Top Things to Do in Charlottesville VA: a Complete Travel Guide

** This Things to do in Charlottesville VA Travel Guide was Updated: 1/8/20
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You guys, it is finally here: my ultimate guide for things to do in Charlottesville VA! I’ve been visiting quite frequently over the last few years, and I fell in love with the city the first time I visited. Whenever there was an opportunity to visit, you better believe I hopped on a train and experienced this charming little town time and time again. I can wholeheartedly say that Charlottesville is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, and it makes me proud to be a Virginia native.

The one thing I love most about Charlottesville is the people. Despite the events that occurred in August 2017, I can honestly say that the actual citizens of Charlottesville are incredibly progressive. I’ve only been treated with kindness and respect when I’ve visited, and I hope more people can get to know the real spirit of Charlottesville.
 
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How to Get to Charlottesville VA & How to Get Around

Before figuring out what sorts of things to do in Charlottesville VA, you need to figure out how to get there and how to get around.  Charlottesville is approximately a 2-hour drive from Washington, D.C., a 1.5-hour drive from Richmond, and a 3-hour drive from Raleigh. When I didn’t have a car, Amtrak was my preferred method of transport to and from Charlottesville. The train station is right in the heart of downtown, and you can walk to UVA’s campus right from the station or take a 5-minute Uber to the Downtown Mall. Street parking in Downtown Charlottesville is very limited, so I prefer to travel without a car and take Uber/Lyft around town when I need it!

If you’re traveling from a bit farther away, Charlottesville (CHO) is pretty impressive for a regional airport. Not a lot of options for direct flights, but you can connect to CHO through larger airports (Philly, Charlotte, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and more). Alternatively, you can also fly to Richmond and drive the rest of the way — it’s about a 90-minute drive from RIC, and a straight shot up I-64. 

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Best Time to Visit Charlottesville

Charlottesville is great to visit year-round. However, the summers are very hot and humid, and there’s a small chance of inclement weather in the winter, so I’d plan a trip during the spring or fall. In April and May, there are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy, and the town is vivacious — just avoid visiting during UVA graduation weekend. September-November is also a great time to visit: harvest season for wineries occurs during September/October, and if you love leaf-peeping, Charlottesville typically experiences peak fall foliage in late October-early November.

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Where to Stay in Charlottesville VA

  • Graduate Charlottesville: We had the opportunity to stay at Graduate Charlottesville last spring, and we thought it was incredibly charming. It’s a quirky hotel right on the edge of UVA’s campus, and it has a ton of event space and has a great rooftop bar (it’s one of the only rooftop bars in town at the moment!) It was one of the most charming hotels I’ve stayed in. It really embodies the spirit of UVA. 
     
  • Airbnb: Hotel space is extremely limited in Charlottesville. They’re opening a few new hotels downtown this year, but in the meantime, it’s still really tough to book a room on the weekend. There are plenty of Airbnb’s in town, and I would recommend this option if you’re traveling with a large group of people (I see you, bachelorette parties!) A group of my friends rented this house last spring, and we loved it — great host, and only a short Uber ride from the Downtown Mall!
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Things to do in Charlottesville

Wineries & Vineyards

I’m going to try to keep this as brief as possible, but I’ve fallen in love with so many wineries/vineyards here over the last year. If I *had* to pick favorites, Stinson Vineyards has one of the best rosés I’ve had (they’re offering two varietals at the moment!), Afton Mountain Vineyards has the most incredible views and delicious, dry wines. Gabriele Rausse Winery is a local favorite that offers food and wine pairings. But really, you can’t go wrong with any of these picks below when looking for things to do in Charlottesville VA!

I would strongly advise not to take Uber/Lyft to get to/from the wineries. You can easily book a ride out to the wineries, but I’ve seen several people get stranded trying to get back to town because the reception is poor, not all wineries have WiFi, and Uber/Lyft drivers aren’t driving out in the countryside at all times.

Your best bet would be to either pick a friend who will be a DD for the day or hiring a car service. I’d highly recommend Monticello Wine Tour — the drivers are incredibly knowledgeable, and will help you craft the perfect itinerary! 

