Got a few extra hours during your Virginia visit? This state is for lovers – and for lovers of travel, Richmond is the perfect base for exploring Virginia’s top travel destinations. Within just an hour or two, you can discover everything from world-famous historic sites to breathtaking landscapes on the best day trips from Richmond, VA.
Home to the first English colony in America, Virginia brims with great travel options for American history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, wine lovers, and connoisseurs of culture. Outside Richmond, you can soak up the stunning beauty of Shenandoah National Park, explore charming historic towns like Fredericksburg, or stand on the Revolutionary War battlefield of Yorktown.
Within easy reach, you’ll discover amazing attractions ranging from fascinating Colonial Williamsburg to the remarkable Smithsonian Museums to the enticing Monticello Wine Trail.
Ready to launch your Virginia adventure? Max it out with this guide to the top-rated Richmond side trips!
Top-rated Richmond, VA, side trips
If you’re a history buff, a visit to Virginia’s three “Historic Triangle” cities is a must – and Williamsburg, VA, is one of them. Less than an hour southeast of Richmond, Williamsburg was the vibrant capital of the Virginia Colony from 1699 to 1780, just as dreams of American independence were catching fire. Steeped in history, Williamsburg is home to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the leading center for the preservation of American Colonial history.
Make a beeline for the Colonial Williamsburg site, the largest living history museum in the world. Walk through this gateway into the past and explore beautifully-preserved historic buildings.
Experience the past brought alive as costumed actors recreate life in the 1700s. Cook in a Colonial kitchen, browse an 18th–century shop, or watch cabinet makers and blacksmiths at work. Ride in a horse-drawn carriage through the cobblestone streets.
If you’ve worked up a thirst, one of the most popular things to do in Williamsburg, VA, is to stop in for a tipple at one of the town’s Colonial taverns, where past patrons included none other than George Washington.
Up for some 21st–century action? Then zip over to family-friendly Busch Gardens, a European-themed amusement park spread over 130 acres and featuring over 50 rides and attractions. Take in live musical performances, or scoot along to the zoo for up-close critter encounters.
If you’re craving a taste of the great outdoors, you’ll get your fill at York River State Park. Home to the Croaker Landing archaeological site, this is where a tobacco warehouse once stood in the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, it’s a haven for a wide range of plant and animal life – so grab your binoculars and explore this fascinating environment by foot, bike, horseback, or boat.
Just 20 minutes southwest of Williamsburg, you’ll discover Jamestown, VA – another of Virginia’s Historic Triangle cities and a cultural heritage site. History lovers can feast on the past as they explore the site of the first English colony in North America.
Originally built as a fort in 1607, Jamestown became the first settlement in what would later become the United States – and this site is a treasure trove of historical sites. Watch archaeologists at the delicate work of uncovering remnants of the original buildings.
Get a glimpse into the past at the Archaearium, where you can view an amazing array of artifacts that have been discovered on the site. Peruse films and gallery exhibits at the onsite museum to learn more about Jamestown’s past.
Walk in the footsteps of 17th-century settlers who shaped American history. Immerse yourself in the past as you explore the site’s impressive living history museum – a recreation of the original settlement and Colonial fort. Explore the Native American village, and learn more about the lives and culture of the area’s early indigenous peoples.
Ready to complete your tour of Virginia’s Historic Triangle cities? Just head 30 minutes southeast of Williamsburg, and you’ll reach the port of Yorktown. What you’ll find appears to be a small (population 200), charming town – but it’s a holy grail for American history buffs.
Yorktown entered the history books in 1781 when it became the site of the final battle of the American Revolution, kickstarting the transformation of a one-time British colony into an independent nation.
Check-in at the Yorktown Visitor Center for orientation, then explore the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and soak up the past through films and gallery exhibits. Take a self-guided tour and try not to feel goosebumps as you stand on the Yorktown Battlefield. This is where George Washington’s troops defeated the British army and secured the independence of a colony that would eventually become the most powerful nation on earth.
Immerse yourself in an amazing living history museum that features recreations of a Colonial farm and army encampment. Learn more about Colonial life and the Revolutionary War from costumed historical interpreters – who may invite you to tend the crops or work alongside a cannon crew!
Stroll through Historic Yorktown and admire its beautiful 18th-century architecture. Browse boutiques and galleries along Main Street. Savor fresh seafood on the Riverwalk Landing. Then amble along to Yorktown Beach, a two-acre beach that stretches along the York River. Swim, boat, fish, or just sit back and take in the view of tall ships plying the water.
