Fun things to do in Charlottesville VA are perfect for families, romance, adventure, history buffs, nature lovers, foodies, and craft beer and wine fans. Albemarle County Virginia, and the city of Charlottesville (aka Cville), offer a wide range of active and laid back pursuits.
Charlottesville is just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Washington DC, perfect for a weekend getaway or a fun day trip. Plan a Charlottesville getaway that is family-friendly, foodie-focused, history and nature-inspired, beer and wine-infused, or perhaps all of the above.
The Charlottesville Virginia area is steeped in history and natural beauty. The small city has one of the largest pedestrian malls in the US and the only UNESCO World Heritage site in Virginia. Scenic roads and surrounding towns showcase history and a passion for agriculture, food, wine, beer, and cider.
Our guide includes fun things to do in Charlottesville, along with places to eat, drink, and stay, so you can create a perfect day trip or a longer Cville getaway. We also highlight beautiful Charlottesville hiking trails, and places to visit in nearby towns. Whatever your focus, you’ll find plenty of fun things to do in Charlottesville VA.
Portions of our Charlottesville visit were hosted by the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau. Follow them on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.
Things to do in Charlottesville VA for Art and History Buffs
It is no surprise that history leads our list of fun things to do in Charlottesville. Here, the homes and history of three US Presidents—Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe—are preserved. In addition, Charlottesville has the only UNESCO World Heritage cultural site in Virginia, one of only 10 in the entire United States.
Cville mixes that history with classic and modern arts at some cool downtown venues. The mix of old and new offers year-round fun for every age.
Monticello was Thomas Jefferson’s home and plantation for much of his life, both before and after he served as America’s third President. Tours of Monticello highlight Jefferson’s life as a scholar, inventor, and founding father. They also share the stark contrast of Jefferson’s role as a slaveholder and the stories of enslaved people who toiled here.
Reserve a Behind the Scenes Day Pass to visit all three floors in the mansion, including the stunning Dome Room. After your tour, explore the slave quarters on Mulberry Row and learn about the difficult life of the enslaved families at Monticello. Don’t miss the powerful Life of Sally Hemings exhibit! Take a more in-depth look on the Hemings Family Tour, which interprets Monticello from the perspective of several members of the Hemings Family.
Allow extra time to explore the gardens and grounds, Visitor Center, and Shop. If you’re hungry, the Monticello Farm Table serves lunch using fruits and vegetables grown onsite and on local farms. Monticello is open daily except for Christmas, and hours vary throughout the year,
Nearby Highland is close to Monticello for good reason. James Monroe selected the site of his home so he would be near his mentor, Thomas Jefferson. James Monroe was America’s fifth President and the last from the Founding Fathers. Monroe served with George Washington at Valley Forge, studied law under Jefferson, and authored what came to be known as the Monroe Doctrine.
Visitors to Highland learn about Monroe’s life in public service as they tour a building once thought to be his home. In 2016, experts discovered the foundation of Monroe’s original home, changing their understanding of the existing buildings and opening a new archeological effort. James Monroe Highlands is open daily except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, and hours vary by season.
The University of Virginia, along with Monticello, is a designated UNESCO world heritage site, and a National Historic Landmark. Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, UVA preserves many of the buildings and tenets of Jefferson’s original design.
Students and faculty still gather at the Rotunda and the Lawn of the Academical Village. Jefferson designed these spaces to encourage interaction and learning, and they still serve that function today. The Rotunda underwent extensive renovations in 2015 and 2016. The reopened space should be part of any architecture- and history-lovers Charlottesville getaway.
Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center, Darden Towe Park
The Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center in Darden Towe Path is a fun stop for history-lovers, and it has a short hiking trail. The Center promotes the skills of exploration, creativity, and discovery from a central building and surrounding exhibits.
Visitors can climb aboard a keelboat like the one Lewis and Clark used to explore the Missouri River. Lewis was born in Albermarle County, and Clark’s family lived on land next to the Exploratory Center site. A dirt path leads through the woods to river overlooks.
The 8-block Charlottesville pedestrian mall, one of the largest in the U.S., is a fun destination for shopping, dining, and people watching. Kids can ride on a small carousel, and adults can visit the galleries or catch a concert at the pavilion and smaller venues. Charlottesville operates a complimentary trolley that stops at the pedestrian mall, the University of Virginia, and other downtown areas.
Enjoy a mix of arts and history at the beautiful Paramount Theater, located on the downtown pedestrian mall. A massive renovation returned The Paramount to its neoclassical glory, and the theater once again hosts performances and movies. Follow the link for details on scheduled movies and artists. Also ask about free behind the scenes tours that include a visit backstage, where hundreds of performers have signed the walls.
James Madison’s Montpelier, Orange
In nearby Orange, about 25 miles from Charlottesville, is the home of James Madison, America’s fourth President. Madison spent much of his life at Montpelier, as a boy, a family man, and a founding father. He is often referred to as the Father of the Constitution and the architect of the Bill of Rights.
