady, with an in-house bar and pet-friendly rooms overlooking the mountains.
Robert W. says
This is a great travel recommendation list, but I feel it does omit Lexington, home to VMI, Washington & Lee Univ., home and grave of Stonewall Jackson as well that of Robert E. Lee. Don’t ignore great history to appease political correctness!
Lynn G. says
If you are visiting Colonial Williamsburg, it is only about a 40 minute drive down to Hampton. So history lovers can take in both towns. And Yorktown and Jamestown are nearby, too.