Virginia may not be the first place to come to mind when you are thinking of where to take a vacation, but perhaps it should be. This highly underrated state has plenty to offer nature lovers, history buffs, and everyone in between.
With proximity to Washington D.C. and an Atlantic Ocean coastline, this state may be on the smaller side, but it has plenty to offer. Virginia played an important role in the founding of our nation and the United States’ early days, and many of those stories are now on full display for visitors to learn about.
Start planning your Virginia trip with the suggested destinations, historic landmarks, and attractions below. Here are 25 things to do in Virginia that you don’t want to miss.
VIRGINIA IS FOR (OUTDOOR) LOVERS
While it is no secret to anyone who has been there that Virgina is stunningly beautiful, it does seem to be a secret in that not many people realize this before they visit.
While Virginia may not be as well known for its natural beauty as some other states, that does not mean it should be overlooked. In fact, this means you get the privilege of being let in on a secret that is not shared by as many others (which also can mean fewer crowds).
Shenandoah National Park
Drive an hour and half west from Washington D.C. and find yourself in another national treasure: Shenandoah National Park. If you just have time for a drive through, Skyline Drive is the perfect way to traverse the 105 miles through the park. Make plenty of time to stop at one of the dozens of scenic overlooks along the way.
The best way to enjoy the park, however, is to park the car and get out on one of the many hiking trails. With 500 miles of hiking trails to choose from, including 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail, there are plenty of options. There are plenty of camping options for those looking to spend multiple days on the trails and sleep under the stars.
Hikers are treated to a wide array of natural wonders: waterfalls, stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains the park calls home, stunning vistas with miles of beauty as far as the eye can see, and more hidden in more than 200,000 acres of protected land.
This wonderland is located in the state’s capital city, and has plenty to offer everyone. Maymont’s hundred acres are home to the Robins Nature Center, Maymont Mansion and Carriage Collection, Maymont Farm and wildlife habitats, and multiple stunning gardens.
Maymont mixes history with nature, providing a variety of opportunities to blend the two. Stretch your legs, breathe in some fresh air, and find plenty to see while doing so at this gem in Richmond.
Read More: 17 Things To Do In Richmond VA On Your Next Visit
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Consistently voted one of the best botanical gardens in the United States, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is located on the outskirts of the Richmond area is a gem worth visiting. With more than 200,000 plants on 50 acres of land, this paradise includes several uniquely themed gardens.
Grab lunch in the Garden Cafe, or enjoy a glass of wine and dessert after your stroll through the gardens. The seasonal Robins Tea House is another option for a beverage to wrap up your visit on a cozy note with exceptional views.
Perhaps the most popular destination in Virginia, this coastal town is not to be missed during any trip to Virginia. As the Chesapeake Bay melts into the Atlantic Ocean, Virginia Beach has become a bustling destination for foodies, adventurers, and yes – lovers.
Make plenty of time to visit the Virginia Beach Aquarium, Cape Henry Lighthouse, Atlantic Fun Park, and – of course – the boardwalk. Families with younger children can appreciate the calmer waters that can be found at the Chesapeake Bay Beach, while the beaches found in the Oceanfront district are always popular.
Read More: 21 Amazing Things To Do In Virginia Beach, VA
Explore the largest caverns in the eastern United States, located just north of Shenandoah National Park. Step back in time at the Shenandoah Heritage Village before descending into the caverns.
With natural wonders around every turn, you will be mesmerized by what you see in Luray Caverns. With formations that are dozens of feet long, huge chambers with lofty ceilings, stunning bodies of water, a Great Stalacpipe Organ, and more, this memorable stop is absolutely worth a spot on anyone’s Virginia to-do list — young and old alike.
Natural Bridge State Park
This state park is named for the naturally formed limestone gorge known as Natural Bridge. Towering 215 feet above Cedar Creek, this spectacular natural wonder is surrounded by equally stunning mountains, forests, and more begging to be explored.
