Virginia has so much to offer it can be difficult to know where to start. If you’re not a resident, you may have trouble sorting through all the different possibilities when planning a visit. We hope our guide to the different parts of Virginia will help to explain what the different regions have to offer.
The Central Virginia region has the state capital of Richmond at its heart, a historic city with much to offer, both with its rich past and as a modern metropolis with thriving businesses, exciting entertainment options, and a vibrant cultural landscape. Fanning out from Richmond, several smaller cities also make great destinations for those seeking a modern urban setting with plenty of southern charm and hospitality. The region also offers many opportunities to take in the beauty of nature at parks, gardens, rivers, lakes, and more.
Richmond is the state capital of Virginia and served as the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War. It is located at the fall line of the James River and was incorporated in 1742. The city of Richmond is at the center of what is known as the Greater Richmond Area, a metropolitan region with a population of about 1 million people. The city is home to Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond. No matter your interests, there is plenty to do in Richmond.
If you have an interest in history, you will be overwhelmed with the variety of museums and historical sites that Richmond has to offer. Just a few of the city’s historical offerings include:
- Henricus Historical Park
- The American Civil War Museum
- The John Marshall House
- Agecroft Hall
- Maggie L. Walker National Historical Site
- The Virginia Historical Society
- The Edgar Allen Poe Museum
- The Jefferson Hotel
Other Museums and Attractions:
- Kings Dominion
- The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
- Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
- Virginia Holocaust Museum
- The Science Museum of Virginia
While in Richmond, you can visit the Fan district, stroll down historical Monument Avenue, and do some shopping in quirky Carytown. Downtown, you can visit the Canal Walk, enjoy one of the many events at Brown’s Island, or take in a show at the Altria or Carpenter Theatres. Get a taste of the local nightlife in the historic Shockoe Bottom district. And don’t forget to try some river rafting on the James or hiking at Belle Isle. Richmond truly has something for everyone.
About an hour west of Richmond, Charlottesville is a charming small city with much to offer visitors and residents. At the heart of the city, Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall is a beautiful and welcoming pedestrian mall, hailed as one of the finest in the nation. The mall is home to a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Several small and midsize venues, including the Jefferson Theater, Paramount Theater, and the Southern, host all kinds of musical acts and other events while the nTelos Wireless Pavilion draws larger acts to the city.
Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819. The university is home to the Cavaliers football team and is the state’s flagship research institution. You’ll also want to make time to visit Monticello, the home of founding father Thomas Jefferson.
Central Virginia’s smaller cities include Lynchburg and Petersburg, both homes to notable historical sites as well as exciting local arts and culture. The region is home to eight state parks and a number of wineries and craft breweries. There are many annual events in the region, most notably the State Fair of Virginia. You can also visit historic Appomattox Court House, the site of the end of the Civil War. Or you can enjoy skiing, as well as adventures for all seasons, at Wintergreen Resort.
Northern Virginia, known as NoVa to Virginia residents, is the most populous region of our state. Most of the cities and towns in this region make up the southern portion of the Washington D.C. Metro Area, and many residents commute to work in our nation’s capital. There is much to see here for the patriotically minded, and the proximity to a major city means that arts and cultural opportunities abound. You may want to leave some extra time for traffic while visiting Northern Virginia, but it is well worth the time.
Many visitors are drawn to Northern Virginia for its excellent shopping areas. Two of the largest malls in the nation are located here: Potomac Mills and Tysons Corner. The only Ikea store in Virginia is located in Woodbridge, near Potomac Mills, which is a draw all on its own. If your tastes run more to the small and unique, Old Town Alexandria offers one of a kind shops and boutiques in a charming historical setting.
Arlington National Cemetery pays tribute to our country’s fallen soldiers. Located on the grounds of Robert E. Lee’s home, Arlington House, it was established as a military cemetery during the Civil War and has been in use ever since. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the United States Marine Corps War Memorial, and the Women in Military Service for America Memorial are also located on the grounds.
Sites of historical significance abound in Northern Virginia. Manassas National Battlefield Park is the site of the first and second battles of Bull Run during the Civil War. Visit Mount Vernon, the home of our first president, George Washington. Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens is a rich educational opportunity that includes an orientation center, tours of the house and grounds, Washington’s tomb, and more.
Vienna, Virginia is home to the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. Performances at Wolf Trap’s stunning outdoor amphitheater range from orchestra and opera to popular musical acts and standup comedians. Wolf Trap is also dedicated to arts education and hosts a wide range of programs for children and young adults. The Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, Virginia is a visual and performing arts center that has transformed what was once an overcrowded prison into a beautiful arts and cultural venue. If you just can’t get enough of art centers that used to be something else, visit the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria. This repurposed munitions factory is home to artist studios, galleries, and art classes for all ages.
The National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia was voted the best museum destination for kids by Northern Virginia Magazine in 2015. The museum features an IMAX theater, flight simulators, and an observation tower in addition to its impressive collection of aviation artifacts, including a Concorde jet and the Discovery space shuttle. Children and adults alike are sure to enjoy the exhibits and daily tours.
For a taste of the natural wonders of the region, visit Great Fall National Park. This 800-acre park is home to the great falls of the Potomac, a treacherous but beautiful stretch of the river. You can also view one of the nation’s first canals or choose one of several hiking trails.
Northern Virginia is home to a wide variety of wineries and craft breweries, something it has in common with most of the state. Get a taste of the region with Virginia Wine Tours.
If you’re driving, Northern Virginia is accessible via Interstate 95. You can also fly into Dulles International Airport if you’re coming from further afield. It is easiest to travel by car while visiting Northern Virginia. However, you may want to take advantage of the Metro if you want to travel into DC.
