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12 Top-Rated Small Towns in Virginia

Written by Anietra Hamper
Jul 15, 2019

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There are so many ways to experience Virginia, from the beaches on the Eastern Shores to hiking the Appalachian Trail, but visiting the small towns of Virginia provides a new kind of experience in the state. Many of Virginia's quaint towns thrive around their main streets, which are central to their character.

You will find towns with historical significance, and beach communities that embrace a simple coastal lifestyle. You will discover some of the oldest antique stores, traditional comfort food, and the warmth of that uncompromising Southern charm in these small towns and villages.

If you are looking for a romantic getaway, family vacation, or solo retreat, spending time in the quiet communities surrounding the big cities makes for an unforgettable retreat. For ideas on the best places to visit, read our list of the best small towns in Virginia.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Abingdon

Wooden trestle bridge on the Virginia Creeper Trail
Wooden trestle bridge on the Virginia Creeper Trail

The small town of Abingdon in Western Virginia is great for an outdoor or historic getaway. Its backdrop is the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the entire town is supported by its natural surroundings. Even many of the restaurants focus on using locally sourced food for their menus.

Plan a weekend outdoors hiking, biking, or horseback riding. You can catch the trailhead of the Virginia Creeper Trail in the middle of town, which is a Rails-to-Trails route extending for 34 miles. It is named after the steam engine that used to "creep" up into the Iron Mountains.

In town, you can stroll along the Historic District's cobblestone sidewalks. The 20-square block area is packed with culture and history excursions. Take in a show at Barter Theatre or peruse the galleries at the William King Museum of Art. Visit the restored 1870 railroad station, which is now The Arts Depot, and the Fields-Penn 1860 House Museum, which showcases early 19th-century life.

To add to the historical experience, you can stay at The Martha Washington Inn & Spa, an elegant lodging option in Abingdon dating from 1832 and designated as a Historic Hotel of America.

2. Chincoteague

Wild ponies on Assateague Island
Wild ponies on Assateague Island

The town of Chincoteague is a small island on the Eastern shores of Virginia known for its wild ponies near the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. You can take a tour to see the ponies in their natural environment and stop in the town to visit the Museum of Chincoteague, which tells more about the area and explains the stories behind these wild horses.

Spend some time at the beach, and when you need a break from the sun visit the Assateague Lighthouse on the adjacent Assateague Island for the best views of the area. You can even walk to the top of the lighthouse during public hours.

One of the best ways to enjoy this coastal town is without a time schedule. Stop into the boutique shops and small dining establishments that make up the community. Be sure to stop for an ice-cream cone at the Island Creamery, which has national recognition for its frozen treats.

Another great visit in Chincoteague is the NANA Wallops Island Flight Facility Visitor Center, which has a free museum with exhibits and information behind some of the NASA rocket programs and missions. The Marina Bay Hotel & Suites is a local lodging option with a private deck looking over the marina.

3. Wachapreague

Wachapreague
Wachapreague | Photo Copyright: Sarah Barban

There is such charm on Virginia's eastern shore, but the small town of Wachapreague has special characteristics that make it a nice place to visit. While you can get in some quality beach time during your visit, you will also notice some of the most pristine wetlands along the mid-Atlantic region. The town only has a population of 200 people, and more than that likely come through here, especially during the bird migration in the spring and fall, two of the best times to visit.

The Victorian-era town is eco-friendly, and you can take kayak tours through the local waters or plan an ecotour. Sport fishing is one of the top reasons that people visit Wachapreague, and you can book a charter and head to the Atlantic waters for marlin or tuna. One of the closest lodging options to outdoor activities is the Wachapreague Inn, which offers daily and weekly rentals.

4. Coeburn

Big Stone Gap near Coeburn
Big Stone Gap near Coeburn

Southwest Virginia has the town of Coeburn, which is located near the Jefferson National Forest. It is a great small-town getaway, especially for those who want to explore Virginia's outdoors. Some of the best hiking and biking in the area is along the Rails-to-Trails Guest River Gorge Trail, which follows the river. Other popular trails in the area are the High Knob Lake Trail and the Little Stony National Recreation Trail.