Set out on all or part of 7 miles of hiking trails, make your way to Lace Falls, and enjoy a picnic with the Blue Ridge or Appalachian Mountains as your backdrop. Visit the Monacan Village outdoor exhibit to learn about the lives and history of Monacan Indians.
Famous for the feral ponies running free along the Assateague Island National Seashore, this is a great destination for a truly unique and memorable experience. While the island’s most famous residents are best (and most safely) viewed from a distance, you will absolutely want to be sure to spend time watching these incredible wild beasts.
There are plenty of other ways to get out into nature on Assateague Island. Go hiking, biking, kayaking, or even horseback riding, or go crabbing, fishing, or hunting. Assateague Island is truly a place that should be on every nature lover’s bucket list.
Great Falls Park
Located just outside of Washington D.C. (making it an excellent option for those looking to get out of the city for some fresh air), Great Falls Park’s crowning jewel is the Great Falls of the Potomac River. With three different overlooks to view the Falls within a short walk from the visitor’s center, visitors can see these roaring waters from multiple angles.
Take a hike on the fifteen miles of trails, go rock climbing, get out on the Potomac River’s mighty waters, and more. History fans can learn about the area’s past in the visitor’s center and by exploring the remains of the Patowmack Canal.
Belle Isle is an island located in the middle of the James River in downtown Richmond. This urban oasis is accessible by pedestrian bridge (bicycles are also welcome to access the island here).
With hiking and biking trails through wooded areas, historical sites, views of the Richmond skyline, and more, Belle Isle is an ideal place for a variety of recreational activities.
False Cape State Park and Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Simply referred to as Back Bay, this national wildlife refuge in Virginia Beach has two bike trails that connect to False Cape State Park called East and West Dike. The trails are closed from November 1 – March 31, so you’ll have to walk or bike on the beach and you’ll want to do this at low tide to get to False Cape. The trails are well maintained, with flat gravel surfaces that make it easier for beach cruisers and mountain bikes to be used in the park.
Once in False Cape State Park, there are more than 15 miles of trails to explore. You can find an old cemetery and church as well as different habitats and wildlife. The park is home to many animals including herons, egrets, osprey, and cottonmouths.
You can even bike or hike to North Carolina covering about 10 miles.
Virginia has multiple spots dedicated to honoring those who have served in the Armed Forces. Honor loved veterans, or learn more about our nation’s history, at the following places.
Arlington National Cemetery
Perhaps the most iconic military tribute in Virginia, and perhaps the entire country, is Arlington National Cemetery. Home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the final resting place to many of America’s heroes, this landmark is not to be missed in the Washington D.C. area.
Visitors can pay tribute to President John F. Kennedy and President William Howard Taft, who are both buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Experience the somber Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which pays tribute to unknown lives lost in both World Wars and other major wars throughout history.
This sprawling cemetery has iconic points throughout, but many are located around the Memorial Amphitheater and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Take a hop on/hop off guided tram tour or pay your respects as you explore the grounds on your own.
Manassas National Battlefield Park
Manassas National Battlefield Park, located 45 minutes away from Arlington in Manassas, VA, is the location of two major Civil War battles. Learn more about the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run), and the Second Battle of Bull Run while you’re here.
Here you can explore the hiking trails, stop by the Visitor’s Center, tour the Stone House, or visit the Brawner Farm Interpretive Center. They offer guided tours and more.
Battleship Wisconsin at Nauticus
Explore one of the United States Navy’s largest battleships, docked on the Elizabeth River in Norfolk. The Battleship Wisconsin is located at Nauticus, a maritime museum featuring additional exhibits inside.
This battleship was active in both World War II and the Korean War, and visitors can either take a guided tour or explore the ship yourself. There are also exhibits inside the museum for those interested in the depths of the battleship who are physically unable to explore the ship themselves.
