Imagine standing in the midst some of the nation’s most sacred grounds — battlefields that serve as the final resting place for thousands of fallen soldiers from this country’s bloodiest conflict. A thick fog creeps down from the peaks of the surrounding Blue Ridge mountains through a nearby valley as the hills glisten in patches of emerald green from the sun’s powerful rays.
This is early morning in Virginia, a state deeply-rooted in tradition and the early origins of a free nation. Nearly every town and city bear the contrast of a solemn scar in our nation’s more sinister history as well as reminders of the significant progress in our nation’s existence with landmarks, Civil War battlefields, and historic estates at every turn.
While rich in history, there’s a lot more to Old Dominion than meets the untrained eye. From wild ponies and white sand beaches to some of the best wineries in the world, you’ll find it all in these weekend getaways in Virginia.
Best Weekend Getaways in Virginia
Cradled between charming 18th-century cobblestone streets and the busy shorelines of the Potomac sits the quaint yet centrally-located seaside oasis of Alexandria, Virginia. Whether traveling across the country or simply across the Potomac, Alexandria has everything visitors could ever want at their immediate disposal: high-end shops, wholesome food, gorgeous views, and southern hospitality of the highest caliber.
Also known as “Old Town,” Alexandria has become a must-see destination for travelers who come from near and far to experience the town’s sophisticated architecture and unparalleled arts and culture. Here you’ll find some of the nation’s most sought-after scenic hiking and bike trails, quality brewed beers and specialty cocktails by the world’s top mixologists. Alexandria might sit in close proximity to the nation’s capital, but it’s never in its shadow.
Featuring hundreds of museums, restaurants, and historical sites, including George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate and a former World War II munitions factory, turned art gallery, Torpedo Factory Art Center, Alexandria has become an epicenter of extraordinary attractions and exquisite cuisine.
King Street, the city’s most popular path spanning more than five miles, offers visitors a swath of top attractions all on its own. Boutique shops, such as The Christmas Attic sell locally-sourced products and crafts, high-end eateries including Blackwall Hitch and Grape + Bean boast large outdoor patios, and ghost tours highlighting unsolved mysteries, murders, and legends are easy to find.
Where to Stay in Alexandria
There’s no shortage of lodging options in this colonial town, either. From well-respected international chains to more intimate boutique hotels, Alexandria offers an impressive variety of accommodations to fit every visitor’s comfort and budget. Included among these top options is Hotel Indigo Old Town Alexandria, a newly-established waterfront hotel that features rooms with wonderful views, a large outdoor patio, and a must-try seafood restaurant called Hummingbird.View Hotel Search for more Alexandria Hotels
trivago tip: While this city is beautiful to visit any time of the year, the best time to plan a weekend getaway in Alexandria or an extended stay is in the fall shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday. The weather is warm enough to enjoy an outdoor patio but close enough to the Christmas holiday to catch a glimpse of the seasonal decor lining the neighborhood streets.
Home to Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, this buzzing college town is full of decades-old history. Though tragedy has, unfortunately, put Charlottesville in the headlines, any local or University of Virginia alum will tell you that the ugliness seen last August is not representative of this historic, diverse hub in Central Virginia. The fact is, Charlottesville has something to offer visitors of all ages, no matter what their interest.
For history-buffs, Charlottesville is a must-see for Jefferson’s historic Monticello plantation house, the Rotunda at UVA, and President James Monroe’s Ash Lawn-Highland home. These popular historic landmarks are the trifecta for any U.S history lover and the sites provide in-depth tours to give all visitors glimpses of colonial life.
Any visitors looking for a unique shopping experience will also have the Downtown Mall at their disposal. The longest pedestrian mall in the U.S., you’ll find over 120 shops lining its brick walkways, offering a one-of-a-kind arts and fashion experience. For visitors looking to try local cuisine, the Downtown Mall is also home to the fantastic Whiskey Jar, preparing Virginian southern cuisine to a soundtrack of live music, and topped off with an abundance of whiskey.
Outdoor enthusiasts will love hiking along the beautiful peaks of the Blueridge Mountains or kayaking down the James River. The roads and trails around Charlottesville have been carefully preserved for generations, protecting the beautiful orchards and farms along the trails. This makes it the perfect spot for any avid hiker or biker looking to enjoy the scenery.
There’s a place for wine connoisseurs in Charlottesville, too, with the city’s vast selection of vineyards to spend the day at. With more vineyards than visitors have time to see, Charlottesville’s wine tour service will help all wine-enthusiasts sample award-winning wine from the best vineyards Charlottesville has to offer.
