Virginia

23 Best Small Towns in Virginia That You Need To Visit

Small Towns in Virginia - driving through Purcellville and seeing the sunriseThere are some beautiful small towns in Virginia that you just need to visit. After all, Virginia is the definition of diversity. Beachy sands lap its coastline. Mountains anchor its grassy grounds. And somewhere, embedded between thick forests and twisty rivers, a firm, deep-rooted history branches from one tip of the state to the other.  

Sleeping within Virginia’s geographical and historical diversity are some beautifully unique small towns. These small towns are city escapes, a quiet break from the hustle and bustle of the state’s ever-increasing population.

Seriously, the small towns I’ve mentioned below are the ones I could (and would) visit time after time. So without further ado, here are 23 of the best small towns in Virginia that you need to visit (grab your bags and join me).

8 Historic Virginia Small Towns You’ll Fall In Love With

Horses in Colonial WilliamsburgWilliamsburg

Let’s start with the most iconic small town in Virginia – Williamsburg. Home to living history, amusement parks, jaw-dropping free botanical gardens, and a hodge-podge of outdoor activities, Williamsburg is a historic meets adventurous mutt.

You could easily spend a whole weekend here. But before I begin babbling about all the possible things to do in Williamsburg, I’m going to whisk you away to my next stop (sorry).

Williamsburg Summary:
  • Population: < 16,000
  • Activities: Colonial Williamsburg museum, Busch Gardens, Williamsburg Botanical Garden
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer

Jamestown

Jamestown breathes history. When you enter the tiny former English town, the life of an early colonist goes from a still mental image to an animated memory. Jamestown has many tourist options in the form of Jamestown Settlement. You can stroll through a Powhatan village or even climb aboard the Susan Constant (a replica of one of the original ships that sailed from England to Jamestown).

Jamestown Summary:
  • Population: < 15,000
  • Activities: Jamestown Settlement
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer

Yorktown

Yorktown completes what I like to call the Williamsburg-Jamestown-Yorktown historic triangle. The site of the Siege of Yorktown, this Virginia small town was a defining location in the American Revolution.

Be sure to stop by the Continental Army encampment at the American Revolution Museum. The museum goes through great lengths to get the nitty-gritty details of Revolution-era soldier’s daily lives spot-on. From the aroma of food to the loud blast of shots during musket drills, the Continental Army encampment builds the ambience of the Revolutionary War through all five senses.  

Yorktown Summary:
  • Population: < 15,000
  • Activities: American Revolution Museum, Yorktown Historic Site
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer

Waterford

You can’t help but feel bad for Waterford. This quiet hamlet often gets lumped together with its big city neighbour, Leesburg. But Waterford is actually a beautiful unincorporated area in Loudoun County, which is why I categorize it as a must-visit small town in Virginia.

The bucolic landscape is painted with rolling hills and cloudless skies. In fact, the entire village is a National Historic Landmark, famed for its old wooden mills and main street.

Waterford Summary:
  • Population: < 2,000
  • Activities: Old Mill, Main Street
  • Best Time to Visit: Fall

Charlottesville

Charlottesville is like any other small mountain town in Virginia, but it has been noted in every history textbook. Why? Well, Charlottesville is home to Monticello, the former residence of Thomas Jefferson. Monticello is a classical European style mansion set in front of a plantation backdrop. Yes, it is costly to visit, but the price is worth it.

Charlottesville, despite having a much larger population than some of the other small towns in Virginia, can easily be covered in a day or two (which is why I added the town to the list). Art galleries. Window-shopping at the Historic Downtown Mall. Charlottesville has plenty to offer for a quick weekend getaway.

Bonus Tip: When in Charlottesville, take a day trip to Shenandoah Valley. If you like hiking and nature, bring a picnic lunch and drive along the scenic bypass until you hit one of the Appalachian Mountain trails.

Charlottesville Summary:
  • Population: < 47,000
  • Activities: Monticello, Art Galleries, Shopping
  • Best Time to Visit: Fall

Alexandria

Alexandria isn’t really a small town. In fact, I would call it a major city. But somehow despite its King Kong population, Alexandria has retained a small town charm (which is why the city is on this list).

I attended my first two years of high school in Alexandria, Virginia before subsequently moving to Texas (so yes, bias is another reason). I remember loving the history that skirted the city.

During high school, I somehow managed to sneak in a couple of visits to Mount Vernon and the Carlyle House. And on an off-weekend, I’d visit the Old Town Waterfront and grab some cupcakes from Lavender Moon Cupcakery (an organic cupcake shop). I’m a frosting-freak so I love Lavender Moon (I’m not a huge fan of the cakes themselves because they are always either a little too dry or a little too moist, but the frosting is always Goldilocks’ perfection).  