Read More: 18 Best Things To Do In Norfolk VA You’ll Love
Military Aviation Museum
The Military Aviation Museum is located in Virginia Beach and is home to one of the world’s largest private collections of military aircraft active in both World Wars. These planes have been carefully and painstakingly restored, to the point that many remain able to fly – which they do during demonstrations and air shows.
Visitors to the museum can book a flight in a historic World War II plane, check out the dinosaur sculptures located at the entrance to the museum grounds, and explore the museum’s exhibits at your own pace.
True to the museum’s slogan, this really is the place where history comes to life and takes flight.
USMC War Memorial (Iwo Jima)
Located near Arlington National Cemetery and along the National Mall, the United States Marine Corps War Memorial honors Marines who died in combat with an iconic sculpture of Marines raising the American flag on Iwo Jima during the second World War.
With great views of many of the nation’s capital’s other icons visible from this memorial, this truly feels like hallowed grounds. If you are visiting during the summer, be sure not to miss the Sunset Parades at the Memorial for a special musical performance by the United State Marine Drum and Bugle Corps.
In addition to military history, Virginia is also home to a variety of other landmarks throughout our country’s history. Visiting these spots in person makes the history lessons you sat through (or are sitting through) in school, spring to life right in front of you, and you get to make your own memories at the same time.
Mount Vernon is a historic landmark that’s well known as George Washington and his wife Martha’s home in Northern Virginia – just south of Washington D.C.
The Washingtons’ iconic plantation offers visitors the opportunity to see and explore George and Martha’s mansion home, pay their respects to both of the Washingtons at their gravesite, hear the stories of people enslaved at Mount Vernon who both built and ran the estate, and more.
Visitors can also trek to George Washington’s distillery nearby, which has been reconstructed and continues distilling to this day. Leave with your very own bottle of George Washington’s whiskey after taking a tour to learn more about the historic processes Washington’s distillery originally used in the late 1700s.
Known as the World’s Largest Living History Museum, the nation’s history truly does come to life at Colonial Williamsburg. This replica of an 18th century town is chock full of exhibits, demonstrations, and more that are all designed to give visitors a literal grasp on life for those they have only read about in history books.
There is a lot to do in Colonial Williamsburg, including taking a carriage ride through the historic area, wandering through the Arboretum, shop for your own pieces of history to take back home, and plenty of dining options.
Read More: 21 Phenomenal Things To Do In Williamsburg VA
Part of the Colonial National Historical Park, Historic Jamestowne is the site of America’s first permanent English settlement. Today, the grounds are the site of a rediscovery mission, dedicated to preservation, education, and archaeological investigation.
Visitors can see archaeologists at work on the island, seeking to rediscover what life was like in this historic settlement, and hear stories of what they have already been able to discover and learn. Visit a museum where artifacts that have been discovered here are on display.
Monticello was home to Thomas Jefferson and his family. Despite the estate’s obvious beauty, the pain and devastation of the hundreds of people enslaved at Monticello looms heavy. Visitors can learn more about and honor these individuals who were enslaved with exhibits and resources dedicated to telling the entire story of Monticello’s troubled past.
Visitors can also tour the property’s main house Thomas Jefferson called home, meet a Thomas Jefferson impersonator, wander the gorgeous grounds and gardens, and visit Jefferson’s grave.
Read More: 22 Outstanding Things To Do In Charlottesville VA
Appomattox Court House NHP
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park is the site where the American Civil War officially came to an end with the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Today, you can visit the site of the surrender, the McLean House, and a variety of other buildings in the historic village.
Read More: Appomattox Court House National Historical Park
Virginia Holocaust Museum
The Virginia Holocaust Museum is dedicated to telling the story of the Holocaust, with a special emphasis on the stories of those who experienced the atrocities of the Holocaust firsthand. The museum also includes stories of local survivors, making this dark spot in history even more personal.