Tours of the mansion at Montpelier interpret the life of James and Dolley—the first American power couple—after he was elected President. The building interprets the time when James entertained the nation’s founders, and Dolley defined the role of First Lady. Visitors can also explore the extensive grounds and hiking trails, archeological digs, and recreated slave quarters. There are interesting galleries and shops to visit, and the Exchange Cafe serves excellent sandwiches.
Favorite Charlottesville Hiking Trails
The Rivanna Trail circles the city of Charlottesville, following a mix of parkland, streets, and greenways for 20 miles. For an easy, pretty walk, we like the segment along the river in Riverview Park.
When you visit Monticello, add a hike on the 2-mile Saunders-Monticello Trail. Park at the bottom of route 53, and follow dirt paths and boardwalks that climb Carter Mountain and lead right to the ticket office.
One of the best hiking trails near Charlottesville VA is the popular Crabtree Falls trail, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Crabtree is the longest vertical cascade in the Eastern US. The series of several waterfalls cascade a total of 1200 feet.
From the lower parking lot, it’s a steadily uphill, but not too challenging, 1.8-mile climb to the top of the falls. At the top, a viewpoint looks out over the Tye River Gorge filling. This is one of the best waterfall hikes in Virginia, especially when fall foliage colors the views, and is well worth the drive during a Charlottesville getaway.
More Places to Visit Near Charlottesville VA
Albemarle Tourism & Adventure Center, Crozet
The small town of Crozet packs a lot into its lovely spot at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Start your visit at the Albermarle Tourism Center to pick up maps and book adventures. The shop features locally made goods from a juried collection of 70 artisans. Visit on Second Saturdays to enjoy book signings and other entertainment.
While you’re in Crozet, make a photo stop at Montfair Resort Farm and it’s wonderful LOVEwork. The LOVE is made with woven branches and twigs and it makes a fun or romantic picture spot.
Carter Mountain Orchard, Charlottesville
Drive a steep side road on the way to Monticello and you’ll find Carter Mountain Orchard. There are beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and a bustling apple orchard. The orchard is hopping during the fall apple picking season, and the view is always lovely. Vineyards and fruit trees cover the hills, and you can enjoy lunch, Bold Rock Cider, wine, or a treat in the barn’s porch and yard. The apple cider donuts are decadently delicious and so popular that they run out on busy days.
Eat Local in Charlottesville Virginia
National Geographic called Thomas Jefferson “America’s First Foodie,” and his devotion to local agriculture is reflected in an excellent range of dining options. There are so many excellent restaurants in Cville and throughout the county. We highlight a few options below, but you’ll find many more in our guide: 21 Favorite Local Restaurants in Charlottesville VA.
The downtown pedestrian mall is a favorite place to eat and drink local in Charlottesville. Citizen Burger Bar is our favorite stop for excellent, locally sourced burgers and tasty fries. For a more refined atmosphere, head to Brasserie Saison or Commonwealth Restaurant and Sky Bar.
On Main Street, Renewal serves elevated Southern cuisine in a lovely indoor-outdoor space. The restaurant opened in 2018 in the new Draftsman Hotel, next to the University of Virginia. Renewal also has an extensive selection of craft beer and unique wines from France and Italy.
A short drive from the downtown mall, Mas Tapas serves excellent Spanish tapas in a sleek and busy space. A favorite casual restaurant is Ace Biscuit & Barbecue, popular for tasty ribs and their famous biscuits.
National Geographic included Crozet Pizza on their “Best in World” list, and we absolutely loved The Hittie, a rich pie covered in sausage, onion, and peppers.
Sample Local Wine, Beer, and Cider in Charlottesville VA
Whether you’re exploring the region with Cville Hop On Tours or on your own, sampling local drink spots is one of our favorite things to do in Charlottesville. There are 30 wineries in a 30-mile radius, and Charlottesville has been cited as one of the top wine regions in the eastern US.
Here are a few of the breweries and wineries we’ve enjoyed during our Charlottesville getaways.
The names of Three Notch’d Brewing‘s six flagship and many seasonal beers are inspired by Virginia history. The popular Ghost IPA pays homage to Confederate raider John Mosby and delivers a nicely balanced light hoppiness. Citrusy 40 Mile IPA references Jack Jouett, known as the “Paul Revere of the South,” who traveled Three Notch’d road to warn Thomas Jefferson about the approaching British calvary.
Star Hill Brewery, the second oldest craft brewery in Virginia, occupies a former ConAgra plant in nearby Crozet. Keep an eye on beer production from the open space as you sample from a long list of core and seasonal brews. We ordered Barrel Aged Belgian Tripel to go—absolutely delicious and fun to watch the crowler machine in action.
Beer lovers who want to sample a broad range of craft brews should check out Draft Taproom in the downtown mall, with 60 pour-your-own taps featuring local and imported craft brews. Build your own flight, try an ounce or two of several local offers, or just enjoy a pint of your favorite. You control the tap and pay by the ounce. The Draft Taproom also serves delicious burgers and other bar staples.
