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Fredericksburg and The Northern Neck

Photo by Payton Chung

Fredericksburg and The Northern Neck Itineraries

Fredericksburg and the Northern Neck by Land or Sea

Come for George Washington's birthplace, Civil War battlefields and riverside R & R

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Fredericksburg is a popular tourist destination for history buffs, but the Northern Neck is a favorite vacation spot for a wider swath of Virginians, many of whom spend their weekends “on the rivah” sailing and fishing, chowing down on seafood, or playing golf and croquet at the Tides Resort in Irvington.

Foodies also love the Northern Neck, home to Virginia’s finest oyster farmers, the Rappahanock Oyster Company.  The company supplies fine restaurants throughout the state and operates its own Rappahanock Oyster Bars in D.C. and Richmond. On the Neck, their “tasting bar”, Merroir, overlooks the river where the company farms its “crops”. Oenophiles will love the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail, a meandering road trip that combines regional wines and national history.

The 90-mile peninsula is surrounded on three sides by the waters of the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay so, naturally, water sports and fishing are major recreational pursuits here. Almost every one of the lovely riverside homes has at a sailboat or motorboat docked out front, and the Tides Resort has its own marina for boat-in guests. Visitors can also take sailing certification classes at the resort.

You’ll find local chefs shopping at the farmers markets in the small towns throughout the Neck and both locals and visitors alike love the charming boutiques in Irvington, also home to the Hope & Glory Inn. If you’ve ever wanted to stay in an 1890’s schoolhouse., this luxury boutique hotel garners raves.

Although George Washington spent most of his adult life in Alexandria, he was born on a farm in the Northern Neck and spent a significant amount of time in Fredericksburg, home to his mother and his sister. Fredericksburg is rich in both Colonial and Civil War history with a 40-block National Historic District that contains more than 350 original 18th- and 19th-century buildings, including he house George Washington bought for his mother—later converted into the Rising Sun Tavern—and Kenmore, the plantation owned by Washington’s sister.

During the Civil War, the Fredericksburg area was the site of several bloody battles at Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House, with more than 100,000 dead and wounded soldiers. Many of those casualties from both sides are buried in local cemeteries, and civil war buffs will want to visit the battlegrounds and museums.

Less than an hour’s drive from Richmond, Fredericksburg is an easy day trip or overnight stopping point on the way north on I-95 or US1, and has become a commuter town for Northern Virginia and Washington workers who want to escape the major metropolitan area. The town is filled with antique shops, boutiques and restaurants, and during the Christmas season, Virginia residents flock to Fredericksburg for the annual candlelight tour of historic homes.

Ironically, Ferry Farm, Washington’s boyhood home, was dangerously close to becoming the site of a discount store, but historians and preservationists banded together to make the farm a national landmark. Ongoing archeological digs are still uncovering thousands of artifacts from Washington’s formative years. Two other U.S. presidents, James Monroe and James Madison, were also born here, but their family homes have not survived and simple markers designate the sites.

Other historic attractions in the area include Christ Church, built by Robert “King” Carter, and Stratford Hall, the birthplace of Robert E. Lee.


When To Go

Even though summers are hot, that’s prime tourist season for Frederickburg and the Northern Neck so hotel rooms are at a premium. And
since many Virginians vacation on the river in the Northern Neck, the resorts and hotels in that area book up months in advance.

Fredericksburg is fun to visit any time of year, although winters can be cold and snowy. Virginia Garden Week in April and  the annual candlelight Christmas home tour are both popular annual events. Spring and fall offer moderate temperatures, while summers can be a bit hot and humid.

You can take the guided trolley tour around the historic district to get a good overview and still have time to peruse the antique shops and boutiques so it’s a good day trip from Richmond, but to really explore the area attractions like the Civil War battlefields, Christ Church and George Washington’s boyhood home on the Northern Neck, you’ll need to spend at least two days.

National Holidays

January (1st): New Year’s Day
January (third Monday):  Martin Luther King Jr. Day
February (third Monday):  Presidents Day
May (last Monday):  Memorial Day
July (4th):  Independence Day
September (first Monday):  Labor Day
October (second Monday):  Columbus Day
(not the same as Native American Day, which is only celebrated officially in two states, on September 25th)
November (11th):  Veterans Day
November (fourth Thursday):  Thanksgiving Day
December (25th):  Christmas

Time Zone

Fredericksburg is located in the Eastern time zone.

To check the local time in Fredericksburg, click here

Daylight Savings Time (DST) happens in the spring (on the second Sunday morning of March at 2 a.m.). It’s when clocks are advanced one hour so there is more daylight later into the evening. In the fall (on the first Sunday morning in November at 2 a.m.), clocks shift back one hour to standard time. The entire U.S. (except Hawaii and most of Arizona) participates in this ritual of ‘springing forward’ and ‘falling back.’

What it Costs

Summer is high season in the river resort communities of the Northern Neck so advance booking for hotels and B & B accommodations is imperative. Even weekends in the late spring and early fall book up early. That being said, Fredericksburg and the Northern Neck are an easy day trip from Richmond or a convenient stopover point if you’re exploring other parts of the state.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in $US.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Sleep
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double

Eat
$ => $1-15 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$ => $16-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fly the Friendly Skies

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings.

