After posting our picks for 10 of the Most Charming Small Towns in Virginia last week, we got an incredible response. So first and foremost, thank you all for the amazingly positive feedback. Secondly, it’s time to reveal the top picks for MORE charming small towns in Virginia’s – as chosen by you!
The following towns represent the top 10 readers’ picks ranked by most votes to least. Based on the responses, we are using a baseline of around 30,000 and below to make our small town ruling. Now, that might seem pretty big to some folks, but sometimes even a “big town” can offer that small town feeling. These small towns (or small cities depending on their legal incorporation), all offer up a warm, welcoming hometown feel – regardless of their size. And one thing is certain, they are well-loved by many readers!
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Gwynn's Island, Mathews County
This gem of a small town sits at the mouth of the Piankatank River on an island in the Chesapeake Bay. It was, hands down, the readers' choice winner - and it is easy to see why. It may be a small town, but the history is rich and the scenery simply breathtaking. Founded by Hugh Gwynn of Jamestown in the early 1600s, the island was only reachable by ferry until a bridge was built in 1939. With a population well under 1,000 (if you don't count summer tourists), the island offers plenty to do with shopping, boating, sailing and a museum documenting it's long and beautiful history.
Now before the arguments start…I realize that Fredericksburg isn't "small" by some standards, but to walk the streets of old town is to feel like you've gone back in time. Technically incorporated as a city, Fredericksburg's population is under 30,000, despite being home to Mary Washington University. Featuring a wealth of history dating back before the Revolutionary War, there is so much to see and do, from strolls through quiet neighborhoods lined with historic homes to Civil War battlefields to world-class hotels, dining, activities and culture. Still within an hour's drive of D.C., Fredericksburg has charm - and convenience - to spare.
Close in size to Fredericksburg, this "town" is also, technically, a city, but offers close community, rich history and a quaint small town vibe. Originally a frontier town, settlement of Winchester began as early as 1729, at which time Shawnee Indian tribes populated much of the area. Later, the city played roles in the French-Indian war, the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Today, Winchester is home to the annual Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, an event that has included carnivals, parades and crowning of the Apple Blossom Queen since 1924. Known for its plentiful apple orchards, beautiful downtown and countless historic sites, Winchester is a perfect blend of Shenandoah Valley beauty and urban convenience.
Starting with its slogan, "America's Coolest Hometown," Marion is a small town with big personality. Nestled in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, Marion serves as an official Virginia Main Street Community AND National Main Street Community. Marion is home to The Lincoln Theatre, one of the country's only remaining Art-Deco Mayan Revival style theaters, and host to the nationally syndicated bluegrass program "Song of the Mountains," as well as The General Francis Marion Hotel, an historic AAA Three-Diamond hotel. With community events like the ArtWalk, farmers' markets, museums and more, this town of fewer than 6,000 has all the charisma of a much larger city.
5. Cape Charles
The town of Cape Charles sits near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Founded in 1884, the town was originally a planned community intended to support a new railroad and the Little Creek-Cape Charles Ferry. Today, with a population just topping 1,000, Cape Charles serves as a quaint, post-Victorian seaside town, full of old school charm. With a museum, performing arts theater, countless arts and regional food festivals, boutique shopping and so much more, Cape Charles offers big city culture in a small town package.
What Scottsville lacks in size, it makes up for in beauty. There may be fewer than 700 residents in this tiny little town, but according to the town website, there are more than 150 commercial, residential, religious, factory and warehouse buildings that offer nationally recognized historical significance, including the old historic courthouse where Thomas Jefferson himself once practiced law. Those are pretty good numbers if you ask me. Situated along one of the most beautiful stretches of the James River just between Albemarle and Fluvanna counties, Scottsville is a haven for canoeing, tubing, fishing and hiking.
Bedford is surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west, the James River to the northeast and Smith Mountain Lake to the south - so if its natural beauty you're looking for, look no further. If you're also looking for history, character and small town appeal, then you've hit the jackpot. With just over 8,000 residents, Bedford is a vibrant town offering fine dining, boutique shopping and local arts and culture and history at every turn. Bedford received national recognition in 1946 after 19 "Bedford Boys" were killed during the D-Day invasion in Normandy. The town suffered a higher proportional loss than any other community in the country and today, a world-class memorial in Bedford honors the brave soldiers who fought and died in WWII.
For a small town in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, Floyd is an absolute treasure trove of arts and music. From the regular Friday Night Jamboree at The Floyd Country Store to headlining music festivals like Floydfest, this tiny town brings in artists and performers from all over. The town of Floyd is actually the county seat for Floyd County, which covers about 380 square miles. With a population that hovers around 500, Floyd is small town at its finest. The historic downtown provides a surprisingly wide array of shops, many of them featuring locally made arts and crafts, pottery and locally grown foods. Throughout the county, you'll find even more artisans, craftsman and shops, as well as award-winning wineries.
With a history that dates back to pre-Revolutionary times, Blackstone was first called the Village of Blacks and Whites, referring to two rival tavern owners. One of the taverns, Schwartz's Tavern, still stands today and is one of Blackstone's multiple sites to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Key attractions for the town include the Virginia United Methodist Assembly Center (formerly Blackstone College) and Fort Pickett, a former military training center during WWII and now the National Guard Headquarters. Surrounded by lush countryside and rolling farmlands, Blackstone is home to nearly 4,000 residents. With a quaint downtown full of old Southern charm, Blackstone offers a newly revitalized Main Street, with a perfect blend of new and old shops, boutiques and restaurants.
Called the Gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Galax has long been a haven for old time music lovers. Since 1935, this beautiful little town of 7,000 has hosted the Old Fiddler's Convention, one of the most prestigious competitions for traditional music in the country. With attractions like the The Blue Ridge Music Center located nearby, this area continues the rich tradition of mountain music unique to Appalachia. Surrounded by stunning natural beauty, Galax offers an historic downtown that combines traditional mountain charm with quaint shops and restaurants. Come for the music, come for the culture or just come to enjoy an authentic down-home good time.
Now, I know that not everyone’s favorite small town made it on the list. But don’t worry…there were so many incredible responses and great ideas, that you can be sure that many of your suggestions will be showing up in the future. So please, feel free to tell me what you think of this list and suggest more great places for future articles in the comments below!