15 Best Things to Do in Charlottesville, VA

Charlottesville, VA

Welcome to the charming city of Charlottesville, a hidden gem nestled in the heart of Virginia.

Known for its rich history and southern hospitality, this place is a delightful blend of culture, nature, and delectable cuisine.

Every corner has an eclectic mix of attractions, from stunning architecture to verdant vineyards.

Get ready to explore the best things to do in Charlottesville as we check off a list of must-visit spots that will make your experience here truly unforgettable.

Join me on this spirited journey, where we'll uncover the magic of my hometown, one destination at a time.

About this article: This article was written by a local contributor based on their own experiences and those around them. While this list showcases some remarkable places, it's important to note that this is an opinion piece, and there are many other exceptional places to visit that are not featured here.
Our aim is not just to guide you to popular places but to encourage you to venture out and experience the city for yourself.

Take a Stroll Down Memory Lane at The Rotunda

Students in front of The Rotunda
ImagineerInc / Shutterstock.com

"Every day is a good day for learning," I always say, and I genuinely believe that.

Living in Charlottesville has exposed me to many historical and architectural marvels, but The Rotunda at the University of Virginia stands out.

It's not just a building but a symbol of the city's rich history worth visiting.

As I step onto the grounds of the University of Virginia, the Palladian architecture of The Rotunda catches my eye.

Designed by Thomas Jefferson himself, it's not just a pretty face but a major hub of student activity.

Watching the youth bustling around, their laughter and chatter echoing off the grand structure, is a joy.

When you visit The Rotunda, you step into our city's history.

Walking through the lavish halls, it's hard not to be awestruck by the architectural grandeur.

The walls whisper tales of times gone by, and you can't help but feel a connection to the past.

As I descend into the basement, I discover a small museum tucked away. It's like stepping into a time capsule, each artifact telling its unique story.

Hallway at The Rotunda
Jenna Hidinger / Shutterstock.com

However, despite its beauty, it's important to remember the sorrowful history of The Rotunda.

Slaves built and maintained this iconic building.

There's a small memorial 70 yards away, a wall with running water, and names of those who contributed.

Upstairs, the dome offers a panoramic view of the campus that takes my breath away every time.

Regardless of the season, the view is always spectacular.

The Rotunda is a part of our city's soul.

If you ever find yourself in town, I highly recommend walking around the University and visiting The Rotunda.

It's not just a glimpse into our city's history but a testament to the spirit of Charlottesville.

Aerial view of The Rotunda
tokar / Shutterstock.com

Discover the Magic of The Looking Glass Immersive Art Experience

Occasionally, I stumble upon a gem in my city that leaves me utterly captivated.

The Looking Glass Immersive Art Experience is one such place.

An artist's playground where creativity collides with the senses, I found a vibrant oasis while exploring the city's hidden treasures.

I never anticipated the fun I'd have just wandering, letting the myriad of colors, sounds, and tactile wonders whisk me away to a whimsical universe.

The whole area is teeming with fascinating pieces, some strategically positioned high above and others nestled below, beckoning explorers to engage.

There's this particular spot with bean bags that have become my favorite.

A little nook where you can simply relax, take in the spectacle, and let your imagination run wild.

The charm of this place extends to a fantastic bar tucked away at the end.

A perfect chill zone to lounge and savor some drinks, surrounded by the creative genius of the art in a captivating "cave" setting.

It offers a truly immersive art experience that's not your typical day-to-day encounter.

It's like stepping into a dream or maybe an alternate universe straight out of a movie – a world of color, eccentricity, and art.

Every visit feels like I'm walking on the wild side of creativity.

Although it is a bit quirky, the offbeat ambiance is a part of the charm that makes it all the more unforgettable.

The only downside to The Looking Glass? The experience feels too short.

You'll wish to lose yourself in this remarkable wonderland for a little longer.

But isn't that the mark of any truly great adventure – leaving you yearning for more?

So, if you're hunting for something distinctive and fun for adults or kids, this immersive art experience is an absolute must-visit.

