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We love road trips and we love history! So, a road trip to one of the most historical areas of the US was a no-brainer for us! Road trips are wonderful because of the flexibility: you can add things to do or even decide not to do something as you go. I find that there’s a real freedom on the open road and to doing things at your own pace. With that being said, we do aim high and try to accomplish and see as much as possible on any road trip. This is an itinerary of a road trip from Tennessee to Virginia. The drive is lovely and you will discover history, yummy food and lots of fun!
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 A history buff itinerary for a road trip from Tennessee to Virginia
- 1.1 Day 1: Home – Tennessee (Memphis to Nashville)
- 1.2 Day 2: Nashville, TN to Lynchburg, VA
- 1.3 Day 3: Lynchburg, VA to Woodbridge, VA
- 1.4 Day 4: Mount Vernon to Williamsburg, VA
- 1.5 Day 5: Williamsburg, VA
A history buff itinerary for a road trip from Tennessee to Virginia
Day 1: Home – Tennessee (Memphis to Nashville)
Mileage: 551 Miles or 8 Hours
Stop Offs: National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and finally at the Music City Center in Downtown Nashville, Tennessee.
National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN
The National Civil Rights Museum is amazing. The Lorraine Hotel is just as it was on the fateful day of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. We believe this museum is an important one from which all people can learn. For families with younger children, per the website, “The National Civil Rights Museum seeks to open a dialogue about the story of African Americans who experienced and resisted discrimination — a history that spans slavery through the modern Civil Rights Movement, nonviolent protests to armed self-defense. To reveal the full story, the museum contains sensitive materials that may be frightening or troubling to children and adolescents. Review our family guide for suggestions on ways to discuss sensitive topics with young visitors.” You will find this helpful family guide on the museum’s website.
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It is a museum that warrants a conversation (especially with children) and, for us, it really created a great dialog. Best convenience: There is ample parking across the street.
Afterwards, we had lunch at Central BBQ. You will notice a theme throughout a lot of our vacations – BBQ. Our oldest loves it and enjoys comparing and contrasting whenever we go somewhere new.
Lunch: Central BBQ in Memphis, TN
Central BBQ is located next door to the National Civil Rights Museum, so it was an easy choice (and, luckily, the food is delicious).
Then, back on the road towards Nashville!
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Memphis to Nashville Road Trip
Dinner: Martin’s BBQ in Nashville
Martin’s BBQ is located across the street from the Holiday Inn Express. As I said, BBQ will almost always happen on our trips. In comparison of Central BBQ and Martin’s, we preferred Martin’s.
After dinner, we had an opportunity to explore Downtown Nashville. As we arrived later than expected, parking was a little difficult, but we finally found a spot not far from the Music City Center (which is also directly across the street from Bridgestone Arena).
Bar Scene along Broadway in Nashville
As we travel with children, we obviously didn’t take the time to explore the bar scene along Broadway but our friends highly recommend the following:
- Honky Tonk Central
- Tootsie’s Orchid
- Lounge and Rippy’s Bar and Grill
Note: All of the options mentioned above just so happen to be in close proximity to one another, so don’t feel that you only have to choose one.
While there are many different areas in cities across the U.S. that feature live music, Broadway Street in downtown Nashville is the epicenter of cool. Depending upon your arrival time, there are also great museums near this area of Nashville, such as the Country Music Hall of Fame (on 5th Avenue) and the Johnny Cash Museum (on 3rd Avenue). If you have the time, definitely check them out.
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Overnight in Nashville → Holiday Inn Express
Address: 565 South Mt. Juliet Road Mt. Juliet, TN
This is a newer Holiday Inn Express. It is not far from the Exit and it is close to a lot of restaurants and shops. It is one we would definitely recommend. We are members of IHG and my hubby gets to keep his points from his business travel, so that pays off with quite a few free stays when we are on vacation. If you travel frequently, whether on business and/or as a family, becoming a member of a certain hotel brand is great. Most offer reward nights, late check out options, free stuff (like water), etc.
