Virginia, sometimes called the “Old Dominion,” is home to some of the most historic cities in the United States. It was the birthplace of eight US presidents, and is also known for its thriving tobacco industry. It is an ideal place for anyone who wants to go on a vacation, and if you’re the kind of traveller who likes getting off the beaten path, you have all the reasons to explore Virginia. From old cemeteries to unusual building designs, this state never fails to tickle imaginations and leave everyone in awe.
Itching to see Virginia’s weird yet wonderful side? Here are some of the most unique things you will find here!
1. A living-history museum
A visit to Colonial Williamsburg is like entering a time machine. Spanning 301 acres (122 hectares), this open-air living-history museum is dotted with a mix of 17th century, 18th century, and 19th century structures. It also has a so-called Historic Area, which is constructed just like colonial American cities once were. There are restored and recreated buildings, as well as well-planned main thoroughfares. Adding to the nostalgic atmosphere are the employees, guides, and interpreters sporting colonial-era fashion. They even speak using colonial grammar and words!
2. Life-sized dinosaurs
Prehistoric selfies, anyone? Go and have fun snapping photos at the Dinosaurland, a dinosaur-themed amusement center located in White Post, Virginia. Here, you will find a total of 50 life-sized fiberglass sculptures made by the theme park owners themselves. Most of these sculptures are dinosaurs, but there’s also a King Kong statue, a shark, and a gigantic octopus. If you wish to take home a souvenir, there is a gift shop selling all sorts of dinosaur figures and basically everything with dinosaurs on it. It would be a great day trip for kids!
3. Aircrafts and spacecrafts
For astronomy and aviation enthusiasts, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is a must-see. Opened in 2003, this museum contains the world’s largest artifact collection related to the history of aviation and space exploration. Its has two hangars, filled with actual aircraft like the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird and space shuttles like the Discovery. Other notable features of the museum include the Airbus IMAX Theater and the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower. Free tours are conducted daily in the museum.
4. Archaeological dig sites
Jamestowne was the first ever English settlement in the United States. Since 1940, it has been recognized as a National Historic Site, which is conserved by the efforts of the U.S. National Park Service and Preservation Virginia. Today, it is an archaeological dig site that you can visit by joining a guided tour. The Jamestown Rediscovery team conducts these tours, bringing guests to active excavation sites and answering every question raised by guests. If you’re lucky, you might even get to witness that amazing moment when an archaeologist discovers an artifact in the ground!
5. The CIA Museum
Ever dreamed of being a secret agent? Virginia is where the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters is located, including the CIA Museum, which holds a collection of important artifacts and weapons relating to the world’s secret history. Most of these items were donated by current and former CIA members, and they include tools used in hiding secret messages and various kinds of cameras used by spies. The museum, however, is not open to the public. It can only be accessed by CIA members and invited guests who mostly belong to academic and civic groups.You could try and score an invite though!
6. The Creeper Trail
Don’t be discouraged by its name, the Creeper Trail is actually an interesting multipurpose trail located in Virginia. It runs from from Abingdon to Whitetop, and it is approximately 35 miles (56 kilometers) long. Situated on a former railway track, the trail is popular among skilled mountain bikers, hikers, and equestrians. There are over 100,000 people who come here each year, and most of them visit during May to October. Three visitor centers are scattered along the trail, as well as souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants, inns, and cabins.
7. National D-day Memorial
A visit to the National D-Day Memorial is guaranteed to be both an educational and an emotional experience. The war memorial, located in Bedford, honors more than 9,000 members of the allied troops who fought during World War II, particularly those who sacrificed their lives during the Normandy landing operations, which are alternatively known as D-Day. The site spans 50 acres (20.2 hectares) and features an English garden, a plaza, and an invasion tableau.
8. A glass art collection
The Chrysler Museum of Art, located in Norfolk, was founded in 1933 and was originally called the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences. One of the museum’s features is its glass art collection with over 10,000 items. It is the most extensive in the world. If you want to learn about glass-making, you can either watch a demo or take a class. Free demos are held every noon in the museum from Tuesday to Sunday, while art-making classes vary from beginner lessons to advanced techniques.
9. The world’s first cone machine
The world’s first ever cone machine, built in 1905, is located in Virginia. It was created by Abe Doumar, the owner of Doumar’s Cones and BBQ in Norfolk. While working at a fair, he simply thought that a waffle rolled into a cone would be a good replacement for the paper dishes used by an ice cream vendor. From here, he developed the idea and later built his own waffle cone machine. He even had his own ice cream stand at the Ocean View Amusement Park. At present, Abe’s cone machine can still be seen in his restaurant.
10. Amusement park rides
For a day filled with fun and entertainment, you can visit the 383-acre (155-hectare) Busch Gardens located in James City County. It is a theme park filled with unique and thrilling rides, including Tempesto, Apollo’s Chariot, and Europe in the Air. Tempesto is a launch coaster which turns up to 63 miles (101.4 kilometers) per hour and inverts 154 feet (47 meters) up in the air, while Apollo’s Chariot is recognized as one of the top 10 steel coasters in the world. Another highlight of the park is Europe in the Air, a high-tech flight simulator that will take you to Europe’s most popular destinations.