Discover the Charm of The Lawn

Grounds of The Lawn
Bryan Pollard / Shutterstock.com

Living in the heart of Virginia teaches you to appreciate simple pleasures.

One such pleasure is an afternoon visit to The Lawn at the University of Virginia.

A sweep of vibrant green, this space is one of the university's most iconic landmarks, a living testament to Thomas Jefferson's architectural mastery.

I pull on my walking shoes daily and stroll across The Lawn.

Encircled by historic university buildings, it holds a blend of the past and the present.

Time seems to slow here, the atmosphere throbbing with the echoes of history and the vibrant energy of youth.

As I pass by the Rotunda, I can't help but marvel at the grandeur that Jefferson envisioned.

The Lawn isn't just a historical marvel, though.

It's a gathering place, an energy hub where students congregate, tossing frisbees, sharing meals, and engaging in deep philosophical debates.

Laughter and chatter fill the air while the occasional strains of a guitar serenade the passersby.

Many times, I see families relaxing on the grass, their children chasing each other in innocent delight, while pets frolic about, adding to the vibrancy.

But the best part? The serenity on those rare quiet days.

The Lawn transforms into a tranquil haven when the students go home for the holidays; the only sound is leaves rustling in the wind.

In those moments, standing alone amidst the historic structures, it's easy to connect with the past, a sense of belonging that transcends time.

Take a Historical Journey to President Jefferson's Monticello

Exterior of the Monticello
Daniel M. Silva / Shutterstock.com

I still remember the first time I embarked on a journey toward the grandeur of President Jefferson's Monticello.

It was a bright sunny day, and the historical significance of this majestic estate was almost palpable.

The regal 1769 mansion and slave plantation, nestled on a picturesque hilltop, cast a spellbinding image against the backdrop of the clear blue sky.

Walking through the meticulously preserved mansion felt like stepping into a time capsule.

The museum adds another layer to the experience, presenting a comprehensive view of Thomas Jefferson and his plantation.

Meanwhile, the intricate architecture of the mansion never fails to amaze me.

Vibrant flowers in front of the Monticello
N8Allen / Shutterstock.com

The replica of the Declaration of Independence, one of the less than 50 copies known to exist, is truly an awe-inspiring sight.

What I cherish most about Monticello are the serene walking paths that offer beautiful views of the surrounding area.

These walking paths make for a peaceful retreat, a moment to reflect on the place's historical significance.

Moreover, the place also offers a cafe to relax and rejuvenate after the tour.

And don't forget to check out the main gift shop.

It is filled with a wealth of additional information and unique souvenirs. I always make sure to pick up something special to remember my visit.

Every visit to Monticello brings a new perspective and a deeper understanding of our nation's history.

It is an experience that I, as someone fortunate enough to live close by, never tire of, and one that I highly recommend for everyone to experience.

A Day at Virginia Discovery Museum

Let me tell you about a hidden gem in our town that's perfect for families.

The Virginia Discovery Museum is a haven for young children, filled with interactive exhibits that bring art, history, and science alive.

It's tucked away on our charming Main Street, a pedestrian-only walkway with quaint shops and cafes.

Getting there can be a bit of a puzzle, especially for first-time visitors.

The streets surrounding the museum are one-way, so finding a parking spot might take a few laps.

But don't worry. There's plenty of public garage parking around the area, and the 2nd hour is free when you purchase parking for the 1st hour.

A stroll down the vibrant Main Street is a delightful way to reach the museum.

The museum might seem small outside, more like a boutique than an educational institution.

But as soon as you step inside, you are greeted with a trove of fun and engaging activities perfect for kids up to 5-6 years old.

My children spend hours here, wholly engrossed in the various exhibits. Even a carousel provides a delightful end to a day of exploration.

So if you're in town and looking for a fun and educational outing for your little ones, I highly recommend the Virginia Discovery Museum.

And don't forget to grab a coffee and ice cream from one of the local shops on Main Street afterward!

Revel in Nostalgia at The Paramount Theater

Exterior of The Paramount Theater
AgnosticPreachersKid, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From the outside, The Paramount Theater seems like any other building on a typical city block.

