Lynchburg, Virginia has so much history, recreation, and charm on its own, but these four day-trips from Lynchburg are added perks of visiting this vibrant area. These four suggestions will introduce you to a one-of-a-kind museum, a natural wonder of the world, history, art, and, of course, bookstores!
Why Start a Day-trip from Lynchburg?
There are several good reasons to plan your day-trips from Lynchburg, Virginia.
One, Lynchburg is a fairly central location in Virginia. It has easy access to many other major areas. For instance, Lynchburg is 3 to 3.5 hours to the Northern Virginia/Washington D.C. area (depending entirely on traffic). If you head east from Lynchburg for about the same amount of time, 3 to 3.5 hours, you will come to historic Williamsburg and Jamestown. Heading west will get you to the fantastic Virginia Creeper trail near the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Only 1.5 hours gets you to the North Carolina state border.
Two, Lynchburg is large enough to accommodate visitors and guests comfortably and with a range of options for sleeping and eating. This is good news if you are traveling with a family, but definitely applies for other travel group dynamics as well. Wards Road is a centralized spot with several hotel, shopping, and restaurant options.
Three, the city is not so big that you’ll find sky-high prices and an hour of traffic jams (hello DC!). It’s not so small though that you’ll be constantly driving twenty minutes away to find food or accommodations. In other words, a perfect launch pad for further exploration of this state.
There is plenty to do and see in the immediate vicinity of Lynchburg, but for this post’s exploration I’m going to stick to day-trips.
I’m defining a day-trip as a location not farther than a 2-hour drive from Lynchburg. These are far enough to be well out of the city environs, but close enough that you can easily drive there and back in one day.
Here’s the overall list of day-trips from Lynchburg that you’ll find below.
AAF Tank Museum (Danville, VA)
Natural Bridge (Natural Bridge, VA)
Let’s get started!
1 of 4 Day-trips from Lynchburg:
AAF TANK MUSEUM
To get to the AAF Tank Museum, head toward Danville, Virginia on Route 29 South. As you approach the area you will see signs for the AAF Tank Museum. Follow those signs to your exit and to the museum.
The AAF Tank Museum is a massive collection of tanks and military history. Over one hundred tanks and artillery are spread throughout the 330,000 square-foot complex. As you walk through the large displays you get a sense of size, capacity, evolution of design, and history in one packed visit.
And that’s not all – for a full listing of their exhibits, click here. If this is an area of particular interest to you, then you could spend an hour alone in their collection of military headdresses and uniforms. Go ahead if you want to.
Even if military history is not something you are usually drawn to (*waving my hand*), seeing these exhibits gives impressive perspective to events of the past.
How the Tank Museum is Like an Art Museum
For me, one of the strongest arguments for visiting museums is to appreciate the scale of the pieces on exhibit. This is true of art museums and tank museums.
Seeing a tank in a school photograph is not even close to the same thing as standing below the tank gun of an actual tank. The size of one tank I stood next to inspired me to consider the courage of the lone man in Tiananmen Square in 1989 during what has since become known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
Others may consider the bravery of soldiers fighting in these large, armored vehicles. It may cause reflection on what it’s like to see one entering a country or region. Those who are mechanically minded might be curious to see how tanks are designed and maintained.
In yet another unlikely comparison to an art museum, a visit to this museum brings up a wide range of emotions and responses. It does this in a way that a textbook has yet to achieve.
What to Know Before You Go
Be aware that this facility is not temperature controlled, though it is covered. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Dress appropriately.
Parking is free.
Their hours are seasonal so check their website before you go!
If you’re interested in riding in a tank or scheduling time to sit inside one of the tanks, they sometimes offer those opportunities for an additional fee. Click here to get the contact information.
2 of 4 Day-trips from Lynchburg: CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA
Now let’s head in the other direction on Route 29 towards Charlottesville.
Starting in Lynchburg, take Route 29 North and stay on it for the whole trip. It takes about an hour.
The exit that you take next will be determined by the destination you are visiting. I’ve linked each site to the directions given from each place.
There are three main stopping options in Charlottesville:
The University of Virginia
Let’s take them in order.
University of Virginia
Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819. Wandering around this campus and the surrounding shops and food stops is a wonderful way to spend a day.
While you meander and take in the sites, here are two places not to miss.
1 – The University of Virginia has invested time and money into reckoning with the relationship of the university with slave labor in its early days. One reflection of that work is a stunning Memorial to Enslaved Laborers.
The memorial is striking. Its rounded shape invites visitors into the space, but it represents broken shackles and also a traditional dance of enslaved African Americans. On one wall are names that have been found in records and memory marks for unnamed enslaved laborers. A timeline of honest and raw dates of significance is also included. It is eye-opening and impactful.
2 – Edgar Allan Poe was a student at UVA for a brief time. Nevertheless, he made his mark. His room is preserved to look a bit as it might have when he was there. If you’re a Poe fan, check out this post about where to find him in Boston. A quick google search will bring up several other articles about places to visit that have a Poe connection.
