Before my first visit to Charlottesville, I’d heard the hype about what a great place it was, how beautiful it was, yadda yadda yadda.
However, I typically wait until I experience something for myself before I form an opinion.
I never had an occasion to travel to Charlottesville until I started dating my boyfriend several years ago.
Since his family lives in Schuyler, about 20 minutes south of Charlottesville, I’ve had the opportunity to visit the area countless times.
Below I’m gonna share information about what I’ve done in Charlottesville, whether I liked it or not, and my personal recommendations for ways to get the most enjoyment – and value – from your trip for less.
1. SAVOR LOCAL CUISINE
If you’re hungry for a snack or a full meal, Charlottesville restaurants can soothe your growling stomach.
Just a few blocks from the Historic Court Square area you’ll find the downtown pedestrian mall, a popular area for shopping – and dining.
With a variety of restaurants to choose from, you may have a difficult time deciding which restaurant to try.
Some of the favorites of locals and visitors in this area include:
- Citizen Burger Bar – awesome specialty burgers made with grass-fed beef and a great beer selection to accompany your burger
- Basil Mediterranean Bistro – delicious Mediterranean cuisine
- Roots Natural Kitchen – a cozy diner offering fresh vegetarian bowls and salads
- Red Pump Kitchen – an upscale eatery serving Mediterranean & Italian dishes made with locally sourced, seasonal ingredients served in a stylish, open dining area
- Bizou – Southern food with a modern flair
If you want to spend a bit more, check out the Aberdeen Barn Steak House. This restaurant was established in 1965 and remains a local favorite today. The rustic decor and red leather seats create a warm, inviting atmosphere. The prime rib melts in your mouth and the lamb chops (pictured above) are delicious.
2. SAMPLE CRAFT BEVERAGES
Do you enjoy an “adult” beverage from time to time? Me, too!!
When you visit Charlottesville, you’ll definitely be able to find the type of beverage you prefer.
The area offers a wide variety of craft beer, cider, distilled spirits, wine…and even mead to wet your whistle. Cheers!
If barley and hops are your thing, a visit to one of the area’s breweries should be on your agenda.
The Brew Ridge Trail (an homage to the Blue Ridge Mountains) features 6 breweries:
- Blue Mountain Brewery
- Blue Mountain Barrel House
- Devils Backbone Brewing Company
- South Street Brewery
- Starr Hill Brewery
- Wild Wolf Brewing Company.
Visit one or visit them all. It’s totally up to you!
If you’ve ever been to a bar, chances are you’ve heard of Bold Rock Hard Cider. Well, guess what? Bold Rock offers crisp, delicious hard cider made from locally-sourced apples.
Want to learn how its made? Ask for a free tour of the facility. Not sure which of their ciders you like best? Do a tasting to find out.
The Nellysford location is Bold Rock’s company headquarters, the center of operations, and the primary cider production facility. They also offer food that you can enjoy with your cider while taking in scenic views of the Rockfish River.
There are 2 other notable cideries in the area:
Do you prefer distilled spirits? You’re in luck!
There are several distilleries in the Charlottesville area. Many offer tours and if you want to taste a variety of spirits, consider purchasing a flight.
Five notable distilleries in the area:
- Vitae Spirits Distillery
- Ragged Branch Distillery
- Virginia Distillery Company
- Woods Mill Distillery
- Silverback Distillery
The drink of the Vikings and the Celts, mead is fermented honey and is the oldest alcoholic beverage.
If you’re a mead fan, then a visit to Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery is in order.
Nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains, this family-owned farm and winery offers scenic views to enjoy along with your mead or wine.
In recent years, Virginia has become known for its delicious wine.
When you’re in Charlottesville and the surrounding areas, it’s hard to drive anywhere without seeing the familiar grape cluster sign, indicating a winery is nearby.
And the views from many of them are simply breathtaking!
3. DISCOVER HISTORY
One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to learn about the history of the area I’m in. Charlottesville is rife with history everywhere you go. Here are just a few of the many noteworthy historic places.
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
When I mention Charlottesville to someone, the first question they typically ask is “Have you been to Monticello?” I have – and I’d like to go again.
Jefferson inherited land from his father and began building on Monticello is his mid-twenties. He aptly named his estate “Monticello,” which means “little mountain” in Italian. Why? Because the house was built at the top of the mountain, providing scenic views in all directions.
Whether you pronounce it Mon-ti-SELL-o or Mon-ti-CHELL-o (the Italian/correct pronunciation), this gorgeous estate is a must-see.
A variety of tours are available. And if you’d like to take home a souvenir or gift, check out their gift shop. Learn more.
Just a few miles from Monticello, you’ll find historic Michie’s Tavern built circa 1784.
During your visit, you can enjoy delicious Southern fare in the restaurant, walk around the property, and peruse the eclectic merchandise offerings in the gift shop. Learn more.
Note: I went to Michie’s Tavern and enjoyed my visit, but to me, it was a one-time thing. The food is pricey; however, the service was good and the restaurant was rustic and charming.
James Monroe’s Highland
Highland, the official residence of the 5th U.S. President James Monroe and his wife, Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, from 1799 to 1823.
Nestled in the mountains outside Charlottesville, Highland offers a glimpse into the Monroe family’s life on the country estate.
The main house, which was thought to be Monroe’s house, has recently been discovered to actually be the guest house.
♦ PRO TIP: To save money on Monticello, Highland, and Michie’s Tavern, buy The Monticello Neighborhood Pass. If you purchase online, you’ll save $8 off adult tickets. (There’s no discount for children’s tickets.)
Downtown Court Square
The Historic Court Square area of Charlottesville is perhaps the most interesting area, historically speaking.
Here, you’ll find the Courthouse as well as a variety of historic landmarks, statues, and buildings.
The surrounding area also boasts several beautiful Victorian homes.
4. ENJOY THE GREAT OUTDOORS
The James River
Stretching 348 miles long through the Commonwealth of Virginia, the James River is the source of a variety of fun outdoor activities.
You can fish from the bank or from a boat; float lazily down the river on a tube; rent a kayak, canoe, or raft; or camp.
Contact James River Runners in Scottsville for information about river conditions, rentals, and more.
Note: I went tubing with my boyfriend and his family and it was a LOT of fun! We rented tubes from James River Runners (including a few extras to carry our food and drink coolers) and stopped partway to enjoy lunch and drinks along one of the banks of the river. I highly recommend it on a hot summer day!