Visitors and residents alike love Charlottesville, Virginia for its youthful and artsy vibe. Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia, and the surrounding Albemarle County houses two historic presidential mansions and one of the state’s most vibrant wine regions. There’s plenty to do in Charlottesville, whether you stay close to the city or make it your home base for your next adventure in Virginia.

Charlottesville has lots to explore, making it a great stop on a Virginia road trip. Here are 8 great things to do next time you visit Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

Presented in partnership with Virginia Tourism

1. Visit Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

On a hilltop just outside the city of Charlottesville you’ll find Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. This is Jefferson’s estate and plantation, dating back to his time as the third President of the United States. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton has brought Jefferson’s life and times into focus in recent years, not only for Americans but for people from around the world. Jefferson was the primary author of the American Declaration of Independence. He was also a fascinating and well-learned individual. Jefferson adored books and could read in Latin, Greek, French and Spanish in addition to English. Monticello is filled with unique artifacts and gadgets to explore as you learn more about the person Jefferson was.

As a National Historic Landmark and part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, today’s Monticello also takes an honest look at some less favourable aspects of Jefferson’s life such as his participation in slavery. No matter what brings you to Monticello, it’s a fascinating place to visit. You can enjoy a guided tour of Monticello and get an overview within a couple of hours, or you can take several guided and self-guided tours and stay for as long as the entire day.

If you’d like to explore Charlottesville’s presidential past even further, you can continue on to James Monroe’s Highland. Situated not far from Monticello, this estate of the fifth U.S. President is renowned for its many original furnishings from the 18th and 19th centuries.

2. Have lunch at the historic Michie Tavern

Whether you’re headed to Monticello or just passing through the area, it’s essential to stop for lunch at Michie Tavern. It’s served 18th-century tavern style as you scoop your own servings onto a tray from a buffet line. You’ll feel transported back in time as you enjoy Southern food like fried or baked chicken, mashed potatoes with biscuits and gravy, collard greens, coleslaw and more. After your first pass, the friendly staff will assist you with unlimited refills. You can also check out the pub and the two on-site gift shops during your visit.

Michie Tavern’s history is fascinating. It was originally located 17 miles away on what was an important 18th-century thoroughfare for travelers. It was purchased in 1927 by a businesswoman named Josephine Henderson. She had it moved to capture traffic from Monticello, which opened to the public a few years earlier. Michie Tavern is a Virginia Historic Landmark, and it’s a destination in its own right.

3. Go wine touring

Did you know there are more than 300 wineries in the state of Virginia? More than 40 wineries alone are based in the Monticello American Viticultural Area (AVA) that surrounds Charlottesville in Albemarle County. You could spend an entire weekend or even longer touring the Monticello Wine Trail discovering the area’s many varietals and styles. You’ll find traditional wines like Viognier, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec, less common varietals such as Petit Manseng and Tannat, and some fantastic blends.

There’s a historical tie-in with wine in this area, too. Thomas Jefferson lived in France for a time and has been called America’s first wine connoisseur. He tried to establish European-style vineyards around Monticello without success. Today, Jefferson Vineyards is home to 400 acres of vines just down the road from Monticello. Not only is Jefferson Vineyards named in Thomas Jefferson’s honour, but the winery is owned and operated today by the Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello Foundation as a nod to his affinity for wine. Chris Ritzcovan has been winemaker at Jefferson Vineyards since 2013 and pours plenty of pride of place into his creations.

4. Enjoy apple cider and incredible views over Charlottesville at Carter Mountain Orchard

Apples also grow well in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Fans of the fruit can revel in its many forms at Carter Mountain Orchard. Plenty of traditional products are on offer, from fresh apples to pies, cider, apple caramel cookies, and their famous apple cider donuts. You’ll also find a gift shop with an extensive selection and an on-site winery.

It’s the food and beverages that will lure you, but the views will make you want to stay! Carter Mountain Orchard is home to some of the most spectacular vistas over Charlottesville and the Blue Ridge Mountains anywhere in Albemarle County.

5. Delve into The Looking Glass at Ix Art Park

Charlottesville has a fantastic arts scene, and it comes to life at The Looking Glass at Ix Art Park. Step inside Virginia’s first immersive art museum and you’ll be transported to a whimsical world full of light, texture, and colour. Wander through the permanent installations created in collaboration with local artists to exercise your imagination and be inspired. Once you’re done exploring, head to the studio to create your own art. You can make self-portraits, watercolour, and even design your own creature from art supplies!

Based on the site of a former textile factory owned by a gentleman named Frank Ix, the Ix Art Park is named in his honour. It’s open to the public year-round and is home to a variety of sculptures and murals. It’s also a community hub that plays host to festivals, workshops, events, and a Saturday farmer’s market.

6. Explore the historic downtown Charlottesville pedestrian mall

Charlottesville is a very walkable city, especially in its downtown area. The city’s historic pedestrian mall is often buzzing with activity as locals and visitors alike explore the many locally owned boutiques, cafés, and restaurants.

We enjoyed two delicious meals here during our visit to Charlottesville: there’s delicious authentic Mexican food at The Bebedero, and Revolutionary Soup has lots of creative soup and salad options for a variety of tastes and dietary restrictions. The Paramount Theater is the mall’s centrepiece and hosts a variety of shows and concerts, and the Virginia Discovery Museum is a great draw for families with young kids. We’re convinced you could spend an entire day at Charlottesville’s pedestrian mall and still not see it all!

7. Have a drink on the Quirk Hotel’s rooftop patio

When it’s time to wind down at the end of a busy day of touring, head to the rooftop patio atop the Quirk Hotel Charlottesville. The Quirk offers a stylish and comfortable boutique hotel experience in the heart of Charlottesville, and the patio is the definitive evening hotspot for those in the know. Sip on a creative cocktail as you take in the ring of ancient mountains that acts as your surroundings. This may be the best show in town! The Quirk Hotel also offers cozy and eclectic accommodations with an arts focus.

8. Make Charlottesville home base for your next Virginia road trip

One of the best things about Charlottesville is you can enjoy all this while using the city as a hub for exploring even more of Virginia! Charlottesville is a main hub for exploring the Shenandoah Valley and the Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park. Read more about exploring the Shenandoah Valley via our friends at Modern Traveller.

On our most recent journey to Virginia, Charlottesville acted as our starting point for a road trip on the Back of the Dragon. Covering 32 miles and incorporating 438 curves along Virginia Route 16, the Back of the Dragon is an essential destination for any driving or motorcycling enthusiast.

Plan your road trip to Virginia by starting here >

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