Have Car, Will Travel

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.

There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.

Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities and college towns in the U.S., Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transportation, so you don’t need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You can’t go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Open the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. You need to apply for membership and download the app in advance. Memberships cost about $7 a month; rentals are about $8 to10 per hour; gas and insurance are included. Foreign drivers can apply and you don’t need to pay a monthly fee if you’re an occasional driver (from $25 per year for a membership).

Ride-sharing companies, Uber and Lyft, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.

Money Saving Tip: Costco, because of its behemoth size and price negotiating power, offers great low prices for most major car rental companies. Yes, you need to purchase an annual Costco membership first, but it more than pays for itself with what you’ll save with a typical week’s car rental (i.e. searches turn up a mid-size car through Costco for $225 and a comparable car through another aggregator for $325.)

Did You Know: Budget Car Rental offers drivers residing at the same address (i.e. unmarried partners or BFFs) complimentary extra driver coverage. Other car rental companies charge upwards of $10/day. By the way, when renting in California, there are no additional driver fees by law.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip to (or within) the U.S. goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:

Trip Cancellation: About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.

Medical: Health services in the U.S. are expensive for the uninsured. This is a major reason to consider purchasing insurance. Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.

Trip Interruption: For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay: Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage: Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.

Do I need travel insurance?

If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If you’re traveling to a hurricane-prone area during hurricane season, for example, you’ll probably want some coverage “just in case” … no matter what.

Your English language skills are also an important factor. Insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.

How do I choose an insurance provider?

Do your homework; check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregator sites like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).

If you have pre-existing health conditions: Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance: If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.

The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.

For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.

Exchange Rates and Currency

Currency

U.S. dollars come in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. They are all the same size and color, so non-Americans have an understandably tricky time telling them apart. The $2 bill is in circulation but rarely seen.

Coins in wide circulation include the penny (one cent), nickel (five cents), dime (ten cents) and quarter (25 cents). The 50-cent and one-dollar coins are seen occasionally.

Smaller businesses may not accept $50 or $100 bills, so have twenties or smaller bills in hand. ATMs usually dispense $20 bills.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

Tipping is a cost you must build into the budget for any U.S. travel experience, whether urban or rural. Tipping is most relevant to dining out and hotel stays, but other costs should also be taken in to consideration. General guidelines include:

Restaurants

For excellent service, plan to tip 20% on the total bill, before taxes. For less-than-stellar service, 10-15% is customary, as an imperfect experience is often not solely the responsibility of the server. In many states, servers work for below minimum wage and live mostly on tips, so consider the ramifications of your tipping decisions.

To complicate matters, many restaurants in the major metropolitan areas — New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco — are moving to a no-tipping model in which service is included. The verdict isn’t yet in on whether this new model will stick, so be sure you understand the tipping policy at each restaurant you visit.

Oh, and one more complication: Sometimes a tip is automatically included, usually for groups of six or more people. But at least it will be itemized in plain sight on the bill, if you look closely for it.

Hotels

Most bell staff receive $1 to $2 per bag they assist with; if someone carts all of your bags up to your room, expect to tip $5 to $10.

Tips for housekeeping are also good form. The rule of thumb is $2 to $3 per day and about $5 per day in higher-end properties.

At properties with concierge services, consider tipping concierge staff who assist you in planning activities, making reservations or acquiring tickets around $10 to $20 per day. Concierge staff do not normally expect a tip for simply orienting you with driving directions or public transportation info. Car valet staff expect $2 when returning your car. Spa employees (massage therapists, aestheticians, etc.) usually see 20% tips on their services, whether performed at the spa or in your room.

Other

Other Costs

Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and drug stores will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.

Sales Taxes, Lodging Taxes & Resort Fees

In Virginia, the combined total for state and local taxes on all retail goods and services varies from 5.3% to 6%, depending on where you are. In general, cities have higher taxes than rural areas do. Taxes are not usually included in display prices, unless otherwise stated.

Lodging tax also varies by location in Virginia and includes both a city and state transient lodging tax, ranging from 2% state tax to 6.5% city tax. This tax applies whether you are staying at a private vacation rental, a bed-and-breakfast, or a full-fledged hotel. Taxes are not usually stated up front in the advertised room rate. Neither are the mandatory nightly “resort fees” being charged by an increasing number of hotels. Sometimes this fee covers internet access, parking, and a few incidentals, while at other times it’s merely a surcharge for amenities that should be free. Beware that third-party booking agents, especially online, often don’t include resort fees in their reservation charges, so you may be unhappily surprised by the final bill when you check out.

Transportation

Halfway between Richmond and Washington, near the falls of the Rappahannock River, Fredericksburg is a popular destination for history buffs, easily accessible from Interstate 95 or Route 1.

From Fredericksburg, getting to the Northern Neck is easy as both SR3 and US17 south connect to US360, which crosses the Rappahannock River at the Tappahannock Bridge. About 55 miles from Richmond and 75 miles from Washington, the Northern Neck is a prime summer destination for Virginians.

Whether you want to soak up some history and scour boutiques for treasures of old or soak up the sun and sail the rivers and the Chesapeake Bay, both Fredericksburg and the Northern Neck are full of fun.

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