Without a doubt, Virginia is one of the most historic states in the Union. Home to the first British colony in America at Jamestown, Virginia’s storied history is luscious ground for the museumgoer. One needs only to look around to find historic battle sites, small museums, lighthouses, and other landmarks. While there is no shortage of wonderful museums in the state, here are 10 of the best to put on any road trip to the Commonwealth.
Let’s start where it all began: At the Jamestown Settlement of 1607! The Jamestown Settlement offers indoor and outdoor options and recreations of how life may have been for the original British settlers. Watch history come to life by experiencing gallery exhibits, enjoying an introductory film, and climbing replicas of the three ships that made the original journey. Make sure to stop by the Powhatan Village to learn more out Pocahontas, daughter of the Powhatan Chief, and the local Native American tribes. A sure-fire fan favorite for guests of all ages.
Nauticus, also known as the National Maritime Center, is a maritime museum in the heart of downtown Norfolk, Virginia. The main campus is on a retired battleship, called the USS Wisconsin. Norfolk is a military town, housing the world’s largest Navy base. Surround yourself in the sites and sounds of Navy life by taking part in the Hampton Roads Naval Museum on the second floor of the museum. Enjoy the hands-on exhibits, features, and live-animal displays. Another great getaway for guests large and small.
One of the largest art museums in North America, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond anchors the “Museum District” of the capital, Richmond. This art museum is less hands-on than the first two on this list, but is a wonderful retreat nonetheless. The Museum of Fine Arts has a tremendous amount of permanent collections, including African, American, Ancient American, Ancient, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, East Asian, European, Faberge, South Asian, and modern and contemporary art. Admission is free, except to special exhibits. In addition, the museum offers programming for all ages, art classes, and fellowship grants.
The Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond is one of the most harrowing experiences offered at any Virginia museum. This free museum has four main exhibits. The Core Exhibition tells the story of the Holocaust chronologically through the eyes of the victims. Take a sober look at the 300 artifacts on display before heading to the authentic German freight car, used during the war, in the next section. The Ipson Saga tells the story of the Holocaust through the eyes of the Ipson family. Make sure to stop by the newly-opened Nuremberg Courtroom for a full recreation of the courtroom that housed the Nuremberg Trials. Well worth the time, but bring extra tissues.
Virginia is as old as the country itself, and the state has played a key role in many historic events. Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, took up residence in the house on this property during the American Civil War. Take a tour through the museum to see artifacts from the war, including many of the battle flags used during the Battle of Gettysburg. Make sure to walk through the White House to learn more about the nuance of the Civil War, and to appreciate the (often original) furniture, dining China, and other Davis family artifacts.
Head north to Mount Vernon, Virginia, to discover George Washington’s family home and plantation. Comb the beautiful estate of our nation’s first president and enjoy the wondrous mansion and meticulously groomed gardens. The museum, open every day of the year, continues a tradition started by George Washington himself of allowing visitors to enjoy his grounds and gardens. The interior has been restored to its original appearance and has much of the original furniture. The Museum and Education Center exhibit Washington’s clothing, weaponry, and even his wooden dentures.
Situated between the Civil War Museum and Mount Vernon is the home of another founding father: Thomas Jefferson. Twenty minutes away from the University of Virginia sits Jefferson’s architectural masterpiece: Monticello. Jefferson’s remains are buried on the ground in the cemetery. Monticello and UVA, also designed by Jefferson, is UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Famous for its central dome, one could easily spend a lazy summer afternoon exploring the nooks and carnies of this once-plantation and imaging the great men—and their slavery hypocrisy—that roamed the halls.
The famous writer Edgar Allan Poe is known for his macabre story telling and for his Virginian roots. The Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, serves as the foremost caretaker of his original manuscripts, letters, and other memorabilia. Housed in the “Old Stone House,” cited as the oldest building in Richmond, the museum is quite close to his original homes and has many of his original belongings. The exhibits also discuss his life and legacy.
The Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, Virginia, has one of the world’s largest and most impressive collections of World War I and II era combat planes. Planes from Germany, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are included in the exhibit. Most of the planes have been restored to flying condition, and are used in the twice-yearly airshows. Always wanted to ride in a World War II era plane? Now’s your chance! Advanced tickets can be purchased for the occasion.
Take a quick retreat to the quant Quilt Museum in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Hosted in the historic Warren Sipe House, the Quilt Museum has three floors devoted to exhibits. The house itself served as a Civil War hospital for the Shenandoah Valley. As a result, ghost citing’s of the deceased are common. From the official website: “Each round of exhibits features quilts from the museum’s collection as well as traveling exhibitions. Heirloom quilts, contemporary quilts and art quilts are also typically featured simultaneously, allowing our visitors the chance to marvel at the extreme variety of styles, techniques, and themes present in quilts.”