Home to some of the most interesting historic tourist attractions in the whole of the States, Virginia is a fascinating place to explore. The first state to be settled in 1607, it later played a major role in the Revolutionary War, American Civil War and the Civil Rights movement. As such, a myriad of monuments, memorials and museums can be found almost everywhere you go.
Among the best places to visit in Virginia are several colonial cities with a rich history, such as Charlottesville and Williamsburg, and the state also has stupendous scenery to enjoy.
Map of Places to Visit in Virginia
In the west, for instance, you can find the awe-inspiring Appalachian Mountains, while the Atlantic Ocean coastline features beautiful beaches and lively resort towns. With the spectacular Shenandoah National Park and outstanding outdoor activities, Virginia is a rich and rewarding state to explore.
Located in a vast valley amidst the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, the charming city of Roanoke is a treat to visit and explore. It is often called the ‘Star City of the South’, due to the colossal lit star atop the mighty Mill Mountain that shines out over its streets and suburbs.
Historically an important transport hub thanks to its strategic setting in the southwest of the state, in recent years the city has developed a thriving arts and culture scene. There are now theaters and cultural centers to check out, as well as many music venues and museums.
Of these, the Taubman Museum of Art is well worth visiting for its huge collection of artworks, while the Virginia Museum of Transportation showcases the history of Roanoke’s railway.
Although home to several attractions and an increasing number of excellent restaurants, most people use Roanoke as a base to explore the breathtaking Blue Ridge Parkway and the endless Appalachian Trail.
Known for being home to the largest naval base in the world, the city of Norfolk has much more to it. World-class museums and pretty parks are found along its winding waterfront. Set in the southeast of the state, it lies at the heart of a major metropolitan area and is surrounded by the cities of Chesapeake, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach.
As the city is located on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay and the Elizabeth River, its history has been shaped by its relationship to the waters around it. Once considered a raucous and rowdy port town, it now sports several sparkling state-of-the-art museums. Additionally, there are some phenomenal performing arts centers with exciting entertainment options
As well as the wonderful Waterfront District and captivating Chrysler Museum of Art, visitors can stop by Nauticus, a marvelous maritime center which hosts the incredible USS Wisconsin. With historic homes dotted about and beautiful beaches to enjoy, Norfolk certainly has a lot going for it.
Consistently ranked one of the best places to live in the States, the charming college town of Charlottesville is just as picturesque to visit as a tourist. Known for its wealth of interesting historic sights, it acts as a major cultural center for the region. It’s also home to the prestigious University of Virginia and its pretty campus.
As well as boasting beautiful buildings and arresting architecture, the small city has historic homes of two US presidents for you to tour. While the former residence of James Monroe is quite modest, Thomas Jefferson’s majestic Monticello plantation has gorgeous grounds and gardens to wander.
It was the latter too who founded the University of Virginia and designed many of its grand Greek and Roman-style buildings. Its remarkable Rotunda is one of the city’s standout sights. Thanks to its sizable student population, Charlottesville has a lively, youthful and cultured feel to it. Its quaint countryside surroundings are also dotted with wonderful wineries.
7. Mount Vernon
Nestled in the northeast of Virginia is Mount Vernon, the plantation home of George Washington, the first president of the United States. Due to its proximity to Washington, DC, and huge historical importance, it attracts millions of visitors each year.
Set in a scenic spot overlooking the Potomac River, the expansive estate was the home of Washington from 1754, until he died in 1799. The outbuildings and gardens are a treat to explore and have demonstrations on how the plantation worked. But the highlight is the massive mansion at its heart which was designed and decorated by the great man himself.
Full of fabulous furnishings, family portraits and period pieces, and over 20 rooms, visitors will get an insight into this influential figure’s life. You can also learn more about him and his achievements at the site’s museum and education center, as well as pay your respects at the moving George and Martha Washington memorial.
One of the oldest cities in the States, Richmond has been the capital of Virginia since 1780. It is awash with interesting and impressive historic sights, many of them relating to the role it played in the American Civil War.