One of the reasons we like Holiday Inn Express is because of the free breakfast. As a family of four, that saves us a lot of money and is very convenient in the a.m. when you want to get up and go.
Day 2: Nashville, TN to Lynchburg, VA
Mileage: 475 Miles or 7.5 Hours
Stop Offs: Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in Davidson County, TN
Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in Davidson County, Tennessee
As huge history buffs, we knew we had to stop at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. Covering over 1,100 acres, the land where the Hermitage stands today once only contained a log cabin. As Jackson desired a “more refined house,” construction began on what would initially become the Hermitage in 1819.
Unfortunately, a fire in 1834 caused such extensive damage that Jackson effectively had to re-build the entire home, adding a front and rear portico. Jackson also changed the home’s structure from its original Federal Style to the Greek Revival Style (which visitors see today).
After Jackson’s Presidency, he returned to the Hermitage and remained there for the remainder of his life (until 1845). Nearly every facet of Jackson’s life revolved around his mansion at The Hermitage, so it also served as an office, gathering hall and place for entertaining, along with being his home.
The guides are dressed in period clothing (love!) and were so knowledgeable. The house is a unique step back into history. Not only because of the interior decorations, wallpaper, and carpet choices, but also the architecture of the home. Also, there are lovely walking paths and gardens to explore as well.
TIP: Opt for the audio tour and listen to it as you walk the grounds. You’ll learn a lot.
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Road trip from Tennessee to Virginia
Overnight in Lynchburg,VA: Holiday Inn Express
Address: 5600 Seminole Avenue, Lynchburg, VA
Sadly, this is not a Holiday Inn Express we would recommend. It was outdated, dark and we were just generally disappointed in the hotel as a whole.
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Day 3: Lynchburg, VA to Woodbridge, VA
Mileage: 160 Miles or 3.5 Hours
Stop Offs: Appomattox Courthouse (AM), Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, University of Virginia
Appomattox Courthouse (AM)
Everything about Appomattox Courthouse was fantastic! There is such incredible history here. The first thing we recommend is watching the short film at the visitor’s center. I know what you’re thinking, these films are boring. Generally, I would agree with you, however, this one is different. It not only gives you a sense of what happened here, it’s a nice refresher on the history of the Civil War and how it came to officially end here. You can even tour the McLean house and see where Grant and Lee met to sign the terms of surrender.
There’s also a Junior Ranger program for kids, which is always a treat. Appomattox Courthouse offers several hands-on activities for kids and the park rangers were beyond gracious in sharing their knowledge and answering questions. The area is fantastically maintained, and you get a real sense of what it felt like when Grant, Lee and all of the soldiers were here, in this very area of Virginia.
Note: As frequent travellers, our children previously obtained a National Park Passport for them to stamp wherever we go, so make sure to have them handy. Otherwise, in case you do forget (as we’ve done a time or two), most National Park visitor centers usually have scrap paper that you can stamp to later stick in your child’s passport when you get home. It’s a great keepsake for them and is hopefully instilling in them a love for traveling in general!
Arriving at Monticello
There are several Presidential homes in Virginia and Monticello was our first stop. As a family that loves history, visiting Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello was an absolute must! Although several types of tours are available, we opted for the general tour (which we loved). If traveling with younger kids, there is a family-friendly tour geared towards children ages 6-11.
When you first arrive at Monticello, you will walk up to the Visitor’s Center which contains shops, a cafe, restrooms, and the ticket office. You can also watch a 15-minute introductory film or visit the kid’s discovery room. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to plan on spending 2-3 hours at Monticello. After picking up your tickets, the staff will inform you what time to be at the bus departure point.
TIP: Buy your tickets ahead of time online. Not only will you guarantee your tour spot, but you’ll also save a few extra dollars buying them online.
