If you happen to be down in the Mid-Atlantic region, these Virginia day trips can provide a sense of history and a wealth of fun theme parks, great restaurants and sights.
Taking a step into yesteryear has a grounding effect, providing a sense of history, adventure and context for modern travelers who choose to not only travel geographically, but to explore different time periods as well. Those who travel for educational purposes will not only see the sites, but also learn about where they came from and how the past has shaped their present.
In historic Virginia, inspired travelers can visit the sites where our ancestors fought for freedom during both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and learn about their everyday lives and struggles in living history museums. A great historic Virginia road trip will make a stop in Williamsburg, the capital seat of Virginia’s government at the turn of the 17th century, in Jamestown, the site of the first English settlement in America, and Fredericksburg, a city that played a key role in the Civil War and remains rich in history.
As you step in the steps of our ancestors and forefathers, you’ll find yourself not only immersed in history and historical attractions, but also surrounded by many AAA-approved lodging and dining options, and destinations to add a little extra fun and excitement along the way.
AAA-recommended attractions for Virginia day trips
Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Full of fun for the whole family, this European-themed adventure park features roller coasters, water rides and a plethora of shops and restaurants. Smaller children will delight in a visit to the Sesame Street Forest of Fun for tike-sized rides and playscapes and meet and greets with their favorite characters. Popular thrill rides include the Griffon, claimed to be the world’s tallest floorless dive coaster, and Verbolten, an indoor/outdoor coaster. Water Country USA, with its retro surf theme, is Virginia’s largest water park with more than 40 water slides. One of the best Virginia day trips for a break from historical attractions. Find AAA Discounts at Busch Gardens.
Jamestown Settlement, set adjacent to the site of the original 1607 English settlement, is a museum preserving the story of colony through live reenactment, film, and historical replicas. Visitors can go aboard replicas of the Discovery, Godspeed and Susan Constant, the three ships on which the settlers sailed across the Atlantic, and navigate models of the original fort and a Powhatan village.
Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area
Situated on over 300 acres, Colonial Williamsburg is a living history museum highlighting the everyday life of 18th-century historic Virginians. Visitors can take self-guided and guided tours narrated by costumed portrayers who go about their daily tasks in the historically replicated village. Revolutionary City features live theater performances illustrating the lives of everyday Americans during the Revolutionary era.
Part of the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area, the Governor’s Palace stands as a memorial to the transition of power during the Revolutionary time period. The edifice served as the home to seven British governors as well as the first two elected governors of Virginia. Visitors will see the extravagant lifestyles of the English well-to-do in America reflected in the grandeur and opulence of the décor and architecture. Early-American cooking demonstrations take place in the palace kitchen and the expansive gardens and garden maze are lovely.
James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library
The nation’s fifth president owned and may have practiced law at this property from 1786-1792, and today the building is maintained by the University of Mary Washington as a tribute to the early American politician, housing artifacts passed down through generations of the Monroe family. The collection includes the desk on which the president wrote the Monroe Doctrine, a set of Louis XVI furniture bought while living in France and jewelry belonging to Monroe’s wife, Elizabeth.
Kenmore Plantation and Gardens
Kenmore Plantation is an 18th-century Georgian-style estate built by a wealthy merchant, Fielding Lewis, and his wife, Betty Washington Lewis, sister of George Washington. The museum has preserved the home owners’ art and period furniture, as well as the elaborate plaster ceilings. Visitors will enjoy guided tours of the home and can explore the grounds on trails, while children will appreciate the interactive exhibit.
Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center
Set within the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, this small museum stands to memorialize the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg. Visitors will learn about the history of the battle in a short film and through exhibits featuring artifacts and fine art, and can later embark on driving or walking tours of the battlefield.
Set on the waterfront alongside the Elizabeth River, Nauticus immerses visitors into the world of maritime science with hands-on exhibits and displays that highlight the country’s naval history and economic relationship with the sea. The Battleship Wisconsin, a retired WWII Navy battleship, is docked on site and accessible for tours.
The Manassas Museum
Displays highlight the shared history of the region with video displays and artifact exhibits paying tribute to the Manassas and Northern Virginia Piedmont, while others showcase Confederate and African American history.
Rappahannock River Cruises
Sails round-trip from Tappahannock, Virginia
Experience historic Virginia from the water aboard the Capt. Thomas, which takes travelers for day-long narrated cruises along the Rappahannock River. The route takes passengers under the historic Downing Bridge, past Fones Cliffs – infamously home to bald eagles – and stops for a catered lunch at Ingleside Winery, where visitors can also enjoy wine tastings and vineyard tours.
Norfolk Botanical Garden
With 52 individually themed gardens set on 175 acres, the Norfolk Botanical Garden serves as living museum of flora and fauna. The gardens are home to nearly 100 species of birds and 30 species of butterflies, as well as one of the largest collections of azaleas, camellias, roses and rhododendrons in the country. In the warmer months, visitors can embark on guided tram, boat and walking tours or explore their choice of themed gardens, including the new “World of Wonders Children’s Adventure Garden” targeted toward the Garden’s youngest guests.
Hotels for Virginia day trips
If you are embarking on a one of the above Virginia day trips, having the option to bed down for the night is a welcome one for weary parents and tired kids. Check out these hotel options if your day trip turns into a weekend affair.
