20 Cool Things to do in Fredericksburg, Virginia

Founded in 1728, Fredericksburg, Virginia is a city of 28,000 in the I-19 corridor, halfway between Richmond and Washington in north central Virginia. The counties around the city still have considerable rural farmland and many small towns, although the Richmond and Washington metro areas are expanding rapidly along the corridor. The city is the center of a four-county area that includes Caroline, King George, Stafford and Spotsylvania Counties, which have a combined population of about 425,000 (as of 2023).

Fredericksburg is closely connected with the Rappahannock River, which forms the city’s northern boundary. The Rappahannock is one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the eastern United States, running from the mountains in western Virginia to Chesapeake Bay.

Fredericksburg is a history buff’s delight, with its many associations with George Washington and his family, and its proximity to four major Civil War battlefields, and the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. The city has several museums and other historical sites.

Here are 20 cool things to do in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

1. First Friday Fredericksburg.

For the past 30 years, the city has held a First Friday event on the first Friday of each month. The location is downtown. The events vary, but always include open art galleries, sip and stroll restaurants and sometimes music. Participants in the sip part of sip and stroll must be 21. Many restaurants and galleries are open late. This is an evening event running from 5:00 till 9:00 p.m. A free trolly loops through downtown.

2. Tours of Fredericksburg  

A number of walking tours are available, including a candlelight Ghostwalking Tour. A typical tour lasts 90 minutes and is guided by a local expert. The tours are usually in the downtown Historical District. Other tour topics focus on architecture and local history. There are plenty of other tours, including tours in horse drawn carriages, tours of the local wineries and breweries, even biplane rides to see the city and its area from overhead. Check the city website for information because these change from season to season.

20 Cool Things to do in Fredericksburg, Virginia

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3. The Farmer’s Market at Hurkamp Park

A cool place to visit is the Farmer’s Market, which runs about six months, from mid-April to the end of October. You’ll see the rich variety of fruit and vegetables grown locally, as well as produce from the fabled Shenandoah Valley. Cherries, peaches, apples and melons are specialties in season.

4. Chatham Manor

An interesting visit is to Chatham Manor, a real Southern manor house that was once part of a huge plantation of thousands of acres and labored on by more than a hundred slaves. Built in 1771, the Manor was once owned by the Fitzhugh family, friends of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and other Virginia elite families.

During the Civil War it was a Union headquarters and was used as a hospital. Such notable figures as Clara Barton and Walt Whitman cared for wounded soldiers there. Today it is owned by the National Park Service and has several rooms of exhibits about life in Virginia over the centuries since the Manor was built.

5.  The Fredericksburg Area Beer Trail

The area has a surprising number of craft breweries. The Fredericksburg Area Beer Trail is a self-guided tour that links nine breweries in Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania and Stafford. You can pick up a FAB Passport at a visitor center. When each of the breweries has stamped your Passport, you submit it to a visitor center and obtain a prize—although the real prize is tasting some of Virginia’s finest craft beers.

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6.  The Fredericksburg XPass Ticket

If you have a serious interest in history, buy one of these at the Visitor Center. It is good for one admission into eight museums, including the Melchers Home, the Madison Museum, Kenmore. The Rising Sun Tavern, the Apothecary Shop, Washington’s Ferry Farm, Chatham Manor and others.

7.  Fredericksburg Area Museum and Market Square

Much of the city is accessible by just walking. A visit to the Fredericksburg Area Museum (FAM) can be entertaining for the whole family. FAM is the hub of the city’s 40-acre Historic District, with Market Square, an open square, adjacent. The district is full of history, galleries, restaurants and stores. The building dates to 1816 and was once the town hall. The museum features a variety of exhibits relating to the history of the city and its diverse community over its 300 years.

In summer, FAM presents weekly Sounds of Summer concerts in Market Square on Friday evenings. The Square often hosts community festivals, concerts and other events.

8. James Monroe Museum and Library

James Monroe, the 5th President of the U.S. was a Fredericksburg resident. The James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library has the largest collection of materials anywhere about President Monroe and his family. Guided tours are available, and the museum grounds feature a garden open to the public, that may also be rented for events such as weddings.

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9. Riverside Center for the Performing Arts

A center for regional theater and performers is the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts. The Riverside Center is a much larger venue than is typical for a city of Fredericksburg’s size. The Center brings a wide range of musicals and plays to the Fredericksburg area. The performances have included traveling Broadway shows, productions from Washington and Richmond. It hosts local performances. An unusual feature is a dinner theater that seats several hundred diners for evening and matinee performances. Children’s theater is also a major emphasis, and there is a children’s theater and summer camp program.

10.  The Washington Heritage Museums

Fredericksburg has five museums linked to George Washington and his family. Each has exhibits with a tour available, and often with events scheduled on the museum grounds. They include the Mary Washington House, Kenmore. The Rising Sun Tavern, the Hugh Mercer Apothecary and the St. James House.

11. Kenmore and George Washington’s Ferry Farm

This is where George Washington spent much of his boyhood. Tours are available of the house, which last about 60 minutes and show what living in such a mansion was like. There are gardens on the grounds that visitors can walk through.

