The best things to do in Virginia mostly revolve around the state’s role in US history. It’s known as the birthplace of prominent presidents, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. You can explore stately manors and estates dating back to the 18th century. These landmarks have well-preserved furniture, artefacts, and manicured gardens.

    Virginia has natural wonders if you want to enjoy the great American wilderness. These include one of the country’s largest national parks. Family-friendly campgrounds, hiking trails, otherworldly caverns, and majestic waterfalls are among the activities you can enjoy throughout the year. Take a break from the city life and embark on a road trip to Virginia with our handy guide below.

    What are the best things to do in Virginia?

    1

    Perfect panoramas on Virginia Beach

    Violet skies, blue sea and cool graffiti

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    Virginia Beach is known for its fresh oysters, fishing piers, and the King Neptune sculpture. Along 31st Street, walk on the boardwalk and see the 34-feet King Neptune statue, cast in 12 tons of bronze and stone, a symbol of maritime legacy and marine conservation. On 18th Street, the ViBE Creative District is a modern arts complex with outdoor exhibitions like the mural festival, art pop-up shows and music performances. While here, stop at Ocean Eddies for some crab cakes and cheese curds with spectacular views.

    This region has an average of 215 sunny days per year, but you’ll find it crowded almost year-round. Only a few miles away are the Chesapeake Bay and Sandbridge Beach that are pristine and a bit more secluded.

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    2

    George Washington's Mount Vernon

    The former home of America’s first president

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    George Washington's Mount Vernon is an 18th-century estate in Fairfax County. It’s about 10 miles south of Alexandria. You can learn about the first US president through guided tours and historic re-enactments. The mansion itself is a living museum. It features well-preserved period furniture, a blacksmith shop, and a working farm.

    An onsite museum specialises in exhibits and immersive programmes dedicated to George Washington’s legacy. Must-sees include his false teeth and inaugural shoe buckles. You can also explore 4 landscaped gardens surrounding Mount Vernon. One of these is a kitchen garden that has been cultivating vegetables since 1760.

    Location: 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy, Mt Vernon, VA 22121, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 703-780-2000

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    3

    The Pentagon

    Join a guided tour of the DoD headquarters

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    The Pentagon is a symbol of the US military, serving as the United States Department of Defense’s headquarters. The pentagonal-shaped structure is also one of the world’s largest low-rise office buildings, spanning around 6.5 million sq ft. There are many military displays within the Pentagon – a must-see is the Hall of Heroes, which commemorates 3,400 recipients of the Medal of Honor (Army, Sea Service, and Air Force).

    You can enter the Pentagon by reserving a free guided tour with the Pentagon Tours, which was established in 1976. The hour-long tours are available from Mondays to Thursdays, and you can expect to walk about 1.5 miles within the building.

    Location: Washington, DC 22202, USA

    Open: Monday–Friday from 9 am to 4 pm (closed on weekends)

    Phone: +1 703-697-1776

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    4

    Shenandoah National Park

    A 200,000-acre forest with waterfalls, rolling hills and scenic trails

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    Shenandoah National Park is a 200,000-acre protected forest that covers part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hikers can find over 500 miles of trails, including part of the long-distance Appalachian Trail. Most routes take you to majestic waterfalls, such as Overall Run, Dark Hollow, and Whiteoak Canyon.

    Enjoy a scenic road trip along the Skyline Drive, which spans 105 miles along the crest of the mountains. Along the way, around 75 overlooks lead you to the national park’s visitor centres, campgrounds, and picnic areas. Dog-friendly camps, cabins and lodges are available if you’re planning to explore Shenandoah National Park for more than a day.

    Phone: +1 540-999-3500

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    5

    Arlington National Cemetery

    The final resting place of over 400,000 military veterans

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    The Arlington National Cemetery is the largest military graveyard in the USA. More than 400,000 military veterans and their immediate family are buried in this 624-acre site, along with President John F. Kennedy, President William Howard Taft, and world-renowned boxer Joe Louis.

    There are several historic monuments within the cemetery – The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a large white sarcophagus commemorating unidentified fallen soldiers who fought in WW1 and WWII as well as the Korea and Vietnam Wars. The Arlington National Cemetery is less than 2 miles north of the Air Force Memorial.

    Location: Arlington, VA 22211, USA

    Open: April–September: daily from 8 am to 7 pm. October–March: daily from 8 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 877-907-8585

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    6

    Luray Caverns

    Hear symphonic music in Eastern America’s largest caverns

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    The Luray Caverns is a unique natural formation beneath the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s known as the largest cavern system in Eastern America. Inside, you’ll find lit and paved walkways leading to chambers with towering columns, stalactites, stalagmites, and spring pools.

    A must-see is the Great Stalacpipe Organ, which produces symphonic music using stalactites of assorted sizes. Outside the Luray Caverns, you can have fun at the Rope Adventure Park and find your way out of the Garden Maze. You can also check out resto-red vintage vehicles at the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum.

    Location: 101 Cave Hill Rd, Luray, VA 22835, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +1 540-743-6551

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    7

    United States Marine Corps War Memorial

    See the iconic sculpture by Horace W. Peaslee

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    The United States Marine Corps War Memorial is dedicated to members of Marines who have perished serving the country since 1775. The military monument was established in 1954, depicting Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photograph that was taken during the Battle of Iwo Jima in WWII.

    Designed by Horace W. Peaslee and completed by Felix de Weldon, the sculpture shows 6 Marines raising a USA flag atop Mount Suribachi. The United States Marine Corps War Memorial occupies a 100-ft-high hill, overlooking the Potomac River.

