University of Virginia Grounds, Charlottesville, Virginia

Top 13 Charlottesville Museums & Attractions

words by CharlottesvilleFamily Editors
The Best Family-Friendly Museums and Attractions in Charlottesville

Are you planning a visit to Charlottesville? Or, would you like a quick and easy daytrip to a Charlottesville museum or attraction? Are you a newcomer to town? Visiting local museums is one of the best ways to learn about a new place, and a great way to spend meaningful time with family and friends. In Charlottesville, our museums and attractions offer a wide range of experiences, from great art to local history, providing inspiration, reflection, and community involvement. Many Charlottesville museums are free to visit, with suggested donations to support their mission. If you’re looking for fun things to do in Charlottesville, VA, visiting one of these local favorite museums or attractions is a fantastic way to spend the day. From a playful hands-on children’s museum to world class art and wineries to UNESCO World Heritage sites, Charlottesville has a museum for everyone. Read on to discover 13 of our favorite Charlottesville museums and attractions with parent-tested tips for families visiting with kids.

Child in Art Museum
monarch butterfly at botanical garden charlottesville

1. Botanical Garden of the Piedmont

The vibrancy of this modern-day botanical garden in the making will encourage creative discovery and natural wonder. More than a dozen distinct places for intuitive and experiential learning and play are being created within Charlottesville’s Botanical Garden of the Piedmont. From Contemplation Gardens and an Aquatics Garden to a tree top walk with bird blind and an interpretive center to welcome visitors there is much to anticipate in this urban oasis. While all these plans for the future are exciting, what is most thrilling is what is taking place in the garden every day right now. Regular walkers and bird watchers are exploring the myriad of trails through wildflower meadows and woods (bring your trail stroller) and there are also guided hikes, children’s nature programs, yoga classes, musical performances and so much more. The Botanical Garden of the PIedmont is the perfect space for kids to get outdoors and run, play and discover!

2. Charlottesville’s Historic Downtown Mall

Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall is a must-visit for dining, entertainment, and shopping. The pedestrian area features a mix of restored and rebuilt buildings, housing over 120 businesses and 30 restaurants. The vibrant music scene includes the open-air Ting Pavilion, the historic Paramount Theater, and the Jefferson Theater. The Mall attracts buskers, creating a lively atmosphere and a perfect pause for kids to dance out their wiggles. You can enjoy al fresco dining at various restaurants or explore unique locally-owned boutiques. Parking is convenient, with neighboring garages and parking lots, and there’s a free trolley service connecting the Charlottesville Historic Downtown Mall to the University of Virginia. Families and visitors of all ages can enjoy treats at the local ice cream shops.

3. Ix Art Park & The Looking Glass Immersive Art Experience

Don’t forget to check out Ix Art Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, where you can experience “The Looking Glass,” a super cool immersive art setup. This creative space is perfect for families, with a magical cave and enchanting woodland to explore. There are also colorful murals and sculptures outside, which are great for kids to play around. The Ix Art Park often has farmers markets and other fun events too making it a favorite attraction. Plus, the Ix Park is close to a popular local brewery and Brazos Tacos, a family favorite eatery.

4. Jefferson School African American Heritage Center

Situated in a historic building that originally served as Charlottesville’s first segregated high school, the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center stands as a testament to the area’s rich cultural and historical significance. The Center boasts a captivating permanent historical display, regularly changing art exhibits, and a diverse range of events that celebrate and explore Charlottesville’s African American heritage and culture.

 

5. Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Museum

The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Museum of UVA in Charlottesville is the only museum outside of Australia that exhibits and studies Indigenous Australian art. This art museum houses the largest collection of Aboriginal art in the United States. In addition to the artwork, the museum offers opportunities to learn about the history and diversity of Indigenous Australians. There is also a participatory art-making space, a touch wall, and an introduction to the concept of Dreaming, central to some Indigenous Australian art. The Kluge-Ruhe Museum hosts hands-on printmaking workshops, music activities, and storytimes, making it a popular destination for kids.

Prepare for a once-in-a-lifetime experience to marvel at the beauty of the night sky.

6. McCormick Observatory

Prepare for a once-in-a-lifetime experience to marvel at the beauty of the night sky. Join the UVA Leander McCormick Observatory during their twice-monthly public nights to witness the stars through their impressive telescopes, explore the intricate details of the petite Observatory, participate in engaging talks, and immerse yourself in museum exhibits. While admission is free, make sure to secure your spot at the McCormick Observatory by registering in advance for this family-friendly celestial adventure.

7. McGuffey Art Center

The McGuffey Art Center is situated in a charming restored elementary school building. The classrooms have been transformed into forty art studios, three galleries, and a gift shop where the artists’ work is sold. Many of the creative studios are open to the public to view works in progress. Additionally, there are hands-on workshops available for activities like jewelry making and torch-firing enamels. On the first Friday of each month, art galleries in Charlottesville present their new exhibits in a walking tour, and the McGuffey Art Center is a must-see attraction on Charlottesville’s First Friday Art Walk. Adjacent to the center, there’s a lovely playground for relaxation, and the location is just a block away from the Downtown Mall.

