Heading to Charlottesville? Then count yourself lucky. With one foot in the past and the other firmly in the present, the city is a gorgeous blend of the old and the new. Whether you prefer to spend your time shopping, eating, trekking museums, or sipping wine, you’ll find no shortage of things to see and do. To help get you started on that all-important itinerary, here’s our roundup of the 20 best things to do in Charlottesville, Virginia For first-timers.
One-part gallery, one-part shop, and two parts fun, Feast! is a strange but delightful concept in which food becomes art, and art becomes food. Whether you understand the concept or not, you can’t help but be won over by the frankly fabulous array of cured meats, handmade cheese, artisanal breads, local wines, and fresh, organic produce.
19. Ivy Inn
If you’re in the mood for a romantic dinner for two, you won’t find a better place to enjoy it than the historic Ivy Inn. Charming, elegant, and superbly cozy, its southern comfort to its core.
18. Meadow Run Grist Mill
If you’re looking for a few souvenirs, head to the Meadow Run Grist Mill. Once a working mill owned by the Michie family, it’s been faithfully reconstructed and now houses the General Store, an atmospheric piece of history that also happens to be the perfect place to pick up a few jellies, jams, wines, or period pieces.
17. Albemarle County Court House
As courthouses go, Albemarle County Court House Is one of the most picturesque. The surrounding area is also worth taking your time over, being one of the prettiest and most historic in the city.
16. Les Yeux du Monde
Les Yeux du Monde may be tricky to find, but if you do manage to chance upon it, you’ll find it a treasure trove of superb artwork. The Lydia Gasman Archives are especially noteworthy.
15. Mulberry Row
In the early 19th century, Mulberry Row was the industrial center of Thomas Jefferson’s 5,000-acre farm, housing dozens of free blacks, free whites, indentured servants, and slaves. While the people may be long gone, the history lives on. Take a tour to experience it for yourself.
14. The Glass Palette - Interactive Glass Art Studio
If you like arts and crafts, you’ll love The Glass Palette. The one of a kind interactive studio gives you the opportunity to make your own glass creations, whether its jewelry, sun catchers, candle holders, picture frames, plates, or glasses. With friendly instructors and the chance to take home what you make, it’s a quirky, fun experience that the whole family will enjoy.
13. Cville Hop on Tours
If you want to pack in as many vineyards as possible in as short as time as you can, hop on a Cville Hop on Tour. With no need to worry about driving, you can sit back, relax, and experience some of the finest wines and ciders Charlottesville has to offer.
12. Jefferson Vineyards
Fun fact: Jefferson Vineyards was commissioned by none other than Founding Father Thomas Jefferson. Heritage aside, it’s still a mighty fine place to sample some of the state’s finest wines – and with a tasting fee of just $12 for eight samples, a bargain to boot.
Fancy visiting the former stomping grounds of our fifth president? Then head to Highland, James Monroe’s historic family home. The house remains much as it was then, right down to the original furniture and floorboards. The only difference is that days, there’s also a host of knowledgeable guides on hand to disperse their wisdom.
10. Shenandoah National Park & Skyline Drive
Some people might say a drive isn’t a “thing to do”. Those people have clearly never driven along Skyline Drive. As the only public road to cross the 200,000-acre Shenandoah National park, the drive is littered with some of the best views you’ll find in Virginia… not to mention enough local wildlife (including deer, black bears, and wild turkeys) to justify a crawling speed limit of 35 miles per hour.
9. Blenheim Vineyards
Virginia isn’t short of wineries, but few come quite so recommended as Blenheim Vineyards. The vineyards themselves are a delight, while the $10 tasting fee is one of the biggest bargains you’ll find in Charlottesville.
8. Michie Tavern
If you like a healthy dose of history with your lunch, you won’t be disappointed with the Michie Tavern. Originally built in the 1700s in nearby Earlysville, Virginia, the tavern made the move to Charlottesville some years back, and has been doing a healthy trade in the finest locally made wines, beers, and ciders ever since (the snacks aren’t exactly shoddy either).
7. Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia
Housed at Pantops Farm on Worrell Drive, the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection is home to one of the largest and finest collections of Indigenous Australian art in the world, and one more than worthy of a visit.
6. The Saunders-Monticello Trail
If you fancy retreating from the crowds for a while, head to the Saunders-Monticello Trail, 370 acres of native forest, dramatic ravines, local wildlife, and fabulous panoramas over the Blue Ridge Mountain. Ranked by Trip Advisor as one of the top activities to enjoy in Charlottesville, it’s a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.
5. Carter Mountain Orchard
Visit Carter Mountain Orchard in Fall and you’ll be rewarded with some of the most stunning views you’ll find anywhere in the state. If the kaleidoscope of colors wasn’t enough to justify the trip, the chance to partake in some Bold Rock Cider and homemade apple cider doughnuts from the onsite country store certainly is.
4. The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia
Vacation Idea rates The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia highly among the best things to do in Charlottesville… and with its huge collection of 13,000 highly impressive art pieces, so do we.
If you’ve ever wanted to walk in the footsteps of a Founding Father, don’t miss a visit to Monticello, the former home of Thomas Jefferson. With its gorgeous, European inspired architecture and splendid grounds, it’s more than worth the $33 entrance fee.
2. University of Virginia
If you can navigate past the hordes of students, you’ll find the University of Virginia a very worthwhile destination. As the only university in the US to hold the title of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the building is unquestionably a thing of beauty. A stroll of the gorgeously landscaped grounds is equally worthy of an hour or so of your time.
1. Downtown Mall
If you want to eat the tastiest food, shop in the best boutiques, walk around the finest art galleries, and generally have a fine old time of it, there’s only one place in Charlottesville to head – the Downtown Mall. Stretched over eight blocks and packed to the gills with every type of recreational opportunity known to man, it’s a must-do… which is probably why both we and US News rank it as the number one thing to do in Charlottesville.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn