Best Things to Do in Luray VA: Historic Charm & Natural Wonders

Best Things to Do in Luray VA: Historic Charm & Natural Wonders :: I've Been Bit! Travel Blog

Luray may be a small, unsuspecting town along Interstate 81 but it’s certainly worth a visit when road tripping in Virginia. While most visitors head to Luray for the incredible underground caverns, there is plenty more to see and explore. You won’t want to miss these top things to do in Luray VA. It might even have you planning your own visit dedicated solely to this destination!

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About Luray Virginia

Luray is nestled at the base of Massanutten Mountain along the southern fork of the beautiful Shenandoah River. Long before colonization, the Manahoac People thrived on these lands. While they do not exist as a distinct tribe anymore, they have merged with their neighbours, the Tutelo and Saponi.

The area was settled in the early 1700s by a group of German-Swiss pioneers. They were seeking religious freedom and lived peacefully amongst the local Indigenous population for quite some time as the pioneers began to farm the land. Unfortunately, the aggression from the French and Indian War poured into the area and turmoil ensued. When the war ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the Manahoac Peoples had been ousted from their homelands leaving a small German population to develop the area.

Luray was officially founded in 1812 by William Staige Marye. Originally from France, he named the town to honour his ancestors from the French city of the same name. Three decades later, the town was starting to come into its own with a population of 500 people, a number of shops and some churches. However, it was when the railway arrived in 1881 that Luray truly grew. With the town becoming more accessible and a plethora of tourism opportunities being developed, it quickly became a destination in Virginia for folks from the state as well as outside visitors.

With that, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of all the great things to do in Luray Virginia!

Stalacpipe Organ Inside the Luray Caverns :: I've Been Bit! Travel Blog

You’ll be Mesmerized By the Luray Caverns – and By What You’ll See Inside!

Things to Do in Luray VA

Luray may have a population under 5,000 people but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to explore! Check out all of these great things to do in Luray VA during your visit.

Explore the Luray Caverns

Chances are this is your inspiration for visiting – and for good reason since it’s easily one of the best activities in Luray VA. Say hello to the largest caverns in the eastern United States! 

The caverns were well known to the Manahoac Peoples but they were uncovered by five settlers in 1878. As they explored, they uncovered over 60 acres of caves that were created millions of years ago by underground rivers. Word spread quickly and the Luray Caverns now see thousands of visitors each year.

You’ll be blown away by this incredible collection of natural rock formations. These stunning deposits are all calcite, a crystallized form of limestone. Your guide will point out some of the more prominent formations like Titania’s Veil, Pluto’s Ghost and more. What is most fascinating is the “stalacpipe organ” which was constructed in 1956. Rubber-tipped plungers are placed next to 37 stalactites that produce sounds, making it the world’s largest natural instrument!

It’s a no-brainer why the caverns are one of the top attractions in Luray VA! Tickets are $32 USD per adult and $16 USD per child. However, your ticket also gives you entry to some of the things to do at Luray Caverns. How cool is that?!

RELATED: The views of the caverns are definitely one of the top views in the state. Check out my guide to see all of the best views in Virginia along the I-81!

The Car and Carriage Caravan Museum

One of the great Luray VA attractions near the caverns is the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum. Former president of the Luray Caverns Corporation, H.T.N. Graves, made it his mission to pinpoint and purchase a collection of vehicles that are important to the history of travel. You’ll see artifacts becoming more and more industrialized beginning with the horse and buggy into the cars we see today.

The museum features over 140 items related to the transportation sector. You’ll start with simple wagons and coaches before zooming over to the elegant automobiles of the 1940s. The collection boasts 50 motorized vehicles, all carefully restored to their original brilliance. Don’t miss the crown jewel of the collection, an 1897 Mercedes-Benz. It’s one of the oldest cars in the United States that is still in operating condition!

Some of the Vehicles at the Luray Car Carriage Museum :: I've Been Bit! Travel Blog

Some of the Beauties You’ll See at the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum

Luray Valley Museum

Another one of the things to do near Luray Caverns that’s not to be missed is the Luray Valley Museum. Inside you’ll learn more about the history of the Shenandoah Valley.

Your visit will begin with displays and information teaching you about some of the Indigenous history of the area. You’ll learn about pre-contact life in the area with artifacts and objects from those times. As you make your way through the Luray Valley Museum, you’ll see how the area was transformed with European colonization through the 1800s and into the Roaring 1920s.

Shenandoah Heritage Village

Once you’re done at the Luray Valley Museum, explore the grounds of the Shenandoah Heritage Village. This seven-acre attraction is a re-creation of a 19th Century farming community. The historic buildings you see have been relocated and restored for the purpose of education.

A number of the buildings on site are worth noting. Serving as a barracks for both Union and Confederate soldiers during the American Civil Wark, the Elk Run Meeting House has signatures of previous “tenants” to prove it. Then there’s the 1885 Hamburg Regular School and it’s one of the oldest one-room African-American schoolhouses that is still standing in Virginia. Spend some time wandering through the buildings for a glimpse of what life was like in the 19th Century.

Toy Town Junction

Yes, there are even more things to do around Luray Caverns and this attraction will surely bring out the kid in everyone!

