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Best of Virginia: 22 must-see places to visit this year

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly. | Photo by Dane Penland Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly. | Photo by Dane Penland

A new year means new adventures, and there’s plenty of fun to be found close to home in 2022. Whether you’re looking for a waterfront escape, a historical retreat, or a day trip to a quaint small town, Virginia has no lack of options. We’ve rounded up some of the area’s top attractions for 2022, a mix of familiar favorites and hidden gems. 

For natural beauty

1. Shenandoah National Park

Photo by Vladimir Grablev/stock.adobe.com

Photo by Vladimir Grablev/stock.adobe.com

Few places in the world are more beautiful than Virginia in the fall, when leaf peepers can behold rainbow-colored views at Shenandoah National Park. But autumn’s not the only time this national park is worth the visit; guests can enjoy 100 miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, and back-country camping year-round. 

2. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Assateague Island

From sandy beaches to marshes to wildflowers, every inch of Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is covered in pure, unfiltered beauty. Among the most unforgettable parts of this Virginia hot spot? The wild ponies that roam freely. 

3. Luray Caverns

Photo courtesy of Luray Caverns, VA

Photo courtesy of Luray Caverns, VA

There are several caverns hidden throughout Virginia, but Luray boasts the coveted title of being not only the largest, but also the most frequented. Like other caverns, Luray has soaring stone formations made of calcite, a crystalline form of limestone. But what makes this cave truly special is its working Stalacpipe Organ, which uses stalactites to create a haunting, musical tone. 

4. Natural Bridge State Park

Photo courtesy Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

Photo courtesy Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

Take in views of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains as you hike along the 7 miles of hiking trails that wind through scenic Natural Bridge State Park. And of course, no trip to this park would be complete without a walk under its namesake; the 215-foot tall Natural Bridge. 

5. Virginia Beach Boardwalk

Photo by abemos/stock.adobe.com

Photo by abemos/stock.adobe.com

There’s something for everyone on the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, with 3 miles of entertainment, outdoor restaurants, and shopping. While you’re there, snap a picture with King Neptune, the 34-foot tall bronze statue that beckons beach-goers. 

For small-town charm 

6. Wytheville

Photo courtesy Visit Wytheville

Photo courtesy Visit Wytheville

This town of Wytheville, hidden in the Blue Ridge Mountains, has museums, outdoor excursions, and a vibrant downtown. It’s also home to the Chautauqua Festival, an 8-day arts and musical celebration that draws visitors from around the region to enjoy art displays, live entertainment, and hot air balloons. Wytheville is also the center of Claw of the Dragon, a driving trail beloved by motorcyclists for its scenic views and winding curves. 

7. Culpeper

There’s plenty of main street magic to be found in Culpeper, once named by Architectural Digest as “the prettiest town in Virginia.” Stroll around downtown as you peruse local wares at one of the many boutiques or nosh on fresh fare at a farm-to-table restaurant. Want something a bit more active? Head to Lake Pelham, where you can kayak or paddle board. 

8. Onancock

Onancock may have a small population (about 1,100) but don’t let that fool you—this waterfront gem has lots to offer. Take a walking tour of historic 19th-century homes and churches, or watch a show at the North Street Playhouse. When you get hungry, stop by Mallards at the Wharf, where you can enjoy mouthwatering crab cakes and a waterfront view. 

For living history 

9. Williamsburg

Stepping through the streets of Colonial Williamsburg is like taking a time machine back to the 18th century. Discover original buildings, talk to costumed reenactors, and learn a new skill from a tradesperson as you explore the mile-long historic area.

Among the city’s many popular spots is the majestic Governor’s Palace, home to royal governors and the first 2 elected governors in Virginia.

10. Mount Vernon

Immerse yourself in the life of our first president with a trip to his sprawling Mount Vernon estate, which features a 21-room mansion, 4 gardens, and a farm. And be sure to check the calendar before you go: The estate regularly holds events, including festivals, historical reenactments, and concerts. 

Read more: Visit the homes of our country’s Virginia-born presidents.

11. Monticello, Charlottesville

Photo by Joe Sohm/stock.adobe.com

Photo by Joe Sohm/stock.adobe.com

Thomas Jefferson took more than 40 years to get Monticello exactly how he wanted it, and the result is nothing short of spectacular. The hilltop estate is an architectural marvel, with guests allowed to tour the first-floor spaces as well as the extensive grounds. Not only does Monticello offer vast insight into one of the nation’s founding fathers, but it also takes care to highlight the hundreds of slaves who labored and lived there. 

