Thinking of exploring Virginia on your next vacation? If so, then visiting the city of Charlottesville is a must! Fondly known as C’ville by locals, the city oozes charm and boasts a rich history. You’ll find plenty of fun things to do in Charlottesville, VA, for the whole family, from exploring cool museums to hopping between wineries.
Among the top tourist attractions in Charlottesville, VA, you’ll explore the historic homes of US Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. Stroll around the beautiful campus of the University of Virginia to admire its lovely architecture and take in some art at the Fralin Museum of Art. Take the kids to the Virginia Discovery Museum for a day of learning through play. Or add some outdoor activities to your adventure and go on a hike in Shenandoah National Park and marvel at the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Keen to start planning your trip itinerary? Rev up your Virginia getaway with this list of the best places to visit in Charlottesville, VA—and get packing!
Must-see places to visit in Charlottesville, VA
The first place to visit on your Virginia bucket list should be Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States. Located on Thomas Jefferson Parkway just outside Charlottesville, the 5,000-acre plantation is listed as a U.S. National Historic Landmark and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Designed and built by Jefferson himself in a neoclassical style, the homestead stands on an 850-foot (260-meter) hill and is a sight to behold. You can wander around the magnificent building on a guided tour and delve deeper into Jefferson’s world as you explore rare artifacts and ephemera from his life.
Explore the Monticello plantation further on a garden tour. Take a step back into the time of slavery and Jefferson’s use of slaves. Don’t miss visiting Mulberry Row, the industrial hub of the plantation and home to the slave’s living quarters.
For more information on tickets and tour offerings, check out the official site.
James Monroe’s Highland
Onto the next presidential home in Charlottesville: James Monroe’s Highland. Once the home of the fifth President of the United States, James Monroe, Highland is set right next to Jefferson’s Monticello.
Once spanning over 3,500 acres, the Highland property has been beautifully preserved and is now a working farm and museum. You can explore the grounds on a guided tour that delves into the life and times of Monroe during his tenure as president. Wander through the slave quarters to get a sense of their hardship and strife.
Set some time aside to meander along Highland’s trails and soak up the picturesque rural scenery. Make a stop at the museum shop on your way out to pick up 19th-century authentic souvenirs, Monroe memorabilia, and locally made hickory syrup.
Enjoy some retail therapy and soak up some history at the same time at the Downtown Mall. Located on Main Street in the heart of Charlottesville’s historic downtown district, this area has it all and is a must-see while exploring one of Virginia’s most interesting historic cities.
At the Downtown Mall, travelers will find everything from unique boutiques and quirky art galleries to popular brand stores and great restaurants. All are housed in charming, historic buildings, showcasing the beautiful architecture of the era.
The Downtown Mall also boasts an ice park, tinkling fountains, enchanting sidewalk cafes, and a deluxe day spa. During the summer, the restaurants flow out onto the sidewalk, creating a bustling vibe of people eating, drinking craft beer and cocktails, and enjoying the weather. Foodies can grab a meal at one of the many dining options in the area, including everything from sandwiches, burgers, and other street snacks to fine French cuisine.
If the kids are bored, families can pop into the Virginia Discovery Museum, one of Charlottesville’s top museums. Adults can wander the streets to go shopping and duck into the many galleries featuring arts and crafts from local artists and artisans. At night, tourists can end their evening with a little entertainment. Catch live music performances or a show at performing arts venues and music venues like the Paramount Theater or the Jefferson Theater.
The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia
If you are hungry for some creativity, then head to the Fralin Museum of Art for a fix. Based at the University of Virginia, the museum is home to a permanent collection of American, Asian, Native American, and European art.
The Fralin Museum of Art is housed in the Thomas H. Bayly Memorial Building. The institution features over 14,000 objects ranging from ancient art from the Mediterranean to works by famous European artists.
Wander around the galleries and marvel at sculptures dating back five centuries and pre-Columbian artifacts. You can also enjoy a docent-led tour through the museum, as well as lectures and art-centric special events.
Virginia Discovery Museum
Get the kids excited about learning with a visit to the Virginia Discovery Museum. Based on Main Street in the Downtown Mall, the hands-on museum aims to engage children to learn through play. It features some fantastic exhibits that focus on a wide range of topics, from art and history to the sciences.
Designed for children between one and eight, the Virginia Discovery Museum promises a world of fun for a day. They can play doctor for a day at the Little C’Ville Children’s Hospital or build a house in the Construction Zone. Let your little one practice fine motor skills and pattern recognition at the Light Bright exhibit or read stories together in the Literacy Lounge.
