As we’re about to ring in the new year, it’s only natural to be thinking about plans and ideas for 2016…plans other than the diet that we’re going to go on starting January 1, of course. We would like to help you with those plans by offering 19 suggestions for places to go and things to do in Virginia in the coming year. Some you’ll recognize as tried and true classics (making them rites of passage for most Virginians), but others might just be new places you’ve never heard of (making them perfect for a new year’s bucket list). And the one thing we can promise is that they’ll be a whole lot more fun than that diet.
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. Visit the SECOND permanent settlement in the New World.
While Jamestown gets a lot of the attention, Henricus Historical Park in Chester is the second successful English colony in the New Word, formed after Thomas Dale led 300 settlers from Jamestown in 1611. Ongoing archaeological digs at the site show that Native Americans, known as the Arrohateck, had lived in this area for thousands of years and today, Henricus Historical Park provides a living history museum from both English and Native American perspectives. In fact, it’s debated whether Henricus or Jamestown was where Pocahontas met and married Jon Rolfe. Today, visitors can explore re-creations of an Indian Village, as well as the English settlement, guided by historical re-enactors. Visit
Henricus Historical Park
to learn more.
2. Treat yourself to award-winning cuisine at Alexander’s in Roanoke.
It’s one thing to read the Zagat gourmet lists. It’s another to hear what the people of Virginia have to say. With a 5-star rating throughout hundreds of reviews, Alexander’s of Roanoke won the 2015
Diner’s Choice Award for 2015, as well as a 2015 Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor. Located near the downtown Farmer's Market, Hotel Roanoke Conference Center and the Taubman Museum of Art, Alexander's uses premium ingredients, the freshest meats and seafood available and locally sourced organic produce to create culinary delights that are gourmet without being pretentious. See what all the fuss is about at 105 South Jefferson St. in Roanoke or make a reservation at
3. See the ponies swim at Chincoteague.
In 2015, the annual Chincoteague Pony Swim and Auction celebrated its 90th year, further cementing it as a Virginia classic. If you haven’t seen this incredible event, then make 2016 your year. On the last Wednesday in July, volunteer firemen, known as saltwater cowboys, will round up the ponies on Assateague Island and swim them across to Chincoteague Island. A parade down Main Street to the carnival grounds is followed the next day with an auction where select foals are sold to raise money for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department. If there’s anything that needs to be on your Virginia bucket list, this is it.
4. See the Flying Circus Airshow in Bealeton.
With crazy stunts, exciting maneuvers and, if you’re brave enough, bi-plane rides, the Flying Circus Aerodome and Airshow is fun for the whole family. Featured every Sunday, May through October, the Flying Circus also offer special events like an annual Hot Air Balloon Festival, car shows, live music and much more. Check for updates on the 2016 schedule at
Flying Circus Air Show
5. Go off the beaten path and find Virginia’s hidden gems.
Sites like the Cascades in Giles and Old Rag in Madison are some of the more well-known spots in Virginia for a good reason. But for some of the lesser traveled paths, head to the Devil’s Bathtub down the Devil’s Fork Loop Trail in the Jefferson National Forest near Fort Blackmore. Or discover Panther Falls with its deep swimming holes and a waterfall that is nothing short of picture-perfect (shown here). You can find the falls in the George Washington National Forest near Buena Vista.
6. Learn about Frontier Culture in Staunton.
The Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton is a living history museum that encompasses all of the cultures that came together to make Virginia what it is today. The museum features replica homes and farms ranging from early Native Americans settlements and an eighteenth century West African farm up to an 1850s American homestead and early American schoolhouse, as well as countless interactive programs and educational opportunities. Plan your trip at
The Frontier Culture Museum
7. Visit the old stomping grounds of George Washington in Fredericksburg.
After he left his birthplace on the Northern Neck and before he became America’s first president, Fredericksburg was where Washington spent a great deal of time. Visit his mother’s house in town, stop by the historic Hugh Mercer Apothecary to see how Revolutionary-era medicines were made or stop by the Riverside Center Dinner Theater for world-class theater and an amazing meal.
8. Watch Monarch butterflies and songbirds migrate on the Eastern Shore in the fall.
Every fall, millions of Monarch butterflies, songbirds and raptors (birds of prey) head to the Eastern Shore, accumulating by the thousands, before heading out across the Chesapeake Bay to winter in warmer climates. One of the best places to see these migrations is at the
Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge
9. Visit Bristol to see the last place that Hank Williams was seen alive.
The Burger Bar in Bristol has been a local favorite since 1942 and rumor has it, it was the last place Hank Williams was seen alive. A cool backstory, funky old-fashioned diner décor and hometown feel makes their amazing burgers taste just that much better. While you’re there be sure to try the “Oh My Cheese!” - two grilled cheese sandwiches with a burger patty in the middle. Simply amazing! You can find the Burger Bar at 8 Piedmont Ave, Bristol, VA 24201.
10. Tour the state capital in Richmond.
You don’t have to travel far for culture, history or adventure – all it takes is a road trip to Richmond. Take on the Class IV rapids on the James (the highest level rapids in any urban setting), visit the Museum of the Confederacy, stroll down the Canal Walk or tour the capital building, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson and contains the only statue of George Washington that he ever posed for. From fine hotels and restaurants to cozy B&Bs and comfort-food diners, Richmond has something for everyone.