Shenandoah National Park, VA
Craving a dose of fresh air and scenic beauty? Then be sure that Shenandoah National Park is on your bucket list of Richmond day trips. A vast stretch of land, including parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this stunning landscape is a national treasure. Boasting over 200,000 of protected land, Shenandoah National Park brims with forests, wildlife, rivers, and miles of hiking trails – including some of the best waterfall hiking in the state.
Stop in first at the Byrd Visitor Center to plan your visit. Then hit the road – or “ride the sky” along Skyline Drive, one of the most popular mountain drives in the country. This National Scenic Byway stretches 105 miles through Shenandoah National Park and along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Keep your camera handy because you’ll be making multiple stops at scenic overlooks. Revel in beautiful views of the stunning Shenandoah Valley to the west, the rolling piedmont to the east, and the otherworldly hues of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the south.
But don’t just view it: experience it! Shenandoah National Park is a hiking paradise, and the Skyline is a gateway to over 500 miles of amazing park trails (including the legendary Appalachian Trail) that’ll take you to mountain summits and cascading waterfalls. Trek to the summit of Hawksbill Mountain – the park’s high point – and you’ll be rewarded with amazing vistas of the valley spread out below you.
If you’re up for some after-dark awe, head for the Big Meadows campground for spectacular viewing of the star-spangled night sky.
Looking for a spot that blends historic charm with 21st-century zest? Located just an hour and change from Richmond, Charlottesville, VA, has the recipe for an excellent day trip.
Small but vibrant, Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia – which probably accounts for its youthful vibe. One of the country’s most historic universities, it was founded by former president Thomas Jefferson and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the must-see tourist attractions in Charlottesville, VA.
Designed by Thomas Jefferson himself, the extraordinary University of Virginia campus is a treat for the eyes. Be sure to visit the Pantheon-inspired Rotunda, the crowning jewel of Jefferson’s “academical village.” Dig deep into his design genius with a tour of the acclaimed Monticello, the magnificent estate Jefferson built (and rebuilt) for his family over a span of 40 years.
Steeped in history, Charlottesville honors the past in its historic district. Stroll the Downtown Mall and explore charming boutiques, vibrant galleries, tempting eateries, and live music venues nestled in beautiful 19th-century buildings.
Hop on a traditional batteau to get the view from the James River, one of the longest rivers in the state. Take the kids to the Virginia Discovery Museum for a fun interactive learning experience. Treat your eyes to the visual delights at the Fralin Museum of Art, showcasing 14,000 pieces of art from around the world.
Find a quiet oasis in McIntire Park. Stroll its scenic paths, and drink in fantastic views of the breathtaking mountains and forests that Virginia is known for.
Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, VA
Don’t be put off by the name – and take George Washington’s word for it when he described the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, VA, as a “glorious paradise” teeming with wildlife.
He was right, as the thousands of birders and nature lovers who flock here can attest. The Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge is what remains of an amazing natural habitat that once covered large swathes of Carolina and Virginia. Today, it’s a haven that teems with wildlife – so pack your camera and binoculars!
Explore this vibrant ecosystem on a network of boardwalks and hiking trails that take you deep into the site. You can make your journey a self-guided tour or take a guided interpretive nature walk.
Be on the lookout for residents of the refuge. Great Dismal hosts one of the East Coast’s largest Black Bear populations. It’s also home to white-tailed deer, bobcats, butterflies, and countless species of beautiful birds – so be prepared for plenty of great photo ops!
For a change of pace, take a boat ride or cast a fishing line into Lake Drummond. Brought a hamper? Kick back with an alfresco lunch at a picnic table under the pines.
And here’s a little-known fact to ponder while you dine: this site played an important role in African-American history as one of the only water-based stopovers on the Underground Railroad.
You’ve done the Virginia state capital: now explore the nation’s capital city: Washington, DC. It’s just a two-hour road trip away from Richmond, and this fascinating city is jam-packed with world-class museums and historic landmarks.
No day in Washington, DC, would be complete without a visit to the White House, the seat of the American government and one of the world’s most recognized buildings. Book a spot for a guided tour of the East Wing and the beautiful White House Rose Garden. Stop in at the visitor center to learn about the building’s history and past residents.
Bike or stroll along the beautiful National Mall to reach some of Washington’s most memorable sites. Stop off to gaze up at the sky-high Jefferson Monument. Take time to explore at least a couple of the amazing Smithsonian Museums. The Air and Space Museum is a stunner, featuring WWI, WWII, and other early aircraft suspended from the ceiling.
