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Fun things to do in Harrisonburg Virginia include activities and destinations for every age in this historic college town with a relaxed vibe. Enjoy downtown arts and shopping; outdoor fun and adventure; and tasty dining, wineries, and craft beer. Surrounding Rockingham County offers excellent biking, hiking, and scenic drives. Whether your goal is an adults getaway or a family trip, you’ll find plenty to do in Harrisonburg’s historic downtown and beyond.
Harrisonburg is just a two-hour drive from Washington DC, so it’s possible to visit on a day trip. Better yet, plan a weekend getaway to Harrisonburg VA, or stop on a road trip through the Northern Shenandoah Valley. The small city is a fun destination for families with students at JMU: James Madison University. Travelers driving on Route 81 can break up the journey with a stop in Harrisonburg. Northern Virginia locals love the convenience and relaxed vibe of an escape to Harrisonburg VA.
Here are favorite, fun things to do in Harrisonburg Virginia and Rockingham County.
Things to do in Downtown Harrisonburg Virginia
One of Virginia’s first designated Arts & Cultural Districts, Harrisonburg is home to a thriving art community in a walkable downtown. Start your visit and get oriented at the Hargesty Higgins House Visitor Center. The center includes a small museum about historic Valley Turnpike (route 11), a gift shop, and a cafe. Pick up a map and explore the historic downtown on foot to see why Harrisonburg was the Great American Main Street Award Winner in 2015.
Take a Photo with LOVE
Harrisonburg and Rockingham County compose a unique community in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, with a diversity of ethnic backgrounds, a rich agricultural heritage, an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities, and a vibrant and growing arts scene. The LOVEworks letters provide an interactive, educational representation of these community strengths.
The Virginia Quilt Museum, located in the historic Warren-Sipe House, opened in 1995 to showcase quilting artists. Rotating exhibits highlight a wide range of quilting styles and designs. There are always some locally-made quilts on display, and there’s a fun permanent exhibit of sewing machines through the years. During our visit, the Fly Me to the Moon exhibit celebrated the 50th anniversary of man’s landing on the moon.
Take a fascinating tour of the history of American jewelry design and you’ll learn how the Industrial Age changed worker’s lives. As machines became more sophisticated they reduced the risks and tedium of early manufacturing jobs. The artists at Hugo Kohl continue to use 18th and 19th century machines and materials to create beautiful and unique pieces for their shop. Tours are held every Wednesday at 1:00, but you can call ahead to request a tour while you’re in town. You can also watch the jewelry makers at work through the glass wall of the raised gallery. Their ultimate goal—pieces that are beautiful, durable, and that don’t cost too much.
Harrisonburg VA Artisan Galleries
Harrisonburg is home to the Arts Council of the Valley.
“This region of the Shenandoah Valley is a hub for individual artists’ studios, galleries, theater events, museum exhibitions quilting sessions, and cooperative arts spaces that encourage the creativity that is alive in all of us.” — Arts Conucil of the Valley
Pick up an artisan map at the Smith House, an 1867 building with galleries devoted to local artists. Then, visit and shop at downtown galleries like Elk Run Mining Company, Oasis Fine Art & Crafts, Larkin Arts. You may even see the artists at work.
Harrisonburg VA Shopping
Agora Market is a multi-shop cooperative with a hip attitude. You’ll find retro clothes and housewares, local pottery and jewelry, cycling clothes, and a hardware store. The eclectic market also includes a coffee shop and outdoor tables so you can take a break from your shopping. Wander the downtown streets to explore other unique, local shops.
Gear Up and Plan for Biking Adventures
When National Geographic names you one of America’s Best Mountain Bike Towns, you know you’ve got something special to offer. Harrisonburg Virginia is home to an extensive network of trails in downtown and the surrounding mountains. Stop in one of the local bike shops in town—Shenandoah Bicycle Company, Rocktown Bicycles, Bluestone Bike & Run—for advice and gear for your own cycling outing.
Take a Hike in Rockingham County
Harrisonburg is centrally located in the Shenandoah Valley, with the Alleghany Mountain to the west, and the Blue Ridge to the east. Hiking is one of the best free things to do in Harrisonburg VA, and there are plenty of great trails a short drive away. The Visitor Center experts offer advice on the best local hikes and have a nice collection of trail maps. We drove west to the Hone Quarry area of the George Washington National Forest for a short but steep half-mile hike to a spectacular viewpoint.
Rockingham County is also home to a portion of Shenandoah National Park and the Appalachian Trail. Head east on Route 33 and to the Swift Run Gap park entrance. From there you can head north or south on Skyline Drive, stopping at overlooks and trails. We enjoyed a short, foggy hike on the Frazier Discovery Trail to the top of Loft Mountain. Even with the foggy conditions, the summit was beautiful. You’ll also find stunning views from Brown Mountain Overlook to the north.
