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History Buffs

A trip with a good tale (or two)

If your idea of a good travel experience is to get lost in the story of a new place, then Fredericksburg, VA, truly is your cup of tea. Start by picking a storied setting to lay your head at night. Stevenson Ridge, situated next to the Spotsylvania Battlefield, boasts nine private cottages in restored structures from the 18th and 19th centuries, each of which has its own story to tell.

Another option is Braehead Manor, a bed and breakfast housed in a beautifully restored home where Robert E. Lee took breakfast on the morning of the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862. Would you rather slumber in the great outdoors? Try Lake Anna State Park, whose peaceful campgrounds are just a scenic rural drive away from major shopping and dining.

If you’re here for a weekend, start off your Saturday under the guidance of tour guide Scott Walker, who runs his Bricks and Boards in the ‘Burg tours every Saturday morning from April through October at 10 a.m., starting at Market Square in the heart of historic Downtown Fredericksburg. If you are here for a week when the tours aren’t running, take advantage of the diverse offering of self-guided walking tours available in the Fredericksburg Visitor Center on Caroline Street.

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These tours will whet your appetite for exploring the downtown’s many shops and galleries. One building you might not want to overlook is the Fredericksburg Center for the Creative Arts, housed in a small riverside cottage on Sophia Street. The building itself dates to 1785. It was historically home to a local silversmith, and today it houses juried art exhibits that attract nationally recognized artists.

Stroll up William Street and duck into the James Monroe Museum on Charles Street. You’ll be able to dig deep into the fascinating story of our nation’s fifth president in this museum, which houses the country’s largest collection of documents and artifacts related to Monroe. Be sure to take a moment to enjoy the elegant walled garden in back.

Exploring will make you hungry, so bring your appetite to Fredericksburg’s former train station at the intersection of Lafayette Boulevard and Princess Anne streets. The Bavarian Chef is a great place for a hearty meal of authentic German food, and the elegantly appointed building will take you back to a more glamorous era of train travel.

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After lunch, take a leisurely drive out to Spotsylvania Courthouse. Choose from among several hikes offered as part of the self-guided Spotsylvania History Tour, and acquaint yourself with the long and grueling combat that took place on this Civil War battlefield.

To get an up-close look at the Courthouse Historic District, download the web-based Spotsylvania Courthouse Walking Tour on your smartphone or tablet.

Many of the churches you pass in this area played key roles during the Civil War, and the John J. Wright Educational and Cultural Center Museum is a great place to get perspective on the decades-long struggle for equal education for all in Spotsylvania County.  For an even deeper look into black history in this area, try the Spotsylvania African American Heritage Trail.

Treat yourself to a milkshake from the Snack Shack or coffee and pastry from Butternut & Blue Bistro before you leave this area.

Head back across the Rappahannock River to take in dinner and a show at the Riverside Dinner Theater in Stafford County.

The next morning, travel back to the pre-interstate era of car travel with breakfast at local favorite 2400 Diner, situated on historic U.S. Route 1. Take that road across the river into the historic village of Falmouth, where a morning stroll on the Belmont-Ferry Farm trail will put you within arm’s reach of great stories to be told at early 20th-century artist Gari Melchers’ Home and Studio at Belmont and at another grand Georgian estate, Chatham Manor

While you’re in this area, be on the lookout for markers on the Trail to Freedom, which tells the story of how more than 10,000 slaves crossed the Rappahannock River to freedom in 1862, after the Civil War brought the Union Army to Stafford County.

From the Falmouth area, you’re only an 8-minute drive away from the A. Smith Bowman Distillery, where hourly tours will guide you through the magical process of bourbon-making. The Fredericksburg area is also home to some fantastic Virginia wineries and breweries. In Stafford County, Potomac Point Winery has scenic grounds and offers innovative events to help you get the most out of your visit.

Did you know?

The sandstone used to construct the White House and U.S. Capitol building was shipped up the Potomac from a Colonial-era quarry on Aquia Creek known as Government Island. You can visit Government Island today by taking U.S. 1 north of Fredericksburg to Coal Landing Road. A 1.5-mile trail allows you to stroll through this wetland rich in natural beauty and history.

Have an extra day?

Spend a day touring the Washington Heritage Museums, which maintains four 18th century structures in the heart of Fredericksburg. They include Mary Washington House, the home George Washington bought for his mother, the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop, Rising Sun Tavern and St. James House. These homes all tell a unique layer of the Fredericksburg area’s rich story. One ticket gains you admission to all (except St. James House, which is only open twice a year, and by appointment for groups), and they are centrally located to allow you to visit other downtown sites, shops and restaurants along the way.