Virginia is a beautiful destination, from sandy Atlantic Ocean beaches on the eastern shores to scenic mountains and valleys in the western region of the state. All across the landscape, major historic sites, natural wonders, and historic cities and towns offer thousands of fun things to explore and enjoy during your Virginia vacation, weekend getaway, or day trip. Here are a dozen of the top attractions to consider including in your Virginia travel itinerary.
The Blue Ridge Parkway
Created as a recreational scenic roadway, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a designated All American Road and the most visited unit of the U.S. National Park System. The northern entrance of the Parkway begins in Virginia at Milepost 0 near the southern terminus of Shenandoah National Park. From there the byway traverses 217 miles in Virginia along the picturesque ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains and through the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, before reaching the North Carolina border, where it continues for another 252 miles.
Although the roadway is generally open year round, many of the facilities and activities are available only seasonally, making the spring, summer, and fall the best times of the year to plan your visit. Each season offers a unique experience along the Blue Ridge Parkway, from the flamboyant Catawba Rhododendron and other wildflower displays in the spring; to camping, heritage festivals, and more in the summer; to nature's gorgeous symphony of color during the fall.
The Virginia Beach Oceanfront Resort Area
Ideally located on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay in southeastern Virginia, Virginia Beach is a lively resort city, attracting year-round visitors as well as summer beach vacationers. The popular Virginia Beach resort area extends approximately 40 hotel and restaurant-lined blocks along the Atlantic Oceanfront and the famous Virginia Beach Boardwalk.
Throughout the year, many festivals and special events add to the beachfront ambiance. At Christmastime, visitors are able to drive on the Boardwalk to enjoy the annual holiday lights display. Or go whale watching.
Located near Interstate 64 about halfway between Richmond and Norfolk, approximately 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., Colonial Williamsburg is the largest living history museum in the United States. Spread across a 301-acre Historic Area, this fascinating 18th-century restored city encompasses 88 original buildings and close to 500 reconstructed buildings, most on the original foundations, including hundreds of homes, shops, public buildings, and other structures. Authentically costumed professional interpreters, reenactors, and tradespeople interact with visitors, bringing the experience to life 365 days a year.
Ongoing and seasonal programs, tours, and special events offer additional activities for all ages. While Colonial Williamsburg is an ideal choice for families and groups to enjoy engaging fun with history, it also offers many appealing features for couples seeking a romantic getaway.
Shenandoah National Park
Known for its sweeping, majestic views, well-maintained trails, abundant wildlife, waterfalls, mountain lodges, camping options, and other recreational outdoor activities, Shenandoah National Park overlooks the historic Shenandoah Valley to the west and the rolling hills and ridges of the central Virginia Piedmont region to the east. Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway and the park's most popular attraction, is one of the most scenic drives in Virginia and the nation.
Approximately 101 miles of the legendary Appalachian Trail run through the park, following a similar route to Skyline Drive. Although Shenandoah National Park is open (and stunning) year-round, lodging, food services, campgrounds, and visitor centers close from December through March. In severe weather conditions, Skyline Drive may close as well.
George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate
The beloved historic home of George and Martha Washington, Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens is located in Northern Virginia, overlooking the Potomac River about 8 miles south of Old Town Alexandria, Virginia and 16 miles south of Washington, D.C. With an average of about one million yearly visitors, Mount Vernon is the most popular historic estate in the United States.
The expansive site comprises 500 acres, with approximately 50 acres open to the public. In addition to tours of the Mansion, there are several out buildings, gardens and trails, an orientation center, galleries, Washington's Tomb, a Slave Burial Ground and Memorial, a Pioneer Farmer Site, heritage farm animals, and more. Mount Vernon is open every day of the year and special programs and events take place during all seasons.
Thomas Jefferson's Monticello
Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president and one of the most the most influential figures in American history, designed, remodeled, and enlarged his Virginia home, Monticello, over a period of 40 years from 1769 to 1809. Located in Charlottesville in Central Virginia, Monticello is a National Historic Landmark and, along with the University of Virginia, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Monticello is open every day of the year except Christmas. In addition to daily tours, there are many seasonal events, special evening tours, and family-friendly activities to enhance your visit. The annual Monticello Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony is the nation's oldest continuous naturalization ceremony outside of a courtroom.
