Virginia is the ideal destination for history lovers - it is of course, the site of the first English colony in the New World, and it also has many reminders of the Civil War. Visitors to the state could be forgiven for thinking they are back in the Old Country - parts of Virginia feel distinctly English, and fox hunting is practiced in some areas. Many counties in Virginia also have English sounding names such as King and Queen, Stafford and Chesterfield.
A good place to start any trip to Virginia is the area that is home to Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown and known as the “historic triangle”. In this most historic part of Virginia you can explore the first settlements the English colonists built, and stand on the very spot where Cornwallis was defeated by Washington.
Williamsburg is one of the largest outdoor history museums in the world, and a visit to the town gives you a taste of colonial living. The town is more than just a restored colonial community – it is like stepping back to the 18th century. You may encounter Thomas Jefferson giving a speech, or a spirited trial taking place at the courthouse The British flag even flies over the Capitol for most of the year.
The main street in Williamsburg is Duke of York Street which runs between the shops of Merchants Square and the Capitol building. Apart from the hundreds of restored buildings, the town has shops, workhouses and gardens that help to recreate the colonial experience. And be sure to enjoy a meal of authentic colonial fare in the King’s Arms Tavern or one of the town’s several other inns.
The first English settlement in America was actually at Jamestown, situated a short distance from Williamsburg. Exhibits, films and authentic costumed guides help to bring the village to life. Visitors to Jamestown can also tour replicas of English ships and watch demonstrations of brick making and glassblowing.
Yorktown is the third corner of the ‘historic triangle’ - the site of the last major battle of the revolution. Visitors can tour the battlefield as well as an indoor exhibit of artifacts depicting the often harsh conditions aboard ship. The Williamsburg area contains many other attractions for visitors – theme parks such as Busch Gardens, along with shopping at several excellent outlet malls.
More battles took place in Virginia than any other state, and there are many reminders of this turbulent time - museums, battlegrounds and cemeteries all tempt the Civil War enthusiast. The town of Fredericksburg was the scene of several of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War and makes a good base to tour many of the area’s nearby Civil War battlefields.
However, Civil War buffs should head to Richmond, which was the capital of the Confederate states and has many reminders of the war – monuments, museums and cemeteries. The Museum of the Confederacy has the largest collection of Civil War memorabilia in the country – much of it donated by veterans and descendants. Highlights include a replica of Lee’s headquarters and period costumes.
History is around every corner in Richmond - you can also visit the very church where Patrick Henry shouted the famous words “Give me liberty, or give me death!” thus ensuring that Virginia joined the rebellion. And perhaps the most poignant historical sight is Hollywood Cemetery – final resting place of thousands of Confederate soldiers and two US presidents.
Richmond also makes a good starting point for traveling one of the most scenic roads in Virginia. The John Tyler Highway connects Williamsburg with the state capital of Richmond and is lined with several plantation houses, which once were tobacco plantations. Several of the beautiful old estates offer guided tours and the chance for a memorable dining experience.
More recent history can be found in Norfolk, home to the world’s largest naval base. You can tour the port and also experience more naval history at the nearby Hampton Roads Naval Museum and the Battleship Wisconsin – the largest battleship built by the US navy. Not far from Norfolk, Virginia Beach relies on the sea in a different way – it is one of the state’s most popular seaside resorts.
One of Virginia’s most popular attractions is Jefferson’s home at Monticello. If this architectural masterpiece seems familiar – take a look at the nickel in your pocket. You can tour the house and beautiful gardens, both of which have been accurately restored to appear as they did when Jefferson was living there.
Apart from history, it’s the great outdoors that attracts many visitors to Virginia. The state contains the beautiful Shenandoah and Blue Ridge Mountains, and the area offers opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing and horse riding. Not far from Lexington is the Natural Bridge, a 200 feet high stone arch, considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and where George Washington carved his initials.
Roanoke – the “star city of the south” - is one of the largest cities in the mountains and offers a surprisingly wide range of cultural attractions. Roanoke boasts Virginia’s only professional opera company as well as one of the oldest symphony orchestras in the state. Downtown Roanoke is a pleasant place to stroll – apart from the many craft and antique shops, don’t miss the farmer’s market and the museum of local history.
The beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway winds along Virginia’s western edge for much of its length. The Parkway is America’s longest designated scenic highway and it offers a relaxed way to see the mountains, with a 35 mph speed limit. Take advantage of the views to be had from the many scenic overlooks along the road.
The mountains of Virginia are home to many spectacular caverns. Several are open to visitors, including the spectacular Luray Caverns - the most visited underground attraction in the Eastern United States. Don’t miss the most unique feature of the caverns - stone rooms rising to a height of 140 feet, where music is actually played by tapping the stalactites at different pitches.