Where to Stay in CharlottesvilleView Hotel Search for more Charlottesville Hotels
trivago Tip: For anyone looking to
take in the best of Charlottesville, the times to visit are between September and January. The end of the fall season is the best time to take advantage of Charlottesville’s winery scenes. If you are looking for entertainment for New Year’s Eve, Charlottesville hosts First Night Virginia at the Downtown Mall—a family-friendly event featuring music, food, and fireworks.
With the Atlantic Ocean at its back door, Chincoteague Island, Virginia is different from America’s big city resort beach towns. As the state’s only resort island, there are no crowded boardwalks, there are no traffic jams, and there are no high rises. Instead, visitors flock to this Eastern Shore seaside in search of serenity, a calming and relaxed atmosphere, the Bay’s spectacular sunset scenes, and unspoiled nature.
A short distance from the East Coast seaboard’s major metropolitan hubs, Chincoteague is the gateway to the Virginia portion of Assateague Island, home to the famous Chincoteague Wild Ponies. One of the last herds of wild ponies in America, the Chincoteague ponies are rumored to have arrived on the island after the shipwreck of a Spanish ship in the mid-18th century. As the town of Chincoteague began to blossom over the years, the ponies have been a treasured and protected feature by locals. It even inspired Marguerite Henry to publish the children’s book Misty of Chincoteague, leading to the beloved film adaption. The book and movie forever changed Chincoteague Island from a small fishing village into a world-class tourist destination.
Today, visitors can sit along the waterfront and take in the beauty of the island at the Village Restaurant, a family-owned mainstay of the island. With only the finest and freshest locally-caught seafood, such as the Chincoteague Oysters and Stuffed Shrimp, it has been a favorite of locals and visitors over the past 40 years.
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trivago Tip: The best time to take in all that Chincoteague Island has to offer is the month of July. While visitors will be taking on the summer heat, they will also be able to take in the famous Chincoteague Pony Swim when the ponies swim across the Assateague Channel from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island. Not only will visitors get to see the ponies make their annual swim, but you will be able to partake in the Firefighter’s Festival surrounding the event.
Another of Virginia’s charming college towns, Lexington visitors should be sure to take in the thrilling scenery from Natural Bridge Park during their trip down the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway. Considered one of the most scenic routes in the world, passengers are encouraged to roll their windows down and have their cameras ready.
A town fit for true craft beer connoisseurs, Lexington has made a name for itself among travelers and breweries nationwide. Visitors should head to one of the town’s most popular hoppy stops, the Outpost Brewery and Tap Room — a brewery located on a beautiful Virginia hillside. Here, they can sample Virginia’s own Devil’s Backbone brew, while picnicking with some favorite local grub in the Bier Garden.
For the holidays, the Natural Bridge State Park Annual Festival of Trees and Luminary Nights is sure to get visitors in the holiday spirit as trees are adorned with thousands of sparkly bulbs. As an added bonus, attendees can vote for their favorite tree by placing a donation of school supplies or non-perishable foods that are awarded to the local Habitat for Humanity.
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trivago Tip: To get the most out of all Lexington has to offer, it is best to plan a visit in the spring when foliage and plant life are in bloom or in the late fall when the cool breeze blows through the mountainside in preparation for the holidays.
Forty miles south of the marble halls that fill our nation’s capital, rolling green hills defined by white picket fences, riding helmets, and jodhpurs span as far as the eye can see. Throughout this horse and hunt capital’s short but narrow main street, centuries-old historic buildings and high-end boutique shops share space with the uneven brick and stone sidewalks.
Known as the epicenter of old southern money, picturesque horse stables create cut-outs against the emerald blue sky on days where the sun’s rays hit the blades of grass just right. At first glance, Middleburg’s polished exterior emits a sense of guarded privacy unlike other countryside towns of its size, but at its core, the residents of this sleepy southern town embody the sheer grit and grace of southern charm.
In the spring, thousands of spectators flock to the town’s rolling hillsides to catch the steeplechase races while enjoying a glass of chilled sparkling Blanc de Blanc 2015 from the town’s most popular winery, Green Hill. In the summer, groups gather in Adirondack chairs surrounding bonfires at the local resorts to roast marshmallows and sip on mint juleps.
The locals, many whose families have resided in Middleburg for decades, know each and every pub, restaurant, and coffee shop in the town’s mile radius — as well as what to order at each one. One of the most popular destinations for visitors to hang their hat is the Red Fox Inn, where dishes such as creamy “Virginia Peanut Soup” and “Red Fox Fried Chicken” with smashed red jacket potatoes headline the menu. The innkeeper, Turner Reuter, says the original structure of Red Fox Inn dates from 1728.
The town is also home to an array of garden walks and estate tours that are offered both in the spring and at Christmas while polo games are a favorite pastime on Sundays during the summer months.