Coeburn is pleasant to visit even if you do not take in the fantastic outdoor recreation that the area has to offer. The downtown is charming and artistic. You will notice pedestrian bridges, brick sidewalks to local restaurants, and antique lamp fixtures along the streets.

Stop into some of the artist galleries and see why the town is part of the Lonesome Pine Artisan Trail. Relax and enjoy music in the historic Lays Building downtown, where you are likely to hear the music that celebrates the Appalachian region.

5. Lynchburg

Lynchburg
Lynchburg

For people who love history, architecture, and the outdoors, Lynchburg is a fun way to see all of it. The small town has a number of historical sites to see including Point of Honor, the Old Court House and Lynchburg Museum, Patrick Henry's Red Hill, the National D-Day Memorial, the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, and the history and architecture of Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest and personal retreat.

The town is located on the James River with the Blue Ridge Mountains as its backdrop, so it is no wonder that Lynchburg has some phenomenal outdoor opportunities. There is a walking, hiking, and biking trail that follows the James River and is a popular way to enjoy the area.

Lynchburg is also known for its bluegrass and music festivals at local parks. One of the nice places to stay in Lynchburg is in the historic Craddock Terry Hotel, an old shoe factory turned boutique hotel.

6. Damascus

A hiker rests in the grass near Damascus, VA
A hiker rests in the grass near Damascus, VA

Damascus might be small but it earned its nickname of "Trail Town USA" for the hiking, biking, and water trails that run through it. While so many regions in Virginia cater to the outdoor experience, outdoor enthusiasts should put Damascus high on the list to visit. The town is in the Blue Ridge Mountains, covered with a network of trails for which more than one-thousand bicycles are rented each year to use.

Some of the best hiking and biking trails in Damascus are the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail, which is one of the top biking trails in the United States. Also running through the town are the Iron Mountain Trail, the Trans-America National Bicycle Trail, and the Virginia Birding Trail. If you love the outdoors, you will enjoy visiting Damascus in May during the Appalachian Trail Days Festival, when upwards of 30 thousand hikers fill area trails. You can also plan time into your visit to go to the nearby Mount Roger National Recreation Area, which has the highest peak in Virginia.

7. Onancock

Tangier Island
Tangier Island

The charming seaside town of Onancock on Virginia's eastern shore is a relaxing getaway and one of the oldest towns in Virginia. The best way to enjoy Onancock is by foot to see the Victorian homes in the neighborhood, visit boutique shops, and talk to local artists in the galleries.

The town has an artful flare, with live theater at the restored Roseland Theatre, music, and visual arts. Plan a visit to Ker Place or the Waterman's Museum to learn about the history of the area.

Add to your Onancock visit by taking a kayak trip through local waters, or plan to take the ferry to Tangier Island and spend a day with a different view. Onancock has the only ferry departure to the island, so it makes sense to include it in your visit. There are many waterfront restaurants in town where you can enjoy a stunning eastern shore sunset.

8. Lexington

Washington Lee University, Lexington
Washington Lee University, Lexington

How about a weekend getaway in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains surrounded by nature? The small town of Lexington can fill your spirit with wilderness, wildlife, and rivers. It is home to Washington Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute, which make up a large portion of the social and cultural aspects of the town.

As you walk through Lexington, you will want to visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Stonewall Jackson House, Lee Chapel, and the George C. Marshall Museum. You might also enjoy stopping into the Virginia Horse Center, where you are likely to catch an equine competition in progress.

Getting outdoors in Lexington can take you to the Laurel Run Trail for hiking, Devil's Marbleyard for boulder-climbing, and Goshen Pass for biking. Other outdoor options are the Boxerwood Nature Center and Woodland Garden and the nearby trails in Jefferson and George Washington National Forests. You will enjoy the food options in Lexington, as many of the eateries offer fresh farm-to-table menus.

