5 Perfect Charlottesville Outings for the Holidays

Holiday discovery and cabanas at night at Ix Park

Here are 5 great Charlottesville outings highly recommended by Charlottesville Guide, Rick Mangione, that will encourage you to resist the numerous forces that compel repose over the holiday. Take his advice to go forth and discover! Safely surging into Charlottesville’s landscape with a sense of curiosity and adventure can reward you with joy and gratitude. These sensibilities are encouraged during the holiday season. .


No. 1 IX Art Park in Downtown Charlottesville

One of Charlottesville’s great discoveries, whether you live here or are visiting for the first time, is the Ix Art Park. Named for the family who once owned a textile mill on the site, the area has in recent years become a special project for local developer and arts provocateur Ludwig Kuttner and his partners. And their magnanimity glows for all to enjoy. 

The Art Park makes art a daily reality by offering opportunities for cultural exposure and education as an experience, through a continuously evolving outdoor patio space and extensive Art Yard. Free to all, the space guides you into play areas, an al fresco reading room, arresting sculptures, and the “Before I Die Wall,” among others. Make sure to check out the Farmers Market on Saturdays. Nearby, and indoors, The Looking Glass is a unique and immersive indoor art experience that invites you to explore an interactive “enchanted forest” of sound, light, and color. Buy tickets here or if you’re in town on a Thursday, make sure to stop by for free on one of the Art Park’s Community Days.

Recently installed outdoor “Cabanas” alongside the Art Park invite you to make another discovery, the North American Sake Brewery. The only sake brewery in Virginia, and recently visited by the Japanese Ambassador himself, N.A.Sake is an exceptional visit with fantastic food and award-winning brews.   

No. 2 Pantops Mountain

Another highly recommended Art Excursion can be found on the eastern edge of town at the Kluge-Ruhe Museum. Stemming from the passion for Aboriginal Art of Kansas academic Edward Ruhe  and Charlottesville billionaire John Kluge, this museum, based within a preserved Virginia manor home on Pantops Mountain, hosts the largest collection of Aboriginal  Art in the world.  In addition to rotating exhibits indoors, a marvelous self-guided tour awaits outside to beckon the free spirit in us all. Go to the top of Pantops. You may never return!

No. 3 UVA Grounds & The Corner

Take a walk along the University of Virginia Lawn and observe the recently replaced capitols on the Rotunda columns.  Continue to Pavilion VIII and examine the original capitols ordered by Thomas Jefferson from Carrara, Italy, 200 years ago. UVA alumni led a team asked to restore them to pristine glory, which included creating and then building a custom-fitting steam chamber to remove decades of old paint.  That fascinating and meticulous process is described here . If you walk east towards the Corner, you will pass by the award-winning Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, near the Rotunda. It’s a profound and moving landscape art project which opened this spring. 

A little further on, the UVA Hospital has recently been ranked number 1 in Virginia for the fifth consecutive year. Here, the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library created an exhibit that traces the history of the first century of the Hospital in words and images. This set of panels hangs in a busy hospital corridor near the main entrance, but, due to the pandemic, is currently only accessible online: 100 Years of Care.  You can also see how the Medical Center continues to find and recognize “Hidden Nurses,” the uncredentialed black nurses and nursing students who nonetheless were central figures in establishing the American healthcare infrastructure prior to the Civil Rights movement in the ‘60s.

UVA’s Grounds are near The Corner, where you’ll find numerous diners and eateries, uncommonly quiet now while students are away. We recommend ducking in Charlottesville’s oldest restaurant, The Virginian, a staple on The Corner since 1923.

Interested in learning more about The Corner food scene? Take a Charlottesville Guide food tour! Learn more and register here.


No. 4 Charlottesville Countryside

Located nearby in Afton, the Blue Ridge Tunnel was constructed between 1850 and 1858 beneath Rockfish Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains of central Virginia. A crew of mostly Irish immigrants and enslaved workers, hired out for cash, were pitting their strength and their lives against the unyielding mountain.  Entering the tunnel, you’ll focus on one small point of light ahead, a beacon from a mile away, and wonder how Claudius Crozet was able to engineer a tunnel 4,273 feet from the eastern and western sides to meet within a few inches of each other while 700 feet below the surface.  This is an outing that will appeal to all adventurers willing to stretch their legs and experience a hike unlike any other.

No. 5 Jefferson’s Monticello & Monroe’s Highland

Thomas Jefferson, one of our Founding Fathers and former President, resided at Monticello. His beautiful stately mansion was also a tobacco plantation.  From exhibits, trails and scavenger hunts to seasonal events, you will relish the experiences when you visit Monticello, and perhaps appreciate the complexities of the times.  Private evening tours are available during the upcoming weeks in December.  

And while in the neighborhood, we recommend a swing over to James Monroe’s Highland where evening tours hosted by Beau Robbins, the world’s leading James Monroe re-enactor, are available by reservation. 

For our complete Guide to Charlottesville Experiences, click HERE. 

Editor’s Note: Rick Mangione loves Charlottesville! He arrived her when he was six years old and went on to graduate from UVA in the time of Ralph Sampson. He has enthusiastically lived and worked here ever since. He shares his passion for the town through his popular weekly email for family and friends, “What Would Rick Do!,”in which he lists his recommendations and insights for local outings.