Directions and Parking
If you’re unfamiliar with the area or the campus, look at the map that UVA makes available online. Most of your interesting spots, including the two listed here, can be found in the patch with the Rotunda and the Lawn.
If you park at the suggested location from these directions, then you’ll start your visit closer to the West Range and Edgar Allan Poe’s room. It’ll give you a good excuse to walk across and appreciate The Lawn, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the heart of the sprawling campus.
Head in the direction of University Avenue. As you’re crossing The Lawn and East Range you will see The Memorial. After considering the history and ongoing impact of history, cross University Avenue to a group of shops and small food spots to a location known as “the corner.” Grab a souvenir and a bagel from Bodo’s Bagels.
Before or after you wander the campus of UVA, drive to nearby Monticello to see the home of Thomas Jefferson. (Side note: his summer home, Poplar Forest, is located 15 minutes from Lynchburg.) Jefferson was involved in so many key events and issues of his time that there is a wealth of information about him.
Jefferson’s home is a reflection of his wide range of interests. Cartography, botany, art, politics, philosophy, history, linguistics, and many other academic pursuits can be seen in the artifacts and novelties that decorate his home. Tickets are required, but the tour is self-guided. Their website mentions a scavenger hunt which looks like fun, but I’ve not visited since they added that.
While the inside of Monticello is a good peek at Thomas Jefferson’s daily life and personal interests, the outside of Monticello provides a grander perspective. Flower gardens and wandering trails provide a sense of tranquility and beauty. Seeing the quarters for the enslaved people at Monticello acknowledges an unlovely history and a sharp contrast.
Plan to spend at least half a day at Monticello. The vivid context that it provides for Jefferson’s life and period of history are worth exploring.
What to Know Before You Go
Purchasing tickets in advance is recommended so check availability for the day you want to go. The inside of the home is beautiful and reflects the life and times of Thomas Jefferson, but my favorite part is the outside. Check the weather for the day that you intend to go so you have a chance to appreciate the outdoor offerings.
Be aware of the Do’s and Don’ts they have listed. Of particular note is that you must have a clear bag if you are bringing one. All bags will be checked. Plan accordingly.
The Downtown Mall in Charlottesville is a beautiful brick walkway that connects two rows of shops, eateries, and galleries. A movie theater and kids museum are also in this stretch of Charlottesville. This is a great way to spend a relaxing afternoon. You can walk in and out of shops, or watch people wander, or grab a small snack with coffee or wine.
My two favorite bookstores in Charlottesville are in the Downtown Mall. They have such different styles and selections that I’d put both on a must-see list for literary travelers. If you only have time (or budget!) for one, then pick the one that matches your interests and go there first.
Daedalus Bookshop is located on a side street (123 Heather Heyer Way). If you’re not paying attention you could walk right past the entrance so keep your eye out for it.
Inside is a book-lovers paradise! Used books are crammed, stuffed, and stacked into every available space. Rooms, stairs, hallways, and windows are shelves. Getting happily lost in here is a very likely reality. I’ve found a stack of wonderful books both times that I’ve had the chance to stop in.
The other bookshop, New Dominion Bookshop, has a sleek and modern vibe. Not surprisingly, this shop caters to new releases and current trends. It’s a beautiful space and has a good selection. Its entrance is right on the Downtown Mall so keep an eye out for it!
What to Know Before You Go
While the shops are indoor spaces, the walkway itself is outside. Check the local weather forecast and plan accordingly.
At the bottom of this page is a map for finding two nearby parking garages. They also mention the option of a few surface lots nearby. I used a surface lot and didn’t have any problems – but I also didn’t try to park during peak hours, so be prepared to go with either option.
Next are a couple day-trips from Lynchburg that take you in another direction.
These last two day-trip recommendations could be done together. Roanoke and Natural Bridge are about a half hour apart. It depends on how much of each destination might interest you and your travel companions.
3 of 4 Daytrips from Lynchburg:
NATURAL BRIDGE, VIRGINIA
Natural Bridge is…well, just what it sounds like. Natural Bridge is formed out of limestone. It is 215 feet high (55 feet higher than Niagara Falls), 40 feet thick, 100 feet wide and 90 feet between the huge walls.
We visited Natural Bridge on a cold and rainy day. Fortunately, my mother-in-law had the foresight to call ahead and check if those conditions would cause any problems seeing the bridge. As it turned out, we were not able to walk underneath the bridge because icicles were dangling from the top (yikes!). Since we could only walk a short distance, they discounted our ticket admission price. Very nice!
In any case, we started at the Visitor Center – free parking! (Sidenote: There’s quite a large gift shop located in the Visitor Center as well…if you’re into that sort of thing.) We used the bathrooms, paid for our tickets, walked down some wide stairs, and out the bottom door smack onto the start of the trail.
Cedar Creek Trail is the name of the trail that we were on. We weren’t able to do the whole trail so we did not get to see the Monacan Village or the Lace Falls. The entire trail is almost a mile.