Below are some of my favorite wineries in the area:

Large Wineries:
Mid-Size Wineries:
  • Pollak Vineyards: The wines here are consistent, and the atmosphere is always lively. Great place for groups!
  • Septenary Winery at Seven Oaks: If you’re looking for an adults-only wine tasting experience, Septenary is open to guests ages 21+. A great relaxing experience! 
Boutique Wineries:
    • Stinson Vineyards: A charming family-owned vineyard with great views. Best rosé in the state, IMO!
    • Gabriele Rausse Winery: One of my favorite wineries in the region. They’re constantly producing new varietals here! Note: they’re closed on Saturdays.
    • Montifalco Vineyard: Very small vineyard that’s producing exceptional wines. 
    • Hark Vineyards: A brand new winery in the Monticello AVA. Their tasting room is still under construction, but you can still pop in for a tasting.
Sample Itineraries:

Because the wineries are spread out in every direction, here are some sample routes I’d recommend:

  • West (Crozet): King Family Vineyards, Stinson Vineyards, Septenary Winery
  • North: Barboursville, Early Mountain, Montifalco
  • South (Scottsville): Jefferson or Blenheim, Gabriele Rausse, Mount Ida
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Charlottesville’s Breweries, Distilleries & Cideries

Not a big fan of wine? No problem! There are dozens of delicious breweries, cideries, and distilleries in the Charlottesville area to try — and most of them have stunning views!

  • Three Notch’d Brewing: My boyfriend and I are huge fans of Three Notch’d’s new location that opened last year (I even threw him a surprise birthday party here!) For starters, it’s a massive space that has ample amounts of both indoor and outdoor seating. The atmosphere is very lively, and they have a wide variety of beers available on tap. Plus, they have a full kitchen and offer a lot of different options on their menu if you’re hungry!
      
  • Champion Brewing Company: Champion’s Charlottesville taproom is a short walk from the Downtown Mall, has ample outdoor seating, and produces a wide variety of ales that any craft beer fanatic would enjoy.
     
  • Ragged Branch Distillery: I always beg my boyfriend to bring me to Ragged Branch every single time I visit Charlottesville. It’s a bourbon distillery that was founded in 2010 that offers two whiskeys: a rye-based and a wheat-based bourbon. It’s also just one of the most stunning properties I’ve ever been to; the tasting room looks like something straight out of HGTV, there are horses on the property, and you can soak up some gorgeous mountain views.
     
  • Potters Craft Cider: Potters recently opened up their new tasting room on Route 29 just south of town, and it’s a must-visit! Incredible ciders, great food menu, and family-friendly with an impressive outdoor space.  
     
  • Albemarle CiderWorks: I wasn’t the biggest fan of cider until I visited this gem: Albemarle CiderWorks produces some of the most delicious dry ciders, all from Virginia apples. Each cider is crafted by hand: they only ferment fresh pressed juice.
       
  • Carter Mountain Orchard: There are a million things to do here, so I wouldn’t classify it as just a cidery. You can try Bold Rock Hard Cider in their tasting room, pick your own fruit, and stock up on unique, local items in their Country Store (get the donuts — you won’t regret it!)
     
  • Castle Hill Cider: Castle Hill might be the most picturesque cidery in the area (which comes as no surprise: it also doubles as a wedding venue!) What I love about Castle Hill is that they offer a wide range of ciders: from the super dry to the classically sweet ciders.
     

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Food

Guys…Charlottesville has some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life. I honestly haven’t had a bad meal in Charlottesville yet, so it was hard to narrow this list of restaurants down. I’ll add to this list in the future if I stumble upon anything else I love!  But, if you’re looking for things to do in Charlottesville VA trying the local fare is a definite must!

Breakfast & Brunch in Charlottesville VA:

  • Bodo’s Bagels: Bodo’s is a Charlottesville classic. I’m not gonna lie: this place is jam-packed with tourists (and locals alike), but honestly? I think it’s worth the hype. They have 3 locations in town and feed over 6,000 people per day. It’s quick, inexpensive, and one of my favorite spots in town to grab breakfast. 
     
  • Ace Biscuit & Barbecue: You can’t really go to the South without having a bit of Southern food, right? Ace Biscuit is open daily from 8am-3pm, and this place gets packed real fast on the weekends — for good reason. You can build your own biscuit, or try some of their menu staples: the Ol’ Dirty Biscuit and the Fried Chicken and Waffles Biscuit are some of my favorites!

Lunch/Dinner in Charlottesville VA:

  • Lampo: If you love Italian food, just drop whatever dinner plans you have and give Lampo a try. They specialize in Neapolitan Pizza, have the most incredible selection of Italian wines, and the price is fantastic for the quality of food you’re getting. 
     
  • Brasserie Saison: Brasserie Saison offers delicious Belgian/Dutch style dishes, and they also have an extensive beer list and a great craft cocktail selection. If you can snag a reservation in their coat room, go for it — it’s an experience you’ll never forget!
     