Alexandria Summary:
  • Population: < 154,000
  • Activities: Walking along the Waterfront, Eating cupcakes, Visiting museums
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring

Manassas

The first time I realized that Virginia was a Confederate state was when I visited Manassas.

You see, in history, Virginia has been part of so many settlements and battles that I just imagined the state as a historical hero unfazed by time. And then, when you visit Manassas, the site of the Battle of Bull Run, you realize that during the Civil War, Virginia, a pro-slavery state, was far from a hero.

Manassas Summary:
  • Population: < 41,000 
  • Activities: Battle of Bull Run Site
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer, Winter

Boones Mill

Boones Mill is another small town with a very deeply entrenched history. This isn’t the kind of town I would normally take you to, but since I’m a die-hard history buff, this mini-trip makes sense. There isn’t a lot to do in Boones Mill apart from walk around the town and appreciate the history settled within its boundaries.

The town is home to many descendants of the original American settlers. And if that idea is really cool to you (it is for me), you should stay a little longer than a day and strike a conversation with as many locals as you can (a bit of a challenge, considering Boones Mill is a rural town).

The history of Boones Mill doesn’t stop at a bygone era though. The town is also called the “Moonshine Capital of the World”. Why? Well, during the 1920s, it’s estimated that 99% of residents were involved in the illegal liquor trade. And today, there are lots of different kinds of distilleries and breweries that you can visit in the town and county.

Boones Mill Summary:
  • Population: < 250
  • Activities: Brewery Tours, Distillery Tours
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring, Fall

5 Coastal Small Towns in Virginia You Can’t Miss

Coastal Small Town in Virginia (this is actually Jamestown)Chincoteague

Chincoteague rose to fame as a small coastal town in Virginia because of the Chincoteague ponies. Funnily enough, the ponies don’t live in Chincoteague itself but on Assateague Island.

Side note, I may have gotten that fact wrong on my very first Virginia History exam in third grade.

Good job, Anshula. 

Anyways, Chincoteague is home to quiet beaches, small museums, and mom and pop shops. Basically, Chincoteague is everything you would imagine a small Northeastern coastal town to be (lighthouse included).

Also, in the summer, stop by Island Creamery and try some locally-crafted, freshly made classic ice-cream flavours (tip: they let you sample the ice-cream before buying it so be sure to test out which ones are your cup of tea). Up the street is Mister Whippy, a drive-through ice-cream joint if you want your dessert to-go.

Chincoteague Summary:
  • Population: < 3,000
  • Activities: Beaches, Ice Cream Eating (too much ice cream eating if you are like me)
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer

Onancock

Onancock is one of those towns that you just need to stroll through to get away from the hustle and bustle of life. Go kayaking. Take a ferry ride. Visit a museum. The town feels empty, but is filled with little pieces of entertainment. 

Onancock Summary:
  • Population: < 1,300
  • Activities: Kayaking, Museum visiting
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer

Cape Charles

Cape Charles is a tiny little town known for Savage Neck Dunes Natural Reserve, a walking trail along a shallow, narrow beach line. Beyond that…well, I’ll let you see for yourself. 

Cape Charles Summary:
  • Population: < 1,100
  • Activities: Trail walks
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer

Tangier Island

Great seafood? Check. Photogenic marina? Check. Off-the-beaten path beach? Check. For a coastal small town, Tangier Island has it all.

Tangier Island Summary:
  • Population: < 1,000
  • Activities: Eating seafood, Walking along a marina
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer

Wachapreague

Wachapreague is a little bit different than other coastal towns. Not known for a beach. Not a foodie hotspot. Wachapreague seems like an unusual candidate in a list of all the best small towns in Virginia.

But I promise, I put it here for a good reason. Fishing. Yes, Wachapreague, despite its slightly marshy landscape, is a fishing hotspot (and a gorgeous one at that). 

Wachapreague Summary:
  • Population: < 300
  • Activities: Fishing
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer

10 Quaint Small Towns In Virginia With A Homey Feel

Best Small Towns in Northern Virginia , this is Mason Neck Park

Occoquan

Occoquan is one of the smallest, small towns in Virginia that we are visiting today, but that doesn’t make it any less gorgeous. One to three story colonial houses line the streets. There is no noise. Only silence. The town is perhaps most famous for its river, a gorgeous greenish blue body reflecting the towering trees surrounding it. Occoquan is scenic, wonderful, and quiet. A town inundated with boats and sparse with tourists, Occoquan is a great place for rowing.

Occoquan Summary:
  • Population: < 1000
  • Activities: Rowing, Boating, Meandering
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer

Purcellville

When you enter Purcellville, the first thing you see are mountains and what appear to be rolling hills (faded in the background). These are the Blue Ridge mountains.

Purcellville is one of the most charming small towns in Northern Virginia. Most of the older homes have been converted into stores, like antique shops. The antiques are small and expensive, but the shops are still an excellent place for a pleasant stroll and window-shopping.

