Virginia is nicknamed the “Old Dominion” and the “Mother of Presidents” as the home of eight U.S. presidents, including two of the most well-known and admired. As one of the original 13 colonies and the location of the first successful settlement on mainland North America, there isn’t a place in the country that is anymore deeply rooted in American history than Virginia. Although historical attractions are Virginia’s most famous destinations, it is also known for its cities, both old and new, and its gorgeous landscapes.
Two of Virginia’s most visited monuments once belonged to the nation’s first presidents, Mount Vernon and Monticello the former plantation homes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Another favorite attraction is located in the city of Jamestown where the some of the first colonists to arrive in America once had their home, remnants of which can still be seen today. Other popular destinations in Virginia include the resort town Virginia Beach and Arlington National Cemetery perhaps the country’s most famous burial ground.
Virginia Beach is Virginia’s most populous city and one of the most visited resort cities on the eastern coast. The city is located at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay on the Atlantic Ocean, making for popular beaches and an exciting waterfront scene. Stretching along the beachfront, visitors will find hundreds of hotels and restaurants that create a constant buzz of activity and entertainment. One of the city’s beaches is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest pleasure beach in the world.
Virginia is home to America’s first settlement and it was one of the first British colonies, so buildings dating to the 1600s are not an uncommon site in many Virginian cities like Williamsburg. Colonial Williamsburg is the name of a living history museum located in the historic district of Williamsburg. Within the district buildings as old as 1699 still stand. The museum also features re-created colonial houses and other structures that contribute to the atmosphere of walking through a colonial town.
During a visit to Colonial Williamsburg visitors will view costumed interpreters speaking and acting as the townspeople would have during the 18th century.
Manassas National Battlefield Park
The site of two major battles during the American Civil War, the First Battle of Bull Run and the Second Battle of Bull Run, is preserved by the Manassas National Battlefield, near the town of Manassas. At the park visitors can view historic sites like Stone House a field hospital, Stone Bridge, and Groveton a Civil War era village. In addition to numerous other historical structures, that park also has a visitor center where visitors can view exhibits that contains uniforms, weapons, gear, and other items from the Civil War.
Arlington National Cemetery
This military cemetery in the city of Arlington was established during the Civil War at the Arlington House, the estate of the Confederate army general’s wife. The cemetery is among the most important in America, as the burial grounds of U.S. soldiers from several wars and military actions. It is also a popular destination for visitor’s to Washington D.C. as it is directly across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial. In addition to the soldiers, some of the notable graves at the cemetery include the graves of two U.S. Presidents.
Mount Vernon is the name of a plantation near the city of Alexandria, Virginia made famous as the home of America’s first President, George Washington. The property, located on the Potomac River, includes a mansion built by Washington from 1757 to 1778 as well as a smaller house built for his brother. Washington was buried at Mount Vernon and his tomb can be viewed. Mount Vernon is a National Historic Landmark and one of Virginia’s most visited destinations.
Top Things to Do in Virginia
Virginia is also the location of one of America’s other great President’s homes, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, near Charlottesville. Jefferson began building the plantation home on 5,000 acres inherited from his father when he was only 26 years old. Jefferson’s property began as a tobacco plantation but later grew wheat. The home and property were preserved by a private owner and today visitors can explore the property to view some of the original furnishings and decoration as well as Jefferson’s burial site. One of the most popular sites at Monticello is the slave quarters on Mulberry Row.
Jamestown, known as the first successful English settlement on mainland North America is today preserved and re-created in the city of Jamestown, Virginia. The site has two main portions, Jamestown Festival Park a recreated settlement and museum on the mainland, and Historic Jamestowne the actual archaeological site where the first settlement was located on Jamestown Island.
Some of the exhibits at Jamestown Festival Park include a re-created English Fort and the Powhatan Indian Village. Also at the park visitors can view replicas of three of the settlers’ original ships. On Jamestown Island, more than a million artifacts have been preserved from the actual settlement of Jamestown including 3 wells, and 10 structures and more continue to be discovered through ongoing archaeological work.
Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel
This impressive piece of architecture crosses the Chesapeake Bay and connects Virginia Beach to Cape Charles, Virginia. The 23 mile long bridge and tunnel were created to connect the two sides of the bay and cut down on travel time and eliminate ferry service across the wide expanse of water. The bridge-tunnel connects 12 miles of trestles, two mile-long tunnels, four artificial islands, and two high-level bridges. It is one of only ten bridge-tunnel systems in the world, and one of three in Virginia. As a tourist destination, visitors can stop at a nearby state park, two wildlife refuges, campgrounds, and Virginia Beach. For views of the bridge-tunnel there are scenic overlooks at the north end and on the south end on Sea Gull Island, where there is also a restaurant and a pier.
In the late 1700s construction of a canal for shipment between the western Virginia counties and the coast, began under the surveillance of George Washington, but over the years the canal construction halted and it eventually stopped after flooding in 1877. In the late 20th century the canal experienced a revival as part of Richmond’s waterfront area. Today, visitors can enjoy boat rides along the canal or walk on the restored walkway. Several historic structures and informative exhibits located in the area chronicle the history of the original canal.
Virginia is known for beautiful wooded landscapes and rocky mountains, but one of the state’s most unusual formations is a limestone archway that forms a natural bridge over the small tributary to the James River, Cedar Creek. The bridge is the remains of a cave or tunnel that the creek once flowed through. There are many myths associated with the bridge and former presidents Washington and Jefferson and some even believe the initials GW carved 23 feet up on the bridge belong to the first president himself. Thomas Jefferson, falling in love with this natural wonder, actually had a two-room log cabin built near the bridge which hosted many famous and historically important guests.
Things to Do in Virginia
A visit to Virginia might not feel like a history lesson but it’ll be hard to not learn a thing or two and find a renewed appreciation for a few things you may have forgotten from history class as you visit the homes of some of America’s forefathers. From the homes of famous presidents, to the first home of men in America, Virginia is where it all began. Although American history, in some ways began in Virginia, today the state continues to be important for its lively cities, impressive architecture, and important monuments.