But step inside, and you are instantly transported to an era of pure elegance and sophistication.

Within its historic walls, my senses awaken to the sights and sounds of live music, comedy performances, and cinematic screenings.

One of my favorite things about this venue is how it blends old-world charm with cutting-edge technology, creating a unique atmosphere that is distinct "Paramount."

The theater radiates nostalgia but is also equipped with modern amenities that enhance every performance.

And let me tell you, the acoustics are simply spectacular.

I still remember the resonating sounds of the acoustic gig I caught here. It was as if the performers were playing just for me.

Right in the heart of the city, The Paramount Theater is conveniently located at a shopping square bustling with various shops and eateries, adding to the overall experience.

I often enjoy a stroll around these shops before the show begins.

And, if you’re driving in, there’s no need to worry about parking as the first hour’s always on the house.

Visiting The Paramount Theater is about much more than just watching a show.

It's about soaking up the ambiance, appreciating the restored grandeur of the historic venue, and indulging in all the extras that come with it.

Whether a hot popcorn tub or a cool drink, the theater ensures you are well-catered.

The volunteers here are always helpful and ready to guide you or answer any queries. The Paramount Theater is more than a venue; it's an experience.

When you're ready for an unforgettable night of entertainment, visit The Paramount Theater.

You won't be disappointed - I certainly never have been.

Look at the Starry Night at Leander McCormick Observatory

Exterior of Leander McCormick Observatory
Rob, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When the night sky unfolds, and the stars start to twinkle, there's no better place in Charlottesville to be than at the Leander McCormick Observatory.

Nestled atop Mount Jefferson, the observatory affords an unmatched view of the cosmos, creating an atmosphere that's both educational and magical.

I've been fortunate to witness the Wolf Moon's beautiful totality here.

It was a sight to behold - how the moon filled the night sky and bathed everything in its soft, otherworldly glow.

The observatory isn't just about moon watching; it's a treasure trove of astronomical artifacts and historical moments.

Built in the late 1800s, it carries a sense of history and tradition that adds to its charm.

Every visit feels like you're stepping back in time to an era when the mysteries of the universe were just starting to unfold.

But the real fun happens when the clouds clear and the telescope gets to work.

The observatory houses a 26-inch refractor, one of the largest in the world!

Peering through it, I've seen far-off stars and distant galaxies, each sighting further igniting my fascination with the cosmos.

Over the years, the observatory has become an integral part of our community, hosting numerous events and programs to foster a love for astronomy among kids and adults alike.

My son, a boy scout, visited the observatory as part of a trip and couldn't stop talking about the wonders he witnessed through the telescope.

A trip to the Leander McCormick Observatory is a must for anyone visiting or living in Charlottesville.

It's a beautiful reminder of how small we are in the universe's grand scheme and how much beauty there is to discover beyond our planet.

Uncover Hidden Gems at Pen Park

If you ever need an escape from the bustle of city life, Pen Park is the place for you.

Situated right in the heart of Charlottesville, the park's sprawling 280 acres offer a little something for everyone.

Imagine this: You're standing on the plush green of the Meadowcreek Golf Course, the sun is shining, and there's a gentle breeze playing with your hair.

You take a swing, and for a moment, everything else fades into the background. It's just you and the game.

This is one of my favorite ways to spend a relaxing afternoon.

Not a fan of golf? Not a problem. The sports fields are well-manicured and perfect for a rousing game of football, baseball, or even a casual picnic.

The children's playground is a haven for the kids. Bright, colorful, safe, and most importantly, fun.

Children's delighted squeals and laughter echo throughout the park, reminding us of the simple joys in life.

It's a place for relaxation, recreation, and reflection. It's where I go to get away from it all, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Enjoy the Day at Ragged Mountain Nature Area

A swamp at Ragged Mountain Nature Area
Gerry Bishop / Shutterstock.com

"Every journey begins with just a single step," they say, and mine started at the lower parking lot of the Ragged Mountain Natural Area.

Just a 10-minute walk had me at the edge of the reservoir, a sight that never fails to take my breath away.

