1. HISTORIC DOWNTOWN MALL
One of the most prominent features of Charlottesville is the Pedestrian Mall. Located in the historic downtown area, the mall provides brick-paved streets lined with restaurants, shops, art galleries and live music venues. The beautiful oak trees and historic buildings really add character to the mall, making it a great ‘Instgrammable’ stroll. The mall really comes to life in the warmer months when lively patios, street performers, and crowds fill the sunny streets. I visited in the spring time when it was still a bit chilly but it was nice to put on a warm jacket, grab a coffee from Mudhouse Coffee and take a long stroll around the charming downtown area.
Thinking of where to stay in Charlottesville? Well there is a place right on the strip! I stayed at The Townsman which had a view of the mall from my window. The Townsman is unique in the sense that there is no front desk, no staff and there are only four rooms. I was a little apprehensive at first thinking about all of the things that could go wrong; what if something in the room is broken, or the door code fails - but of course, there are numbers to call in case all hell breaks loose. Each room in the 'unhotel' is individually designed and include all of the necessary amenities for the most perfect stay. The Townsman is truly a well-kept secret for lodging in the downtown Charlottesville area.
As for bars and restaurants on the strip - there are many! There is a great variety of dining options from fine dining to pub grub and everything in-between. Don't forget to have a drink at Miller's - the breeding ground of where Dave Matthews Band first started.
A visit to Charlottesville isn’t complete without a short drive to the magnificent Monticello. Monticello was Thomas Jefferson’s home and plantation located just outside of Charlottesville. Jefferson designed every aspect of Monticello which included an ornamental landscape, farm, plantation, a small mountain and the home in which he lived with his family. Today, Monticello is recognized as a National Historic Landmark, a United Nation World Heritage site and a Site of Conscience.
He designed Monticello and surpassed its construction, expansion and furnishing from 1769 into the 1820s. Although he had no formal training at the time, he read a lot about architecture and drafted all of the blueprints of Monticello on his own. Years later, he became an adept architect also designing the Virginia State Capitol and the main buildings of the University of Virginia.
There is a lot more to Monticello than just the architecture; it represents a complex view of American history in a way that is authentic and inclusive. Learn all about Monticello and Thomas Jefferson by booking a tour of the historic site - you can easily spend hours discovering all the nooks and crannies of his architectural masterpiece.
If you have extra time, be sure to visit the University of Virginia which was also founded and designed by Thomas Jefferson. UVA is considered one of the most beautiful universities in the world and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
3. Beer & wine
If you’re looking for vineyards, breweries and cideries then you can count on Charlottesville to quench your thirst! I was surprised to find out that some of the best wines in the Eastern United States are produced right in Charlottesville, specifically the Monticello American viticulture area. There are over 35 wineries within a 30 mile radius of Charlottesville as part of the Monticello Wine Trail.
If you prefer beer, there are great breweries to discover on the Charlottesville Ale Trail. The 2.3 mile pedestrian beer trail features South Street Brewing, Champion Brewing, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, Random Row Brewing Co., Three Notch'd and Wild Wolf Brewing.
As for beer bars you can’t miss the self-pour taproom, Draft Taproom. You'll discover 60 taps of diverse selections of craft beer styles as well as a small selection of hard ciders and wine. If you’ve never been to a self-pour taproom before you truly are missing out. Not only is it fun, but it lets you be in control of how much you drink - if you only want an ounce of beer, you can order that! Just tap your 'beer card' above the tap handle and the screen will display the price per ounce, name, and style of beer - pull down the tap and pour to you hearts desire - It's that easy! Paired with the vast amount of beer is a great pub-inspired menu to soak up the suds. Tater tots with beer cheese is literally the greatest thing on earth so be sure to try an order.
If you're looking for beer to take home, Beer Run is your best bet. This restaurant, bar, and beer and wine shop offer an excellent selection of rare bottles and cans at a reasonable price.
There is an abundance of great dining options throughout Charlottesville so it didn’t surprise me to hear that locals love to dine out all the time. One lovely restaurant and brewery that I went to was Brasserie Saison - a chic European style restaurant focusing on regional Belgian and Dutch cuisine and saison, farmhouse and biere du garde style brews.
Favourites such as Moules Frites, and Jagerschnitzel are highly recommended here but there is a great variety of seasonal dishes for all palettes. Local farms are constantly being featured on the menu, providing that farm-to table aspect among the bold flavours of 'old world' style Benelux Brasserie food. You'll definitely love the atmosphere and decor at Brasserie Saison and you may even feel like you’re in Europe for a second.
For dessert, take a short drive over to Gearharts Fine Chocolates. You can basically smell the scent of chocolate in the air once you step out of your car. Gearharts is one of the most well-known chocolate shops in all of Virginia and I can certainly understand why. They use only the finest sourced chocolate, pure butter and local cream to create an array of world-class chocolates. Each batch is carefully curated and finished by hand - producing beautiful artisan pieces that will make you never want to buy a generic chocolate bar again.
What makes Gearharts really unique is that they get super creative with their chocolates. You can find mint julep, apricot brandy, tequila lime, miso caramels and a ton of creative flavour combinations. You can spend quite some time admiring the selection of truffles, bars, confections, cooking chocolates and other specialty items that they carry. Their shop also features a café that sells coffee, hot chocolate and pastries in case you need a break from chocolate shopping. Fun Fact: Gearhart Chocolates were served at a State Luncheon hosted by former Vice Presient, Joe Biden.
Fans of Gearhart Chocolates can also order their products online, buy from a long list of local establishments or visit their second location in Richmond, Virginia.
If you're looking for a budget-friendly lunch that is flavourful and healthy, then Bashir's Taverna is your best bet. This cozy Mediterranean restaurant has some incredible lunch specials that are of generous portions; they also have the best baklava I have ever tasted!!
5. Arts & Music
Charlottesville is a hot spot for arts and culture, and you’ll be surprised to know that many big name acts have played shows in the area - Lady Gaga, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z and Elton John are just a few to note. The city has concert venues of all sizes that support the diverse scene of thriving local artists throughout the city and welcomes those big-name acts as well. You can find live music almost any day of the week in Charlottesville so be sure to check out local event calendars to see who's playing.
There are also many museums and art galleries throughout the city such as Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia, Virginia Discovery Museum and the Fralin Museum of Art. I also noticed that there were several murals throughout the city that really brightened up the surrounding areas of many local businesses.
If you're into festivals, Charlottesville hosts the Virginia Film Festival, The Virginia Festival of the Book, Historic Garden Week, Weekly Farmers Markets, pop-up events/concerts and much more.