8. Monroe’s Highland

Highland is a historic estate in Charlottesville, Virginia and a local favorite with families. It was once home to James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States. The estate is next to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, making it a convenient dual-visit for history enthusiasts. Today, Highland is a 535-acre working farm, museum, and a venue for cultural performances. Visitors to teh attraction can tour historical buildings like an 1818 guest house, an 1850s expansion, and a Victorian-style farmhouse from the 1870s. Additionally, there’s a reconstructed three-bay slave quarter, an ice house, an overseer’s cabin, and a smokehouse to explore. If you’re visiting with kids, they’ll enjoy the farm area with its heritage breed livestock and interactive demonstrations by costumed interpreters. For some family fun, you can also check out the nearby Michie Tavern for a colonial-style buffet served by staff in period costumes.

two girls in garden at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, Virginia

9. Monticello

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello stands as a remarkable reflection of its owner’s talents and passions, making it a world-class historic attraction. Monticello is also the only home in America designated as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. Visitors have the opportunity to take guided tours of the house daily. Every visitor to Charlottesville should try to come see this amazing historic attraction.  The David M. Rubenstein Visitor Center and Smith Education Center serves as a contemporary gateway to Jefferson’s timeless Monticello, providing visitors to the attraction with fresh perspectives on Monticello and the immense significance of Thomas Jefferson’s life and ideas. Within its grounds, the Children’s Discovery Center invites families to explore before embarking on the house tour, while avid garden enthusiasts can meander through the formal beds, vegetable garden, and orchards. Additionally, specially scheduled family tours, led by knowledgeable docents, cater to the interests of younger visitors, ensuring an engaging and enriching experience for all.

10. The Monticello Wine Trail

Charlottesville area wineries have gained national recognition in recent years both for the quality of their wines and for the high level of hospitality they offer. Tourists and locals alike enjoy the local wines while luxuriating in stunning Blue Ridge Mountain views. Several popular Charlottesville wineries are especially welcoming to families with children and create special events and offerings. King Family Vineyards hosts a popular Sunday polo match during the warm months. Prince Michel Winery, north of Charlottesville, has an array of food offerings and easy spaces to watch the kiddos play while you enjoy a glass of wine. Other family-friendly wineries include Blenheim Vineyards, Eastwood Farm & Winery, Mount Ida and Chisholm Vineyards.

uva fralin art museum

11. Fralin Museum of Art

Did you know that the UVA Fralin Museum of Art houses an incredible collection of nearly 14,000 artworks? The collection includes pieces from ancient times to the present day, featuring a wide variety of art, including African art, American Indian art, European and American paintings, photography, and more. Currently, the museum is hosting nine different exhibitions, covering everything from futuristic video art to early 20th-century photography and ancient sculptures from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The best part? Admission to the Fralin Museum of Art is free for all visitors, so everyone can enjoy and explore the diverse art on display. If you’re interested in learning more about the exhibitions, you can join a guided tour or discussion to enhance your art museum experience. Regular art storytimes and family studio days make this intimate museum a local treasure for families!

12. Virginia Discovery Museum

The Virginia Discovery Museum is a place for both kids and adults to have fun and learn. At this popular children’s museum you can check out a classic Carousel with beautifully restored painted aluminum horses and explore interactive displays about science, history, and the arts. Since 1981, the museum has been bringing families together to play and learn. You can experience life in the 18th century at the Showalter Cabin, find a new favorite book at the Literacy Lounge, or pretend to work at places like the Citizen Cafe, UVA Children’s Hospital, and the Ranger Station. The Virginia Discovery Museum is a special place for kids ages 0 to 8 to play and learn, with lots of fun programs and events that spark curiosity.

13. University of Virginia

The University of Virginia (UVA) is known as one of the most beautiful and prestigious universities globally. In 1987, UNESCO recognized UVA and Monticello as a World Heritage Site. Take a leisurely walk around the UVA campus to see beautiful attractions that include the historic Rotunda, charming gardens, and the Edgar Allen Poe room. You can join a guided tour (except on game days). The UVA historical tour lasts about an hour, taking visitors through the university’s Academical Village and beautiful gardens, covering the university’s history from its beginning up to the present day. For families visiting with kids, you can enjoy some Pokemon Go while walking around grounds then eat at one of the quick bite restaurants on the popular Corner.

Enjoy lots more family fun in the Charlottesville area – Zoos & Aquariums, Historic Attractions, Interactive Kids Museums, Swimming Pool Guide, Kid-Friendly Hikes Near Charlottesville, Artsy Daytrips In and Around Charlottesville and more!

 

CharlottesvilleFamily.com, a collection of local resources including a popular calendar of events, family services guides and features on education, health and family day trips for parents and teachers in Charlottesville, as well as Virginia Wine & Country Life, a semi-annual life & style magazine, and Wine & Country Weddings, an annual art book celebrating elegant Virginia weddings.