Watch out for fun events held throughout the year by the museum, such as Boo Bash in October, Santa Pancake Breakfast in December, and Kid*Vention in February.
Admission to the Virginia Discover Museum is just $10 for adults and children.
Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia
For something out of the ordinary, explore the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia and learn all about the Australian Aborigines. Housed at Pantops Farm on Worrell Drive, the museum has a vast collection of indigenous Australian art. The art museum is the only one of its kind in the United States.
Wander around the galleries of this fascinating museum and take in the impressive collection that was donated by John W. Kluge in 1997. Explore the art and culture of the indigenous Australian people through more than 1,700 objects, including artifacts, paintings, and sculptures.
The incredible works of the Arnhem land artists and the Papunya Tula movement will help you to understand the deep connection between the people and their land. You can also enjoy free tours of the museum led by knowledgeable volunteer guides. There are also self-guided gallery activities for young visitors. Browse the gift shop to find unique, fair-trade gifts and souvenirs.
Shenandoah National Park
Got a couple of nature lovers in your travel group? Hit the road and take a scenic drive through the Shenandoah National Park that you’ll never forget! Soak up magnificent panoramic vistas of the Shenandoah Valley as you cruise along the Skyline Drive, a 105-mile picturesque byway set along the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
Home to lush wetlands, cascading waterfalls, and rugged rocky peaks, Shenandoah National Park boasts some of Virginia’s most beautiful landscapes and outdoor adventure experiences. Whether you want to see the wildflowers in spring or the vibrant fall foliage, the park is well worth visiting any time of the year, no matter your interests.
Stop off at one of the 75 overlooks along Skyline Drive to take in the breathtaking views. Or venture slightly off the beaten track to explore some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Virginia.
Watch out for black bears, though; many call the forests of the Shenandoah National Park home!
Carter Mountain Orchard
No visit to Virginia should be without the sweet taste of sun-ripened apples and peaches. And Carter Mountain Orchard is just the place to get them! Set against a beautiful backdrop of the Virginia countryside, the family-run farm is only minutes from downtown Charlottesville and is open year-round.
Visit the farm between mid-August and mid-December to pick your own sugar-sweet apples from the orchard. There are also several fall festivals around this time of the year, with fun events, hayrides, and delicious produce and fruits to buy.
Don’t forget to stop at the enchanting Country Store before you leave Carter Mountain Orchard. Stock up on country-fresh local veggies, mouthwatering apple pies, peach cider donuts, and fresh-pressed apple cider.
Nestled in the heart of one of America’s most historic winemaking regions, Jefferson Vineyards is an A-lister when it comes to making great wines. Whether you’re an aficionado of wine or simply like a good glass of red, then a visit to these vineyards is a must!
One of the most important wineries along the Monticello Wine Trail, this third-generation family-owned estate is steeped in history. The eponymously named wine estate continues the dream of President Thomas Jefferson, who had a passion for wine and grew his grapes on the same land.
The winery at Jefferson Vineyards is open daily for tastings. In the tasting room, you can sample a range of wines, from refreshing and delicate Rieslings to rich and full-bodied Chardonnay.
Be sure to taste the estate’s award-winning Viognier, for which the winery is famous. You’ll also get a souvenir glass from one of the most famous wineries in the country to take home.
Didn’t get your fill of wine on your getaway? Other popular wineries and vineyards along the Monticello Wine Trail include Blenheim Vineyards, King Family Vineyards, and Michael Shaps Wineworks. (Just be sure to have a designated driver or travel via shuttle!)
Lace up your running shoes and hit the Saunders-Monticello Trail for a scenic walk, jog, or run. Spanning over four miles, the trail begins in Kemper Park. It winds its way through some beautiful countryside before ending at Monticello.
Meandering along the Thomas Jefferson Parkway, the Saunders-Monticello Trail has different sections, from boardwalks and gravel walkways to shady woodland paths. It’s open to the public and enjoyed by joggers, dog walkers, cyclists, and runners.
Make a stop at the Carter Overlook and soak up some spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Wander through the centuries-old white oak trees of the Palmer Woodland Theater and the Arboretum for a look at Albemarle County’s native flora.
Ix Art Park
Explore the creative side of the city at the vibrant Ix Art Park in downtown Charlotteville. The park is a welcoming community space set in a vacant factory that was once a textile mill and features an acre of sculptures, bright murals, and picnic tables.