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Once at Monticello, you’ll wait on the front porch until your tour time starts. Since the tour groups are on the smaller side, you really have a chance to enjoy every aspect of Jefferson’s home. Without a doubt, the tour guides were fantastic and very knowledgeable regarding Jefferson and Monticello. The interior tour lasts about 30 minutes, but doesn’t feel hurried or rushed in the slightest.
In terms of Monticello’s interior spaces, it was clear to see that Jefferson was truly a renaissance man. Whether integrating his inventions, designing rooms to be octagonal to maximize light, or incorporating alcove beds to maximize space, Jefferson’s sense of placement was evident. Within the parlor, portraits of Magellan, Columbus and Vespucci hang prominently indicating Jefferson’s respect for each. Jefferson’s love of knowledge was also on full display, and even the tour guide noted that a significant amount of books from Jefferson’s personal library became the core for the Library of Congress.
NOTE: Pictures are not allowed inside Monticello.
Through additional tours and exhibits, you can learn more about the enslaved peoples of Monticello. Monticello seems to really take an upfront and honest approach to this difficult topic. It was incredibly informative and well worth the time.
Now, on to the gardens! There is a guide that will discuss the way Jefferson designed his gardens, as well as the different plants and vegetables that Jefferson selected. One of the most interesting facts is that Lewis & Clark brought back plants from their expedition and Jefferson planted each to see how they would grow. For those interested in exploring the Botanist side of Jefferson, seedlings and seed packets from Monticello’s garden are available for purchase in the Gift Shop.
While the vegetable garden was quite large, and there were a ton of vegetables to see, along with a beautiful garden pavilion, the sweeping views of the surrounding countryside is just as amazing.
Visiting the Monticello Cemetery
The burial plots are surrounded by a large, ornate gate and Jefferson’s obelisk headstone is tall and prominent (although, not the original). While there are many honors that could’ve been placed onto the obelisk, Jefferson only chose three honors (and ironically left off such items as President of the United States, Secretary of State and Governor of Virginia, as examples). Burials within the cemetery still occur today for direct lineal descendants of Jefferson. After visiting the cemetery, we took a relaxing and beautiful walk back to Monticello’s main grounds. What a day!
Dinner: The Virginian
Address: 1521 University Avenue Charlottesville, VA
Opened in 1923, the Virginian is Charlottesville’s oldest restaurant. While a little on the small side, the feeling of nostalgia abounds within the space. Depending upon the time of day, the Virginian could be bustling with business people having lunch, or full of college students, as one of the area’s most popular evening destinations after 10 pm. We found that the menu was a nod to American favorites and especially enjoyed the Virginian’s take on mac and cheese. Given its location on the edge of campus, you’ll find quite a few shops that cater to students and visitors within easy walking distance from the Virginian as well. Be aware that parking near the Virginian can be at a premium on most days, thus a little challenging.
Overnight→ Holiday Inn Express
Address: 14030 Telegraph Road Woodbridge, VA
If you’re looking for close proximity to many different areas, this Holiday Inn Express fits the bill as it’s within easy driving distance to Washington, D.C., the Maryland state line and Mount Vernon. For those familiar with Chuy’s Mexican restaurant founded in Austin, there’s a location right next door to this hotel.
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Day 4: Mount Vernon to Williamsburg, VA
Mileage: 145 Miles or 3 Hours
Stop Offs: George Washington’s Mount Vernon (AM)
We bought general admission tickets to tour Mount Vernon, but there are several “add-ons” available when you purchase tickets. One of the most popular is the “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” guided tour. We opted not to do this, but we’ve heard really good things about this particular tour. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what this tour will cover.
It was about a 25-minute drive to Mount Vernon from our hotel and we were blessed with an absolutely beautiful, sunny day.
When you think about Mount Vernon as one of the most visited homes in America, it’s hard to believe it was almost in ruins when the Mount Vernon Ladies Association was formed to buy and preserve it. Remarkably, Mount Vernon was almost lost to history.