The Tidewater region encompasses the eastern side of Virginia, including all areas that are affected by the Atlantic tides. This region is a study in extremes ranging from the virtually untouched natural beauty of the Eastern Shore to the bustling urban centers of the Hampton Roads area. With beautiful beaches, unparalleled natural wonders, and the rich history of the earliest European settlers, there is something for everyone in Tidewater.
The Historic Triangle refers to Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, which together are home to a treasure trove of early American history. Colonial Williamsburg is one of the most popular historical destinations in the country. Costumed interpreters educate visitors about all aspects of colonial life, from munitions to millinery, through demonstrations and guided tours. You can enjoy authentic 18th century food at one of several taverns or take part in some modern fun at the shopping area on Duke of Gloucester Street. William and Mary, the country’s second oldest university, is just next door, and you won’t want to miss a tour of the historic Wren Building.
Dive even deeper into our nation’s history at Jamestown Settlement. Get a feel for what’s in store with gallery exhibits and an introductory video. Then climb aboard recreations of three ships that brought the first English settlers to Virginia in 1607, visit the settlement at James Fort, and visit the recreated Powhatan village too see what life was like before Europeans arrived. For an even more authentic experience, the original site of the Jamestown settlement is just next door, and you can visit to see the ongoing archaeological work taking place there.
Complete your journey into American history at the Yorktown Victory Center, the site where British forces surrendered to the American revolutionaries in 1781. Here, you can experience a Continental Army encampment and a Revolution-era farm.
For those who aren’t as interested in history, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is just around the corner. Visit the Budweiser Clydesdales, take a ride on Apollo’s Chariot, and share a meal at the Festhaus. The fall Howl-O-Scream event is sure to terrify and excite, and during the holiday season, the park is transformed into Christmastown. This theme park will delight visitors no matter the season.
Directly east of the Historic Triangle, the Hampton Roads area is a metropolitan area that includes the cities of Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach. The US Military has a large presence in the area, and many Hampton Roads residents are employed by various military enterprises. Langley Air Force Base and Norfolk Naval Shipyard are just two of the numerous military bases in the region. With its proximity to the beach, the other major industry in this area is tourism.
If you’re looking for fun in the sun, you can’t do better than the Virginia Beach Boardwalk. This beautiful three-mile stretch of beach has bike and walking paths, food, entertainment, and hotels: an entire vacation at your fingertips. From sailing to jet skis to beach volleyball, Virginia Beach offers a host of outdoor activities to satisfy your sense of adventure.
Don’t miss the Cape Henry Lighthouses if you still need your history fix. Other area attractions include Nauticus, the National Maritime Center in Norfolk. This museum is dedicated to maritime science with exhibits on the history of the area and marine sciences. While visiting Nauticus, you can tour the Wisconsin, a World War II era battleship.
Chesapeake Bay and Eastern Shore
North of the Hampton Roads metropolitan area lies the idyllic Chesapeake Bay area. Enjoy the natural wonder of the largest estuary in the United States. The bay is known for its blue crabs and its variety of wildlife. Long-term conservation efforts help to keep the bay clean and thriving. You may want to stay in one of the many small bed and breakfasts in this region while you enjoy a calm and quiet retreat.
Accessible only via the 17-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel or by boat, the Eastern Shore is a remote and beautiful part of our state. It is comprised of the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula and several small islands. Thousands of visitors make their way to Chincoteague Island each year in July to watch the annual pony swim. Wild ponies are rounded up on neighboring Assateague Island and swum across the channel to Chincoteague for auction. This 90-year tradition was made famous by Marguerite Henry’s novel, Misty of Chincoteague.
On the opposite side of the state from the Eastern Shore, the western portion of Virginia is no less beautiful. The Appalachian mountain range runs through this area, which is rich with natural wonders. From the Shenandoah Valley in the north to the Heart of Appalachia region in the south, Western Virginia is a beautiful retreat.
Stretching for 200 miles along the northwest border of Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley is perhaps one of the most well known regions of our state, a subject of many stories and songs. Take a driving tour on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park or the Blue Ridge Parkway. Shenandoah National Park also offers amazing locations for hiking, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail, camping, and other outdoor adventures. Other natural wonders of the region include Natural Bridge and Luray Caverns.
Bryce and Massanutten ski resorts are located in this region. Find more information about them in our recent skiing post.
Southwest of the Shenandoah Valley, the beautiful Virginia mountains continue to delight visitors. If you’re really looking to get away from it all, visit Highland County for the annual Maple Festival in March. Or if you’re looking for something a little more upscale, visit the historic Omni Homestead Resort in Batch County.
Visit Virginia Tech in Blacksburg to take in some college football at the home of the Hokies.
There are ten state parks in this region, which provide plenty of opportunity to enjoy the natural landscape. And don’t forget to check out the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, approximately 200,000 acres of National Forest near Mount Rogers with opportunities for many outdoor activities including swimming, hiking, and horseback riding.
Bristol, Virginia is hailed as the birthplace of country music. In 1927, a record executive named Ralph Peer traveled to the region and conducted recording sessions of a number of artists including the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. The Birthplace of Country Music Museum invites visitors to explore the rich musical history of the region, and the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion Festival in September of each year keeps these musical traditions alive.
Truly, wherever you go in Virginia, there is so much variety to enjoy. Our state is blessed with rich history, abundant natural beauty, and a thriving modern culture. We can’t wait to welcome you with our traditional southern hospitality.
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