11 Day Trip Destinations in Virginia
A vacation doesn’t have to take weeks or even days. If you live in or near Virginia, there are plenty of great places to visit without ever leaving the state. From historical monuments to national parks and pristine beaches, Virginia has a little bit of everything. Check out our guide to the top spots to visit in only a day.
Theodore Roosevelt Island
Designed in 1930 by landscape architects, Theodore Roosevelt Island is a “real forest” sanctuary, created to honor the legacy of America’s 26th president, a man known for, among other achievements, a fierce passion for the outdoors. Located just across the river from the Kennedy Center, the Virginia island contains “wooded uplands and swampy bottomlands,” according to the National Parks Service. While there, explore the trails, go on a guided island safari, or enjoy a Civil War reenactment. You can also join a National Park Service Ranger and kayak the Potomac River!
Arlington National Cemetery
This hallowed ground has been the resting place of fallen United States soldiers since the Civil War when it was owned by Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Visitors can explore the grounds on their own or take an interpretative bus tour through the cemetery. Within the cemetery, visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where guards remain even in the face of torrential rain; and the Memorial Amphitheater, a beautiful outdoor gathering space where military honors and awards are presented.
Located an hour away from the nation’s capital, Leesburg is yet another way to experience history but in a more casual way. The city was established around 1755 and served as a temporary home to the U.S. government and its archives during the War of 1812. Currently, the historic district in Leesburg has some of the oldest buildings in the nation, with beautiful architecture ranging from Classical to Greek Revival. With plenty of museums, fine dining, and year-round events like the classic car show, Leesburg is a timeless spot for a relaxing getaway.
Smithsonian Air and Space Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly
Any one of the Smithsonian Institution’s 19 museums would be a worthy stop on a day trip. If you’re in Virginia, the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly is a must-see for lovers of the sky. The center’s two massive converted hangars contain thousands of artifacts, including notable planes and the Space Shuttle Discovery, which made the most space flights of any vehicle. Once you’re done examining the planes, visit the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar, where visitors can observe projects in the works; or stop by the IMAX theater and observation tower, where you can see a 360-degree view of the nearby airport.
Speaking of historic cities, Colonial Williamsburg should be on every Virginian’s bucket list. As one of the oldest cities in the United States, Williamsburg has structures and buildings constructed as early as the 17th century. However, as a living museum, you not only get to see history, you get to experience it. From authentic carriage rides to meeting tradespeople using 18th-century tools and techniques, you’ll get to immerse yourself completely in American history. With activities around the clock that change by the season, there’s always something to do.
Busch Gardens & Water Country USA
Before you leave Williamsburg, make sure to visit Busch Gardens, a theme park with nine roller coasters as well as log flumes and family rides; and Water Country USA, the nearby water park owned and operated by the same group. Busch Gardens is known for its family-friendly atmosphere and thrilling attractions. Plus, they opened an exciting virtual reality ride in 2018. Meanwhile, Water Country USA is a great way to cool off and is open until September.
The city of Virginia Beach and the surrounding region is one of the best vacation spots in the state. With stretches of wide, calm beaches and a lively town, there’s plenty to do for the whole family. Visit Chick’s Beach in Chesapeake Bay, where you’ll find calm tides perfect for kayaking or paddleboarding; or stop by the nearby community of Pungo, rich with farmland where you can pick fresh berries. The list of activities around Virginia Beach is almost endless, so check out their guide if you need more ideas.
Virginia Safari Park
Located an hour northwest of Lynchburg at the southern edge of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, the Virginia Safari Park is paradise for animal lovers young and old. The park opened in 2000 with the goal of allowing people to see animals in a more natural setting and features animals such as llamas, giraffes, and even a white tiger. Drivers and passengers weave through the 180-acre land on a three–mile road from which they can feed the animals or simply observe from afar.\
Shenandoah National Park
Just under two hours from Washington D.C., Shenandoah National Park is not only a great place to get away for a weekend – it’s perfect for a quick day trip. The park contains over 500 miles of hiking trails as well as the famous Skyline Drive, a beautiful stretch of road which leads into the park and boasts magnificent views. The National Parks Service recommends packing plenty of water and, if you’re looking to hike the popular yet treacherous Old Rag Mountain, make sure you’re an experienced hiker with at least seven hours to spend.
Take a trip to a whole new world in the massive Luray Caverns. As the largest caverns in the eastern United States, these caves look more like an alien planet than Virginia. You never have to worry about getting lost with lighted pathways and guided tours. Instead, enjoy the sheer size and wonder of natural rooms as tall as 10-story buildings. Don’t leave before you see the Great Stalacpipe Organ, a musical instrument which uses parts of the cavern to make its sounds.
The Chincoteague and Assateague Islands
The Chincoteague and Assateague Islands are two unique, small islands off the coast of Virginia. Unlike most islands and beaches, they contain almost no development like high rises or fancy resorts. Instead, visitors can enjoy the natural beauty of the islands, their wildlife, and some of the best beaches on the east coast. Assateague is also home to a colony of wild horses whose ancestors have lived there for decades. If you’ve got time, try to visit during the annual Pony Swim, when a group called the Saltwater Cowboys herds the horses into the water from Assateague across the narrow stretch of ocean to Chincoteague.
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