TIP: Buy your tickets for Mount Vernon online before you leave. It will save you a little bit of money and you won’t have to stand in line for tickets. We went right to the will call booth and began our day.
The Gardens and Home Tour
Once you’re through the welcome area, you are on the property of George Washington (how cool is that?!). We were surprised by how much land there was and, arriving prior to our tour time, we took the opportunity to walk around a bit.
I think one of the underrated aspects of Mount Vernon are the upper and lower gardens. One garden is more formal and the other was made to be more like an English garden. We were so impressed by its beauty and the large greenhouse. Washington’s greenhouse is the second largest building on the property and was quite advanced for its time. Like Jefferson, Washington was very involved in gardening and landscape design.
The home tour at Mount Vernon is very different from Monticello. At Mount Vernon, you are taken in a large group basically single file and you rather quickly walk through the house. On a positive side, you are allowed to take pictures inside Mount Vernon. But there are so many amazing artifacts in there that we would’ve preferred to have gone at a bit of a slower pace. However, just being able to tour Mount Vernon is special. The interior furnishings are either original or replicated to look authentic to the period.
One of our favorite items in the house was an ACTUAL key to the Bastille! This particular key was presented to George Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette. Washington thought so highly of the gift that he placed it in a case for display at Mount Vernon.
TIP: After the home tour, go to the back of the home and enjoy the amazing view of the Potomac. It’s easy to see why this view was so important to George Washington.
After marveling at the view of the Potomac, walk to the original and new tomb of the Washingtons. After George Washington’s death, he was placed in a small tomb that eventually began to crumble. In 1831, with a new tomb completed, George and Martha were moved there permanently. Their final resting place is beautiful, peaceful and seems exactly what George Washington would have wanted.
The grounds at Mount Vernon are vast, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes. With varying walking paths, the famous 16-sided barn, and even a walk along a dock by the river, you’ll see markers for plants and trees. Definitely, stop and read them. It is fascinating to learn how long some of the trees have been on the property. Allow plenty of time to walk the grounds and, during the summer months, it does get hot so also wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen.
The museum and education center is truly one of a kind! If your kids don’t like museums, this one will change their mind. There are immersive activities and interactive display, and even a 4D movie that you can watch and experience. All movies are included with your Mount Vernon general admission ticket, so there’s no extra cost. Yay! There are over 700 objects on display for visitors to see, including George Washington’s famous teeth, so it’s worth a visit!
Late Lunch / Early Dinner: Mt. Vernon Inn
Address: 3200 Mt. Vernon Memorial Highway
After touring Mount Vernon, you’ll be hungry. We chose to eat at the Mount Vernon Inn after reading their amazing reviews. The restaurant is located by the front entrance to Mount Vernon, so it’s an easy walk. It lived up to its reputation as the food and service were simply outstanding! Prices were reasonable ( $5-$26) and I had the best fried green tomatoes ever! Although, the Mount Vernon Inn is famous for its peanut and chestnut soup but, as it was a warm day, we chose not to order it.
TIP: It’s easy to book a reservation through your phone with Open Table. If you forget to make reservations, certainly take the time to see if they have any openings. We saw several people do this and they were able to get in without much fuss.
Overnight→ Woodlands Hotel
Address: 105 Visitors Center Drive Williamsburg, VA
We chose the Woodlands for our stay in Williamsburg and it was a perfect choice for us, especially for the complimentary breakfast that was fresh and delicious. Being able to save money on breakfast each morning really helps your vacation budget and helps you not having to rush out in the morning. Every single person on staff was friendly and went above and beyond to help answer questions. The Woodlands is clean, spacious and offers a lot of extras for guests. One of the great things about this hotel is its location to Colonial Williamsburg. A free shuttle stops in front of the hotel to take guests to Williamsburg and makes it so easy to get to activities.
In addition, the Woodlands has a pool, playground, mini-golf and is within walking distance to the visitor’s center. Staying on the property will also get you discounts on tickets (which is always a nice perk). While you don’t need tickets to visit Williamsburg, a ticket is required to enjoy all of the tours and workshops.