  • Prime 109: If you’re looking for fine dining in Charlottesville, Prime 109 would be your ideal spot. It’s a wood-fired steakhouse right on the Downtown Mall. The space is gorgeous: they renovated an old bank and kept a lot of the classic details (the large columns and high ceilings). IMO, they offer one of my favorite steaks in town, and they also have a decent selection of seafood. My only complaint would be that the prices for the steaks fluctuate pretty frequently here, but they only opened less than a year ago so this might just be a growing pain.
     
  • Petit Pois: One thing there’s definitely not a shortage of in Charlottesville: French food. Petit Pois’ menu changes seasonally, and they source their ingredients locally. It’s my go-to place to dine al fresco, because of their large patio right on the Downtown Mall.
     
  • Tavola: Tavola is my go-to for Italian in Charlottesville, and one of my favorite restaurants in town. Their wine list is incredibly impressive, and the atmosphere is lively and elevated, yet approachable. My favorite dish is the linguine alla carbonara — it’s one of their menu staples!
     
  • Fleurie: If you’re looking for an upscale dining experience, Fleurie serves top-notch French cuisine and would be the perfect option for date night. Fleurie only uses the best ingredients from local farms in the area. You can opt to order a la carte, or spring for their tasting menu (with or without wine pairings).
     
  • Bebedero: The Bebedero is hands down the best Mexican restaurant in town. It’s located right on the downtown mall, and they serve lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. If you’re looking for a laid-back, casual dining option, this is a solid bet!

Snacks in Charlottesville VA: 

  • Tilman’s: Tilman’s opened up a few months ago, and this is another spot that I always beg my boyfriend to bring me to whenever I’m in town. If you’re a fan of wine and cheese, this is the perfect place for you. They’re located right on the Downtown Mall and have one of the most incredible selections of cheeses I’ve ever seen. If you give them a price point and an idea of the types of cheeses you prefer, they’ll make a custom cheese plate for you on the spot. We brought one of their custom plates to a party once, and it was a major hit. You can also sit at the bar and enjoy sandwiches, snack on cheese/charcuterie boards, or sample some wines from all over the world. They have an incredible happy hour as well from 3-6 pm, FYI!
      
  • Gas Station Fried Chicken: I’m not kidding. Gas station fried chicken is a real thing in Charlottesville, and it’s delicious. When I had a car, every time I left town, I made it a point to fill up at one of the stations that offered fried chicken. The Brownsville Shell station in Crozet is one of my favorites!

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Charlottesville’s Nightlife

Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia, and if you’re under the age of 24, I would check out The Corner for nightlife. For those of us who are a bit older and aren’t really into the idea of going out with college students, here are some nightlife options to consider when you’re looking for things to do in Charlottesville VA:

  • The Alley Light: Their food is also incredible as well, but they know what they’re doing in the craft cocktail department. Their Bar Manager, Micah LeMon, authored a cocktail guide (which is photographed by Tom, btw!), and I’ve had some of the best cocktails of my life at Alley Light. Ask for the Dealer’s Choice — trust me, you’ll love whatever they whip up for you!
     
  • Tavola’s Cicchetti Bar: Located in Belmont, this is another fantastic spot for craft cocktails. They don’t take reservations, but if there’s a small wait, it’s worth it!
     
  • The Whiskey Jar: It’s a little rowdy, but it’s a ton of fun. They offer 125 different types of whiskey, live music on some nights, and it’s a great place to mingle and dance with your friends.
     
  • Commonwealth Skybar: This is one of the few rooftop bars that Charlottesville has, and it’s located right on the Downtown Mall. Grab a group of your friends and hang out for an hour or two. 
     
  • Common House: Common House throws themed, weekly dance parties on the weekends (and it’s sadly one of the only places in town that throws a decent dance party!) Check their schedule each week to see what day and time their next party will be. Dance parties are free, open to members and their guests, and don’t require an RSVP. 

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Join Common House

Recently, I became a member of Common House, which is a social club in town located right off the Downtown Mall. It’s a gathering space that cultivates community through a number of activations!  And also one of the perfect things to do in Charlottesville VA!

If you’re not a member, they host a number of events that are open to the public, ranging from pop-up shops to concerts to dance parties and more. You can see their full list of events here.

Members and their guests have access to the house and exclusive member events. I personally love to cowork here during the week, dine at the on-site restaurant, and mingle at events whenever I’m in town. They do offer an out of town membership and an Under 30 membership in addition to their house membership if you’re considering joining — book a tour the next time you’re in town!

Photos by Tom McGovern

Which of these things to do in Charlottesville VA looks most fun to you? Let me know in a comment below!