12 Ways a Visit To Fredericksburg, VA Will Surprise You
You won’t find towering skyscrapers or mountains in Fredericksburg, but there’s something arguably better around these parts. In this buzzing pocket of Virginia, everything — yes, everything — that takes root flourishes. This is a place with a thriving food scene, tons of locally owned businesses, and a history that runs deeper than just about anywhere else in the country.
The area is made up of three different entities: the city of Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania County, and Stafford County. Each has its own unique personality, but all three share a common history. This is my hometown, and it will definitely surprise you. Here’s how.
1. Your seventh-grade American History dreams will come true.
In the Fredericksburg region, history isn’t something you read about — it’s something you walk to. First up? George Washington’s boyhood home at Ferry Farm, where you can see for yourself what his childhood was like. The first President to-be moved here when he was six, and today you can watch busy archaeologists at work, wander the grounds, walk down the ferry road to see how the family got into town, and explore the recreated home.
Follow that up with a reflective moment or two on the Trail to Freedom — a Civil War-era slave route to emancipation in the North — before venturing out a bit further. Fredericksburg sits right on the main route between Richmond (the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War) and DC, and within this escape from the city lie dozens of Revolutionary War and Civil War memorials, battlefields, museums, and reenactments. It’s just a matter of deciding which ones interest you most. Some local favorites include Chancellorsville Battlefield, Stafford Civil War Park, and the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop.
But don’t forget: The story of the area’s best-known resident goes back even further. Yep, Pocahontas and the Patawomeck tribe lived right here.
2. Every day is an international food festival.
When it comes to food in the region, everyone who comes here is surprised. Anything you can think of, this hard-to-believe epicurean oasis will provide. There’s Soup & Taco Co. for traditional Mexican and a mean black bean soup, Bavarian Chef for home-style German cuisine, FoodE for farm-to-table goodies, and Kybecca for daring modern gastronomy. All of these spots have been taste-tested and approved by the surprisingly diverse community, so you know you’re in for a good time.
Another Fredericksburg favorite that can’t go unmentioned is Colonial Tavern, located in Old Town. Home to the “Irish Brigade,” this little pub is welcoming, homey, entertaining, affordable, and guaranteed to please any Irish fancies with its authentic menu. The Guinness Beef Stew, Homestead Shepherd’s Pie, and Feisty Leprechaun Wings are all recommended.
3. You can party like it’s 1737.
The downtown area known as Old Town Fredericksburg is the soul of the city. Though new buildings are constantly being developed in Old Town, the oldest still-functioning structure was constructed in 1737, and the place stays true to its roots. You can see once-mighty industrial buildings on the upper side of Caroline Street, old government establishments on Princess Anne Street, and even retired railway tracks that used to run through the village.
As for stops to look out for, be sure to hit up the artisan shops and boutiques downtown, like Fraser Wood Elements, Ladyburg, and Riverby Books. You’ll find that Old Town is super walkable, so really just come here and wander. That’s all the instruction you need.
4. Outdoor adventure is just around the river bend.
I’ll throw in another Pocahontas reference, because the gorgeous portrayal of Virginian nature in the film is pretty spot on (the real one with Colin Farrell, not the animated one). You’ll see this in person when you pack a picnic and hang out by the Rappahannock River — or better yet, put on your swimsuit and go for a SUP, tube, or raft session with River Rock Outfitter.
If you’re looking for a more relaxing way to see Virginia’s outdoors, head over to Government Island in Stafford. The island was once a stone quarry, where Aquia Creek Sandstone was cut and used for a couple buildings you may have heard of: the White House and the US Capitol Building. A true local hotspot, you can come here and find joggers, dog walkers, nature photographers, and families walking, fishing, and reading up on Stafford history via the interpretive signs along the 1.5-mile trail.
5. There’s a serious arts scene here.
Where there’s history and culture, there’s often art, and the Fredericksburg region is no different. Right now, it’s hovering in that sweet spot — the scene is super accessible and unintimidating, yet established enough that quality abounds. You can walk right into the studios of celebrated local artists at spots such as Bluebird Glass Studio and Artful Dimensions Gallery. If you want to get involved in the artistic process yourself, local classes — from jewelry design to pottery to recycled arts — are hosted at galleries like PONSHOP and LibertyTown Arts Workshop. You can learn to blow glass at Glass Aglow Studio, too — anyone, from amateur to expert, is welcome.
Fredericksburg’s creative community truly peaks on First Fridays. Artists display their latest pieces in their shop windows as well as in neighboring businesses and restaurants. Musicians fill the streets with tunes, and locals wander up and down the cobblestone sidewalks taking in the sights, sounds, and smells (when the cafés open their doors, oh man!) of downtown Fredericksburg. Even better, the free trolley runs from 6pm to 9pm, so you don’t have to worry about getting around.