12. Cape Henry Lighthouse, Fort Story

Two historic lighthouses in Fort Story. | Photo by jayyuan/stock.adobe.com

Two historic lighthouses in Fort Story. | Photo by jayyuan/stock.adobe.com

There are 2 lighthouses dotting the coastline at Cape Henry; the original Cape Henry Lighthouse built in 1792, and its black-and-white successor, which was built in 1881. The original structure—one of the oldest lighthouses still standing in the United States—is open to the public and offers 360-degree coastal views. 

Read more: Take a history road trip in Virginia to explore U.S. heritage.

13. Manassas National Battlefield Park

Photo by Dan/stock.adobe.com

Photo by Dan/stock.adobe.com

It may look like a big empty plain now, but a couple of hundred years ago, Manassas National Battlefield was the site of 2 important Civil War battles. Guided walking tours and exhibits at the Henry Hill Visitors Center and the Brawner Farm Interpretive Center bring the history to life. 

14. Lexington

Take a horse-drawn carriage past the house of Stonewall Jackson or explore the final resting place of Civil War soldiers and Virginia governors at the Oak Grove Cemetery. Also of interest in Lexington: the University Chapel and Galleries at Washington & Lee University. 

15. Highland, Charlottesville

The former home of James Monroe reexamines what we know (or don’t know) about our fifth president, looking at his political life, slavery, and the greater story of America during the early 19th century. 

16. Canal Walk, Richmond

Keep your eyes down as you traverse the 1.25-mile-long Canal Walk, with 22 bronze medallions embedded in the path to mark historical sites. 

For culture 

17. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond

Photo courtesy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Photo courtesy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Allot a good amount of time to fully appreciate the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which includes nearly 50,000 pieces from all over the world. In addition to a robust permanent collection, this April, the museum will feature a traveling exhibit of works by artists such as James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Mary Cassatt, and John Singer Sargent in the “Whistler to Cassatt: American Painters in France” exhibit. 

Read more: 7 places where the art scene is flourishing in Richmond, Virginia.

18. King Family Vineyards, Crozet

Virginia has no lack of wineries, but if you want to enjoy a glass of award-winning vino while watching polo, King Family Vineyards is the place to do it (be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol). On Sundays from Memorial Day to mid-October, guests can watch a free polo match at Roseland Farm, which sits on the Vineyard property. And if you’re feeling especially adventurous, take a polo lesson!

19. Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly

Photo by Eric Long; Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM2020-02158)

Photo by Eric Long; Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM2020-02158)

While a trip to space may not be in the cards for you anytime soon, you can get pretty close at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, with thousands of aviation and space artifacts. This year, new exhibits include “America by Air,” a look back at the history of air travel.  

For the unusual

20. Foamhenge, Centreville

Cox Farm’s Foamhenge in Centreville. | Photo by Seana Shuchart Photography

Cox Farm’s Foamhenge in Centreville. | Photo by Seana Shuchart Photography

If you haven’t made it to England to see Stonehenge, this may be the next best thing. Created by artist Mark Cline as a roadside attraction for Cox Farms, Foamhenge is an exact replica of its English counterpart, except made out of foam. 

21. Isle of Wight County Museum, Smithfield

Visitors pose with the world’s oldest ham at the Isle of Wight County Museum in Smithfield. | Photo courtesy of the Isle of Wight County Museum

Visitors pose with the world’s oldest ham at the Isle of Wight County Museum in Smithfield. | Photo courtesy of the Isle of Wight County Museum

The power of preservation is on full display at the Isle of Wight County Museum, keeper of the world’s oldest ham. While samples aren’t available, visitors can enjoy learning about the Smithfield ham industry, as well as interactive exhibits and displays depicting colonial history, the Civil War, and the Cold War. 

22. The Poe Museum, Richmond

Edgar Allan Poe may be associated with horror and macabre, but his museum is anything but scary. Located in his hometown of Richmond, the Poe Museum showcases rare manuscripts, letters, and pictures that celebrate the writer’s life and works. Whether or not you see a raven, however, depends on your luck. 

Betsy Abraham is a freelance journalist with a passion for writing about unique places and people.

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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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