Virginia's National Battlefield Parks
Millions of visitors each year explore Virginia's tumultuous and influential history at preserved battlefields across the state. In 1781, Yorktown Battlefield was the site of the final major battle of the American Revolutionary War, one of the most important battles in U.S. history.
Home of the former capital of the Confederacy, as well as the sites of the first and final major battles of the American Civil War, the Virginia landscape is scattered with close to 800 Civil War sites, more than any other state in the nation. Among the key sites, six Civil War national parks preserve and interpret events of the war, attracting history buffs year after year: Manassas National Battlefield Park, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Richmond National Battlefield Park, Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, Petersburg National Battlefield, and Appomattox Court House and National Historical Park.
Arlington National Cemetery
A visit to the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery is an interesting, powerful, and memorable experience. In addition to the rows and rows of pristine headstones, many monuments, memorials, and dedicated trees pay tribute to people and significant events in U.S. history.
An interpretative bus tour, which departs continuously from the on-site Visitors Center, includes stops at the Kennedy gravesites, the Tomb of the Unknowns Changing of the Guard and Arlington House Robert E. Lee Memorial. The Women In Military Service for America Memorial is located at the Ceremonial Entrance to Arlington National Cemetery, directly across Memorial Bridge from the Lincoln Memorial. Annual Easter, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day ceremonies are free and open to the public.
Located in the picturesque Shenandoah Valley, Virginia's Natural Bridge is a natural wonder and a National Historic Landmark. Thomas Jefferson was so taken with its beauty that he purchased it and many surrounding acres of land in 1774. As early as the 18th century, Natural Bridge became a major tourist attraction.
Today, Natural Bridge continues to be a major sightseeing attraction. It is a popular stop for tour groups, school groups, families, and other Virginia visitors. Over the years, several other attractions have been added to the complex, popular with some and not so appealing to others. They include a one-mile nature trail, a small living history Native American Village, an indoor butterfly garden, a wax museum, and more. In the evenings on scheduled days, a light and sound show, The Drama of Creation, is presented at the Bridge. Natural Bridge is open daily, although some of the ancillary attractions follow seasonal schedules.
Discovered in 1878 and attracting visitors from around the globe ever since, Luray Caverns is a designated United States Natural Landmark. Located in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, this fascinating natural wonder is only nine miles from the central entrance to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park.
A paved and lighted walkway winds through magnificent cathedral height chambers and around abundant examples of stalactite and stalagmite ornamentation. An ingenious Stalacpipe Organ, located in the Cathedral Chamber, produces a lovely, soothing tone and is touted as the world's largest musical instrument. The guided walking tour of the caverns (approximately 1.25 miles) lasts slightly more than one hour. There are a few other attractions at the complex as well.
Chincoteague and Assateague Islands
Located just off the northeastern coastline of the Virginia portion of the Delmarva Peninsula, the close neighboring islands of Chincoteague and Assateague are probably best known for the wild horses (usually referred to as the Chincoteague ponies), made famous by Marguerite Henry's children's book, Misty of Chincoteague, published in 1947 and later made into a movie.
While many visitors are initially attracted by the enchanting ponies, the area is also known for its charming fishing village, independently owned shops and restaurants, beaches, abundant wildlife, outdoor recreational options, and laid back eastern shore vibe.
Standout Theme Parks
Two standout Virginia theme parks, located just over 70 miles from each other, offer family fun and thrills for all ages. Attracting millions of visitors each year Busch Gardens Williamsburg (pictured) has been voted The World's Most Beautiful Theme Park every year since 1990. The park features more than 50 rides in European-themed areas (countries), including England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Scotland. In addition to the regular park schedule, the annual Howl-O-Scream offers spooky fall fun. During the Christmas holidays, Busch Gardens transforms into Christmas Town, a Christmas-themed wonderland.
Kings Dominion, located just off Interstate 95, about 75 miles south of Washington, D.C., is a 400-acre family theme park and a 20-acre water park that features more than 60 rides, slides, shows, and attractions, including the largest collection of roller coasters on the east coast. On scheduled fall weekend nights, the park offers scary fun during the annual Halloween Haunt.