Virginia features mountains, rolling farmlands, vineyards, country roads and beaches along with a 400-year-old history that reaches back to the first English settlers. As a result, the state’s often called “the birthplace of America.” As a grade school student, I fell in love with this state for its fiery patriots and for its living history museum Colonial Williamsburg. As an adult, I moved to Washington, D.C., across the Potomac River from Virginia. That’s when I discovered that hiking trails, rivers for canoeing, and scenic views are never far away.
Northern Virginia‘s most well-known cities — Alexandria and Arlington — should be added to your Washington, D.C., experience. Pay homage to our nation’s warriors at Arlington National Cemetery, stroll Alexandria’s Old Town, and visit George Washington’s beloved plantation Mount Vernon, 8-miles south of Alexandria. Both cities offer intriguing restaurants and easy access to Northern Virginia’s wineries. The Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania National Military park encompasses four major Civil War battlefields.
Set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Charlottesville, offers Southern charm, and history at Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, Monticello. Although Jefferson tried unsuccessfully to grow wine-producing grapes, wineries now flourish in the region, making the Monticello AVA one of the state’s largest wine regions.
Richmond, the state capital, draws travelers to its Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and to the area’s Civil War sites. Significant battles bloodied the lands surrounding Richmond and Lynchburg. Near Lynchburg, at what is now Appomattox Court House National Park, General Lee surrendered to General Grant.
One of Virginia’s most beautiful regions, the Shenandoah Valley stretches between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountain chains. You can explore by driving Skyline Drive, a route that winds through Shenandoah National Park. The scenic Blue Ridge Parkway starts in Nelson County’s Blue Ridge Mountains, and stretches for 469 miles through the park to North Carolina. Roanoke, the largest city in southwest Virginia, features the noted Taubman Museum of Art, and pays homage to its railroad roots at the museums.
Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown anchor the state’s Historic Triangle. At the Jamestown Settlement, observe an archaeological dig that unearths information about the early settlers. At Colonial Williamsburg, experience life just prior to the American Revolution, and at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, learn about the fight for independence. Also, take time to savor the region’s rivers and to bike the area’s trails.
Creeks, streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay define the Northern Neck. Captain John Smith explored the area’s rivers and George Washington’s family settled for a time along Popes Creek. Stratford Hall Plantation, fronting the Potomac River, was the birthplace of Robert E. Lee.
The Eastern Shore beckons water and beach lovers. Many reach the region via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, rated as one of the “Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World.” An area gem, the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, lies on the Virginia portion of Assateague Island, known for its beaches and famous wild ponies.
Virginia Beach‘s boardwalk, restaurants and wide sands attract those in search of sun and surf. Not far away, Norfolk, the heart of the Hampton Roads region, houses Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval installation. A tour takes you past aircraft carriers, destroyers and other ships in the harbor. At the hands-on museum Nauticus, discover maritime history through exhibits and by boarding the WW II battleship, USS Wisconsin. Another Norfolk highlight: The Chrysler Museum of Art’s large collection of glass that includes a roomful of works by Tiffany. Start your explorations here swith my itinerary, Norfolk: Nautical and Nice Port City.
Big thanks to Ginger Warder and her expertise with Virginia.
Whether you love the mountains or the sea, Virginia’s diverse topography offers year-round recreation from hiking to boating. During the summer months, residents and visitors flock to Virginia Beach and the Atlantic Ocean, the James, Rappahanock and Potomac Rivers or large freshwater lakes like the one at Smith Mountain in the southwestern portion of the state.
Fall attracts thousands of visitors to the mountains of Virginia to view the flaming foliage on Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway or celebrate the harvest at one of the states 200 wineries. Spring blooms with flowers at the annual Garden Week celebration and kicks off the festival season.
Winters can be cold and snowy, so travel in the mountainous regions can be difficult. Portions of Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway may close during especially inclement weather. That being said, holiday celebrations in Colonial Williamsburg draw throngs of visitors to view the handcrafted decorations and witness the Grand Illumination of the historic town.
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
Virginia is located in the Eastern time zone.
To check the local time in Virginia, 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.’
Summer is peak tourist season in Virginia so expect premium rates on hotels, airfare and car rentals during the season, as well as long lines at popular attractions.
Rates drop in the winter (lowest except during the holidays) and both spring and fall offer reasonable rates in most destinations, although in the fall, accommodations in Virginia’s mountains book up to a year in advance.
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
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double
$ => $1-15 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$ => $16-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$ => Tickets $26 per person
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.
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
Virginia is a large state, stretching from the Chesapeake Bay to the Appalachian Mountains and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on its eastern side, by Kentucky and West Virginia on the western side, and Maryland and Washington D.C. to the north. It also shares borders with North Carolina and Tennessee. It also has several barrier islands including Assateague and Chincoteague, as well as major rivers including the Potomac, James and Rappahanock.