Day Trip: Charlottesville
Images and editorial from Albemarle County
A charming city full of history, rich culture and one-of-a-kind opportunities
Nestled at the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains in picturesque Albemarle County, the fascinating city of Charlottesville is a lively university town with a quintessential mixture of the arts, education and culture, offering visitors a thriving community that’s abundant in history.
History of Charlottesville
Our nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, inspired the architecture and names of many of the buildings found throughout Charlottesville, but his former home, Monticello, is one of the most iconic. Jefferson began building Monticello when he was just 26-years-old after inheriting land from his father. The plantation was originally used for the cultivation of tobacco and mixed crops, but like other planters, Jefferson started growing wheat in response to the changing markets. In addition to its gorgeous architecture and elaborate estate, Monticello was known for its expansive gardens that were designed and tended by Jefferson himself. Every year he would grow hundreds of fruit and vegetable varieties, and although his grape vines continuously failed to thrive, he developed the reputation as America’s first viticulturist.
After Jefferson passed away on July 4, 1826, his daughter, Martha, was forced to sell the estate, and by 1836, the first Jewish-American Navy Officer, Uriah Levy, and his nephew, Jefferson Monroe Levy, bought the home. Today, the Levys are credited for its restoration and preservation. In 1923, nonprofit organization The Thomas Jefferson Foundation purchased the property, and it continues to operate as a museum and educational institution today.
There is a plethora of ways to become acquainted with the town of Charlottesville, whether it be hopping on the free trolley and cruising around Historic Downtown or attending an event at the local amphitheater that hosts a range of concerts and festivals. Discover historic buildings throughout the city that have become famous landmarks, including The Courthouse located in Historic Court Square. Operating as a courthouse for more than 200 years, this was the only courthouse used by three early American Presidents at the same time.
There are numerous types of tours available in Charlottesville that provide an interesting way to learn more about the city—from private bus tours to wine and ghost walking tours. Historical tours follow the footprints of Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and James Madison. Ghost tours dare guests to trace the fatal steps of Charlottesville’s former mayor and his wife whose murder is still a mystery today. Choose from any of these, or one of the many other tours offered, and you will quickly discover all the treasures this town has to offer.
Outdoor Attractions in Charlottesville
Another celebrated aspect of Charlottesville is its surroundings. The city is located within Albemarle County which contains hundreds of beautiful hiking trails and paths as well as an entrance to the Appalachian Trail. If you feel like taking on a challenge, head over to Humpback Rock, a popular destination with breathtaking views overlooking the mountains. The blue-blazed trail that leads to the rock may be short but wastes no time ascending! Take a leisurely, scenic drive to the Shenandoah National Park in the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains. The park is home to 500 miles of trails, cascading waterfalls in deep canyons and a variety of wildlife flourishing in the oak-hickory forests.
Charlottesville’s Craft Beer and Wine
Residents and visitors alike can’t help but love the 30 wineries, breweries and cideries in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Each offer quality libations with picturesque views, as well as fascinating tours on craft production … and provide samples, too! Spend an afternoon at one of these popular imbibing destinations, or follow one of the wine or beer trails that traverse the landscape.
Shopping in Charlottesville
In the heart of the city, you will find one of the finest urban parks in the country, the Historic Downtown Mall. This brick-paved pedestrian mall is home to more than 120 shops and restaurants, plus multiple music venues on and around old Main Street. Browse through a variety of unique boutiques, meander by the flowing fountains or simply relax under a stunning oak tree.
Charlottesville Art Scene
Several museums and art galleries reside throughout Charlottesville, where you can learn about local and statewide history, view a diverse style of art, and experience hands-on exhibits and displays that will attract all ages. Art lovers are also invited to attend the town’s First Fridays events, which are held on the first Friday of each month to browse through galleries and exhibits.
Annual Events in Charlottesville
If you are in town during an annual event, then you are in luck because Charlottesville always has something to celebrate! From events at a local winery to the Christmas Parade during the first full weekend of December, you will easily find that Charlottesville is a vibrant community that draws thousands of visitors every year.
Visit the University of Virginia
It wouldn’t be a complete trip to Charlottesville if you didn’t visit one of the town’s biggest highlights, the University of Virginia, which is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s top public universities. Visitors are welcome to cheer on the Hoos at a game, walk The Grounds or stroll through The Lawn surrounded by historic residences. To truly become a part of UVA’s youthful energy, make your way to The Corner, where you will find a wonderful selection of casual restaurants, trendy shops and local hangouts with college specials all day and night.
Nightlife in Charlottesville
The nightlife in Charlottesville will bring you an endless supply of live music and entertainment, from old school hits to modern-day hip-hop. There are several restaurants, pubs and bars open until the wee hours of the morning offering drink specials, late-night eats and entertainment that fit any age and lifestyle. If you are having too much fun and prefer to stay overnight in the city, Charlottesville provides visitors with comfortable accommodations that will suit their every need with the destination’s selection of cozy bed and breakfast inns and luxury hotels.
Whether you are in town for the weekend or here for a day trip, the attractions, dining, shopping and breathtaking scenery offered in Charlottesville and Albemarle County are truly magical, and you will always have a reason to come back for more.