Virginia Guide

 The Commonwealth of Virginia has everything to offer tourists from big cities to small country towns, mountains to beaches, history to shopping, and everything in between. Covered with lots of historical places to visit, a couple of national scenic highways, and packed with a thriving local business industry, the state is a must-see tourist destination.

 

FAST FACTS ABOUT VIRGINIA

Currency – $USD

Electricity – 110V – Type A & Type B Standard Plugs

Time Zone – Eastern Time Zone (GMT -5 hrs)

Popular Tourism Seasons – Virginia sees a surging and declining tourism schedule throughout the year. The late spring months of April and May see a surge in tourism across the state as people begin day trips and long weekends. The official start for most of the tourism across the state is Memorial Day weekend when most schools are out or close to being out for the summer. June – August is the busiest tourism season in the state from the mountains to the beaches, but the shoulder season from September – October also sees a lot of travelers. The colder winter months are quiet, especially in the Appalachian Mountains where many campgrounds are closed for the season.

 

GETTING THERE & GETTING AROUND

Primary Airports – Charlottesville (CHO), Lynchburg (LYH), Newport News (PHF), Norfolk (ORF), Richmond (RIC), Roanoke (ROA), Staunton/Waynesboro/Harrisonburg (SHD), Washington, D.C./Arlington (DCA), Washington, D.C./Chantilly (IAD)

Primary Train Stations – Norfolk (NFK), Newport News (NPN), Richmond (RVM), Alexandria (ALX), Fredericksburg (FBG), Williamsburg (WBG), Charlottesville (CVS), Danville (DAN), Staunton (STA). Also be sure to check out the Virginia Rail Express for travel through central and northern Virginia.

Major Highways – Interstates 95, 64, 85, 66, 81, and 77 pass through the state. Interstate 26 ends at the Virginia/Tennessee border near Gate City, VA. Highway 58 is almost 90% a four-lane divided highway that runs across the southern border of the entire state from Cumberland Gap, TN to Virginia Beach.

Best Transportation – Driving a car is the best mode of transportation for Southwest Virginia and the beaches, but if you plan to visit central or northern Virginia your best bet is public transportation such as Amtrak and local subways. Traffic along the Richmond-Arlington-Alexandria corridor can become snarled during rush hour, holidays, and just about any other reason. If you plan to visit the Appalachian Mountains in the winter I would recommend an all wheel drive or, even better, a four wheel drive vehicle so you don’t get caught in a snow storm (keeping in mind nothing really helps on ice so be careful).

 

SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES

 

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CHOOSE YOUR REGION

Southwest Virginia

Southwest Virginia is home to some of the most beautiful scenic drives in the state, the tallest mountains, and is considered to be the Birthplace of Country Music.

Abingdon is a vibrant small country town with a historic Main Street corridor, the Barter Theatre, Martha Washington Inn, and home to the annual Virginia Highlands Festival. The town offers a lot of local options for food and several rental cottages for extended stays. The Virginia Creeper Trail begins here, making it’s way through the nearby town of Damascus before reaching Whitetop Mountain.

Big Stone Gap is a small former coal town that was made popular in 2015-2016 with the filming and premiere of a movie named after the town. Written and directed by local Adriana Trigiani, the movie was filmed in the town and shown at theaters across the state. The town is also well known for the Trail of Lonesome Pine Outdoor Drama, which is the official outdoor drama of the state of Virginia. Along with a B&B, local eateries, a campground, and lots of museums, this small town has a lot to offer visitors.

Blacksburg is home to Virginia Tech University and the Hokies sports teams. What was once a small college town has boomed in the past decade to include dozens of shopping centers, local eateries, and places to stay. Blacksburg is a good place to stay while exploring the nearby mountains, the Appalachian Trail, and Cascade Falls.

Bristol, Virginia is half of the city shared with Bristol, Tennessee across the famous State Street that runs right along the border. The Virginia side of this town offers easy access to nearby South Holston Lake, camping, and some of the best local restaurants.

Damascus is “the” trail town of the Appalachian Trail, hosting the Trail Days festival each year for current and former thru-hikers of the AT to meet, mingle, and relax. The town also boasts several rental properties, a small campground, the Virginia Creeper Trail, and of course access to the AT.

Galax is most well known for the annual Old Fiddlers Convention that takes over the town for a week of country and bluegrass music. The town bills itself as the “Gateway to the Blue Ridge” with the Blue Ridge Parkway just a few miles away. Galax is also a gateway to Grayson Highlands State Park along Highway 58 just an hour away.

Marion is another small town located along the I-81 corridor that is an up-and-coming Main Street destination. Home to Hungry Mother State Park, one of the original six first parks to open in the state in 1936, which has several hiking trails, a large campground, and a lake for swimming, kayaking, and canoeing.

Norton is an independent city among the former coal towns in the Heart of Appalachia. The small city has a nice downtown area with local restaurants and a hotel. Nearby attractions like Flag Rock, High Knob, and Breaks Interstate Park keep tourists returning here. Nearby Wise is also home to the University of Virginia at Wise campus, formerly called Clinch Valley College.

Wytheville has always been a booming town for travel at the intersection of Interstates 81 & 77, but now more than ever it is also a booming town for tourism. The downtown Main Street corridor has filled up with local restaurants, places to shop, and now a new boutique hotel inside a former bank building. Nearby hidden attractions like the Big Walker Lookout and scenic drives along Highway 52 give visitors plenty to do.

