[Updated January 31, 2024] The historic town of Charlottesville is at the center of the State of Virginia, both geographically and historically.
Here you’ll find presidential homes, college hangouts, a vast array of great restaurants, and stunning natural beauty.
C’ville (as it’s known among us locals) is home to the University of Virginia, which was started by President Thomas Jefferson in 1819.
Located just a few hours south of Washington DC and an hour’s drive from Richmond, Charlottesville is widely regarded as one of the best places to visit in Virginia.
As longtime residents of nearby Harrisonburg, we’re always looking for unique things to do in Charlottesville VA.
Charlottesville has an active arts and culture scene, which features big name entertainers and talented local artists.
Foodies will appreciate the fact that the city of Charlottesville VA consistently ranks in the Top 20 for having the most restaurants per capita.
Read on for our in-depth guide to the best things to do in Charlottesville VA, including exploring the beautiful UVA campus, catching a show at the Paramount, or picking apples with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
READ MORE: 10 Best Virginia Mountain Towns to Visit
Top Places to Stay in Charlottesville VA
Best Things to do in Charlottesville VA Guide
- Beaver Creek Reservoir
- The Corner
- Dairy Market
- Explore Historic Downtown Mall
- Hike Saunders-Monticello Trail
- Enjoy Charlottesville Wineries, Breweries & Cider
- Paramount Theater
- Sample Charlottesville Restaurants
- University of Virginia
1. Beaver Creek Reservoir
4365 Beaver Creek Park, Charlottesville VA • (434) 243-7929 • Official Website
One of our favorite places to visit near Charlottesville VA (15 minutes west of town), the 219-acre Beaver Creek Reservoir has tranquil waters and forest trails to explore. It also offers fishing, boating, and superb lake and mountain views.
Bass and catfish are plentiful here, and you can fish and paddle from sunrise to sunset. For a shady diversion, the 1.2-mile Rock Ridge Trail loops through the forest and around the lake shore.
The reservoir also offers picnic tables, boat ramps, and restrooms. Unfortunately swimming in the reservoir is not allowed, but in our experience the scenic views are magnificent!
2. The Corner
1501 University Ave, Charlottesville VA
The Corner is an 8-block area connecting the UVA campus with the rest of the town of Charlottesville VA.
This bustling area is packed with shops and restaurants that are frequented by college students, locals, and tourists alike. It’s a social hub that has been a part of Charlottesville and UVA campus life since the time of Thomas Jefferson.
Nearly 50 years before the Civil War began, this was a diminutive collection of boarding houses and eating establishments. but over the last two centuries it has grown into a top thing to do in Charlottesville VA.
Today, instead of horse-and-buggies, tobacco shops, oil lamps, and shoemakers, the Corner has everything from bagels and sushi to a local market and clothing store.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Staunton VA
3. The Dairy Market
946 Grady Avenue, Charlottesville VA • (434) 326-4552 • Official Website
One of our favorite things to do in Charlottesville VA is visit the Dairy Market, which is the first of its kind in Virginia’s Central Piedmont area.
Housed in the historic Monticello Dairy Building, the Dairy Market champions small local entrepreneurs, housing vendors that bring exciting and diverse culinary and retail options.
For a style reminiscent of Soho in Manhattan, Quattro Tizi delivers contemporary men’s and women’s clothing and lifestyle items. Another popular shop is Brigid & Bess, where you can find uniquely creative goods from local and global designers.
Our excursions to the Dairy Market often center around the amazing array of food options. We love the Falafel at Al Basha, a Mediterranean cuisine vendor featuring family-style dishes made with fresh local ingredients.
Another Dairy Market favorite is the South and Central Latin Grill & Steakhouse. Locally sourced steaks are grilled to perfection, with authentic flavors and sides to please all meat lovers.
With a full events calendar including Paint & Sip nights, partnerships with local restaurants and charitable causes, the Dairy Market is an important community hub that’s well worth visiting.
4. Explore Historic Downtown Mall
E Main St, Charlottesville VA • (434) 295-9073
With 120 shops and 30 restaurants housed in beautifully restored buildings, Charlottesville’s 8-block Downtown Mall is our first stop whenever we spend a day in C’ville.
This vibrant pedestrian mall is kid-friendly, ADA accessible, and has shopping, dining, and entertainment all year-round. Our last visit was in late Summer, so we dined al fresco under colorful umbrellas after window shopping.
Between people-watching and listening to a local busker give a lively fiddle performance, it was a delightful “dinner and a show”-style experience.
At one end of the mall, you’ll find the Ting Pavilion, an open-air music venue for summer jams. Their last show of the 2023 season featured the ever-popular ska band, Dropkick Murphys.
For live Virginia Music, fine dining, and seasonal events, exploring the Downtown Mall is one of our favorite fun things to do in Charlottesville.
5. Hike the Saunders-Monticello Trail
503 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy, Charlottesville VA • (434) 984-9822 • Official Website
The Saunders-Monticello Trail is a picturesque way of exploring the forest around Monticello, which was famously home to President Thomas Jefferson.