Visit a Forest
For a short walk through nature in town, visit JMU’s Edith J Carrier Arboretum. The network of paths, with benches for relaxing, is a nice place for a break. Visit in the spring or summer to see the gardens in bloom. There is also a nice labyrinth and an Education Center where special classes and events are held.
Places to Stay in Harrisonburg Virginia
The May 2018 opening of the Hotel Madison brought Harrisonburg the boutique experience and convention space the city needed. Located on the edge of campus, Hotel Madison is the official hotel of JMU. It has quickly become a popular spot for campus-related functions, and it is an ideal base for visitors to the Harrisonburg area.
The hotel offers 230 guest rooms in a modern space. Rooms are comfortable, bright, and spacious, many with mountain and downtown views. Take a closer look in this short video of our room at Hotel Madison. A cafe and bar occupies one end of the spacious atrium lobby, and a full-service restaurant is in the plans. Hotel Madison also has an indoor pool and fitness center. The Market Street location is right at the edge of JMU’s campus, and it’s a short walk to the downtown area.
The comfortable Fairfield Inn and Suites is another good option for a stay in Harrisonburg. It’s located close to James Madison University and the Arboretum, just a short drive from downtown. Check Fairfield Inn and Suites Harrisonburg reviews and check rates and availability at Harrisonburg hotels now.
Bella Luna serves delicious wood-fired pizzas and pastas using fresh, local ingredients in the historic Livery Building downtown. They also offer a nice selection of fresh salads and sandwiches, and the vibe is warm and relaxed. Try the Spring Vegetable Pappardelle and any of the pizzas and you will not be disappointed. If you’re in the mood for a treat, head across the street for some of Bella’s tasty gelato, made with milk from a local dairy.
Rocktown Kitchen is a casual Harrisonburg restaurant with an elevated menu. We enjoyed their delicious arugula and watermelon salad topped with fried oysters, perfect for a warm summer day. Rocktown also offers a great craft beer menu; we chose a Bitchin Brown from Stablecraft Brewing. They are located in the historic Harrisonburg Ice House development so you can stroll over to Pale Fire Brewing after your meal (more info below).
Another option for dinner in town, Clementine’s Cafe brings food, music, and art together. The outdoor downstairs patio was quiet during our dinner, but trivia nights and live entertainment bring a crowd on weekends. Closer to JMU, we like Corgans Publick House for Irish specials, good burgers, and a pint.
A great bet for breakfast, or lunch for that matter, is Cinnamon Bear Bakery and Deli. It’s close to the Arboretum, so stop in before or after a stroll through the garden. We tried the delicious Wrap with bacon, egg, and avocado, and a Spicy Basil Chicken wrap with Sriracha. In the downtown area, relax with a great cup of coffee and a pastry at Shenandoah Joes.
Explore a Beer Trail
Pale Fire Brewing Company opened in 2015 in the renovated Ice House, a cool industrial building downtown. They have a nice open tasting room and patio. We tasted 5 of the 11 brews on tap, and particularly liked the Red Molly and the Lucille Irish Stout.
The Three Notch’d Brewing Collab House focuses on locally sourced beers developed in collaboration with local brewers. Brothers Craft Brewery and Restless Moons Brewing also welcome visitors to taprooms in Harrisonburg’s downtown.
Craft beer lovers should bookmark this list of 12 great Virginia Beer Trails for future brewery fun.
Special Events in Harrisonburg VA
There are fun special events in Harrisonburg VA throughout the year. In the warmer months, the Harrisonburg Farmers Market is a gathering place for local products, music, and friendly folks.
JMU’s Forbes Center for the Performing Arts stages a variety productions in five venues.
An annual Wine and Oyster Weekend is held just outside town at gorgeous On Sunny Slope Farm. The festival pairs delicious Virginia wines with the sweet and buttery oysters of the Chesapeake Bay. Local craft vendors, food trucks, and live entertainment add to the fun. You may even see with Harrisonburg Mayor Deanna Reed.
Fun and tasty time at the Virginia Wine and Oyster Festival today at beautiful On Sunny Slope Farm. What a gorgeous…
Looking for fun and free things to do this weekend in Harrisonburg Va? You’ll find listings of local events at the Harrisonburg Tourism calendar.
Make Harrisonburg part of a Shenandoah Valley road trip or getaway with the help of these related articles:
- Southern Shenandoah Valley Road Trips: Staunton to Lexington
- 8 Great Things to Do in Shenandoah Valley
- 8 Great Things to Do in Roanoke Virginia
- 8 More Wonderful Overnight Getaways Near Northern Virginia.
This article was published in 2016 and updated in 2018.