11 Things to Do (And Eat) On Your First Trip To Charlottesville, Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia: the small town that’s home to more than 500 miles of Blue Ridge hiking trails, the NCAA championship-winning Virginia Cavaliers, and a restaurant-per-capita density that rivals major cities like New York City and San Francisco. In this college town, you’ll find students, tourists, and locals mingling at hidden-gem restaurants, or drinking pints of Bold Rock cider as they watch the sun set over the Blue Ridge Mountains. You’ll find Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello, and you’ll find his pride and joy– the University of Virginia. You’ll find wineries, breweries, and cideries, all complete with stunning views.
Charlottesville may boast myriad activities, destinations, and acclaimed restaurants, but even with its fast-paced growth, the city still maintains its small-town spirit. From hikes to wineries to possibly the world’s best bagels, this small town has something for everyone. Add Charlottesville to your list of this year’s destinations, and be sure to check out these spots along the way.
Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello is just a quick 15-minute drive away from the University’s Grounds. Tailor your visit to your interests with a specialized tour of Monticello, from a behind-the-scenes tour of Jefferson’s home to a tour focused on slavery at Monticello. With a wide variety of trees and flora, Monticello’s impeccable grounds are a must-see for any garden aficionado.
Eat at Bodo's Bagels
With three locations across town, Bodo’s Bagels is a beloved Charlottesville institution. You can customize your New York-style bagel sandwich any way you like– just be sure to get a side of cream cheese. On busy weekend mornings, the line at Bodo's on the Corner will be out the door, so venture to the locations on Preston Avenue or Emmet Street to try to avoid the crowd.
Take a Historical Tour of the University
Student tour guides provide a glimpse into the rich and complex history of the University of Virginia on the University Guide Service’s free daily historical tours. Each tour is unique and customized by the guide, with topics ranging from the architecture of the Lawn to slavery at the University.
Hike the Blue Ridge Mountains
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Charlottesville offers access to some of the best hiking trails (and views) in Virginia. The nearby Shenandoah National Park boasts over 500 miles of trails, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail. Experienced hikers can embark on the all-day adventure of hiking Old Rag Mountain, the park’s most popular and most strenuous trail. Complete with precipitous rock scrambles and incredible summit views, Old Rag is not for the faint of heart.
Brunch at MarieBette Café and Bakery
When it comes to brunch, Charlottesville has lots of great options. The cult-favorite spot is MarieBette Café and Bakery, a charming local bakery with fresh-baked bread, on-the-go coffee and pastries, and a light sit-down brunch menu (and, normally, at least a thirty-minute wait). If you can snag a table at MarieBette, try their baked eggs; if you’re eager to move on to the next destination, you can still order a croissant breakfast sandwich at the counter. Other favorite weekend brunch locations include Tip Top Restaurant (which serves breakfast all day), Pigeon Hole (try the egg biscuits and a mason jar mimosa), and The Whiskey Jar (which offers a Southern take on brunch classics).
Wine and Dine Along the Monticello Wine Trail
The Monticello Wine Trail includes 33 wineries, all within driving distance from central Charlottesville. Book a wine tour and spend an afternoon hopping between some of the region’s best vineyards. If you’re looking for a full-service experience, visit Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards, where the seasonal, locally grown food pairs beautifully with their signature Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, or Cabernet Franc. If you’re looking for a more laid-back option, pack up a basket with goodies from artisan market Feast! and head to King Family Vineyards, where you can enjoy your picnic spread with a bottle of their blush-pink Crosé. With so many incredible vineyards to explore, Charlottesville may just be the Napa Valley of the East Coast.
Drink Virginia Cider
Visit the Art Museums
The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia houses an extensive permanent collection and ever-rotating exhibitions, as well as an excellent student docent program. The one-of-a-kind Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection is the only museum in the United States completely dedicated to Indigenous Australian art.
For an upscale dinner, sample the homemade pasta and craft cocktails at Red Pump Kitchen, a modern Tuscan restaurant located on the Downtown Mall. Indulge in fresh seafood at Public Fish & Oyster, authentic neapolitan pizza at Lampo, or a formal steak meal at Charlottesville’s newest steakhouse, Prime 109.
Eat on the Corner
For a more casual dining option, check out the Corner, a strip of shops and restaurants adjacent to UVA’s Grounds. The Virginian, Charlottesville's oldest restaurant (founded in 1923), is a favorite amongst students and tourists alike. Try the Stumble Down Mac and Cheese, a fan-favorite dish that’s slightly spicy, wonderfully creamy, and topped with a crispy cheddar potato cake. Or check out Boylan Heights, a prep-school-inspired sports bar with custom burgers, curly fries, and local beer and cider on draft.
Explore the Downtown Mall
Spend an afternoon wandering around Charlottesville’s red-bricked pedestrian mall, a walking area packed with restaurants, stores, and coffee shops. Stop in to browse in the old bookstores downtown– New Dominion Bookshop, Blue Whale Books, and the three-story Daedalus Books. On Saturday mornings during the warm months, be sure to swing by the Charlottesville City Market, where you'll find a variety of fresh produce, local cheese, and other vendors.