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Colonial American history began in Jamestown, when Brits successfully settled on an inlet off Chesapeake Bay, the country’s largest estuary. It went on to play key roles in the Revolutionary and Civil wars, along with the Civil Rights movement and 9/11 attacks. Sites like Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, the living history museum of Colonial Williamsburg, and the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail are good starting points for history buffs exploring Virginia. But the state’s allure extends far beyond its past, political power, and ties to U.S. presidents. Conservation has preserved much of its wilderness, which ranges from sandy Atlantic beaches to marshes, pine forests, and national parks like Shenandoah and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Today Virginia balances the folksy traditions of the Appalachian Mountains with the dynamism of the mid-Atlantic region. Expect Southern hospitality, but also hip culture in cities like Richmond and Norfolk.
The region’s heavyweight flying hubs are Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), both serving around 24 million passengers annually. Each has a full complement of transport options, including buses, taxis, rideshares, and rental cars. Traveling light? Bikeshare to and from DCA on the 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac River. Virginia has three other international airports: Richmond (RIC) in the central east, and Norfolk International (ORF) and Newport News-Williamsburg (PHF) on the southeastern coast. Budget-conscious travelers should also explore Maryland’s Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI). Trains, buses, and ferries also service this well-connected state. However, many visitors prefer their own wheels, as Virginia teems with epic drives, including five National Scenic Byways, the Crooked Road Music Heritage Trail, and the Blue Ridge Parkway’s country roads.
Virginia stretches from the sea to the mountains, creating many different climate regions. Generally speaking, expect the hilly areas to be roughly 10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the coast. Spring hits the sweet spot, with relatively warm temperatures and sparse crowds. Its blooms and balmy weather peak in May, while summer brings serious heat and sticky humidity, but also more tourists. Look to autumn for warm days, cool nights, and extravagant fall foliage in mid-to-late October. Winter tends to be cold and gray. Events-wise, spring ushers in the month-long Virginia Arts Festival, which includes a celebration of military music. The Fourth of July is big pretty much everywhere and September sees the ten-day state fair in Richmond. Search for Bigfoot — called Woodbooger locally — or hit the Richmond Folk Festival in early October.
This 2,180-mile public path stretches from Georgia to Maine, but Virginia boasts more ground than any other state. In fact, nearly a quarter of the trail’s length — 555 miles — lies in the commonwealth. Day hikers should look to stretches in Shenandoah National Park, where climbs rarely exceed 1,000 feet.
Nine partially sunken ships made of concrete form an offshore breakwater at Kiptopeke State Park. Steel remained in short supply after WWII, so a shipyard in Tampa, Florida, produced 24 of these hauntingly beautiful beasts. The fishing pier offers good views, but kayak out for a close-up peek at the birds and dolphins attracted to the intentional wrecks.
Set within Shenandoah National Park, the largest cave system in the eastern United States includes cathedral-sized rooms with skyscraper-high ceilings. Expect vast columns, translucent drapes of calcite, and gin-clear pools mirroring fantastical stone formations at this National Natural Landmark. The space even rocks out with the Great Stalacpipe Organ, the world’s largest musical instrument. The keyboard vibrates stalactites across three acres of caves.