Virginia is known for a lot of things – history, natural beauty and bless our hearts, lots of southern charm. But one of the best features of Virginia, in my humble opinion, is the abundance of small towns and communities throughout the state. A small town can be anything from a couple hundred people to 10,000. But what sets it apart is the feeling of community and camaraderie you get when you’re there. From the beautiful corners of Southwest Virginia to the far Eastern Shore, Virginia is full of these towns.
Now keep in mind, I obviously haven’t visited EVERY small town in Virginia, so I want to give you all a chance to speak up on behalf of your own favorites. Be sure to let me know about your favorite town in the comments below or on Facebook and we will be doing a follow-up based on YOUR votes in the coming week. Let’s have some fun with this!
In the meantime, here are just a few of the towns in Virginia that have garnered national and statewide praise for their charm, beauty and all-around livability.
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:
Few people who know Chincoteague Island will argue with this town’s reign as one of the coolest towns. In fact, in a recent CNN report, BudgetTravel named Chincoteague as the #2 Coolest Small Town in America. This was followed by a coveted #8 spot in USA Today and 10 Best’s Readers’ Choice for Best Coastal Small Towns. First settled in the 1700s, Chincoteague gained the spotlight in the 1960s with the publication of “Misty of Chincoteague,” a story about one of the island’s now famous wild ponies. Today, Chincoteague (and sister island, Assateague) is best known for its Annual Pony Swim and Auction, but also offers pristine beaches, amazing seafood, boat tours, home tours and an all-around chilled out beach town experience.
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia, Abingdon is listed as #5 on CitiesJournal’s Top 14 Small Towns in Virginia, #5 on Frommer’s Top Small Towns and Villages in Virginia and one of USA Today’s Best Southern Small Towns in the U.S. nominees. Rich with history, this small town was once home to the Cherokee Nation and by the mid-18th century, had been explored by the likes of William Byrd and Daniel Boone. Abingdon, named after Martha Washington’s ancestral home in England, became a town in 1778 and today its historic downtown is home to a thriving arts and culture scene, featuring venues like the historic Barter Theatre, as well as galleries, museums and markets. With a population of just over 8,000, this charming small town is surrounded by natural beauty, including the start (or finish, depending on your direction) of the Virginia Creeper Trail.
When it comes to recognition, few things could be nicer than to be named one of “America’s Happiest Seaside Towns.” But that’s exactly what Coastal Living called Smithfield in 2015. And it’s no wonder. This lovely little town, known for its world-famous ham, boasts a long history as part of the Virginia Colony dating back to 1634. Founded on the Pagan River near Jamestown, Smithfield eventually became the “Ham Capital of the World.” Today, Smithfield Foods, a Fortune 500 company, is the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer in the U.S. So is it good food that makes this town so happy? Perhaps, but an incredible community spirit certainly helps. With concerts in the park, community BBQs, and countless other local events, this town makes the most of its stunning historical downtown featuring sites like the Smithfield Inn, as well as historic homes, schools and churches. According to the town website, “The Virginia Review” also called Smithfield “without a doubt, one of the prettiest towns in Virginia.” These serve as pretty good reasons to be happy as far I’m concerned.
There are towns and then there are small towns. Middleburg in Loudoun County was listed at the top of Frommer’s Best Small Towns in Virginia. Although it only takes up 6 blocks and boasts a population under 1,000, this town is packed with history and surrounded by some of the most beautiful horse country anywhere in the nation. The Middleburg Historic District, made up of many beautifully preserved 18th and 19th century buildings, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and includes the Red Fox Inn. Considered one of the oldest continuously operating inns in the U.S., it was founded in 1728 and is Middleburg’s oldest structure. Since the early 1900s, Middleburg has been a destination for fox hunting and steeplechase events, earning it the title of “Horse and Hunt Capital of the United States.” Today, the town is home to the National Sporting Library research center for horse and field sports.