Jefferson Vineyards is the perfect stop for wine tasting after a visit to Monticello and Highland. The land was first planted with vines in 1773, on land provided by Thomas Jefferson to encourage the development of a Virginia wine. The original vines were destroyed within a few years, but the vineyard returned in the 1980s and has been serving wines in a pleasant tasting room and large patio ever since. Take a glass out to the Adirondack chairs for lovely views of Mt Alto.
To the west in Crozet, King Family Vineyards features a large tasting barn next to a polo field. The 327-acre farm was started as a place to train and breed polo ponies, and you can watch polo matches on the field on summer weekends. Sip along with a glass or two of Croat, a dry Rose which has become the “official” polo wine.
Pick up a map of the Jefferson-inspired Monticello Wine Trail, and check out McCool Travel’s write-up of Charlottesville area wineries to find more of the wonderful wineries to visit during your Charlottesville getaway.
Drink Local with Cville Hop On Tours
Albermarle County’s growing brewery and winery scene should be on the itinerary of any craft beer and wine lover. The Charlottesville area also boasts the most cideries in Virginia, so add a few to your tasting mix. A unique, fun, and safe way to explore all that local sipping goodness is with CVille Hop On Tours.
Hop on and off the rotating shuttle on several different routes, with pick-up at Three Notch’d Brewing and select hotels. The comfortable buses provide snacks and water as they safely shuttle you to your next stop. If you have a group in town, schedule a private tour that includes transportation, tastings, and behind the scenes access. Weekend tours frequently sell out, so book early to ensure your spot.
Where to Stay in Charlottesville VA
The Residence Inn is an ideal base for exploring downtown Charlottesville. The hotel is just a block from the downtown mall, within walking distance of both the malls and Main Street restaurants and shops. Rooms are spacious and comfortable, and breakfast and free parking are included. Ask for an upper floor to enjoy gorgeous views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Draftsman opened in 2018, just a block from the University of Virginia. The vibe at this Marriott Autograph Collection property is hip and friendly, with design references to Thomas Jefferson and Cville’s history. We stayed in a Signature King room with a comfortable bed, a large couch, and a funky drafting table style desk. The location on Main Street is excellent for exploring UVA and the free shuttle to the downtown mall stops right outside. Be sure to enjoy a meal at Renewal (see dining info above).
Check rates and availability at The Draftsman now.
We’ve become fans of the Hyatt Place brand. They offer spacious, comfortable rooms with an L-shaped sofa ideal for relaxing or working. The Charlottesville property is located in the north end of town, next to several good restaurants and stores in the Shops at Stonefield.
Oakhurst Inn, Charlottesville, Virginia
Tucked away on a quiet residential street, but only steps from the UVA Lawn, the Oakhurst Inn offers 27 comfy rooms that make a good in-town base for a Charlottesville getaway. While it’s not a B&B, Oakhurst has it’s own gourmet cafe offering delicious breakfasts and lunch, with indoor and patio seating.
Check rates and book your stay at the Oakhurst Inn.
Inn at Sugar Hollow Farm, Crozet
Hidden at the end of a quiet country road, the Inn at Sugar Hollow Farm offers several rooms in the main house and the nearby farmhouse. The Wildflower Room, which features a four-poster bed, window seat with mountain views, double whirlpool tub, and wood-burning fireplace is a spacious yet cozy spot to enjoy.
Check rates and book your stay at the Inn at Sugar Hollow Farm.
There are plenty of great Airbnb rentals in Charlottesville VA. We stayed in an excellent one bedroom Airbnb close to UVA with a private entrance, kitchen, and an outdoor patio. Our Food Tour host pointed out several places right on the downtown mall that you’ll find on Airbnb.
Keswick Hall, Keswick
NOTE: Keswick Hall is closed for renovation and is scheduled to reopen in 2020.
A luxurious home base for exploring the Charlottesville area, Keswick Hall takes pampering and cost up a few notches. Built as a private residence in 1912, the estate became the Keswick Country Club in 1948, with the mansion as it’s a clubhouse. Today Keswick Hall boasts 48 sumptuous rooms, a full spa, award-winning restaurant, golf course, and infinity pool.
There are many more lodging options in town that we still need to try. When major events are in town lodging can be tight, and overflow crowds spill into nearby Waynesboro and Staunton in the southern Shenandoah Valley.
Whether your focus is history, food, drink, hiking, or just the chance to relax, you’ll find a lot to love on a Charlottesville getaway. The historic small city is a year-round destination, filled with blooming orchards in the spring, green mountains in the summer, vibrant foliage in the fall, and cozy spaces in winter.
Charlottesville regulars, please share your tips on where to explore, eat, drink, and stay in the comments below. Thank you and happy travels!
Find more getaway ideas in our complete guide: 21 Great Overnight Getaways In and Near Northern Virginia.
This article was published in 2016 and updated in 2018 and 2019.