    Location: Arlington, VA 22209, USA

    Open: Daily from 6 am to midnight

    Phone: +1 703-289-2500

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    8

    Norfolk Botanical Garden

    Visit in spring to see 3,000 rose plants in full bloom

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    The Norfolk Botanical Garden has 60 themed gardens from various parts of the world. The Bicentennial Rose Garden has over 3,000 rose plants from 300 varieties. The Flowering Arboretum covers 17.5 acres with around 335 flowering trees.

    Besides flowers, you can enjoy rotating exhibits on paintings and photos at the Baker Hall Visitor Center. There’s a guide-driven tram that circles the garden in 30 minutes. Paved and woodland trails surrounding Mirror Lake are accessible on foot or bicycle. You can also enjoy a 45-minute boat ride that takes you across Lake Whitehurst.

    Location: 6700 Azalea Garden Rd, Norfolk, VA 23518, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 7 pm

    Phone: +1 757-441-5830

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    9

    Natural Bridge Arch

    A naturally carved limestone bridge spanning 215 ft

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    The Natural Bridge Arch is the largest of its kind in North America. It measures 90 ft long and 215 high. This historical landmark in Virginia’s Rockbridge County occupies a gorge carved out by Cedar Creek, surrounded by forests and limestone karsts.

    It’s believed that George Washington carved his initials into the rocks in 1750. The Natural Bridge Arch is part of a state park of the same name. The state park has notable attractions such as the Cedar Creek Trail, Lace Falls, and the Monacan Indian Living History Village.

    Location: Cedar Creek Trail, Natural Bridge, VA 24578, USA

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 8 pm

    Phone: +1 540-291-1326

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    10

    Virginia Living Museum

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    A prime animal attraction, the Virginia Living Museum features hands on exhibits, a planetarium and a nature trail with 250 species of plants and animals. Kids have the chance to get up close and personal with wildlife native to Virginia, including endangered red wolves and bald eagles. 

    Be sure to check out the Dinosaur Discovery Trail. This permanent outdoor exhibition gives you the chance to get up close and personal with 16 massive dinosaur species which roamed the earth millions of years ago. A walk through the woods will transport you back in time as you’ll come face to face with realistic, full-size replicas of various dinosaurs. Make sure to visit the 16-foot-tall Brachiosaurus for some memorable holiday photos.

    Location: 524 J. Clyde Morris Blvd., Newport News, VA 23601

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 757-595-1900

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    photo by Tony Alter (CC BY 2.0) modified

    11

    Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

    The largest public collection of Fabergé outside of Russia

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    The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has a permanent collection of over 50,000 works of art, displayed in more than 10 galleries. Most artefacts are from donations to the art museum in the early 1900s, including 150 jewelled objects from Russia.

    Must-sees include extensive displays of Fabergé eggs and African art. Also prominent are the Art Nouveau works by the likes of Emile Galle, Louis Majorelle, and Louis Comfort Tiffany. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts offers a digital lab, specialised studios, and exhibition space for aspiring artists, both young and old.

    Location: 200 N Arthur Ashe Blvd, Richmond, VA 23220, USA

    Open: Wednesday–Friday from 10 am to 9 pm, Saturday–Tuesday from 10 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 804-340-1400

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    photo by VMFAimaging (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    12

    Great Falls Park

    Tackle over 15 miles of scenic trails by foot, bicycle, and horseback

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    Great Falls Park covers 800 acres of natural wonders along the Potomac River, north of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The national park spreads across both Virginia and Maryland, attracting visitors from both states looking to enjoy recreational activities throughout the year.

    Hikers can enjoy more than 15 miles of scenic trails, most leading to the 20-ft-high Great Falls. The River Trails takes you along the Potomac River towards an overlook that offers views of the cascades and Mather Gorge. Trail maps, an interactive children’s room and exhibits are available at the Great Falls Park Visitor Center.

    Location: 9200 Old Dominion Dr, McLean, VA 22102, USA

    Open: Daily from 7 am to 7.45 pm

    Phone: +1 703-757-3101

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    13

    Historic Jamestowne

    The USA’s first permanent English settlement

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    Historic Jamestowne dates to 1607 and was the first permanent English settlement in North America. The 22.5-acre cultural heritage site has important 17th-century landmarks, including James Fort, Jamestown Church, and Statehouse. Your general admission ticket includes guided tours of the James Fort site.

    You can learn about Historic Jamestowne at the Archaearium. This archaeological museum displays more than 4,000 tools, coins, trade goods, weapons, and religious items. A must-see is Virginia’s largest collection of colonial-period Native American artefacts. Visit the Glasshouse to see demonstrations by glassblowers in period costumes.

    Location: 1368 Colonial Pkwy, Jamestown, VA 23081, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 75-785-61250

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    14

    Maymont

    A Gilded Age mansion with exquisite gardens

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    Maymont is a lavish estate spanning 100 acres that sits above the James River in Richmond. Established in 1893 by the Dooley family, the 12,000-sq-ft mansion has 33 rooms decorated in Gilded Age décor and furniture. The central hall is a standout, with a Tiffany Studios stained-glass window rising above the grand stairway.

    Head outside to explore Maymont’s lush Italian and Japanese gardens, along with an arboretum and the Robins Nature Center. The kids can play with friendly goats, horses, and rabbits at the Maymont Farm while open spaces surrounding the barn are great for picnics.

    Location: 1700 Hampton St, Richmond, VA 23220, USA

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 7 pm

    Phone: +1 804-358-7166

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    Penny Wong | Compulsive Traveller

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