6. Fredericksburg in the fall is unrivaled.
If you’re able to plan a trip to the region in autumn, do it. This time of year, Virginia is overwhelmed by a stunning change in the color of the leaves — and that’s not to mention the cool fall breezes and festivities getting everyone outside.
At the Fall Harvest Festival, for example, it’s all about hay rides, antique hunting at the local rummage sale, and general fall vibes. Almost everything else is better in the fall, too, like touring one of the many historic plantations, such as Ellwood Manor (home to the gravesite of Stonewall Jackson’s arm) or Chatham Manor.
7. “Dinner and a show” doesn’t have to come with a big-city price tag.
In 2017 alone, the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts had a lineup of notable tales including Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Mamma Mia!, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. A similar experience in New York City would come at a significantly higher price tag, and the quality of your night will be just as spectacular here.
The center also has a children’s amphitheater, where more than 120 musical adaptations of popular children’s stories have taken place. And then there’s the center’s dinner theater program — it started in 1998, and since that time more than 550,000 people have gotten a little closer to the arts (and to good food) in this building.
8. Libations take center stage.
The massive winery and brewery movement has not missed the Fredericksburg region. There are many great spots in the area, along with a lively nightlife scene.
Stopping at Hartwood Winery, Lake Anna Winery, Potomac Point Winery, or Wilderness Run Vineyards (or, heck, all four) means a day of tastings, small bites, and enjoying the Virginian weather — and maybe those fall leaves. But for a more unique specialty of the ‘Burg, you have to try the hops. Stop by Maltese Brewing Company, Red Dragon Brewery, Adventure Brewing Company, Strangeways Brewing, 1781 Brewing, or Spencer Devon Brewing and pay tribute to our American heritage of quality lagers and ales.
And before you move on, we have to talk about the world’s best bourbon. Why? One hint: It’s made right here. Check out A. Smith Bowman Distillery — they’ve won the award two years in a row.
9. Aviation fans get their own history, too.
It might be a bit of a niche thing, but if it’s your niche, listen up. Spotsylvania is home to one of the most historic airports in the United States, Shannon Airport. Opened by Fredericksburg local Sidney Shannon in the middle of the last century, it remains a functioning hanger, as well as a spot to educate the public and entertain with the occasional airshow.
The Shannon Air Museum has an awesome collection of rare American aircraft, including a Vultee V-1A — built back in 1917 — that’s the only one known to survive today. Other exhibits of note include a SPAD VII biplane fighter from World War I, a Pitcairn PA-5 Mailwing, and a Bellanca CH-400 Skyrocket. Among these treasures are plenty of other artifacts and stories from the “Golden Age of Aviation.” It’s a trip back in time — just a different one than you were probably expecting.
10. This is Marine Corps central.
The greatest respect you can pay to those who risk their lives for the rest of us is to learn about their role in history, and the Fredericksburg area provides tons of opportunities to do just that. Quantico Marine Base is nearby, and it’s known as the “Crossroads of the Marine Corps,” as nearly every Marine passes through it.
The National Museum of the Marine Corps is 25 minutes from Fredericksburg and offers an interactive account of Marine Corps history. After that, stop down the road at the Globe & Laurel, a restaurant owned and operated by a former Marine and established in tribute to all those in uniform.
11. “Retro” is a daily mood.
Yes, there’s plenty of colonial and Civil War history here, but Fredericksburg is home to other iconic retro spots, too. And we’re not just talking architecture and statues.
Take Carl’s Frozen Custard, a homegrown ice cream shop. Built in the 1940s, its Art Deco style is a relic from days gone by, and its insanely popular ice cream keeps the lines lengthy to this day. Going back even further, to 1869, Goolrick’s Pharmacy is home to the longest continuously running soda fountain in the US — and still operates as a pharmacy and lunch spot (with delicious milkshakes).
12. Here, love stories make legends make museums.
In a city so timeless, a tale of love is bound to become local legend at some point. Here’s the ‘Burg’s most famous: Gari Melcher met his love, Corinne, more than 100 years ago on an ocean liner. Gari was a renowned American painter in his time, and Corinne was a young art student and fan of his work. They bonded over their love of the arts, started their life together, and after years of international travel, chose to settle in Stafford at a home now known as Gari Melcher’s Home & Studio at Belmont.
This is a spot that truly has withstood the test of time. It’s now a fully preserved museum of their home, where visitors can walk through the studios and gardens and catch a glimpse of how the couple lived. When’s the last time you stepped foot into a 19th-century art studio? Belmont often hosts lectures and workshops for visitors, but the most beloved part about it is the story — timeless, just like the Fredericksburg region itself.