Virginia in 2023 offers so many interesting spots to visit that it’s hard to cover them all. Tidewater, mountains, the Valley, cities, the booming D.C. suburbs: visitors can choose from historical sites, natural beauty, and a lot more.
It’s inevitable that many fascinating locations get passed over. Some are obscure, and others are well-known sites that people just don’t get around to visiting. Here are eight that the savvy explorer should not overlook.
Great Falls National Park, McLean
Northern Virginia is more often associated with Washington commuters than with natural wonders, but this park is a pristine gem 15 miles from the nation’s capital. Its 800-acre center on Mather Gorge at the lowest part of the Potomac River near the Maryland border. It features hiking, rapids, waterfalls, cascades and rock climbing, and it’s a refreshing day-trip destination for a picnic and enjoying the scenery.
Steven J. Udvar-Hazy Center (Air and Space Museum), Chantilly
Here’s another Northern Virginia destination hiding in plain sight, this one with a tower overlooking the bustling Dulles International Airport. It’s a sister facility to the Smithsonian Institute Air and Space Museum, and it includes thousands of aviation and space artifacts in two large hangars. For example, the center displays a Concorde and the space shuttle Discovery. There are also lectures, tours and other events.
Natural Tunnel, Natural Tunnel State Park, Duffield
Everyone knows about Natural Bridge, but far fewer are aware of Natural Tunnel, an equally impressive phenomenon in the southwest corner of the state. It’s almost 300 yards long and so wide that it’s been a railroad tunnel since 1983. Groundwater erosion and Stock Creek created this marvel, which was once called the “eighth wonder of the world.” The Christmas tree lighting is an annual highlight of this often overlooked park.
The Canal Walk, Richmond
The state’s capital may be better known for Monument Avenue and the Confederate Museum, but the visitor looking for a memorable experience will do well to check out this historical saunter. It traces one of the earliest trade routes in Richmond, going back 400 years. Today, the old and the new share the promenade with historical markers, up-to-date restaurants and outstanding views of the city. Walking isn’t the only way to explore this destination; a canal cruise is also available.
Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington
The cemetery is hardly a secret, but too many people have overlooked it because they don’t understand how moving the experience is. More than just a cemetery, it’s an outdoor museum honoring everyone who serves or has served in the armed forces. The Memorial Arboretum, the Changing of the Guard and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers should be on everybody’s list.
Kiptopeke Concrete Ships, Cape Charles
These nine ships were partially sunk in the late 1940s to protect a ferry terminal pier. Yes, they really are made out of concrete, and, yes, a properly shaped concrete vessel really will float. Shipbuilders constructed them during the World Wars when a shortage of steel encouraged more creative engineering. During their seagoing days, they served as cargo carriers, and today they’re visible from Kiptopeke State Park on the Eastern Shore.
Fredericksburg is a treasure trove of historical landmarks and museums. The town dates from 1728, and was a key crossroads during the Civil War. Spotsylvania National Military Park, the James Monroe Museum, the Fredericksburg Confederate Cemetery and the downtown historic district share the town with boutiques, art galleries and a variety of recreational options including hiking, fishing and kayaking.
An exploration of Virginia wouldn’t be complete without a Blue Ridge Mountains locale, and the town of Floyd fits the bill. It’s a scenic village of a few hundred just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, and it’s renowned for gatherings, festivals and an active arts community. The Friday Night Jamboree and the annual FloydFest feature musicians, dancing, workshops, craft vendors and other aspects of Appalachian heritage.