Great Wolf Lodge Williamsburg
Perfect for kids (and those young at heart) Great Wolf Lodge houses an indoor water park with a variety of slides and pools tailored to all ages, including a four-story water-fort “tree house.” After toweling off, guests can partake in the resort’s treasure hunt adventure game, MagiQuest, or head to the arcade or kids’ spa. An overnight stay here is a great way to keep the kids energized, entertained and ready for more history!
Norfolk Waterside Marriott
Located in the historic district of Norfolk along the edge of the Elizabeth River, this high-rise hotel offers stunning views of the city and water while being conveniently located to popular area attractions. The state-of-the-art fitness center features personal workout televisions and the clean-cut, modern décor is welcoming and comfortable.
Liberty Rose Bed & Breakfast
A stay in this quaint country home, elegantly decorated to reflect the Colonial influences of the area as well as Victorian sumptuousness, is the perfect culmination to a visit to historic Williamsburg. With only four rooms, guests enjoy personalized service as they sleep in lavish canopy beds, browse the landscaped gardens and dine in the inn’s breakfast room, “The Nest.”
Hyatt Place Fredericksburg at Mary Washington
A terrific spot to rest at the midpoint of your trip, Hyatt Place Fredericksburg is located on the University of Mary Washington campus with close proximity to historic Fredericksburg. The hotel is also within walking distance to shopping and dining options, as well as Fredericksburg’s system of walking and biking trails, ideal for active travelers looking to squeeze some exercise into their vacation schedules. Those preferring to relax can lounge by the indoor pool or unwind by the courtyard fire pits.
The Essex Inn
Travelers who enjoyed their stay at the Liberty Rose Bed & Breakfast in Williamsburg should also book at The Essex Inn. The 19th-century home has been historically maintained, yet transformed into an inn decorated in classic Greek-Revival fashion with original hardwood floors and fireplaces in each of the rooms. Guests looking for more privacy can book a suite in the former slaves’ quarters with a separate entrance. A staff chef prepares breakfasts made from locally sourced ingredients and quaint gardens surround the property.
Crowne Plaza Hampton Marina Hotel
Set right on the harbor, the Crowne Plaza Hampton Marina Hotel capitalizes on its location with a distinct nautical theme. Rooms imitate a captain’s cabin and public areas are decorated with boat themed artwork and a yacht deck seating area with plank floors graces the hotel lobby. Guests can dine at the dockside raw bar and swim in the rooftop pool that overlooks the water while enjoying proximity to local attractions.
Page House Inn Bed & Breakfast
Completing the trifecta of historic Bed & Breakfasts, a stay at the Page House Inn rounds out the trip with a night in the renovated Georgian-Revival style estate. Rooms are ornately decorated and some feature canopy beds, whirlpool or claw foot bathtubs. Guests can order breakfast selections from a menu served in the dining room or opt for room service.
AAA-approved dining for Virginia day trips
The Bavarian Chef
The house specialties at The Bavarian Chef include sahnegoulasch, sauerbraten and schnitzel. Located in a historic train station, the German owners aim to provide an experience reminiscent of German hospitality and home cooking.
Set within Colonial Williamsburg, Chowning’s Tavern is replica of an 18th-century alehouse and a fully operational pub. Servers are dressed in period costumes and initiate pub-style sing-alongs. Menu items include Colonial beer and fare, such as the popular “Shepherd’s Pye,” in addition to more contemporary selections. Drinks are served in the outdoor arbor during the warmer months.
The Log Cabin
Diners will appreciate the intimate, rustic ambiance in the log-walled dining room featuring a cozy fireplace. The menu is full of seafood selections, including platter and sampler options, as well as New Orleans-inspired preparations. Popular options include live Maine lobster and White Crab Soup.
Lowery’s Seafood Restaurant
This family restaurant offers outdoor dining and classic American favorites including fresh seafood and Southern-inspired recipes. Visitors can enjoy a drink while playing corn hole with friends or enjoying live music.
Schlesinger’s Chop House
Newport News, Virginia
When you start to think you can’t possible eat another clam cakes, head to this chic steakhouse for a classic meat and potatoes meal, where cut offerings including rib eyes, New York strips and filet mignon, all served with choice of potatoes. Menu options also include seafood selections, salads and soups and the weekly Sunday brunch buffet features a carving and Belgian waffle and omelet station.
This hip and popular (be sure to make reservations days in advance) downtown spot’s specialty is seafood, and hot menu items include calamari, grouper filets, potato chip-crusted crab cakes and she-crab soup. The specialty cocktail list offers creative libations.
Set in the Dominion Tower with views of the Elizabeth River, Vintage Kitchen features modern décor and a culinary viewpoint inspired by freshness. Sourcing local ingredients whenever possible and highlight a selection of regionally brewed beers and wines from local vineyards, the restaurant’s farm-to-table philosophy results in sample menu items like Chesapeake Bay Flounder and artisan cheese selections. Those looking for an in-depth culinary experience can book reservations in the private library or order off the chef’s testing menu.
Did we miss any great places to visit on Virginia day trips? Let us know in the comments below.