The 1.5-mile drive to the parking lot is a bit of an adventure with twists, turns, and surprisingly high traffic.

It's a winding road that keeps you on your toes, but the thrill of the journey is part of the fun.

The area presents a challenging but rewarding hike. Take your pick from multiple trails, each promising a unique experience.

I usually head northeast towards the golf course.

The trails are a mix of grades - mild and otherwise.

While it can get slippery in autumn with a bed of leaves on the hills and switchbacks, the season's vibrant colors make it worth every step.

The hike is also open to bikes, so be sure to watch for the two-wheelers.

It's a fantastic way to spend 2.5-3 hours navigating hills, bridges, and roots.

The woods and water create a peaceful ambiance, making it a perfect way to reconnect with nature.

Despite the challenges, the Ragged Mountain Nature Area hike is always a joy, a break from the daily routine that refreshes and prepares me for anything.

Spend the Day at Carter Mountain Orchard

Direction sign of the Carter Mountain Orchard
Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock.com

When the fragrance of ripe, juicy fruits fills the air, and the view of the rolling hills is bathed in the morning sunlight, you know it's another perfect day at Carter Mountain Orchard.

This fantastic orchard is my go-to spot whenever I crave a leisurely and scenic day out.

During cherry season, my taste buds remember the sweet and tart flavors of the cherries we picked straight from the trees.

And let me tell you, the satisfaction of biting into a cherry you selected is unmatchable!

Not to mention the apple and peach pies we bought from their country store and bakery - the perfect balance of sweetness and tartness, genuinely homemade.

The store, a charming haven of produce and specialty foods, offers an array of items.

It's the epitome of community support, from local jams to fresh farm products.

Yes, you might want extra cash on hand as the prices can be a tad high, but it's wholly worth it for the quality and the rich taste.

Moreover, the ice cream there is a must-try; it's creamy, delicious, and the perfect treat on a sunny day.

Carter Mountain Orchard is where you can escape it all and enjoy life's simple pleasures.

The next time you're considering a day out, remember the orchard. No matter the season, you're bound to have a unique experience.

After all, nothing beats wandering through the rows of apple trees in winter with a bag of their famous apple cider donuts in hand.

Consider it a personal recommendation. You won't regret it!

Discover Artistic Treasures at Ix Art Park

Visiting Ix Art Park is like stepping into another world, where everyday life intertwines with art most extraordinarily.

It's not just a park. It's a celebration of creativity and diversity that invites you to be part of its vibrancy.

I must have walked through their colorful gates a hundred times, but each visit feels as fresh and exciting as the first.

Wandering through the park, you can't help but marvel at the stunning art pieces.

The talent and creativity of the artists always blow me away. It's an ever-evolving display, with new pieces appearing seemingly overnight.

And it's not just for visual appreciation. You can also get your hands dirty and unleash your creativity.

They have this wonderful initiative where you're encouraged to make your art after exploring the exhibits, which I absolutely love.

But Ix Art Park isn't just about art. It's also a place to enjoy fresh produce from local vendors.

While the number of vendors may not be extensive, the quality of their products is simply top-notch.

I've picked up some of the freshest, most flavorful vegetables from there, straight from the farm to my kitchen.

One of the park's highlights that genuinely warmed my heart is the vending machine filled with art made by young talents from the Boys & Girls Club.

It's a beautiful way to support a great cause.

Initiatives like these make me proud to call Charlottesville home.

So, if you're ever in town, I recommend you spend a day at Ix Art Park, an experience of art, creativity, community, and joy.

And who knows, you might just discover the artist in you!

Hike the Trails at Riverview Park

The waters of Riverview Park
Gerry Bishop / Shutterstock.com

When the hustle and bustle of Charlottesville becomes too overwhelming, I have a secret escape - Riverview Park.

This 27-acre riverfront preserve is a haven where nature and recreation blend seamlessly.

Its playgrounds and picnic areas make it the perfect place to unwind and connect with nature.

One of my favorite ways to begin a Saturday morning is by embracing the brisk air and lush scenery on a long run along the park's well-maintained trail.

