Whether you are a visitor to Charlottesville, VA exploring the city’s history or a prospective student of UVA looking at college campuses, a visit to the University of Virginia is a must.
The good news is that visiting the campus is free and easy to do. Here are all the details you must know.
Is the UVA Campus Open to Visitors?
Yes, the UVA campus is open to anyone who wants to visit.
In fact, the campus is a very short walk from some of the best restaurants in Charlottesville, making it a great after-dinner stroll.
Can You Walk Around the UVA Campus?
Yes, you can walk around the entire UVA campus. There are historic buildings to see during a walking tour, as well as modern day places of interest such as the sports stadiums or college bookstore.
UVA Charlottesville is considered one of the prettiest college campuses in Virginia.
Walking will be your best option, rather than driving, because parking is very limited. We suggest parking in one place and then walking everywhere.
How Do I Get a Tour of UVA?
There are a variety of ways to tour the University of Virginia campus.
Visitors are encouraged to sign up for a historical tour of the UVA campus. These students-led tours are about an hour long and go through the University’s Academical Village and gardens.
On these tours, you will learn about the history of the University of Virginia, from the founding to today, from the architecture and founding ideals, to the enslaved laborers, activists, students, and community members that have changed the university over the centuries.
Self Guided Tours
You are more than welcome to explore the UVA campus with a self-guided tour any time of the year, even if classes are not in session.
Download the walking tour for a map and information about the main buildings you will see.
Prospective Student Tour
The Dean’s Welcome and Tour are designed for students and their families who are considering going to UVA. In addition to learning about the admissions process, you will enjoy a student-led tour of the campus.
In addition to general campus tours, there are guided tours for specific schools on campus, such as the Architecture school, as well.
A variety of specialty tours are available for a more in-depth focus on the university campus. These tours are not offered every day and must be requested at least two weeks in advance.
History of African-Americans at UVA
History of African-American tours run approximately an hour and grapple with our University’s complicated racial legacies of slavery and discrimination. Topics covered will include slavery, integration, and even a discussion of the modern racial climate at UVA.
Memorial to Enslaved Laborers (MEL) Tour
MEL tours discuss the history of enslaved laborers’ resistance and resilience at the University and the advocacy by community members and students to fully acknowledge and memorialize their labor. MEL tours were designed by the Descendants of Enslaved Communities (DEC-UVA).
Tours are available from a University Guide or from a Descendant.
History of Women at UVA
This hour-long tour focuses on the integration of women at the University of Virginia, from the lives of the first women on Grounds in the 1820s to the acceptance of women into the student community.
Learn about the importance of the gardens in the early days of the University, and how they have transformed into the modern day spaces of today. This 45 minute guided tour gives a look into the Pavilion gardens.
Especially great for homeschoolers, schools and day camps, these children’s tours share exciting stories about UVA geared for kids age Pre-K to Fifth grade. During the hour-long tour, children learn about the Thomas Jefferson, early life at the University, and the burning of the Rotunda in 1895.
Parking is hard to come by at the University of Virginia for visitors without a parking permit. We had a hard time finding any place to park that didn’t require specialty parking permits, and we visited when classes were not in session.
There aren’t a lot of parking lots and you can’t just park on the street for free.
You will need to pay for parking in most cases. Payment is through the ParkMobile app.
The Central Grounds Garage is considered the best place to park on the UVA campus for visitors.
When we visited the art museum, we were able to get a free parking pass to use their parking lot across the street. However, this was during a time when classes were not in session, so I’m not sure how well that would work during the school year.
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What Is There to See at UVA for Tourists?
Visiting the University of Virginia campus is unlike most college tours. As history buffs who love architecture, we always take a tour of UVA when in Charlottesville! It’s one of the best things to do in Charlottesville!
UVA was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819. Yes, the Thomas Jefferson who would later become President of the United States!
Here are some of the historic places you will see on the University of Virginia campus:
Designed by Thomas Jefferson, it is modeled after the Pantheon in Rome. Jefferson designed this building to the the heart of his “Academical Village.”
Inside, you can take a self-guided tour (maps are provided) or sign up for their free guided tours. You will visit the library upstairs with a stunning domed roof.
Helpful Tip: Bring a book or borrow one of the many books in the library collection and enjoy some quiet time reading in this historical place. It’s also a great place to bring your laptop for remote working.
Memorial to Enslaved Laborers
An estimated 5,000 enslaved African Americans worked on the grounds of UVA starting with construction in 1817 up to the end of the Civil War in 1865.
The memorial, maid of local granite, formally acknowledges the work and lives of the individuals who built the University and kept it running.
Running from the Rotunda to Old Cabell Hall, this huge expanse of green grass is a central hub for students and faculty. You will often see students having class on The Lawn.
The Fralin Museum of Art
A small art museum on the University campus, The Fralin Museum of Art is always free admission.
As frequent visitors of art museums, we thought the museum was nice, but nothing to schedule your day around. However, there were several exhibits closed during our visit, so maybe it would be better if everything was open.
What we did like is the Little Art Gallery outside. This was a project started in the pandemic for people to have access to art. You can view miniature handmade pieces of artwork and take a small piece of art or leave one for others.
We were able to get a free parking pass to use in a lot across the street, however I’m not sure if that option is available during the academic year.
Where to Stay Near When Visiting UVA
If you want to be close to the university for a campus visit or to attend a game, these are the best hotels near UVA:
- Kimpton Forum An elegant and spacious hotel located on the grounds of the University of Virginia. Everything you love about Kimpton hotels can be found here, including daily Happy Hour reception, bikes to rent, a fabulous restaurant and bar. (We personally had a horrible experience at this property and won’t be staying there again, but your experience might be different.)
- Graduate Hotel A fun and energetic hotel brand that has locations near popular University campuses. Each hotel is themed to the destination, so expect to see profiles of Thomas Jefferson as decor elements. The Graduate is located just outside the gates to UVA among the dining and shopping district.