7 Unique things to do in Charlottesville

by Paul Joseph  |  Updated July 30, 2019

There’s plenty to keep you engaged and entertained in the Virginian city of Charlottesville. With some of its historic sights predating the Declaration of Independence and a large student population adding modern flair, the range of unique things to see and do here is broad.

A genteel scene in downtown Charlottesville (Photo: Bob Mical via Flickr)

Situated in the eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia, the city of Charlottesville is awash with spectacular scenery along with an array of cultural and historic landmarks. Outside the city, myriad rivers and lakes provide the perfect setting for watersports enthusiasts and the magnificent Shenandoah National Park is also nearby.

As for human-made attractions, the city’s rich history is showcased by an assortment of first-class museums and galleries, as well as the venerable University of Virginia. Charlottesville is tailor-made for a more relaxed form of exploration, with charming boutiques, antiques shops, antiquarian bookstores and distinguished local wineries. Here are seven unique things to do in Charlottesville.

Visit the plantation homes of ex-Presidents

Virginia was the home state of one of the USA’s greatest Founding Fathers and the country’s third President: Thomas Jefferson. His beautiful stately mansion Monticello was also, unfortunately, a former tobacco-cultivating slave plantation. It is possible to explore that juxtaposition of shame and reverence at the UNESCO-listed building through a combination of museum, presidential library, research institute and other facilities. Tickets to the architecturally impressive building and its grounds are available online, and it is worth reserving at least half a day for the trip. Alternatively it is possible to enlist the help of a local guide to provide insight and guidance around the premises. One such option is through Getyourguide. Further details about pricing and what is included in the tour are available here.

An alternative to this is the plantation of James Monroe, further south of the city. He too was a US President (the 5th) and his home has a quainter, more rustic feel to it.

Monticello: 931 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy.; daily 8.30am-6pm

James Monroe’s Highland: 2050 James Monroe Pkwy.; daily 9am-6pm

Monticello stately home (Photo: Josh via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Invest in alternate realities at Telegraph Art & Comics

Even in a world of hyper-digitisation, comics continue to capture the imagination of millions of people around the world of every age, gender and class. In Charlottesville, the place to come if you’re a comic book lover is Telegraph Art & Comics, a one-stop shop for all things comic-related. Located in one of the city’s most historic districts, the quaint store stocks a wide selection of monthly titles, graphic novels, and trade paperbacks, including an extensive selection of manga and kids’ comics. Its owners also pride themselves on working with smaller publishers and independent artists, meaning you’ll often find self-published comics, zines and limited edition art prints here. The shop also hosts regular signings and other special events.

211 W Main Street

Mon-Sat 11am-6pm, Sun 11am-5pm

Telegraph Art & Comics

A heaving bookshelf at Telegraph Art & Comics (Photo: Telegraph Art & Comics)

Listen for a telltale heart in the Raven Room

The great American writer Edgar Allan Poe only studied at the University of Virginia for one year during the early 19th century, but his dorm room has been preserved by a dedicated group of students who are still thought to hold clandestine, midnight initiations here. Known today as The Raven Room – after the Raven Society which was established in 1904 to honour scholarly pursuits – Dorm 13, West Range has retained a number of original features from when Poe resided here, including a sofa and a writing desk complete with black feather quill. Visitors can view the room through a glass door and listen to an accompanying audio display about Poe’s life

University of Virginia, 13 West Range

Refuel at Three Notch’d Brewing Co.

Virginia’s ultimate destination for craft beer and food lovers, the new Three Notch’d Craft Kitchen & Brewery features a scratch kitchen that has curated a locally sourced, beer infused menu, signature cocktails, wine, cider, craft sodas brewed in-house, along with signature award-winning Three Notch’d craft beers on tap. The large, family friendly main dining room and outdoor patio are open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, and a private event space accommodates parties of any size. If you are in the area on a Saturday, there is a free tour of their brewery at 1pm. If you happen to really like your craft beer, check out the Brew Ridge Trail. This self-guided brewery tour can be undertaken over several days, visiting breweries dotted along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Nelson and Albemarle Counties, as well as passing through Charlottesville itself.

520 2nd St. SE

Mon-Thurs 11am-10pm, Fri 11am-11pm, Sat 10am-11pm, Sun 10am-10pm

Three Notch'd Brewing Co.

Mouth-watering offerings at Three Notch’d Brewing Co. (Photo: Three Notch’d Brewing Co.)

Explore the remains of the University of Virginia’s hidden chemical hearth

Hidden for 165 years at the University of Virginia’s Rotunda building, designed by Thomas Jefferson, were the remains of what experts believe could be America’s first educational chemistry lab. Sealed behind a brick wall in the university’s original library, the hearth was discovered during a renovation project and was soon hailed as “maybe the oldest intact example of early chemical education in this country” by the school’s senior historic preservation planner. The restoration team decided to preserve the hearth behind transparent glass and surround it with educational materials for public viewing upon the building’s reopening, where it remains today.

University of Virginia, 1721 University Avenue

Daily 9am-5pm

University of Virginia’s Hidden Chemical Hearth

The remains of America’s first educational chemistry lab (Photo: Prohibition Supperclub and Bar)

Learn about the city’s past at Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society

Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society is a hugely impressive cultural institution, whose museum houses over 1,500 artefacts and photos. Located in the historic McIntire Building in downtown Charlottesville, the society was founded in 1940 with the purpose of studying, preserving and promoting the history of the city and wider region. A variety of public programs, including exhibits, lectures, walking tours and oral history interviews are run by the society. Otherwise simply browse through the stories of locals – from the native peoples who predated European exploration, through to the city’s present-day inhabitants – and discover more about the Central Virginia region through the relics on display.

200 2nd St NE

Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sun 10am-1pm

Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society’s historic building (Photo: Ken Lund via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Go for a walk in the woods

The Appalachian Trail is a 2,200-mile (3,500-km) hiking route that follows the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Some hardy hikers with lots of spare time attempt to complete the entire route in one undertaking, however there are plenty of side-trails and it is possible to simply hike parts of the route on a day trip too. The route passes Charlottesville on the western flank, around 22 miles (35 km) away. The best place to access the trail as well as exploring other aspects of the natural offerings of this part of the world is in Shenandoah National Park. Much of the route is through forest, but there are plenty of good lookout points along the way.

Open woodland in Shenandoah National Park (Photo: Ken Lund via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)