Nevertheless, even without the full hike and the opportunity to walk underneath Natural Bridge, it was amazing! We walked down steep, but well-maintained, stairs next to a steady waterfall stream, turned a corner of the trail, and THERE IT WAS! It is huge and incredible and truly awe-inspiring for all ages. Highly recommend.
I imagine that walking the complete trail and standing underneath the bridge is breath-taking. Plus, if you go underneath you can try to find the initials G.W. carved into the side of the left wall of the bridge. G.W. for George Washington, of course. Or so the legend goes.
What To Know Before You Go
You can also visit the Caverns at Natural Bridge while you’re in this area if going underground sounds interesting. We did not visit these Caverns, but we have gone as a family to other caverns and it is an extraordinary experience. You will be under the earth so it will be chilly. Dress accordingly.
Similarly, if you’re a hiker, there are multiple trails in this area. Grab a map, and plan for a day of exploring.
4 of 4 day-trips from Lynchburg:
The final day-trip from Lynchburg is to the City of Roanoke, Virginia. Here you can find a stunning art museum, a couple great bookstores, a small zoo, and the Roanoke Star.
To get to Roanoke, follow 460 West. Pick a destination from the list below in order to get specific directions within the city. Mill Mountain Zoo and Mill Mountain Star share parking lots so you can easily experience both.
Downtown Roanoke has a bustling vibe about it during the day, and it’s not an overwhelmingly large city. Find parking along the street or in a nearby parking garage – pay attention to meters and such. I’ll recommend two points of interest, but definitely walk around. It’s a fun downtown area, plenty of restaurants, and walkable spaces.
Book No Further is a bookstore with new and used books. It has a good selection of books by local authors, new releases, and an eclectic section of used books at the top of the stairs. The owners were friendly and made several suggestions for us. Great ambiance, good selection, and I left with a good stack of books!
Taubman Museum of Art
The other must-see spot is the Taubman Museum of Art. This stunning museum hosts eleven galleries in an open and airy space. When we visited there was an eclectic mix of exhibits with unique styles and subjects. The museum is spacious and brings in lots of natural light. The space is beautiful and the art is well-curated. It is a relaxing and inspiring place to visit and reflect.
Parking and directions can be found here.
Like I said, there are many other places to visit in the downtown Roanoke area. These are my two favorites, but it’s possible you may find a different one while you wander. Either way, strolling downtown Roanoke is a leisurely way to spend a morning or afternoon.
But if leisurely downtown strolling and museums are not your idea of a good time, Roanoke has some other offerings that might be more intriguing.
Mill Mountain Park
*For GPS directions, search for Mill Mountain Park and do NOT use the address.*
Located just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mill Mountain Park is a large area with a variety of activities. The Mill Mountain Zoo and the Roanoke Star are two of its main attractions. Conveniently, you can park in one lot and easily access both these options (Parking is free, but it is on a first-come, first-served basis). On the map that they provide, the lot that I’m referring to is at the center near the bathroom and picnic table symbols.
Park in the provided lot and head to your right to get on the trail. Or, if you’d like to stop by the Zoo first, walk to the left. The walk to the zoo from the parking lot will take about seven minutes. It’s a short hike to the star’s location.
The Roanoke Star
The Roanoke Star was first used as a Christmas decoration for the city in 1949. The plan was to dismantle it after the holiday season. Instead, it has been in operation ever since and become an iconic symbol of the city. The multi-ton star has 2,000 feet of neon tubes that light up in white. On some patriotic holidays the star will be lit up in red, white, and blue. Great spot for a selfie!
Mill Mountain Zoo
Mill Mountain Zoo is one of the most family-friendly and child-engaging zoo’s that I’ve visited. It is nestled at the mountain top so it is not overwhelming in size. The zoo has a unique assortment of animals and kid-friendly displays. Fun animals, walkable paths, and a small playground for kids makes this medium-sized zoo an ideal addition to any itinerary.
The red panda and porcupines were our favorite animals to see from our last visit.
Check their event calendar for different program options. At one time they had a chance for visitors to come in the evening and catch a glimpse and hear the noises of their nocturnal animals. That sounds fun!
If you want some more outdoor time, try one of the other trails meandering through the Mill Mountain Park and enjoy some beautiful views. There’s something for everyone.
What To Know Before You Go
The star is always open for visitors, but check the Zoo’s website for hours and program times.
Consider your dress. You are at the top of a mountain, and it is a bit cooler. Depending on what season you visit in, you may want to think about layers.
You can bring outside food and beverages, but NO STRAWS.
A final reminder: Do NOT use their mailing address in your GPS. Search for Mill Mountain Park.
This is only the tip of the iceberg for what the state of Virginia offers for visitors to see and do. But, it’s a good start.
Visiting all that Lynchburg has to offer as well as taking a few day-trips from Lynchburg will easily fill a week. Or stop by for a long weekend and pick one intriguing day-trip excursion to experience.
Please check local information for COVID-19 instructions and changes to operating schedules. Pack a mask, be informed, and have a good time!