One of my favourite places in the town is the Purcellville library (I’m such a nerd, I know). But the library is small and has the feel of an old bookstore overrun with kids, which is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face. Outside, in the streets, you can see a farmer’s market. The scent of fresh fruit drifts in the air and you can’t resist a bite.

Tip: At sunset, you can sometimes see bats in Purcellville (I’ve seen quite a few over the span of five years and a dozen or so trips each year).

Purcellville Summary:
  • Population: <9000
  • Activities: Wine tasting, Brewery Visits, Farmer’s Markets
  • Best Time to Visit: Fall

Massanutten

This Virginia small town is actually an oh-so touristy ski resort area. Does that make it bad? Not at all. I’ve taken a few guilty pleasure trips here (maybe more).

Massanutten Summary:
  • Population: <2,300
  • Activities: Ski, Hike
  • Best Time to Visit: Winter, Summer

Winchester

Winchester has a crazy number of museums for a small town. So if you love museums as much as I do, Winchester is a bucket list Virginia small town.

Winchester Summary:

Harrisonburg

When I think of Harrisonburg, I always associate it with the word “nature”. Now, that’s not too surprising considering most of the attractions in Harrisonburg include a streak of farms and gardens.

Harrisonburg Summary:
  • Population: <52,600 
  • Activities: Visit gardens, Quilt Museum 
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring, Summer

Mason Neck

Mason Neck is a small little peninsula that borders the Potomac River. Mason Neck features a gorgeous variation of wildlife (including snapping turtles, frogs, white-tailed deer, and the occasional Bald Eagle), marshes, wetlands, and vernal pools . Most of the town is a state park aptly named Mason Neck State Park. Head there first before you drink in the surrounding area.

After your nature walk, go to Gunston Hall, George Mason’s historic, luxurious mansion. Fine china top the tables. Rich colours coat the walls.  But despite the lavishness, there is a hint of sadness. The plantation has a history of slave-holding and you can imagine the field workers who toiled the fields. Gunston Hall is a snapshot of the deep history of colonialism in Virginia.

Mason Neck Summary:
  • Population: <2500
  • Activities: Wildlife spotting, Bird-watching, Historic sightseeing
  • Best Time to Visit: Fall

Floyd

Floyd is an artsy town. Galleries, pottery shops, and bluegrass jams are a part of Floyd’s energetic culture.  This small town is a must-see for any art lover.

Floyd Summary:
  • Population: <500
  • Activities: Art shopping, Jamming to Bluegrass
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer

Falls Church

Falls Church, a classic suburb with a strong dose of nature, is one of those towns that is just pleasant to drive through. 

I had a lot of Vietnamese friends growing up so I would always hear about Eden Center Mall, a famous Vietnamese strip mall in this D.C. suburb. There are a lot of interesting stores, filled with baubles and knick-knacks, within the complex (though most of my favourite ones have closed down and been replaced since my last visit).

Falls Church Summary:
  • Population: <13,900
  • Activities: Shopping, Walking trails
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer

Kilmarnock

Kilmarnock really captures the quaint small town feel. Featuring vineyards, walking paths, and a few unique museums, Kilmarnock is a mix of quiet and serene.

Kilmarnock Summary:
  • Population: <1,500
  • Activities: Vineyards, Museum visiting
  • Best Time to Visit: Fall, Spring

Vienna

Vienna is the last Virginia small town in this list. If you visit Vienna, you’re visiting for Wolf Trap (I don’t even know how to begin expressing my obsession with this place). If you haven’t already heard of the area, Wolf Trap is a performing arts center with a little mix of everything, from Russian classical ballet to a feast of contemporary pop singers. An indoor-outdoor theater, Wolf Trap has big-names (like Charlie Puth and Reba McEntire) hopping into the arena year-round. 

And before I begin rambling about how much I love this theater, I’m just going to close out this post….

Vienna Summary:
  • Population: <16,000
  • Activities: Attending concerts and performances
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring

Now, over to you. What are your favorite small towns in Virginia and why? Do you like small towns or big cities? Spill all your opinions in the comments below. 

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Stacey Peters
    January 30, 2016 at 2:09 AM

    I agree, my favorite stories usually start in small towns (and a glass of wine) which has changed over the years. I grew up in a small town and couldn’t wait to get away. Then I did for many years, now I look forward to settling down in another one one day soon.

    • Reply
      Anshula
      January 30, 2016 at 3:12 AM

      I completely understand that feeling, Stacey. I’ve always grown up by big cities, so naturally, I was never lured to small towns when I was younger. But now that I’m older, I feel that the small-town charm is undeservedly overshadowed by the appeal of tall buildings and heavy nightlife! Both cities and small-towns are special in their own ways!

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