American flags in front of Mount Vernon

Family-Friendly Historical Attractions

9 Fun Historical Sites & Museums for Kids

It’s no secret Virginia is a top destination for families to visit historical attractions. This summer, consider taking the family on a daytrip (or several) to celebrate America. These kid-friendly attractions offer various tours, hands-on activities and special events. Many of these historic homes and museums even offer specific Independence Day events and exhibits, so be sure to plan your daytrip accordingly to make the most of your patriotic outing. This CharlottesvilleFamily Guide to Family-Friendly Historical Attractions is a great way to help your kids better understand the past with fun hands-on history activities.

Historical Attractions Kids Love to Visit

Bill Barker as Thomas Jefferson at Monticello

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (Charlottesville)


0–1 hour drive
Get to know Thomas Jefferson—author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, third president of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia at his home in Charlottesville. Guests at this family-friendly historical attractions can learn extensively about the history of slavery at Monticello, explore the exceptional gardens, participate in special events and more. Be sure to sign up for the family tour and marvel at the many wonders in the great hall with you go on your history daytrip to Monticello. There is even a kids’ interactive museum at the welcome center where you can easily occupy the kids for an hour or more and lunch at Michie Tavern is a colonial-era original complete with fried chicken, cornbread and drinks served in pewter mugs by costumed staff. Every July 4th, Monticello holds the annual Independence Day & Naturalization Ceremony at which more than 50 people are deemed new American citizens. The event features special speaker and it open to the public–registration is required.
monticello.org • (434) 984-9800

James Monroe’s Highland (Charlottesville)


0–1 hour drive
Also located in Charlottesville is Highland, the home of the fifth president of the United States, James Monroe. Highland is a great history daytrip for kids and offers a variety of engaging group programs–including Slavery at Highland, Founding Friendships, Rediscovering Highland, and more–for adults and students. A special favorite of chiuldren is the farm area where typical farm animals of the period are housed and they can see sheep, peacocks and more. The row of crafts studios is also intriguing and you can often find a historical interpreter sharing about their trade – from woodworking to candle making. The annual Independence Day Concert & Celebration features the Heifetz International Music Institute and their classically-inspired ensemble. Guests are encouraged to pack a picnic and make a day of it!
highland.org • (434) 293-8000

James Madison’s Montpelier (Orange)


0–1 hour drive
Presidential home, memorial to the Enslaved Community, and museum of American history–Montpelier engages visitors to also enjoy its grounds, gardens and trails. Many special events are offered each year, including the popular Constitution Day Celebration. This family-friendly historical attraction is a great experience for history lovers who want to avoid a crowd. montpelier.org • (540) 672-2728

American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (Yorktown)


1–2 hour drive
This Virginia museum does an excellent job of telling the story of the nation’s founding, from the twilight of the colonial period to the dawn of the Constitution and beyond. Indoor galleries feature period artifacts, immersive environments and educational films. In the outdoor areas, visit a re-created Continental Army encampment to learn about the life of a soldier and take in daily demonstrations on medical treatment, camp life and cooking, and see firings of a flintlock musket. Explore a Revolution-era farm, based on a real-life 18th-century family, to help with chores in the house, kitchen, tobacco barn, gardens and crops. At the annual Liberty Celebration, visitors can enjoy interpretive programs, artillery demonstrations and learn about the challenges that faced our nation’s founders, including those who signed the Declaration of Independence, as well as those for whom the new nation’s rights of freedom and liberty did not yet apply.
jyfmuseums.org • (757) 253-4838

Colonial Williamsburg (Williamsburg)


1–2 hour drive
A must-visit destination for all families, Colonial Williamsburg is the definition of a living history museum and perfect for kids. The tour options and experiences are far too many to name, and rest assured there is something that will interest everyone in your group. There is no better place to celebrate patriotism than on historic Duke of Gloucester Street. This portion of the park is super family-friendly and includes food, hands-on history crafts, costumed interpreters, music and a regular parade. The annual July 4th Celebration is a full weekend of patriotic festivities, including public readings of the Declaration of Independence, musical performances, and a dazzling fireworks display to cap off the special evening.
colonialwilliamsburg.org • (888) 965-7254

July 4th salute in Colonial Williamsburg
(July 4th salute in Colonial Williamsburg)

Patrick Henry’s Red Hill (Brookneal)


1–2 hour drive
Since 1944, Patrick Henry’s last home and burial site, called Red Hill, has been lovingly restored, maintained, and shared with the public. Red Hill, a great daytrip to learn more history, keeps the spirit of the Voice of the American Revolution alive by inspiring a better understanding of Colonial history. America’s first patriot’s home is the perfect kid-friendly place to celebrate being an American. The Independence Day Celebration features a day of fun for kids, speeches, music and of course a nightcap of festive fireworks.
redhill.org • (434) 376-2044

George Washington’s Mount Vernon (Mount Vernon)


2–3 hour drive
A tour of the first president’s home should be a bucket list item for all American families. Mount Vernon sits perfectly upon the Potomac River, and the estate features a variety of tours and experiences perfect for families with kids. Learn about life in the 18th century on this historical daytrip, delve into the start of American independence, and explore Washington’s farm, including a replica slave cabin and Washington’s 16-sided treading barn. On Independence Day, enjoy an evening of family fun and fireworks to celebrate our nation’s founding. They even light up the mansion in red, white and blue during the event! Kids will love visiting the historical attractions at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
mountvernon.org • (703) 780-2000
American flags in front of Mount Vernon
(July 4th at Mount Vernon)

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (Washington, D.C.)


2–3 hour drive
Learn about the history of how America was created in the context of slavery and freedom, and how with the century-long struggle for civil rights, African Americans challenged the country to live up to its ideals of freedom and equality. The museum’s Make Good The Promises exhibit does just that by focusing on the story of Reconstruction. The museum offers many  events and workshops for people of all ages throughout the year, with special educational events during the summer months.
si.edu/museums • (202) 633-1000

Smithsonian National Museum of American History (Washington, D.C.)


2–3 hour drive
The name of this popular museum says it all. Visitors to the National Museum of American History and can learn all about the founding of American, American Democracy, American Enterprise and Innovation, American presidential history and so on and so on. Plan on spending a full day (or two!) at this staple U.S. museum as there is so much to see and explore.
americanhistory.si.edu • (202) 633-1000

Enjoy your history-filled patriotic daytrip with your family! This CharlottesvilleFamily Guide to Family-Friendly Historical Attractions is a great way to help your kids better understand the past with fun hands-on history activities. For a full list of summer events in the Charlottesville area, including Independence Day celebrations, see our Events Calendar. Feeling extra festive? Try making this easy 4th of July craft or this red, white & blue recipe!

More Family-Friendly Historical Attractions

This CharlottesvilleFamily Guide to Family-Friendly Historical Attractions wouldn’t be complete without a list of some of other favorite history sites we love. These include sites of significance to Black Americans, cover the medieval period, include farm life, highlight historical gardens and homes, feature history from other countries brought to Virginia and more!

Booker T. Washington National Monument (his childhood farm)

Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum in Lynchburg (best for older kids, combines easily with a trip to Amazement Square)

Frontier Culture Museum

Historic Jamestown

Jackson Ward in Richmond

Appomattox Courthouse and National Historic Park

Agecroft Hall

Stratford Hall

Virginia Capitol Building

Maggie L. Walker Historical Site

 

 

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.

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