9. Tazewell

Historic buildings in Tazewell, Virginia
Historic buildings in Tazewell, Virginia | Doug Kerr / photo modified

Tazewell, located in Southwest Virginia is one of the oldest and most scenic small towns in the region. One of the best ways to enjoy Tazewell is by car or motorcycle along the 32 miles of Route 16. Locals can point you in the right direction when you get here because the route is also called the "Back of the Dragon" for its 300 curves along that stretch of highway.

A less aggressive scenic drive is along the Mountain Heritage Loop, which takes you through the Appalachian Mountains and a popular spot called Burke's Garden, where a mountain collapsed leaving a massive bowl shape in the earth.

A unique way to learn more about the region is by visiting Sandy Head Ostrich Farms to see sustainable farming in practice. Instead of traditional farm animals like cows and chickens, this farm uses ostrich, geese, and emu.

Stroll down Tazewell's historic Main Street to enjoy your pick of local fare, and stop into the welcome center to buy Back of the Dragon souvenirs once you experience the drive.

10. Luray

Luray Caverns
Luray Caverns

If you are up for a cabin getaway as you explore small towns in Virginia then Luray in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley should be on your list. In fact, it is considered the cabin capital of the state because of the hundreds of cabin rentals available in this natural area. Your cabin getaway lets you plan day trips to visit the Shenandoah National Park, George Washington National Forest, and Luray Caverns. You can also plan to paddle your way along the Shenandoah River, or learn fly fishing with one of several guide services in Luray.

Another set of day trips can be planned to tackle a new trail each day. There are more than 500 miles of trails running through the nearby national forests that range from a leisurely stroll to aggressive hiking. For biking, the Hawksbill Greenway is the best option in Luray.

11. Clifton

Clifton, VA
Clifton, VA | Ted Eytan / photo modified

The historic town of Clifton is a small town that had its fifteen minutes of fame with the movie, Sleepless in Seattle, which was written in a home on Main Street. The town is now a National Historic District that does not even have a stoplight. You can take an educational farm tour at Whitehall Farm and Market and buy fresh produce, or you can enjoy the rolling hills in the region at one of several golf courses.

Clifton is one of those small towns that is nice to explore spontaneously and take in culture and information from the locals that you meet at comfort food restaurants. If you are traveling with children, you may want to plan some time at the Adventure Links at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park with outdoor ropes adventures.

12. Norton

Sunset in High Knob, Norton
Sunset in High Knob, Norton

When you drive into Norton, you might feel a sense of both city life and small-town charm. It is Virginia's smallest city, so it is a nice place to visit if you are looking for a little of both.

A must-visit while you are in Norton is the Flag Rock Recreation Area, which has 25 acres of outdoor trails and activities. There are hiking trails like the Sugar Maple Trail and the High Knob Observation Tower and a loop-system that is connected to the Flag Rock Area Trails mountain biking system. Flag Rock Recreation Area is also the best vantage point to see the city from a 1000-foot elevation.

One of the reasons Norton feels like a small town is because of its humble presence, with family-owned restaurants, serving daily specials, like The Country Cabin, where you can enjoy local live music. The venue is one of eight along Virginia's Heritage Music Trail, The Crooked Road.

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com

imagePlanning Your Trip to Virginia: Visiting some of the small towns in Virginia is just one idea for a great experience. There are several options for exciting weekend getaways in Virginia, which range from a historic trip to Williamsburg to hitting the surf on Virginia Beach or getting out on the hiking trails in Shenandoah National Park.

imageWhere to Stay: Since Virginia is nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Blue Ridge Mountains, your lodging options can complement the kind of vacation you are planning, from camping in a national forest to staying in one of the luxury resorts in the state. If you are looking for hotels in Virginia Beach there are plenty, as it is one of the top vacation destinations in the state.

imageCities in Virginia: If you want bigger cities to explore in Virginia, you might want to consider the Chesapeake Bay city of Norfolk, the Blue Ridge Mountains in Charlottesville, or scenic Roanoke.

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