Top Ten Picks for Free Vacation Fun in Virginia

An aerial view of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia
••• Danita Delimont / Getty Images

Stretching from the salty air of the coast to the peaks and valleys of the mountains, Virginia offers so many things to enjoy without spending a bundle of money. Some of the nation's most scenic drives, fascinating historic sites, delightful small towns and other unique attractions are free to explore, making Virginia an affordable choice for a day trip, weekend getaway or family vacation. Including just a sampling of some of the best free things to do in Virginia, the following list highlights the top ten picks.

  • 01 of 10

    Throughout Virginia, there are approximately 3,000 miles of historic, heritage and scenic drives, including five routes officially designated as America's Byways: The Blue Ridge Parkway, Colonial Parkway, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Skyline Drive and The Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Scenic Byway. In addition, there are numerous heritage trails, Civil War itineraries, wine trails and more. 

  • 02 of 10

    First built in 1888 as a five-block, wooden-planked promenade, the Virginia Beach Boardwalk of today is a three-mile concrete esplanade stretching along the Virginia Beach oceanfront. Throughout the summer and on many spring and fall weekends, the Boardwalk is a beehive of activity, often offering free entertainment, festivals, and seasonal evening fireworks. The Virginia Beach Boardwalk is a great place to enjoy a relaxing stroll or a bike ride on the adjacent path. Additional Information:

  • 03 of 10

    One of the most famous hiking trails in the world, the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) extends from Maine to Georgia for more than 2,175 miles. Approximately 550 miles of the A.T. are located in Virginia. Permits are not required to walk on the trail, although some areas require camping permits. Along the 104-mile Shenandoah National Park section of the trail, backcountry camping permits are required for all backpackers. Many areas along the Virginia portion of the A.T. are well suited for casual walks and day-hikes as well as for long distance hikes, although even a short hike requires a bit of planning. 

  • 04 of 10

    Arlington National Cemetery receives more than four million visitors each year. Whether paying tribute to a lost loved one or taking a journey through history, a visit to the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery is an interesting, powerful and memorable experience. There is no admission fee to visit the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery, although there is ​an hourly charge to park in the Visitor Center parking area. The parking fee can be avoided by taking the Washington Metropolitan Area Metro (Blue Line) to the Arlington Cemetery Station, which is located near the Cemetery entrance. Also, on Easter, Memorial Day and Veterans Day, free commemorative ceremonies are open to the public.

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  • 05 of 10

    In addition to Arlington National Cemetery, mentioned above, there are several very interesting monuments and memorials located in Arlington that are well worth exploring. From the iconic United States Marine Corps War Memorial (also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial - pictured here) to the lesser known, but lovely and moving Navy-Marine Memorial (known affectionately as Waves and Gulls), find out about several monuments and memorials with no admission fees that you may wish to add to your itinerary during your next visit to the Arlington, Virginia area.

  • 06 of 10

    The Crooked Road - Virginia's Heritage Music Trail

    Spend a day, a weekend or longer meandering along the Crooked Road in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, the home of authentic old-time mountain music. Listen to country music jams on the porches of local establishments, browse the traditional shops of luthiers and fiddle makers, and experience the unique culture and heritage of the region. Plan your stops ahead of time and you will be able to hear plenty of free music during your travels. 

  • 07 of 10

    Located along the riverfront in Old Town Alexandria, this world-renowned art center is housed in a renovated torpedo factory. Spend an hour or several browsing the interesting array of ceramics, photography, jewelry, stained glass, fiber, printmaking, and sculpture, created by artists in 82 working studios and six galleries.

  • 08 of 10

    The companion museum to the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, which opened in December 2003, is located in Northern Virginia near Washington Dulles International Airport. Among the many aircraft exhibits, visitors will find such history-making icons as the space shuttle Enterprise and the Enola Gay. Admission to the museum is free, although a fairly hefty daily parking fee is charged to park in the on-site lot. Other additional fees for special exhibits such as flight simulators and IMAX Theater movies are charged as well.

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  • 09 of 10

    Dotted across the Virginia landscape, several unique communities have been identified as Virginia Main Street Communities. Recognized for their hospitality, historic and natural attractions, architectural gems and more, these communities are fun to explore one-by-one or by combining several into a multi-day itinerary. The National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Tourism Corporation offer a wealth of information about each town to help you plan an interesting self-guided itinerary.

  • 10 of 10

    Many of the wonderful seasonal festivals held throughout Virginia are free, especially those held in downtown areas and sponsored by communities or local organizations. While admission is often free, it may not be so easy to attend without spending at least a few dollars on tasty regional foods or unique handmade crafts. A small sampling of fun free festivals and events includes the annual President's Day George Washington Birthday Parade in Alexandria, Wolf Trap Holiday Sing-A-Long and the summertime Virginia Highlands Festival.