The park is a part of the larger IX Project, which promotes art, inclusivity, and community empowerment. Ix Art Park also hosts a variety of events throughout the year, from concerts and festivals to poetry readings. Spend a few hours here checking out the amazing murals and sculptures and enjoy a picnic lunch.
After you’re done, head indoors to The Looking Glass for a completely immersive art experience. Wander through a psychedelic world of color, explore an enchanted forest, and discover caves of kaleidoscopic light. It’ll bring out your inner child—and the kids will love it!
It’s never too late for a coffee. And Mudhouse Coffee is one of the coolest places to go in Charlottesville, VA, for a caffeine fix. The award-winning specialty coffee shop does it all, from ethically sourcing coffee beans from far-flung places like Panama to roasting, brewing, and serving delicious coffee.
Owned by hubby-and-wife team Lynelle and John Lawrence, Mudhouse Coffee is all about the bean. And you’ll taste their love for coffee in your first sip. You’ll find their café in the Downtown Mall. Sit on the sidewalk with a steaming espresso and watch the world go by.
If you love their coffee, you can buy freshly roasted blends, specialty coffee, and gift subscriptions, as well as brewing equipment and merchandise.
Three Notch’d Craft Kitchen & Brewery
For the beer lovers out there, Three Notch’d Craft Kitchen & Brewery promises to impress with its wide range of award-winning beer. Named after the old colonial thoroughfare that winds through the heart of Virginia known as Three Notch’d Road, the craft brewery has blazed its own trail when it comes to great beer.
Head to their taproom in IX Art Park, Craft Kitchen & Brewery, to enjoy a beer tasting and sample some of the award-winning ales at one of Charlottesville’s top craft breweries. The brewpub also serves a menu of mouthwatering, locally sourced, beer-infused dinner dishes to compliment the beers on tap.
Tuck into Southern cuisine classics like fried chicken while you sip an ice-cold Imperial IPA. Watch out for events held at the brewery – they’re a great way to meet like-minded beer lovers!
McGuffey Art Center
Support Charlottesville’s local art scene and take an art class at the McGuffey Art Center. Housed in the former McGuffey Elementary School building near downtown Charlottesville, the co-operative center is home to 40 studios, three spacious art galleries, and a gift shop.
You can join an art or crafts class or simply watch other artists at work in one of the studios in the center. There are also demonstrations and tours twice a month, as well as art-related events, workshops, and fundraisers.
Pay a visit to the gift shop, where you’ll find a range of members’ works for sale, as well as art supplies, books, and gifts. When you leave, take note of the beautiful design of the old school building, built in 1915 in the Colonial Revival style.
Walnut Creek Park
Walnut Creek Park is one of the best places in Charlottesville to spend a few hours in nature and a favorite with outdoor enthusiasts. The park spans over 500 acres and boasts dense old-growth woods crisscrossed with well-marked hiking trails. This makes it a fantastic spot for hiking and mountain biking. The park is usually packed on the weekends with hikers and riders.
If you prefer something more passive, the park is home to Walnut Creek Lake. The lake is well-stocked with fish and a good spot for casting a line.
You can also enjoy seasonal swimming off the park’s two beaches and disc golf on an 18-hole course. Rent a canoe and paddle around the lake, and enjoy a picnic lunch amongst the trees.
Charlottesville City Market
Everybody loves a farmer’s market, and the Charlottesville City Market is a special one. Operating every Saturday morning between April and December, the open-air market is the oldest in the city and is packed with nature’s goodies.
At Charlottesville City Market, you’ll find fresh produce, grass-fed meats, farm-raised chickens and eggs, fragrant herbs, and flowers. The aroma of freshly baked goods hangs in the air and mingles with brewing coffee, perfect accompaniments while you wander around the market.
Once you have worked up an appetite, tuck into delicious organic bagels or delicious cultural foods freshly prepared at the market.
Michie Tavern ca. 1784
One attraction that shouldn’t be missed on a visit to Charlottesville, VA, is the Michie Tavern. Built circa 1784, this beautifully restored 200-year-old tavern takes visitors back to life in the 18th century.
There are several buildings attached to Michie Tavern, including a General Store and the 1784 Pub. It’s well worth taking a tour of these buildings to get a feel for life in Virginia in the 1800s.
Indulge in a traditional 18th-century colonial lunch of hickory-smoked pork, deep-fried chicken, warm buttermilk biscuits, and more. Wait staff in period costumes add authenticity; you’ll really feel like you have stepped back in time!
After lunch, head to the 1784 Pub to try some hard cider and craft beer from local cideries and breweries. Pop into the gift shop on your way home to grab a few souvenirs for your loved ones.