Another benefit to staying at The Woodlands, on property, is that you can have your purchases delivered to the hotel. No carrying bags around all day!
Day 5: Williamsburg, VA
All Day: Colonial Williamsburg + Ghost Tour (PM)
Colonial Williamsburg is a classic American vacation stop. Since Colonial Williamsburg is really a living history museum, you’ll be immersed in the 18th Century. As you walk around Williamsburg, you will notice a colonial flag outside of some buildings. Flags also indicate what trade is practiced there and that a tour is available (which will require a ticket for entry).
Walking around Colonial Williamsburg is a treat. You may be greeted by Thomas Jefferson or stopped by George Washington. These historic interpreters, known as Nation Builders, portray historical figures so wonderfully that they are fun to talk to (and indeed stay in character).
There are numerous trades on display within Colonial Williamsburg where you don’t just learn about history, you get to experience it! You’ll learn from a tailor, blacksmith, silversmith, weaver, wigmakers, shoemakers and many more while performing their work. Additionally, they gladly answer questions without hesitation. The print shop was fascinating and we really enjoyed seeing how printing was done back in the 18th century.
Taking the traditional picture in the stockade is a must-do while in Williamsburg. You can tell your kids that being grounded from their phone probably doesn’t seem so bad after seeing what punishment could be like in the 18th century (ha ha).
Inside the Benjamin Powell house, you really get to see what everyday life was like in the 18th century. It even includes chores, games, and meals for children at the time. Bruton Parish is a beautiful church in which George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry all attended services. When services are not being conducted, you will be able to walk through the chapel.
TIP: Get a schedule of events from your hotel. The Fife & Drum March is not to be missed and we LOVED it! The band marches from the Capitol to the Palace Green.
Capitol and the Governor’s Palace
The Capitol and the Governor’s Palace are particularly fascinating. As the original capital of Virginia, the Governor lived in an opulent palace that projected Britain’s wealth and grandeur.
Touring the Capitol included discussions about clashes with the British Governor, as well as learning more about the principals of our laws and their origin. We enjoyed the guides and didn’t get bored once. Additionally, both the Capitol and the Governor’s Palace offer a children’s tour that is aimed for ages 3-9.
Williamsburg is very walkable. However, should you or anyone in your party get a little tired there are options. The bus makes frequent stops and it is easy to hop on and off. Carriage rides run daily and are a fun treat for the family. If you are staying on property, like we did, you’ll receive a $5 discount on tickets.
Just For Kids
Williamsburg offers many programs just for kids. Dig! Kids, Dirt, and Discovery is a program that will allow your future archeologist to assist in a dig. Patriots at Play is a great interactive program to immerse your children in 18th century life.
We arrived late afternoon to Colonial Williamsburg. Upon check-in, we were given a pamphlet of the activities that were happening for the next several days. We immediately noticed that there was a ghost tour that evening. Actually, Williamsburg offers two types of ghost tours, one that is a little “scarier”, as well as a kid-friendly tour. We opted for the kid-friendly ghost tour and it was perfect! It’s a walking tour, at night, that is lead by lanterns. Our guide was so well informed of Williamsburg’s history that she made the tour a lot of fun and a great learning experience. It was just “spooky” enough for our eight year old to be entranced, but not scared. It was nice to have an evening activity that we all enjoyed and the ghost tour made our boys even more excited about visiting Williamsburg the following morning.
Where To Eat in Williamsburg VA?
There are a lot of options for snacking and dining in Colonial Williamsburg. Historic Taverns are very popular and you may experience a wait to dine there. However, they are worth the wait. We highly suggest looking at the different menus prior to making your selection.
Suggestions for lunch:
Christiana Campbell’s Tavern is delicious but on the pricier side. Lunch at King’s Arms Tavern is more moderately priced, with an average of $14.95 for lunch options. Shield’s Tavern is different with options such as black-eyed pea soup, butter chicken and West African stew.