There's nothing more therapeutic than the rhythmic sound of my sneakers hitting the pavement as I wind my way through the park.

The path is equally perfect for a leisurely walk, significantly when the week's pressure weighs heavy on my shoulders.

Riverview Park has more to offer than just its trail, though. The playground is a delight for kids and a relief for parents.

I've spent countless afternoons there, watching my children play on the swings and run wild on the playground. It brings joy to their faces and, in turn, to mine.

The layout of the park is also something I appreciate.

How the playground, picnic areas, and trails are arranged makes the most of the natural landscape while ensuring the space is functional and enjoyable.

And if you're up for a smooth hike, the park's terrain is just right - not too challenging, but enough to work up a sweat.

For anyone in need of a beautiful and peaceful spot for outdoor activities, I highly recommend Riverview Park. Trust me. It's worth every minute spent there.

Take a Stroll Through History at James Monroe's Highland

The house at James Monroe's Highland
Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

Have you ever wished you could step back in time, immersing yourself in the stories and artifacts of our nation's past?

At James Monroe's Highland, that's precisely the experience you get.

Nestled in the lush landscape of Virginia, this historic site was home to our 5th President from 1799 to 1823.

Every visit feels like a discovery, even though I've visited countless times.

The reconstructed home, which rose from the ashes after a devastating fire, is a testament to Monroe's resilience.

Moreover, the personal artifacts on display are like stepping stones leading me back to the early days of our nation.

I particularly enjoy the guided tours, which provide information about the President's life and times.

Statue of president James Monroe at James Monroe's Highland
Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

The grounds are meticulously maintained, providing a serene environment to reflect on our history.

But it's not just the history that makes Highland a treasure.

The farm animals are always a hit with the kids - a beautiful reminder of the origins of this place as a working plantation.

And let's not forget about the gardens! They're the perfect backdrop for a stroll or a quiet afternoon with a good book.

Having a place like James Monroe's Highland in our backyard is an honor.

As a reminder, they host occasional events that provide a unique opportunity to delve deeper into our shared history.

And even if you don't consider yourself a history buff, the grounds' beauty, and tranquility alone make it a worthwhile visit.

So next time you're looking for something to do, why not take a journey back to James Monroe's Highland?

A garden at James Monroe's Highland
Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

Take a Stroll Through Time at The Fralin Museum of Art

Exterior of The Fralin Museum of Art
SharpCrumbs, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

There's a spot on the University of Virginia campus where time seems to stand still. It's not a lecture hall or a quiet study room; it's The Fralin Museum of Art.

This place is an oasis of tranquility amidst the bustling campus life, a peaceful sanctuary where art from various cultures and eras coexist harmoniously.

On a typical visit, I might start by marveling at a collection dedicated to Thomas Jefferson, absorbing the intricacies of his life and era through meticulously preserved precious artifacts.

The exhibits are small, but they pack a punch. Once, there was this fascinating exhibit featuring ancient Mayan ceramics.

I remember being captivated by a dish adorned with a playful depiction of a heron.

The accompanying explanations were enlightening, adding depth to my understanding of this long-gone civilization.

The museum is also home to modern art exhibits that challenge and inspire.

Abstract painting exhibits have particularly caught my attention.

Their bold strokes and vivid colors starkly contrast with the ancient artifacts.

I often find myself standing in front of these canvases, lost in thought, contemplating the myriad interpretations these evocative pieces could hold.

The Fralin is a portal to different worlds and epochs.

It's also a place to lose and find yourself, all within a lunch break.

Whether waiting for a campus event or just seeking a brief respite from work, this museum provides an engaging, enlightening experience every time.

After all, where else could you travel from Jefferson's Virginia to ancient Mayan civilization in just a few steps?

Final Thoughts

I cannot help but say that Charlottesville is truly a city that has it all.

Its rich history, vibrant art scene, and stunning natural beauty make it a place close to my heart.

Whether you're a history buff, an art enthusiast, a nature lover, or looking for a pleasant day out in the town, Charlottesville has something for everyone.

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