Discover the treasures at the Museum of Natural History, one of the world’s most-visited museums and one of the most popular places to visit in Washington, DC. Take in the magnificent marble Lincoln Memorial, where a moving rendering of Honest Abe presides over the US Capitol Building.
Minutes from the Capitol, you can pay your respects at Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place of over 400,000 Armed Forces members who have died in service.
Monticello Wine Trail, VA
Got some time while the sun’s over the yardarm? Then hit the Monticello Wine Trail. Inspired by the innovative Thomas Jefferson Vineyards, this little spot of oenophile heaven nestles just an hour away from Richmond.
A delectable Richmond day trip, the Monticello Wine Trail showcases nearly 40 wineries that produce award-winning products from the celebrated vineyards of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Treat your senses to a day of sipping your way through the lush Virginia countryside. Immerse yourself in the region’s rich cultural heritage as you learn about how Thomas Jefferson inspired the art of grape growing and winemaking in Virginia.
Discover the secrets of world-class viniculture as you tour and taste. (If you’re planning on sampling, join a wine tour in Charlottesville and let someone else do the driving.)
These wineries welcome visitors! Check their schedules for upcoming special events and festivals, including Charlottesville’s Taste of Monticello Festival, held every year at the end of April.
Want to spend the night in a room with a vineyard view? You’re in luck: Several of the wineries offer lodgings ranging from cozy B&Bs to farmhouses to historic inns. At the Glass House Winery, you may just find a chocolate on your pillow, courtesy of the in-house chocolatier!
Lake Anna State Park, VA
Up for a taste of lake life? Head north to Lake Anna State Park, and you’ll find loads of activity options for everyone in your travel crew—kids and adults alike!
Just over an hour from Richmond, Lake Anna State Park is home to one of Virginia’s most popular recreational areas. Its centerpiece lake is one of the largest freshwater inland reservoirs in Virginia, stretching over 13,000 acres.
This area is steeped in history, first making headlines with the discovery of gold in 1829. Check out the Visitor Center for exhibits tracing the history of the region’s gold mining. Get a close-up look at the original Goodwin Gold Mine on a guided tour.
The gold may be long gone, but Lake Anna State Park is still a magnet for history buffs. Once a Confederate stronghold during the Civil War, the area’s war landmarks and monuments are vivid reminders of the past.
Today, the action is on & around Lake Anna. Take a scenic trip along 200 miles of shoreline. Relax on the beach, head out on the water by boat, take a dip, or cast a fishing line. Explore over 15 miles of forested park trails on foot, bike, or horseback.
For a change of pace, browse the lakeside markets, boutiques, and antique stores. Stop in at one of the area’s locally owned eateries for a tasty meal.
Want to make a night of it? Stake out a campsite, or book some bunk space in one of the park’s lakeside cabins or lodges.
George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, VA
Craving some wide open spaces? Make tracks to the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, and you’ll be spoiled for choice.
Set in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, just two hours from Richmond, this vast outdoor recreation area is one of the largest tracts of public land in the Eastern US. Stretching from West Virginia in the east to Kentucky in the west, the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests feature over 1.8 million acres of pristine forest.
Take your pick of over 2,000 miles of hiking trails that you can explore on foot, by bike, or on horseback. Savor breathtaking views of this gorgeous, diverse landscape. Here, you’ll discover everything from crystalline mountain streams to lush forests to rugged mountaintops. During the winter, strap on your skis or hop on a snowmobile to tour the snow-covered expanses.
Looking for water-based action during the heat of summer? Check out a multitude of lakes, rivers, and streams and regain your cool with a bout of boating, fishing, or swimming.
Seeking a destination that blends a rich historical legacy with modern urban energy? Take a trip to Fredericksburg, VA, and you’ll find it. About an hour north of Richmond, Fredericksburg is a lovely college town with a little something for everyone, from history buffs to food and wine lovers.
Stroll the town’s charming 40-block National Historic District, where you can explore over 350 18th– and 19th–century buildings. Browse over 100 specialty craft shops and boutiques. Savor a delicious locally-sourced meal at one of the district’s chef-owned restaurants.
History enthusiasts will hit the motherlode here. Explore a multitude of museums and historic sites showcasing Fredericksburg’s Colonial and revolutionary roots. Head out of town for a journey into the past at the area’s battlefields, where you can trace the footsteps of Civil War soldiers. Explore historic sites like Ferry Farm, George Washington’s boyhood home.
Worked up a thirst? You’re in the heart of wine country, so get in on a wine tour. Prefer something frothy? Scope out the local craft breweries. And if you want to know what history tastes like, drop into the award-winning A. Smith Bowman Distillery for a sample of the oldest bourbon in Virginia.