Exploring Charlottesville on a budget is easy.
The heart of the city is connected by the Free Trolley, which has stops along the Downtown Mall and all throughout the University of Virginia. Walking down Main Street is doable, but if it’s frigid or sweltering, the Free Trolley is the way to go.
Seeing the Rotunda’s interior is free to the public. Just be sure to visit between 9:00 AM and 5:00 AM. Historical tours are regularly offered at 10:00 AM, 11:00 AM, and 2:00 PM during the academic year—and yes, these tours are free, too. Tours leave from the Rotunda’s Lower East Oval Room.
It’s free to stroll along the Lawn, too. After you step into the Rotunda, try a lap around the Academical Village (which borders the Lawn). Edgar Allen Poe’s room is nearby.
Admision here is free, of course, and an average visit usually takes about an hour. It’s on the same end of town as Monticello, which we’ll get to in a second. The majority of their programs are free as well, so be sure to glance at their website before you visit.
It costs money to tour Monticello, which is a shuttle ride away from the shops and Visitor Center. But there’s plenty else to see. The Saunders-Monticello Trail is nearby, one of the most popular in the area.
Admission is always free. The Fralin is a short walk from the Rotunda and always has several collections on display. The University’s art buildings and architecture school are nearby, which are worth strolling through too.
Charlottesville City Market
The City Market is a local favorite April-December. It still fits in a sizable parking lot adjacent to the Downtown Mall, but only just so. Dozens of local farmers and craftspeople display their wares here. It's not your average farmers' market! And when you're done perusing the booths, the downtown mall is only a block away. The IX Art Park is close by, too.
A community of artists run McGuffey Art Center, which can be found a block away from the Downtown Mall. This is not your average gallery. Artists practice here, teach classes, give tours, and participate in summer camps.
No visit to Charlottesville is complete without a stroll along the Downtown Mall. It’s constantly being redecorated and is one of the longest pedestrian malls in the country. The biggest concert venues (except for JPJ and Scott Stadium, of course) can be found here, as well as most of the choicest restaurants. The trees are huge, planted some forty years ago when the Mall was made.
The short drive from Charlottesville to Crozet down US 250 is the best way to get a feel for the countryside here. Sure, the gas isn’t free, but the views are. Crozet itself is large enough to explore for the afternoon. And if you’re intent on seeing the mountains while you’re here, which you should be, Crozet is on the way. Don’t take I-64! US 250 is the way to go.