The museum is also home to the Jewish-American Hall of Fame, which honors more than 50 Jewish Americans for their contributions to our nation throughout history.
Culture, Arts & Science
If getting lost in an art museum is more your idea of a relaxing day on vacation, fear not: Virginia has plenty of culture to offer. Catch a live performance or get lost in the galleries at one of these museums, parks, or centers.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is open every single day of the year, and exists to “collect, preserve, exhibit, and interpret art” with a purpose of enriching the lives of those who study the arts. While admission to the permanent collection galleries is always free, there may be an admission cost for special exhibitions.
The museum’s impressive collections represent art from Native American, African, East Asian, European, and more cultures. Explore ancient art, art from the mid to late 20th century, and present day art as well.
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
Visit the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, located at Washington Dulles International Airport.
Check out a variety of exhibitions, visit the restoration hangar to see people hard at work carefully restoring aircraft to their former glory, take flight yourself in a simulator, and watch planes take off and land at the airport from a panoramic observation tower.
Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center
Head under the sea at this Virginia Beach destination, popular with visitors of all ages. With a wide range of animals to see, exhibits to explore, and experiences to be had, it is easy to see why the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center is a favorite.
In addition to a plethora of ocean animals on display, exhibits tell the story of the nationally recognized Stranding Response Program, show the wildlife that calls the nearby Chesapeake Bay home, and more.
Edgar Allan Poe Museum
While many Poe museums exist, this one holds the largest collection of Poe artifacts and personal belongings as the international center for Poe studies. The Edgar Allan Poe Museum also holds an impressive collection of first editions, manuscripts, and personal letters.
Edgar Allan Poe was taken in by a couple in Richmond after his mother passed away there of tuberculosis when he was very young. After a brief stint in England, the family returned to Richmond where he continued to grow up.
There is no doubt the time Edgar Allan Poe spent in Richmond, Virginia played a formative role in his life, making it obvious why Richmond’s Poe Museum is a step above others.
Chrysler Museum of Art
Located in Norfolk, the Chrysler Museum of Art offers free admission and free demos in the glass studio. Explore the Chrysler Museum of Art’s impressive glass collection spanning thousands of years, then head to the studio to see how it was created.
With tens of thousands of pieces in the museum’s collection and rotating exhibitions, there is something for everyone to ponder and enjoy in the galleries. Art ranges from ancient to modern, and everywhere in between.
Read More: 18 Best Things To Do In Norfolk VA You’ll Love
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts
This national park is like no other – truly. As the only national park dedicated to performing arts, you are in for a treat when you catch a performance at Wolf Trap. In addition to enjoying a live performance, the park also offers nature areas and hiking trails to explore – a perfect way to kill some time in between shows.
With multiple amphitheaters in the park offering a wide array of musical performances at any given time, a trip to this park should be at the top of the list of any music lover’s Virginia itinerary.
What are some of the top attractions in Virginia?
Some of the top attractions in Virginia are Arlington National Cemetery, Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello, Historic Jamestowne, and the Virginia Beach Boardwalk.
What is the state of Virginia best known for?
Virginia is best known as the site of the first permanent English settlement. It’s also known as the home state of four of the first five presidents of the United States.
What is Virginia Beach famous for?
Virginia Beach is famous for its boardwalk, the Cape Henry Lighthouse, the ViBe Creative District, First Landing State Park, and more.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO VIRGINIA
- YOUR VIRGINIA VACATION
- FREDERICKSBURG: 14 Outstanding Things To Do In Fredericksburg VA
- RICHMOND: 17 Things To Do In Richmond VA On Your Next Visit
- WILLIAMSBURG: 21 Phenomenal Things To Do In Williamsburg VA
- CHARLOTTESVILLE: 22 Outstanding Things To Do In Charlottesville VA
WHERE TO STAY IN VIRGINIA
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- 25 Things To Do in Virginia Everyone Will Love - 05/30/2023