Virginia State Parks has a lot to offer in this region. Grayson Highlands State Park is perhaps the most well-known because of the access to the Appalachian Trail, plenty of hiking trails, and the wild ponies of the AT. Breaks Interstate Park is a co-venture with Kentucky that is known for the horseshoe bend in the ravine, a beautiful and comfortable lodge, and lots of outdoor recreation opportunities. Claytor Lake State Park offers people a place to get out on the water with rental boats and public boat ramps, but you can also sit back and relax on the shore for a picnic, fishing, or scenic views. Natural Tunnel State Park along Highway 23 near Big Stone Gap is a popular stop for tourists who want to see the tunnel that was naturally carved through a mountain by a river over the course of thousands of years. Wilderness Road State Park is near the tip of Virginia and a popular place for a day trip stop (they don’t have a campground here). The park is most known for the annual Raid at Martin’s Station reenactment that brings in tourists from across the country.

The Appalachian Trail passes through a large portion of Southwest Virginia, beginning near the Tennessee border in Damascus. The AT meanders through Grayson Highlands State Park, Marion, Burkes Garden, Bland, and continues along the mountain ridges near Blacksburg. Damascus and Grayson Highlands State Park are some of the most popular places in the state for people to hop on the AT for a few days, and the wild ponies of the AT are perhaps the most infamous aspect of the national trail.

The Blue Ridge Parkway also passes through a small portion of Southwest Virginia, beginning near Galax at the North Carolina border. Mabry Mill, near Fancy Gap at Interstate 77, is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the entire parkway.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park at the congruence of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee is a popular stop for many tourists. The national park features a visitor center (Kentucky), Wilderness Road Trail (Tennessee), and campground (Virginia). On the Virginia side are two caves to explore and the Hensley Settlement.

Virginia Mountains – West Central

Roanoke is known as The Star City because of a massive star installed on nearby Mill Mountain. The large city itself offers lots of places to eat, sleep, and play while also providing easy access to the region. The Blue Ridge Parkway passes just a few miles from the city center, Mill Mountain offers a beautiful scenic overlook (right beneath the star) and a zoo, and this is a popular place for Hokies sports fans to spend some time before, during, and after a home game.

The Blue Ridge Parkway continues to pass through the Virginia Mountains region through several popular places. The Peaks of Otter are popular year-round for the beautiful scenes of the local mountains during the spring flowers, summer greenery, fall foliage, and winter snows. The Parkway ends in Afton where it then becomes the Skyline Drive, continuing through the Shenandoah Valley.

Northern Virginia

Arlington is one of the many Virginia suburbs surrounding Washington, D.C., this one directly across the Potomac River. Home to Arlington National Cemetery and Theodore Roosevelt Island, this city is a popular place for history buffs to spend some time. The downtown area is packed with places to eat, shop, and sleep during a vacation to the nation’s capital. Another popular local spot is Gravelly Point Park where visitors can watch planes pass just a couple hundred feet overhead before landing at nearby Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Alexandria is another suburb a little further down the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. This suburb still has that big-city attraction with a booming industry near the capital, but also features smaller, charming neighborhoods with great local businesses for eating and shopping.

Eastern Shore

The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on Chincoteague Island is one of the popular places on the Eastern Shore for visitors to see the wild ponies. This national refuge also offers a beach access, a few hiking trails, and an opportunity to see various wildlife from birds to the roving bands of ponies.

Hampton Roads

Virginia Beach is the largest and most popular beach town in the state, and has plenty to keep people occupied. Lots of oceanfront hotels give you a chance to wake up to the sounds of the ocean, but you can also find many rental properties, cabins and cottages, and campgrounds. Home to the Neptune Arts Festival, thousands of visitors come each year for the chance to browse and buy local art. With lots of local places to eat, museums, to visit, and the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, tourism is thriving in this beach town.

First Landing State Park just north of Virginia Beach is a great place to access the beach, do some hiking through a coastal forest, or pitch a tent at the campground for a few nights. With a view of the nearby Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, this park is a great place from sunrise until sunset to get away from the crowds of the beach.

 

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RECENT POSTS

Here are a few of the most recent blog posts about Virginia. Click here to view all posts about the state.

10 Places You Must Visit on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway features dozens of scenic overlooks and hiking trails, but if you had a limited time where should you go? This list might help you figure that out.

A stunning autumn sunset on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC on Monday, October 31, 2016. Copyright 2016 Jason Barnette
18 Outstanding Overlooks for Sunsets on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Along the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway are hundreds of scenic overlooks, hiking trails, and hidden destinations. But which of these have the best view for stunning sunsets?

The Scenic Overlooks of Roanoke, Virginia

Spend a weekend in Roanoke and you’ll learn one thing very quickly: this city has a lot of scenic overlooks. The Roanoke Star is probably the most iconic thing you’ll notice about the city as you first arrive but did you know you can drive up there and stand at a scenic overlook just below […]

5 Things You Just Don’t Do on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most iconic road trip destinations in the country. People come from far and wide to enjoy the scenic overlooks, exciting hiking, and winding roads of the two-lane Parkway through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. It’s not hard to find a list of things […]

Witnessing the Raid at Martin’s Station in Virginia

A group of men, women, and children stood in a field of wildflowers on a chilly day in early May. The women in their long flowing dresses and men with their musket rifles watched as a surveyor set up his equipment. The air was quiet, almost too quiet, in this peaceful mountain valley. It’s hard […]

Hidden in Virginia: The Powell Valley Overlook

The Powell Valley Overlook is proof that not all scenic overlooks are the same. This overlook stands high on the side of a mountain range overlooking the lush valley below. Farms, homes, and wide open fields cover the valley floor. Day or night this is a place to visit for an amazing view.