For a quick bite, the McKenzie Apothecary offers light refreshments and drinks.
TIP: Try and go before noon to eat lunch. Most of these restaurants do not take lunch reservations, so if you go a little early, you can beat the crowd.
Dinner: Opus 9
Address: 5143 Main Street Williamsburg, VA
On every trip, we usually try and fit in one “nice” dinner. After reading the rave reviews for Opus 9, we made reservations before we left home. Every single thing about Opus 9 was incredible! We had seared scallops for an appetizer and they were perfect. We are steak lovers and the filet and New York Strip were both delicious, and our youngest still raves about their fries! The service was impeccable and we cannot recommend Opus 9 enough for a romantic dinner or just a fine dining experience.
Take Advantage of the Historic Triangle
This area of Virginia offers so much! The Historic Triangle includes three historical colonial communities, located on the Virginia Peninsula of the United States, and is bounded by the York River on the north and the James River on the south. The points that form the triangle are Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown.
A day trip to the Jamestown Settlement is well worth the time. Located just 15 minutes from Colonial Williamsburg, it’s easy to get to and you will love the three replica tall ships and the very kid-friendly museums.
A visit to Colonial National Historical Park in Yorktown is also very kid-friendly and full of history from the American Revolution. You can pick up a CD from the visitor’s center and listen to it as you drive around the battlefield. On the day of our visit, we were very fortunate to have witnessed a live firing of a large cannon given that there was also a foreign delegation from Israel visiting at the same time.
One of the more interesting stops on the battlefield tour is the Moore House. This is the home where negotiations for Lord Cornwallis’ surrender to American troops led by George Washington took place. Another interesting stop is Surrender Field which is where 7,000 British troops formally surrendered to the American and French armies in 1781. This is another beautifully maintained area, within the grounds, much like it was during the Revolutionary War.
Overnight→ Woodlands Hotel
Address: 105 Visitors Center Drive Williamsburg, VA
We love a good road trip and this one ranks as one of our favorites! The Civil Rights Museum is a must stop when in Memphis. You come away with a better understanding of the American Civil Rights struggle and African American history, as well as learning more about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. The Hermitage was fascinating and the museum had TONS of artifacts that was so interesting.
I am so glad that we visited both Mount Vernon and Monticello. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have become almost mythical over the years. To see and walk where they lived was pretty remarkable. Monticello and Mount Vernon are very different and our visits to each were very different as well. We oftentimes ask each other, “If you could only go back to one, which would you choose?” And depending on the day, we’ll get/give a different answer. When visiting Virginia, the choices for historical homes, battlefields and museums are endless. We do hope to return to Virginia to visit the homes of James Madison and James Monroe in the near future.
While some people might find history a little dull, Colonial Williamsburg is anything but boring. The folks at Colonial Williamsburg not only make history come alive, but they make history exciting for kids and adults alike.
In addition to Colonial Williamsburg, the surrounding Historic Triangle of Virginia is a fantastic destination whether alone or traveling with a group. If you find yourself in this area of Virginia, plan to explore the entire Historic Triangle.
Overall, we were able to see a lot of history we’d only read about, eat lots of good food and, most importantly, we had a lot of fun! If you are a history lover, then this is the road trip for you. If you have children, this is a great way to share some of the history of America and have fun while doing it.
This is a guest post by: Nicole from the blog Suitcaseandamap.com
About the author and her family: We are a family of four, plus two dogs. My husband William and I have been married 20 years. Our two sons, Zach & Nate are our pride & joy. Our first big family vacation was with our then 3 1/2 year old and I was 5 1/2 months pregnant. People thought we were a little crazy, maybe we were. We set out on an 8 state road trip and we were hooked! As a family, we have a goal to reach all 50 states before our children graduate High School. Laughing, learning, seeing new things, talking in the car and just being together is fantastic.
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