Virginia Travel Guide
The Commonwealth of Virginia played an essential role in the founding of the modern United States as it was the site of the first European settlement in North America, as well as the birthplace of several presidents. Visiting Virginia usually means getting a massive dose of American history presented via historical reenactments and beautifully preserved colonial homes. The state is also a stone’s throw away from the nation’s capital, Washington DC, boasts a beautiful coastline and offers plenty of opportunities for peaceful escapes.
Let’s dive into some of the best things to do in Virginia and the information you need for a great Virginia trip.
Best Things to Do in Virginia
1. Tour George Washington's Mount Vernon
One of the most well-known tourist sites in Virginia is Mount Vernon, the former home of George Washington, the first president of the United States. Named after a British admiral, this Northern Virginia landmark is a beautiful, sprawling estate on the famous Potomac River. This waterway was famously depicted in the 1851 painting by Emanuel Leutze.
Amazingly, the home was kept in its original 18th-century condition until the early 20th century when famous inventor Thomas Edison installed electricity in 1916. In another interesting move, renowned car company titan Henry Ford donated a fire engine to the estate because he was convinced the valuable piece of American history wouldn’t survive a fire due to the distance of the nearest fire station.
Today, you can tour George and Martha Washington’s former home in a variety of ways. To access the house, you must buy a ticket for the tour, but you can also purchase a general admission ticket that will allow you to explore the estate grounds. Several local touring companies offer tours and tickets to experience Mount Vernon as a standalone visit or paired with other cultural attractions in the region.
2. Visit The Raven Room in Charlottesville
If Mount Vernon is the most well-known tourist destination in Virginia, the room where writer Edgar Allen Poe stayed while attending college might be the best place to visit when you’re looking to avoid the biggest tourist crowds and dig into the history of the Commonwealth. The Raven Room is located on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Poe only attended the university for a year before he moved to Boston and began publishing his stories. Unfortunately, the famous author built up a huge load of gambling debts and never finished his university degree. Poe gambled away about $2,000 and was forced to leave the university after his stepfather refused to pay the debt.
Although Poe’s room was used by other students in the years after Poe’s residency, a member of the exclusive “Raven Society” restored the space in the 1920s back to its early 19th-century appearance and décor. If you’re lucky enough to gain entry into the Raven Society, you’ll have your initiation in The Raven Room.
3. Tour Luray Caverns & The Great Stalacpipe Organ
The Great Stalacpipe Organ is the world’s largest musical instrument and was built into the deep underground caverns of Luray, Virginia. The caverns are an incredible sight, and the giant organ produces incredible music, just like the organ you might see in an enormous cathedral. The organ pipes aren’t made of wood or metal but from the ancient pillars that dangle from the ceiling.
Known as stalactites, these pillars are mineral deposits that form over tens of thousands of years. It takes a thousand years for a stalactite to grow just a single cubic inch, which means some of the organ’s pipes have been growing for many millennia before humans inhabited Virginia. You can take a guided day trip from Washington, DC, to explore Luray Caverns or explore the caverns on your own. Inside the caverns, you’ll find a paved walkway that runs for a little over a mile.
One of the neat features of the caverns is that they’re always 54 degrees Fahrenheit, which means it doesn’t matter what time of the year you visit. You’ll always know what kind of weather to expect. You may want to pair your visit to Luray Caverns with a more extensive exploration of Shenandoah National Park, which boasts hundreds of miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, and incredible views.
4. See the Grave of Stonewall Jackson’s Arm
Death isn’t exactly the funniest topic, but humans have created many humorous tombstones over the centuries to take the sting out of losing a loved one. Other tombstones feature hilarious messages requested by the deceased, like “I Told You I Was Sick,” “I Was Hoping for a Pyramid,” and “Go Away – I’m Asleep.”
But what about that’s buried underneath the tombstone? In the case of the famous Civil War Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, one of his tombstones (he has two) contains arm surgeons amputated after a Civil War battle in 1863. Today, you can visit this tombstone in Locust Grove, Virginia, in Spotsylvania County. The monument reads, “Arm of Stonewall Jackson May 3, 1863.”
When the man who owned the arm died, he was buried in Lexington, about 40 miles away from his arm. At the time of the amputation, recently removed limbs were frequently tossed into a trash pile and eventually discarded. However, an exceptionally dedicated chaplain decided to take the arm and give it a Christian burial and a headstone.
5. Visit and Climb the “Little Mountain” of Monticello
Like Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is another one of those one-of-a-kind historical landmarks that you’ve probably seen on television or any time you use a nickel. The reverse side of the five-cent coin features a view of Thomas Jefferson’s famous house. The word Monticello is an Italian word that means “little mountain,” ad you’ll notice there are some serious hills around the estate.