11. A drive-through zoo
Virginia Safari Park is the state’s only drive-through natural park. Here, animals are free to roam around the vicinity while guests explore aboard a vehicle. Some of the creatures you will find in this 180-acre (73-hectare) zoo are zebras, elks, and gazelles. Opened in 2000, its aim is to encourage people to see the animals in a natural environment. If you wish, you can even feed the animals through the windows of your vehicle.
12. Edgar Allan Poe Museum
One of the most popular American writers is Edgar Allan Poe, particularly known for his poetry and short stories. There’s a museum in Virginia dedicated to his life and works, although he never really lived in the building unlike other poets and artists who have museums under their name. The Edgar Allan Poe Museum holds the largest collections of the writer’s letters and manuscripts. It also contains Poe’s personal belongings, some of which you wouldn’t even think they would have preserved, including a pair of socks!
13. A 207-foot (63-meter) continuous escalator
If you are commuting in Virginia using the metro train system, you might just chance upon one of the longest continuous escalators in the world, the 207-foot (63-meter) Rosslyn Metro Escalator. It will take you three minutes to travel from the bottom to the top, 159 seconds to be exact. You should try it at least once, but not if you have vertigo! In case you can’t force yourself to ride this one-of-a-kind escalator, you can go to the bank of street elevators across from the station’s entrance.
14. The Presidential Pet Museum
Founded in 1999, the Presidential Pet Museum was established to preserve information regarding the past and current White House pets. There are hundreds of artifacts on display and if you are a pet-lover yourself, you will surely enjoy your visit here. One of the oddest displays in the museum is the portrait of President Ronald Reagan’s dog, Lucky, which is made out of the dog’s own hair. This is also a child-friendly museum where the young ones can learn through association. Wouldn’t it be a fun way to teach the kids about the lives of the presidents through their pets?
15. One of the world’s ugliest buildings
Some might call it “ugly,” but we can’t deny the fact that the Markel Building stands out because of its unique design, which many people describe as “a foil-wrapped potato.” It was built by architect Haig Jamgochian in 1962 as the headquarters of the Markel Corporation. Envisioned to be a futuristic-inspired structure, its exterior is wrapped in a 555-foot-long (169-meter-long) piece of solid aluminum that was sledge-hammered to create a crinkled effect. In 2009, the Markel Building was declared as one of the 10 ugliest buildings in the world by the Digital Journal.
16. Firearms collection
The National Firearms Museum, managed by the National Rifle Association, is probably the largest firearms collection you will ever see in your life. Located in Fairfax, it houses over 3,000 firearms in a total of 15 galleries. These items encompass the 700-year history of firearms, as well as its connection to American history. The museum also has life-sized dioramas depicting a rifle-maker’s shop and a town square, among others. If you wish to take a peek at NRA’s library, you have to make an appointment in advance.
17. Stalacpipe organ
At first glance, The Great Stalacpipe Organ seems to be a normal keyboard instrument, but when you look closely, you will see that it is connected to a group of stalactites in different sizes. Located inside the Luray Caverns, it produces a sound when struck gently by rubber mallets. Imagine the whole cave instantly turning into a huge musical instrument! This unique organ designed in 1956 by Leland W. Sprinkle is available for the public to see. Tours usually begin at 9:00 am, while the last one starts around 4:00 pm.
18. Giant movie screens
Scientific wonders await visitors at the Science Museum of Virginia, a repository established in 1970. Included in its main highlights is a 76-foot (23-meter) screen where guests can watch movies about animals like great white sharks or natural phenomenon such as earthquakes. Another thing you should look out for is the Cosmic Expedition, a full dome theater where you can learn all about space exploration.
19. Stonehenge replica
There’s no need to go to United Kingdom if you want to see Stonehenge. There’s a replica located in Virginia, which is entirely made out of styrofoam. Popularly known as the Foamhenge, it was built by Mark Cline in 2004 for April Fools Day. Since then, it has become a strange roadside attraction that has attracted both locals and foreign tourists. It has also been widely covered by the media, including National Geographic for Kids, Washington Post, MSNBC, Fox, and Discovery Channel. There’s no entrance fee and you can take as many photos as you want!
20. Historic cemeteries
Cemeteries often have a negative connotation, but in Virginia these places hold so many interesting stories that they have become a tourist attraction. Cemetery tours are popular in the state, which usually include a visit to the Arlington National Cemetery and the Hollywood Cemetery. John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was buried in Arlington together with thousands of American war veterans. Meanwhile, two other US Presidents, James Monroe and John Tyler, were laid to rest at the Hollywood Cemetery.
Weird and wonderful Virginia
After you’ve visited Virginia’s main attractions, it pays to take a look at the state’s weird yet wonderful side. Go off-the-beaten path and you’ll surely have amazing discoveries you never even thought you could have!
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