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trivago tip: Given the number of resorts that remain open (come rain, sleet, or shine), and the sheer number of activities that vary from season to season, visitors are encouraged to visit Middleburg year-round.
Nestled firmly in the valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Roanoke is the go-to location for anyone trying to get the full impact of the sprawling Appalachian Mountains.
Roanoke offers the ideal outdoor adventure for any future-mountaineer, full of hiking, biking, climbing, and paddling to fully take-in the beauty of the surroundings. One of the 10 most bike-friendly areas in the U.S., Roanoke’s incredible trails are great for bird and wildlife watching. If visitors want to take a more unconventional path to touring the mountains, Roanoke’s beautiful rivers are perfect for kayaking and canoeing. All of these paths lead to the must-see iconic symbol of Virginia’s Blue Ridge—the Roanoke Star.
If it is slightly too cold to traverse up the mountain, Roanoke’s natural sites and the Mill Mountain Zoo make sure there is still an adventure to be had. The underground Dixie Caverns and the Natural Bridge Caverns are excellent places to explore any time of the year, allowing for some of the most notable natural wonders on the continent to be seen. If visitors are unable to spot any wildlife during their hike up the mountains, the Mill Mountain Zoo is home to dozens of species to make sure everyone has had their fill of wildlife.
For the people who would rather look at the beauty of the mountains from afar, there is no shortage of activities to be found in the town itself. While the typical major chain retailers and department stores can be found downtown, Roanoke has an obvious preference for farmers markets, boutiques, and antique shops. Black Dog Salvage, a 40,000 square-foot warehouse featured on the popular television show “Salvage Dawgs” on the DIY Network, has a stunning variety of antiques and commercial salvage and is a must-see for anyone in the area.
After a day of hiking up the mountain, Roanoke’s locals show that the best way to wind down is visiting their historic downtown district. Filled with breweries, art galleries, Civil War landmarks, and live music venues like the Crooked Road, guarantee visitors jam-packed, entertaining nights as well. Visitors can also check out the famous Alexander’s for a seasonally changing menu based on locally-sourced produce.
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trivago Tip: If you’re looking to get the most out of your time in Roanoke, plan to visit either in May or mid to late October. Not only will it be perfect weather for hiking, but you will be able to fully take in the change of seasons.
The beloved capital of Virginia is the epitome of all Virginia has to offer. A sprawling metropolis, downtown, and north, east, south, and west Richmond all seem to embody a different feeling. Visitors will be able to experience four separate entities all for the price of one. In each district, there have been a cultural, food, art, and craft beer revolutions that have made Richmond a cultural focal point on the east coast.
To truly experience the cultural hub that Richmond has become, visit the Fan district in West Richmond. The center of the City Beautiful movement in the 19th century, the Fan is the location of many boutiques and locally-owned cafes and restaurants, such as the vibrant Cuban Kuba Kuba or the quirky Village Cafe (be sure to try their legendary milkshakes!).
The art scene in Richmond has also exploded in recent years, but visitors do not have to visit any of its art galleries to truly experience it. With the Richmond Mural Project working each year to have murals painted throughout the city by local and international artists, the city itself has become an on-going piece of art. This project, which includes famous murals such as “Moonshine” on Grace Street, has turned even the more-neglected areas of Richmond into reinvigorated and beautiful scenes.
Richmond, however, is not just for the city-dweller. With the James River flowing through the city, Richmond has the only class III and class IV urban rapids in the country, making it an excellent option for anyone looking to spend their weekend kayaking and canoeing. The Henricus Historical Park and the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden also connect art and nature in the center of the city.
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trivago Tip: While Richmond has events year-round for everything from the arts to food, the best times of year to visit would be in December and between May and August. Richmond is the home to two major universities and has an influx of students during other times of the year; the winter and summer months will give any traveler ample time to explore the city without the added pressure of students. It is also the time when Richmond typically sponsors food, art, and history tours throughout the different districts.
As one of the most popular seaside towns on the east coast, Virginia Beach boasts pristine beaches, an active nightlife, and endless amounts of outdoor activities for the whole family. With an array of fine dining restaurants available close to the waterfront and throughout the city, the options are endless.
After a hearty meal of amazing beer battered fish n’ chips at 11th Street Taphouse Bar & Grill, take a stroll down Virginia Beach’s famous three-mile boardwalk. During the day, it is an ideal location for strolling, rollerblading, and biking with friends. Not only will visitors be meandering along the ocean, but they will be able to see the amazing nautical sculptures along the walkway, including the famous 24-foot bronze King Neptune statue. At night, it becomes a hub of live entertainment with musical entertainment along the boardwalk and on its four oceanfront stages.
