There’s something for everyone in Lexington. The Shenandoah Valley college town, home to both Washington & Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute, is a fit for history buffs with sites to explore including the Stonewall Jackson House. The historic downtown offers well-curated shops and art galleries housed in 18th- and 19th-century buildings, while outdoor adventures around Rockbridge County as well as the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail are just a short drive away. Here’s how to make the most of a visit to Lexington.
DAY ONE IN LEXINGTON
Tour Historic Downtown
Photo Credit: Chad Williams, @echadwilliams
For an overview of town, hop a ride with Lexington Carriage Company (park for free across the street at the Visitor Center). This 37-year-old company offers narrated, horse-drawn carriage tours down Main Street, past college campuses, and through the historic residential district with homes dating back to the 1800s. Historic points of interest along the way include the Stonewall Jackson House and University Chapel (tours last about 50 minutes and run from April to October).
Stroll & Shop
Photo Credit: Hannah Armstrong, @hannahelizarmstrong
After the tour, stroll and shop down Main and its side streets. Browse charming finds at gift shops like Pumpkinseeds and Sugar Maple Trading Company, look for home goods at Ladles & Linens and Lizzie’s of Lexington, find your new favorite game at Just Games, browse the titles at Downtown Books, and hunt for treasures at antique shops like Yesterday Once More. When you’re ready for lunch, pop into Pronto, a restaurant that serves a selection of sandwiches and salads, as well as scoops of homemade gelato.
Lexington is also home to a host of galleries and artisan shops. Visitors can shop work by local artists at Artists in Cahoots, browse pots, plates, and more at Earth, Fire & Spirit Pottery, and see work from regional artists at Cabell Gallery. Ceramics enthusiasts should also plan a stop at the Reeves Museum of Ceramics at Washington & Lee, which houses the fourth largest collection of pottery in the country.
Go Out for Dinner & a Show
Photo Credit: Keith Lanpher
Make an early dinner reservation at The Red Hen, where Chef Matt Adams cooks award-winning local seasonal fare, served in an intimate 26-seat dining room. Next, travel 15 minutes to Hull’s Drive-In to catch a show at this authentic 1950s drive-in movie theater, open March thru October. In warmer months, be sure to check the show calendar at the Lime Kiln Theater just west of downtown, an outdoor venue where musical performances of bluegrass, folk, and more take place beneath the stars.
DAY TWO IN LEXINGTON
Start on a Sweet Note
Fuel up for a day of outdoor adventure at Pure Eats, a local favorite housed in a former Pure Oil gas station (don’t leave without trying their cinnamon-sugar doughnuts!).
Explore Natural Bridge, Breweries, & Agricultural History Along Route 11
Photo Credit: Shannon Terry
Head south on Route 11, aka “Wilderness Road”, a frontier wagon road which played an important role as settlers migrated west in the 1800s. Arrive at Natural Bridge State Park to walk beneath the 215-foot-tall limestone arch. An easy hike along the Cedar Creek Trail takes visitors to the Monacan Indian Village as well as Lace Falls (A note to stargazers: Natural Bridge State Park is a designated International Dark Sky Park, so be sure to check the 2023 Guided Dark Sky Night Programs to see if meteor showers coincide with your visit).
Photo Credit: Chad Williams, @echadwilliams
From the Natural Bridge State Park Visitor Center, it’s a short drive to the Caverns at Natural Bridge, where guided 45-minute tours take visitors 34 stories beneath the earth. When hunger strikes, head to Devils Backbone Outpost Tap Room & Kitchen, part of the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail, where burgers, salads, and sandwiches are served alongside more than a dozen of the brewery’s beers on tap.
For a pretty post-meal drive, continue north on Route 11 about 20 minutes before turning onto VA-606 to visit the Cyrus McCormick Farm, a 634-acre property that was once home to the inventor of the mechanical grain reaper, and now includes nature trails, a small museum, and a picnic area. Continue on to Wade’s Mill. Established in 1750, it’s Virginia’s oldest continuously operating grist mill, where visitors can explore the mill’s inner workings and shop the stone-ground grains made here at the gift shop on the first floor.
Dinner & Drinks Downtown
Back in Lexington, wind down the day with a cocktail at TAPS bar, followed by dinner across the street at Haywood’s, a piano bar and grill. Both are part of The Georges, a boutique inn comprising three historic buildings in Lexington’s downtown. For dessert, head to Sweet Things Ice Cream Shoppe where scoops are served in handmade waffle cones.
DAY THREE IN LEXINGTON
Hit the Trails & Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
Photo Credit: Kristina Love, @kristinalovephotography
Start the morning with breakfast at Sweet Treats Bakery in Lexington, then head east to the City of Buena Vista, a perfect starting point for a morning spent exploring the outdoors. Walk the Chessie Nature Trail, a seven-mile rail-trail that follows the Maury River, drive parts of the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, or hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail, which runs through some of the highest peaks in the area.
Southern Fare & Spooky Sites
Photo Credit: Casey Higgins
Return to Lexington for a hearty meal of contemporary comfort food at The Southern Inn. Explore after dark with Haunting Tales Ghost Tour, a guided candlelit walk which leads visitors through Lexington’s alleyways and graveyards as local legends and lore are retold.