Fortunately, you can catch a shuttle bus that will get you from the base of the property up to the top where the house sits, but you can also walk up to the house on your own for a decent dose of exercise. Monticello has so much to see that you can easily devote an entire day to touring the central Virginia estate.
The tour guides at Monticello are fiercely knowledgeable about the property’s history and the life of Thomas Jefferson during the founding of the United States. Jefferson began designing Monticello when he was just 14 years old after he inherited land from his father.
6. Take a Stroll & Experience Colonial Williamsburg
If you’re traveling with children, you’ll want to visit Colonial Williamsburg, one of the country’s most extensive and immersive living history experiences. The city dates back to 1699 when the town’s founders meticulously designed and planned the community’s streets. Today, the town is a fun experience that can keep you busy for at least a few days.
You don’t actually need to buy a ticket to visit. Suppose you’re on a super-tight budget or you’ve already had your fill of historical sightseeing at Monticello and Mount Vernon. In that case, Colonial Williamsburg does offer free access to its cobblestone streets, stores, and restaurants.
Colonial Williamsburg is definitely a touristy venue, but it’s close to Yorktown and Jamestown, which you might also want to put on your itinerary if you’re interested in learning about American history in person. Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg represent the immersive Historic Triangle of Virginia. Book a Colonial Williamsburg tour or two if you want a deep dive into Virginia history.
7. Visit The Witch of Pungo Statue
If your Virginia vacation takes you to the Atlantic Ocean and Virginia Beach, you’ll want to set aside time to visit the Witch of Pungo Statue. Seeing the statue is easy and a quick detour when visiting important historic sites in the region. The figure stands on the grounds of the Sentara Bayside Hospital.
The statue is meant as a reminder of the witch trials that locals held in the 17th and 18th centuries, where many women and some men were placed on trial for suspected witchcraft. If convicted, suspected witches were tied up and thrown in the river. Floating in the river meant the accused was a witch. Drowning meant the alleged witch was innocent.
The witch of Pungo was an actual woman named Grace Sherwood, who was tried for witchcraft in the early 18th century. She survived her trip into the river but was held in jail for a decade before her release after the hysteria surrounding witchcraft died down.
Where to stay in Virginia
Virginia accommodations are as fancy or simple as you like, from beachfront properties along the Atlantic Coast to modern edifices in cities like Chesapeake and Norfolk. When you visit Virginia, take your pick of vacation homes, 5-star luxury hotels, bed & breakfasts, and cozy budget-friendly motels.
- The Cavalier Virginia Beach, Autograph Collection – Virginia Beach
- Cape Motel – Cape Charles
- Mayhurst Estate – Orange
- Salamander Resort and Spa – Middleburg
- The Tides Inn – Irvington
- Lands End Lodge River House – Tappahannock
- The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner – McLean
- Glass Light Hotel & Gallery, Autograph Collection – Norfolk
- Hyatt Place Chesapeake – Chesapeake
- Colonial Houses – A Colonial Williamsburg Hotel – Williamsburg
How to Get Around in Virginia
Many of Virginia’s most beautiful and exciting attractions require a car or tour bus to reach. The Commonwealth lends itself beautifully to road trips and vacations that meander around all the rural beauty of places like the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains via the fantastic Blue Ridge Parkway.
Book your rental car with RentalCars.com well in advance to get your preferred size and type of vehicle and reach more destinations. Neighboring states like West Virginia and North Carolina are within reach when you rent a car.
Travel Tips Virginia
Virginia is an easy and friendly state to visit, but it never hurts to prepare for your journey. Look at the following guidelines and resources to help you plan, pack, and prepare to reach your Virginia destinations.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Traveling costs money, and your Virginia vacation may represent many months or years of saving for the vent. Travel medical insurance or trip insurance can help you by protecting your investment and your medical needs when you travel. Check out VisitorsCoverage for trip insurance or travel medical insurance. SafetyWing is another option for global travel medical insurance. In most cases, travel insurance costs just a fraction of your overall trip costs.
Important Items to Pack for Virginia
Some of the items you need for travel are obvious. A toothbrush, toothpaste, and extra socks are always a must. However, don’t forget a power adapter if you’re traveling from outside the United States. If you’re visiting the mountains in the winter, don’t forget a jacket as you’ll frequently experience snow in the cold months. A comfortable pair of shoes is recommended, too, as you may find yourself hiking a few miles a day during your travels.
Consider Driving a Car
When you explore Virginia, you’ll discover lively cities and unique historical sites. Still, you’ll find it a minor hassle to reach all that the Commonwealth has to offer if you rely on public transportation. Virginia drivers aren’t crazy like those in Manhattan or Los Angeles, and renting a car is convenient and easy. Things can get a little hectic if you cross the border into neighboring Washington, DC, but the rest of the region is quite accessible for drivers of all temperaments.