Looking for more than just a swim in the Ocean? Boat tours allow for families to venture out into the calm waters while experiencing a variety of local wildlife and the picturesque view of the shoreline. For anyone who wants a bit more adventure, get airborne by going on a parasailing tour.
After a day in the sun and running up and down the beach, visitors can take advantage of uptown Virginia Beach, which offers an exceptional shopping experience as well, including the Town Center and the Pembroke Mall. The Town Center offers premier retail, dining, and live entertainment such as the Funny Bone Comedy Club and Restaurant.
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trivago Tip: While it might be cliché to suggest the beach in the summer, it is truly the best time to take advantage of all that Virginia Beach has to offer. While there is a greater influx of tourists, having three different sections of the beach to choose from keeps it from becoming overcrowded. The summer is also when Virginia Beach offers free live entertainment acts along the boardwalk, making it a must-see destination.
As one of the most historic and oldest settling towns in the United States, Colonial Williamsburg takes visitors back to a time when life seemed simple. The historic district is most famously known as the world’s largest living history museum with 301 acres of restored, reconstructed and historically-furnished buildings allowing for visitors to truly immerse themselves in what colonial life was like.
Here, experienced actors are adorned with replica costumes surrounded by realistic backdrops of stores and workshops to give visitors a glimpse of what colonial life was like. Young and old souls alike will enjoy this hands-on exposure to the trials and tribulations of early American settlers in the colonial era, 365 days a year. There is even a ghost tour offered Monday through Saturday that will allow visitors to take in the spookier-side of the historical town.
Adventurous travelers can partake in a number of outdoor activities, such as biking, hiking zip-lining, and boating through companies like Jamestown Discovery Boat Tours. For those looking to achieve the ultimate vacation full of rest and relaxation, Williamsburg also offers a broad selection of quaint upscale restaurants, luxurious spas, and world-class golf courses. According to the locals, the dining hot-spots to consider include Duck Donuts, The Hound’s Tale, and Old Chickahominy House right in Colonial Williamsburg.
Family fun can also be had at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, the world’s most beautiful theme park. Designed to look like classic Europe with villages modeled after the French countryside, hamlets of Scotland, and rural Germany, Busch Gardens Williamsburg allows for a day trip around Europe without ever leaving the country. Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town, which runs from November 24 through January 1, 2018, on select days, makes it all the more exciting for visitors, featuring the biggest Christmas light display in North America. With more than eight million lights, thrilling roller coasters, festive entertainment, and wholesome dining, travelers come from near and far to revel in the magic of the holiday spirit.
The lighting of the town tree is also widely attended. Those seeking a dash of holiday cheer gathers every year at the Square of Colonial Williamsburg on December 21 for a reading of the classic book, “The Night Before Christmas.” Surrounded by the twinkling lights of a newly lit tree, people of all ages come to enjoy a memorable evening.
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trivago Tip: The best months out of the year to visit Williamsburg are March, April, and October. October boasts beautiful foliage and warm, rain-free days which are perfect for exploring the grounds by foot as well as other outdoor activities. The summer months can be especially hot and humid for young children or elderly and will likely be crowded with large school groups given June through August is the duration of the peak season.
To get a dose of raw, unfiltered American history with a side of modern flair, a trip to the historic village of Yorktown is sure to do the trick. The city’s stunning waterfront paired with a two-acre beach and the famous revolutionary war battlefields make it a top destination for seasoned history buffs and young families alike.
A stroll down the Historic Riverwalk Landing will lead visitors to a number of top-notch seafood restaurants, such as Riverwalk Restaurant. A short walk from the historic Main Street and the battlefields, the Jumbo Grilled Tiger Shrimp & Polenta is the best introduction to Virginian seafood that any visitor can have. For those wanting to save a few dollars, the landscape is perfect for a picnic spread overlooking the river.
Families can also tour Yorktown by sailing down the York River on the Yorktown Schooner’s Alliance and Serenity. These charters give daily tours that allow visitors to look for dolphins and osprey, take in the historic town, enjoy original sea hymns sung by the deck hands, and learn how to tie sailor’s knots. For those who prefer to stay on solid ground, visitors can tour Yorktown Battlefield, the battlefield where George Washington won the Revolutionary War, is open year-round for tours.
During the holiday season, watch brightly decorated boats compete for “Best in Show” while the Yorktown waterfront twinkles from a spectacular floating parade of lights. A stroll along the waterfront around this time will also include carolers, bonfires, musical performances, and complimentary hot cider.
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trivago Tip: In addition to boat tours, enjoy Yorktown’s free trolley system to explore the waterfront, battlefields, and historic outdoor history sites.
Have your own favorite weekend getaways in Virginia? Let us know in the comments!
*Feature photo courtesy of Bill Crabtree Jr., Virginia Tourism Corporation