Located off the Thomas Jefferson Parkway, the trail is a combinations of gravel paths, boardwalks, and forest trails resplendent with oak trees, colorful Virgina birds, and awesome vistas.
The Saunders-Monticello Trail is free of charge. Parking is available at the trailhead, with an additional parking area at Piedmont Virginia Community College.
The 4.3-mile trail is a fairly easy hike with a moderate grade and stunning Blue Ridge Mountain views. Closed only for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and inclement weather, this is a popular area for cyclists, joggers, and hikers alike.
At the trail’s end, you’ll arrive at the entrance to the Monticello Visitor Center, where you can purchase your tickets to tour Monticello.
6. Enjoy Charlottesville Wineries, Breweries & Cideries
This combination of spirits, live music, food trucks, and spectacular scenic views make Charlottesville the toast of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Our favorite Charlottesville winery is King Family Vineyards, which nestled in foothills in nearby Crozet VA. With the Roseland Polo Club on site, we’re always thrilled to enjoy a wine tasting while watching a polo match.
Crozet is also home to our favorite brewery, Pro Re Nata, which combines hand-crafted beers and gastropub food served in indoor and outdoor bars.With massive fire pits all around, it’s a perfect place to enjoy live music on the outdoor stage.
The Bold Rock Cellar at Carter Mountain Orchard is our favorite place to enjoy all things related to Virginia apples. Our last visit included Bold Rock Cider, apple cider donuts, and breathtaking views of C’ville from Carter Mountain.
1050 Monticello Loop, Charlottesville VA • (434) 984-9800 • Official Website
One of the top historic sites in Charlottesville VA, Monticello (“Little Mountain” in Italian) is an architectural masterpiece designed by Thomas Jefferson. It’s one of only 25 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the USA.
While you will find our third U.S. President’s legacy documented throughout C’ville, Monticello and the surrounding grounds and lush gardens feel more like an autobiography of America’s first architect.
Every time we visit Monticello, we usually plan on spending at least 4 hours, depending on the type of tour we select. Tours for adults range in price from $32 to $42, while children 12 and under are free (but still need a ticket).
We usually go with the self-guided tour, but recommend the Highlights Tour for first-time visitors. This guided tour is informative and includes meeting Thomas Jefferson himself, as portrayed by a historical interpreter.
Tours are available at different times of day and tend to fill up fast, so get your tickets online in advance and try to arrive 30 minutes before your tour begins.
8. The Paramount Theater
215 E Main St, Charlottesville VA • (434) 979-1333 • Official Website
Few Charlottesville attractions can invoke more nostalgia than this grand old-fashioned theater, which comes complete with a bright marquee sign and sparkling chandeliers.
The Paramount Theater opened in downtown Charlottesville in 1931, when going to the cinema was still a magical event.
After closing in the 1970s, the Paramount Theater was fully restored and revived as a non-profit, opening again in 2004. Community leaders and local fundraising have returned it to its original glory.
Located in the Downtown Mall, the theater remains a sparkling landmark (and one of our favorite activities in Charlottesville) today.
From its classic Georgian façade to its 18th-century interior décor, the Golden Age of cinema is still alive at the Paramount. We love catching an old movie like Funny Girl, or live music by legends like Graham Nash, all in luxurious comfort.
9. Sample Charlottesville Restaurants
The Charlottesville food scene is diverse, offering a mix of farm-to-table cuisine, international influences, and traditional Southern cuisine. Most restaurant servers can readily identify where an ingredient was raised or harvested.
For a delicious brunch, visit the Farm Bell Kitchen. The expertise of local farmers and artisanal food vendors is evident in every delicious bite of their Banana Beignets or a Farmer’s Market Platter.
If you enjoy international flavors, we recommend the MarieBette Café & Bakery, where you can enjoy a taste of Paris with a fresh pastry and a hot cappuccino. We always head home with a few if their decadent Apple Galettes.
For traditional Appalachian fare, Michie Tavern serves up 18th Century-style fried chicken, biscuits, cornbread, mashed potatoes, and pulled pork, all served in a historic building that opened at the dawn of our nation’s history.
These are just a few highlights of our favorite restaurants in Charlottesville VA.
10. The University of Virginia
1827 University Avenue Charlottesville, VA • 434-924-0311 • UVA Historical Tours
Started as an experiment by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, the University of Virginia has become a prestigious public university with nationally ranked schools and a distinguished faculty.
Like Monticello, the University of Virginia campus is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, specifically the Academical Village and the Rotunda.
If it’s your first time on campus, we recommend taking advantage of the Historical Tours that are offered daily whenever school is in session. These tours explore the original University and Lawn area.
The famous Rotunda is the most well-known architectural marvel on campus, so all tours begin there. A highlight for me was seeing former student, author/poet Edgar Allen Poe’s room, which has been restored to its original 1826 period charm.
If you enjoy urban hiking like we do, UVA offers miles of easy walking pathways that allow visitors to bask in the natural beauty and historic buildings of the campus. -text and all photos by Heather Taylor and Jonathan Weaver