11. Discover wildlife at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach.
Considered one of the best wildlife photography locations in Virginia, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is located near the North Carolina border at the southern end of Virginia Beach. Back Bay is home to countless species, including seals, sea turtles, osprey and bald eagles, as well as many migratory flocks. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, you’re looking to hone your photography skills or you just want to enjoy the peace and quiet of some of Virginia’s most beautiful wetlands, Back Bay should be on your list for 2016 without a doubt.
12. Hear Old English spoken on the “island that time forgot.”
The island of Tangier is a small island 12 miles off the coast of Virginia, near the Eastern Shore. And while the Tidewater accent found on the Eastern Shore of Virginia is unique, Tangerians have kept it truly old school with their distinct, post-Shakespearean English similar to what original settlers would have spoken. The accent has deteriorated somewhat with TV and technology, but true Tangerians can still be found speaking the “old tongue.” Inhabited mostly by commercial fishermen, the island can only be reached by boat or small aircraft and retains much of its original charm and history.
13. Meet the Apple Blossom Queen at the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester.
Since 1924, Winchester has been home to the annual Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, an event that features carnivals, parades and, of course, the crowning of the Apple Blossom Queen. April 22 – May 1, 2016, will mark the 89th year of the festival and already event planning is underway. With some deadlines coming up soon, like auditions beginning January 6, 2016 for the “Apple Blossom’s Got Talent” talent show, you'll want to be sure to visit
the festival website
for event updates.
14. Drive the Crooked Road.
“The Crooked Road” is a 300-mile musical journey along U.S. Route 58 through the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. With designated stops along the way, The Crooked Road features some of the country’s best performers of traditional country, folk and bluegrass music. Beginning in the Blue Ridge and continuing down to Franklin County, your trip takes you to major music venues, including the Birthplace of Country Music in Bristol, the Blue Ridge Music Center and Rex Theater in Galax, The Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, The Floyd Country Store in Floyd, and the Ralph Stanley Museum in Clintwood – just to name a few. Festivals and special events can be found almost year-round, along with countless other wayside attractions. Visit artisans and instrument makers at each stop and discover the rich mountain music that has shaped Virginia’s history.
15. Discover the all-new Virginia Capital Trail from Williamsburg to Richmond.
Just opened in October 2015, the Virginia Capital Trail connects the colonial capital of Williamsburg to the present day capital in Richmond. With 52 miles of dedicated, paved pedestrian trail, you can walk, bike or run through 400 years of history. The trail parallels the Scenic Route 5 corridor and offers glimpses of the countless sites and landscapes that shaped Virginia’s history. To learn more, visit
Virginia Capital Trail
16. Visit the Matildaville Ruins at Great Falls Park in McLean
When Henry Lee III, a.k.a. Light Horse Harry Lee, signed a 900-year lease on the land that was to host a booming community on the newly constructed Potomac Canal, he may have gotten just a wee bit ahead of himself. Named after his late first wife, he had high hopes for the town. Founded in 1790, Matildaville began as a central site for canal construction. As a featured trade and tourist destination along the canal, Matildaville thrived with a gristmill, forge, homes, stores and an inn that once served Theodore Roosevelt. But after the canal failed to live up to its promise and closed c.1828, the town declined and today, only ruins remain along the Matildaville Trail in Great Falls Park. For other ghost towns in the state, be sure to check out Wash Woods at False Cape State Park in Virginia Beach or the Pocosin Mission in the Shenandoah National Forest.
17. Go whale watching this winter.
As one of the country's finest aquariums, the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach offers 800,000 gallons of aquariums and fascinating wildlife exhibits. But, they also offer "Sea Adventures," a guided boat tour that allows you to see dolphins, whales and other marine wildlife in their natural ocean habitat. All tours leave from the Virginia Aquarium dock in Virginia Beach and offer a firsthand education in Virginia's aquatic life. Check out tour times and availability
18. Hike the Highlands.
Head to Grayson Highlands State Park and Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in Smyth County to discover acres of highlands, 500 miles of trails, lush forests and craggy rock formations. Best known as the highest natural peak in the state of Virginia, Mount Rogers stands at an impressive 5,729 feet above sea level. As you explore the surrounding countryside, try to catch a glimpse of the wild highland ponies ponies that live in the balds between the recreation area and Grayson Highlands State Park. At the park you’ll find camping, backpacking, horseback riding and hiking with waterfalls and scenic overlooks, fishing, guided canoe tours and a visitors' center.
19. Ride the Virginia Creeper Trail.
For 34 miles between Abingdon and Whitetop Station near the North Carolina border, the Virginia Creeper Trail takes you through some of the most beautiful landscape Virginia has to offer. This multi-use trail is considered Virginia’s premier mountain biking trail with sections to fit any skill level. The trail is also perfect for walking, running and horseback riding and can be accessed at many points along the way. With forests, open fields, streams and scenic bridges, the Virginia Creeper Trail is a must-do for nature lovers and cyclers alike. To find the best access point for you, visit
Virginia Creeper Trail
As we bid farewell to 2015, we would like to wish all of you a Happy New Year from Only in Virginia. Here’s to another great year of exploring the beautiful state we call home! And as always, if you have suggestions to add to the list, we would love to hear about them in the comments below. Cheers!