Fun and Unique Things to Do in Charlottesville Virginia

Fun and unique things to do in Charlottesville VA are perfect for families, romance, adventure, history buffs, nature lovers, foodies, and craft beer and wine fans. Albemarle County Virginia, and the city of Charlottesville (aka Cville), offer a wide range of active and laid-back pursuits.

Charlottesville is just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Washington DC, perfect for a weekend getaway or a fun day trip. Plan a Charlottesville getaway that is family-friendly, foodie-focused, history and nature-inspired, beer and wine-infused, or perhaps all of the above.

The Charlottesville Virginia area is steeped in history and natural beauty. The small city has one of the largest pedestrian malls in the US and the only UNESCO World Heritage site in Virginia. Scenic roads and surrounding towns showcase a passion for agriculture, food, wine, beer, and cider.

Our guide includes fun things to do in Charlottesville, along with places to eat, drink, and stay, so you can create a perfect day trip or a longer Cville getaway. We also highlight beautiful Charlottesville hiking trails, and places to visit in nearby towns. Whatever your focus, you’ll find plenty of fun things to do in Charlottesville VA.

UVA Lawn Charlottesville Virginia; photo credit: Katherine McCool
UVA Lawn Charlottesville Virginia; photo credit: Katherine McCool

Portions of our Charlottesville visit were hosted by the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau. Follow them on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Things to do in Charlottesville VA for Art and History Buffs

It is no surprise that history leads our list of fun things to do in Charlottesville. Here, the homes and history of three US Presidents—Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and  James Monroe—are preserved. In addition, Charlottesville has the only UNESCO World Heritage cultural site in Virginia, one of only 10 in the entire United States.

Cville mixes that history with classic and modern arts at some cool downtown venues. The mix of old and new offers year-round fun for every age.

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

Photo credit: Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello
Photo credit: Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello

Monticello was Thomas Jefferson’s home and plantation for much of his life, both before and after he served as America’s third President. Tours of Monticello highlight Jefferson’s life as a scholar, inventor, and founding father. They also share the stark contrast of Jefferson’s role as a slaveholder and the stories of enslaved people who toiled here.

Reserve a Behind the Scenes Day Pass to visit all three floors in the mansion, including the stunning Dome Room. After your tour, explore the slave quarters on Mulberry Row and learn about the difficult life of the enslaved families at Monticello. Don’t miss the powerful Life of Sally Hemings exhibit! Take a more in-depth look on the Hemings Family Tour, which interprets Monticello from the perspective of several members of the Hemings Family.

Allow extra time to explore the gardens and grounds, Visitor Center, and Shop. If you’re hungry, the Monticello Farm Table serves lunch using fruits and vegetables grown onsite and on local farms. Monticello is open daily except for Christmas, and hours vary throughout the year,

James Monroe Highland

View from James Monroe Highlands, Charlottesville Virginia
View from James Monroe Highlands, Charlottesville Virginia

Nearby Highland is close to Monticello for good reason. James Monroe selected the site of his home so he would be near his mentor, Thomas Jefferson. James Monroe was America’s fifth President and the last of the Founding Fathers. Monroe served with George Washington at Valley Forge, studied law under Jefferson, and authored what came to be known as the Monroe Doctrine.

Visitors to Highland learn about Monroe’s life in public service as they tour a building once thought to be his home. In 2016, experts discovered the foundation of Monroe’s original home, changing their understanding of the existing buildings and opening a new archeological effort. James Monroe Highlands is open daily except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year, and hours vary by season.

The University of Virginia

UVA Rotunda Charlottesville VA
UVA Rotunda Charlottesville VA

The University of Virginia, along with Monticello, is a designated UNESCO world heritage site, and a National Historic Landmark. Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, UVA preserves many of the buildings and tenets of Jefferson’s original design.

Students and faculty still gather at the Rotunda and the Lawn of the Academical Village. Jefferson designed these spaces to encourage interaction and learning, and they still serve that function today. The Rotunda underwent extensive renovations in 2015 and 2016. The reopened space should be part of any architecture- and history-lovers Charlottesville getaway.

Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center, Darden Towe Park

Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center Charlottesville VA
Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center in Charlottesville VA

The Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center in Darden Towe Path is a fun stop for history-lovers, and it has a short hiking trail. The Center promotes the skills of exploration, creativity, and discovery from a central building and surrounding exhibits.

Visitors can climb aboard a keelboat like the one Lewis and Clark used to explore the Missouri River. Lewis was born in Albermarle County, and Clark’s family lived on land next to the Exploratory Center site. A dirt path leads through the woods to river overlooks.

Historic Downtown Pedestrian Mall

The Charlottesville Virginia Downtown Pedestrian Mall is lined with shops and restaurants.
Charlottesville Downtown Pedestrian Mall

The 8-block pedestrian mall, one of the largest in the US, is one of the best places to visit in Charlottesville. The downtown mall is a great stop for shopping, dining, and people-watching. Kids can ride on a small carousel, and adults can visit the galleries or catch a concert at the pavilion and smaller venues. Charlottesville operates a complimentary trolley that stops at the pedestrian mall, the University of Virginia, and other downtown areas.

The Paramount Theater

Arts and history meet at The Paramount Theater
Arts and history meet at The Paramount Theater

Enjoy a mix of arts and history at the beautiful Paramount Theater, located in the downtown pedestrian mall. A massive renovation returned The Paramount to its neoclassical glory, and the theater once again hosts performances and movies. Follow the link for details on scheduled movies and artists. Also ask about free behind-the-scenes tours that include a visit backstage, where hundreds of performers have signed the walls.

James Madison’s Montpelier, Orange

Front view Montpelier Orange Virginia
Front view on James Madison’s Montpelier in Orange Virginia

In nearby Orange, about 25 miles from Charlottesville, is the home of  James Madison, America’s fourth President. Madison spent much of his life at Montpelier, as a boy, a family man, and a founding father. He is often referred to as the Father of the Constitution and the architect of the Bill of Rights.

On your way to the Visitor Center, stop for a photo at the wonderful “We the People” LOVE sign.

We the People LOVE sign at Montpelier is a fun photo spot in Orange Virginia
We the People LOVE sign at Montpelier

Tours of the mansion at Montpelier interpret the life of James and Dolley—the first American power couple—after he was elected President. The building interprets the time when James entertained the nation’s founders, and Dolley defined the role of First Lady. Visitors can also explore the extensive grounds and hiking trails, archeological digs, and recreated slave quarters. There are interesting galleries and shops to visit, and the Exchange Cafe serves excellent sandwiches.

Favorite Charlottesville Hiking Trails

The Rivanna Trail circles the city of Charlottesville, following a mix of parkland, streets, and greenways for 20 miles. For an easy, pretty walk, we like the segment along the river in Riverview Park.

Rivanna Trail Charlottesville VA
Rivanna Trail Charlottesville VA

When you visit Monticello, add a hike on the 2-mile Saunders-Monticello Trail. Park at the bottom of route 53, and follow dirt paths and boardwalks that climb Carter Mountain and lead right to the ticket office.

Trail to Monticello Charlottesville Virginia
Trail to Monticello Charlottesville Virginia

One of the best hiking trails near Charlottesville VA is the popular Crabtree Falls trail, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Crabtree is the longest vertical cascade in the Eastern US. The series of several waterfalls cascade a total of 1200 feet.

From the lower parking lot, it’s a steadily uphill, but not too challenging, 1.8-mile climb to the top of the falls. At the top, a viewpoint looks out over the Tye River Gorge filling. This is one of the best fall hikes in Virginia, especially when fall foliage colors the views, and is well worth the drive during a Charlottesville getaway.

Crabtree Falls cascade, fall hikes in Virginia
Crabtree Falls cascade Virginia

More Places to Visit Near Charlottesville VA

Albemarle Tourism & Adventure Center, Crozet

Albemarle Visitor Center Crozet VA
Albemarle Visitor Center Crozet VA

The small town of Crozet packs a lot into its lovely spot at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Start your visit at the Albermarle Tourism Center to pick up maps and book adventures. The shop features locally made goods from a juried collection of 70 artisans. Visit on Second Saturdays to enjoy book signings and other entertainment.

Crozet LOVEwork

LOVEwork Crozet Virginia