Kenmore was where George Washington’s sister Betty and her husband, Fielding Lewis lived. The museum shows what life was like for a family of the Tidewater gentry before the Revolution.

For the last 20 years, in summer, Shakespeare on the Lawn has been offered, with various performances of Shakespeare’s plays performed by the Fredericksburg Theatre Ensemble.

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12. Rising Sun Tavern.

Interested in the history of taverns? Check out the Rising Sun Tavern. This building dates to 1760, and was built by George Washington’s brother, Charles as his home for years. The building later became a tavern and today the museum presents a history of tavern life. No, they don’t have a bar, but the next time you visit one you’ll have some talking points.

13. Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop.

Intrigued by an age when leeches were used as treatment? Then visit the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop. It’s like a pharmacy from 250 years ago. The building dates to 1772. Hugh Mercer was a doctor who served the Fredericksburg community for 15 years before joining the Continental Army, dying at the Battle of Princeton as a brigadier general.

The Shop has several parts, including the Shop, the doctor’s office and his personal quarters. There’s even a place where gentlemen of that era stuck their heads into while attendants or slaves powdered the gentlemen’s wigs. The guides will explain how Dr. Mercer used leeches and blood cupping on his patients.

14.  Mary Washington House

Get a sense of a patriot’s affection for his mother by visiting the Mary Washington House. George Washington bought this house for his mother, Mary, in 1772, and she lived here for the last 17 years of her life, dying of cancer at age 80. A costumed interpreter guides visitors through the house, which includes a period kitchen. Events are sometimes scheduled for the gardens on the grounds.

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15. Gari Melchers’ Home and Studio at Belmont

If you are interested in artists who are being rediscovered as major figures, try a visit to Gari Melchers home and studio. He was an early 20th century Fredericksburg artist well worth finding out about. The Melcher Home and Studio is a 27-acre estate called Belmont, on the Rappahannock near Fredericksburg. The site contains the Melchers’ historic home, his gallery, gardens and several miles of nature trails. Dogs are welcome on the trails if they are leashed. You may see some interesting birds.

There are occasional events held on the Melcher grounds, such as the city’s Art After Hours programs, which sometimes includes the 50-piece Fredericksburg Concert Band. There are more events in the summer season, but the schedule is grounds, home and studio are open all year.

16. Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park

The Military Park is quite large, more than 8,000 acres, so it’s best to plan what you want to see before you go, rather than just visit. Four major Civil War Battles were fought in the area, including Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House.

Materials for self-guided tours of the battlefields are available at the National Park Service website for the military park, as are downloadable maps. The website has downloadable materials for teachers planning lessons related to the battlefields.

There are a variety of places that Civil War hobbyists might want to visit, including Guinea Station, where Stonewall Jackson died. It may take several days to fully explore the military park.

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17. Battlefield Tours of Virginia

If you are especially interested in the battles that took place in the Fredericksburg area, this outfit offers professional guides for a fee. One option is for a professional to accompany you in your car for a tour of one or more of the battlefields. This is an intense, usually four-hour tour.

18. Otter Scavenger Hunt

Fredericksburg has a unique Otter Scavenger Hunt. You start at a bronze sculpture of a mama otter and two cubs, and then go looking for other sculptures of otters. You scan the QR code at the base of each sculpture for information about that particular spot. When you have completed the hunt, you head for the Visitor Center to claim your prize. It’s all withing walking distance in the center of the city, and the kids might really doing enjoy this.

19. Virginia Outdoor Center

The Virginia Outdoor Center is located in downtown Fredericksburg on the riverfront. It offers a variety of canoe, kayak, tube and paddleboard recreational opportunities on both the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers (the Rapidan joins the Rappahannock at the city). Some trips drop the canoeist upstream in near-wilderness drop off points for a paddle to the city.

A variety of trips are available with groups and for individuals and families. The Center offers training, including a whitewater essentials course and wilderness first aid. A highlight is a summer Mountain Adventure School for middle-school aged kids.

The 4.5-mile section from Mott’s Run to the Fredericksburg docks offers some rapids. A 25-mile section of the river above Mott’s Run offers class I and class II rapids. Rapids will vary with river flow and weather. This is serious kayaking and canoeing, so training and proper equipment is called for.

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20. Fun Land Fredericksburg

Not every fun thing in the city is related to George Washington or the battlefields. When the kids are tired of the museums, Fun Land is a commercial venue that offers a wide array of family entertainment, from laser tag to go karts, sky trail, batting cages, mini bowling, rock climbing, a roller coaster, miniature golf, and a large game arcade.

Bonus: Fredericksburg Links to Metro Areas

Richmond is a little more than an hour’s drive to the south, and Washington is the same distance to the north. Be aware that traffic can be extremely heavy and that driving times will vary, depending on traffic conditions and weather.

The Virginia Railway Express (VRE) connects Fredericksburg with Washington’s Union Station, with a commute of about an hour. VRE does not yet extend to the Richmond metro area.

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