Set on the banks of the James River, its scenic streets have astounding antebellum architecture for you to enjoy, with magnificent monuments, museums and memorials dotted about. Must-see sights include its centuries-old State Capitol and the sensational St. John’s Church. Here Patrick Henry famously gave his ‘Give me liberty or give me death speech’ during the Revolutionary War.
Besides exploring its array of American Civil War sites, visitors can also stop by one of its craft breweries or live music venues. With lovely riverside walks, and even white water rafting to be had on the James River, Richmond is certainly not stuck in the past. It has a wealth of fun and exciting things for you to see and do.
Situated across the Potomac River from Washington, DC is the densely populated county of Arlington. Made up of endless urban sprawl and picturesque parks along its winding riverfront, it is home to the Pentagon and the Arlington National Cemetery.
Established during the American Civil War, it is in the Arlington National Cemetery that many of the most famous figures from the United States’ history are buried. As well as the grave of President John F. Kennedy, the most visited sites in the cemetery include the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Iwo Jima Memorial. Besides being moving monuments to those who lost their lives, these memorials are amongst the State’s most renowned and visited landmarks.
In the cemetery, you can find the attractive Arlington House, while the imposing Pentagon can be spied just outside it. Visitors need to book in advance if they want to take an informative and engaging tour around the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense.
Set just to the south of both Arlington and Washington, DC is the town of Alexandria boasting one of the best-preserved historic districts in the country. Founded in 1749 on the western bank of the Potomac River, it has charming cobbled streets to explore.
As well as exhibiting early American architecture, the beautiful buildings of the Old Town also house boutiques and antique shops. Dotted about its quaint center are cafes and restaurants to try out with a host of handsome historic homes to visit. The centuries-old Christ Church and the grand George Washington Masonic National Memorial are among the most popular; both are National Historic Landmarks.
While Alexandria is now a very pretty and pleasant place to visit, it was also once the site of the second-largest slave market in the States. Visitors can learn about this at the Alexandria Black History Museum and Freedom House Museum; both of which have superb exhibitions on the history of the city.
3. Virginia Beach
With almost 60 kilometers of sun-kissed sandy shores, it is no wonder that Virginia Beach is a popular holiday destination. Located at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, its attractive Atlantic Ocean coastline offers up an astounding array of attractions, as well as a wealth of water sports.
Lining the broad, beautiful beach are hotels and motels, as well as an oceanfront boardwalk dotted with souvenir shops and seafood restaurants. As well as a great place for a stroll, cycle or skate, it has mini-golf, arcades, amusement rides and live entertainment. Also, the Virginia Aquarium and Ocean Breeze Waterpark are close by.
While it has some great museums and galleries, most people come for the beach or to go kayaking, surfing and whale watching. With lovely hikes and nature to be enjoyed at the nearby Black Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia Beach caters to all ages and interests.
Once the capital of the Colony and Commonwealth of Virginia, Williamsburg is renowned for its rich history, and the role it played in the American Revolution. Set in the southeast on the vast Virginia Peninsula, it is home to captivating Colonial Williamsburg, one of the largest living-history museums in the world.
Wandering about the historic district is a delight as you pass beautiful old brick buildings and colonial-era churches and houses. As well as seeing the state’s first capitol building and the Governor’s Palace, you can also gain insight into the culture of the time by watching historical reenactors at work.
You can also visit pretty plantations along the James River and the charming campus of the College of William and Mary. The university’s sizable student population lends the modern part of the city a lively and youthful feel.
1. Shenandoah National Park
Nestled in the north of the state is the stunning Shenandoah National Park, sure to delight nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Home to spectacular scenery and nature, it is a treat to explore with epic hiking and views.
Protected and preserved since 1935, its vast forests cover part of the rugged Blue Ridge Mountains, looking out over both the Shenandoah Valley and the winding river down below. Weaving along the ridge of the narrow park is the delightful Skyline Drive, stretching 169 kilometers in length and featuring some phenomenal viewpoints.
The picturesque park also has scenic trails to hike, mountain bike or horseback ride; with the Appalachian Trail being the most famous of the lot. With fantastic fishing, camping and wildlife watching also on offer, Shenandoah is one of the best national parks in the country.