Although it’s home to two colleges, Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee University, Lexington is much more than “just” a college town. Surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of the Shenandoah Valley, this quiet little haven offers charm and history in abundance. History buffs will love sites like the Lee Chapel where Robert E. Lee is buried, the VMI Museum which celebrates the life and death of Stonewall Jackson and the Marshall Museum, honoring General George C. Marshall, a VMI keydet and the orchestrator of The Marshall Plan in World War II. More interested in shopping? The historic downtown offers an array of specialty shops, boutiques, art galleries, antiques and more, along with a surprisingly large selection of local restaurants and cafes. Lined with historic homes and buildings, the streets of Lexington retain the beauty of days gone by, making it easy to see why this town has been recognized by both Frommer’s and CitiesJournal as one of Virginia’s Best Small Towns.
Get past the funny name and Onancock is quite possibly one of the greatest hidden gems of the Eastern Shore. In fact, Onancock was called "the Gem of the Eastern Shore" by none other than Captain John Smith himself. Founded in 1680 as Port Scarborough, it has been called the Coolest Town in the South by Budget Travel and #1 Small Town in Virginia by CitiesJournal.com. With a live theater, award-winning restaurants, local artists, craftsmen, sculptors, actors, dancers, musicians and glass blowers, there's no shortage of things to see and do. Visit old Indian villages, kayak to local wineries and go sailing. Or just sit in a pub on the water and listen to live music. You simply can’t go wrong with Onancock.
Staunton is no stranger to praise. Already called one of the Best Small Towns in America by Smithsonian Magazine and Frommer’s, TheCultureTrip.com recently named it the Most Beautiful Small Town in Virginia, as well. Founded in 1732, this lovely little town in the Shenandoah Valley offers historic architecture, culture and a friendly downhome atmosphere that makes its place in the rankings well-deserved. Surrounded by beautiful mountains, Staunton provides culture a-plenty with sites like the American Shakespeare Center and The Frontier Culture Museum and offers no shortage of sensational specialty shopping, dining and night life opportunities. Add in a great cost of living and tons of southern charm and this town is a win all-around.
Named one of the “Top 14 Small Cities In Virginia” by CitiesJournal, Occoquan sits on the Occoquan River. This riverside town may have a population of less than 1,000, but it does not fall short on charm. Named from an Algonquian Indian word meaning "at the end of the water,” the town was founded in 1765 with the construction of grist mills and tobacco warehouses. Today, Occoquan is an artists' community, featuring shops, dining, ghost walks, boating and fishing…all with brick sidewalks lit by old-fashioned gaslights. The historic town square may only cover six square blocks, but it is home to 100+ shops and restaurants – making Occoquan a small town with big town convenience.
While the word “literally” is often used incorrectly, in this case, Farmville sits just south of the geographic center of the state, meaning that it is “literally” in the heart of Virginia. Located next to High Bridge Trail State Park and home to Longwood University, one of the nation’s oldest public institutions, Farmville is filled with history, quaint charm, friendly people and high quality of life. Every May, the town hosts the Heart of Virginia Festival, a festival where local businesses like Buffalo Creek Guitars come together with vendors and musicians from around the country to provide arts and crafts, traditional foods, music and fireworks. Recognized by CitiesJournal as one of Virginia’s Best Small Towns and surrounded by natural beauty, this lovely little town serves as the area’s economic hub with local businesses, specialty shops, restaurants and cultural activities.
Incorporated in 1810 and named for Revolutionary war hero, General Joseph Warren, this town of less than 10,000 in Fauquier County was listed as the 8th highest-cincome county in the U.S. according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Located less than an hour from Washington, D.C. and only 35 minutes from Dulles Airport, it provides a perfect blend of new and old, urban and historical. The jail house and court house that served as the earliest beginnings of the town in 1790 have both been beautifully preserved and now serve as museum buildings housing Native American artifacts, Civil War exhibits featuring Colonel John S. Mosby (a Warrenton resident) and original jail cells. Another key feature of Old Town Warrenton is the statue of Chief Justice John Marshall (served from 1801–1835), who began his legal career there. Also a haven for horse enthusiasts, The Warrenton Hunt began in 1883, the Warrenton Horse Show in 1900 and The Virginia Gold Cup Race in 1922. Today, Warrenton offers diverse history and small town charm that makes it an idyllic place to live.
Don’t forget – we want to hear about your favorite small towns in Virginia in the comments below or on Facebook. Please be sure to tell us why your town is the best and include pictures if you can! We will be following up with the top votes soon!