Dr Richard Worden, a Luray local who grew up in the area, had a fascination for trains. Just as the Great Depression was ending in 1941, his parents scrounged enough money to purchase a Marx Copper electric train from the Montogomery Ward Christmas catalogue. This inspired his love of toys as he built an enormous toy collection over the years which he donated to the Luray Caverns. Why? So he could share the joy he experienced with others. While he has since passed, Dr Worden’s legacy lives on by putting a smile on the faces of all who experience Toy Town Junction!

Golden Hour at the Luray Singing Tower :: I've Been Bit! Travel Blog

Golden Hour at the Luray Singing Tower

Luray Caverns’ Garden Maze

The final attraction in the collection of things to do near Luray Caverns Virginia is the Garden Maze. 1500+ Evergreen hedges have been planted to create a labyrinth of whimsey and wonder. There are over 40 twists and turns to make this one acre maze a tricky one! At half a mile in length, it’s the largest hedge maze in the Mid-Atlantic!

The Garden Maze is perfect for folks of all ages as it is fully handicapped accessible and great for families with young children and strollers. If it’s a sweltering day, cooling mist stations help keep the heat at bay and if Mama Nature wants to rain on your parade, umbrellas are available to use as you tackle the maze.

Listen for the Belle Brown Northcott Memorial

More commonly known as the Luray Singing Tower, the Belle Brown Northcott Memorial was created in 1937 in honour of Colonel Theodore Clay Northcott’s wife.

Standing at 36 metres (117 feet), the Luray Singing Tower features a 47 bell carillon that was crafted in Leicestershire, Great Britain. What is a carillon exactly? It’s an old world musical instrument that consists of at least 23 bronze bells. They’re arranged in the chromatic scale and are played via a keyboard attached to clappers located inside each bell. While I didn’t get a chance to hear it myself, it’s said to be quite the performance if you can catch one of the regularly scheduled recitals!

Stroll Along Luray’s Hawksbill Greenway

See where urban meets wild along 3.25 kilometre (2 mile) paved walking and biking trail around Luray Virginia. Divided into five sections, you can choose to tackle the whole trail or enjoy it in pieces as it is accessible at a number of points throughout town.

Explore this lush habitat that birds, butterflies, squirrels and more absolutely adore as you follow Hawksbill Creek. There are also eleven murals to be spotted along the way! Oh, and if you’re a fan of trout fishing, you’ll want to pack your rod as fishing is permitted year round. This award-winning trail is one of the top things to do around Luray VA!

The Early Morning Calm of Luray Virginia :: I've Been Bit! Travel Blog

The Morning Calm of Downtown Luray

Explore the Downtown Luray Historic District

The heart of Luray is a picturesque stretch of gorgeous architecture, local restaurants and boutique shops. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003, it encompasses the area between Main Street, Court Street and Broad Street. There are over 75 buildings that feature 19th and 20th century architectural styles to create the striking downtown core. Notable buildings include the Bridge Theatre, Luray United Methodist Church, Mimsyln Inn, Hotel Laurance and Luray Post Office. 

It’s easy to spend a few hours exploring this little stretch of town. Pop into Broad Porch Coffee Co and grab a latte as you wander. Peruse shops like the Virginia Gift Shop for all kinds of goodies sourced across the state, Nest & Hive for home decor and novelty goodies, Appalachian Trail Outfitters for all things outdoorsy and Page One Treasures to get your thrift on. If you start to get thirsty for something a little stronger, stop in at Hawksbill Brewing Company for a pint.

Check Out the Luray Train Station

While passenger train service to Luray ended quite some time ago, the Luray Train Station has been given new life. Restored to her 1940s glory, it is now home to the Luray Page County Chamber of Commerce offices and it also serves as the local visitor’s centre. If you’re looking for more information about things to do in Luray VA and the Shenandoah Valley, this is the place to be!

That’s not all though as this is where you’ll also find the Luray Railroad Museum! Take a moment to explore the exhibits and learn about Luray’s rail history. If you’re lucky, one of the lovely gentlemen from the Rail Historical Society might be around to give you a personal tour! Make sure to pop out to the tracks before you go and check out the view from their telescope.

Visit Murder Mountain… If You Dare!

This one isn’t for the faint of heart. Head to the outskirts of Luray to Old Wagon Road. This is where you’ll find Murder Mountain – a destination that has become quite popular with ghost hunters and paranormal seekers.

Despite this fact, it’s hard to find much information about it at all online. Did Murder Mountain get its name because of the two female hikers who were murdered along the nearby stretch of the Appalachian Trail in 1996? Is it haunted by conflicts past as the local Indigenous were attacked and forced off their lands back in the 1700s? I’ll have to return to Luray to find out for sure but if you’re from the area and know more, I’d love to hear about it in a comment below!

Lindsay Admiring the Views from the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park

I Was Blown Away By the Views Along the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park

Things to Do Near Luray VA

While it’s easy to spend a weekend exploring the attractions in Luray VA, the area has plenty more to offer. Here are some of the great things to do near Luray VA if you’d like to get out of town for a bit and see more of the state!

Experience the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park

An additional perk to Luray is that it is located just outside Virginia’s pride and joy – Shenandoah National Park. The Skyline Drive is not to be missed as it is one of the top drives in the state and a must when exploring the Shenandoah Valley!

You can easily spend a day exploring the area around the Thornton Gap Entrance as there are a number of beautiful overlooks, fantastic hiking trails, gorgeous waterfalls and of course – brilliant views of the Blue Ridge Mountains! Pop by the Harry F. Byrd Sr. Visitor Center for more information about the area and points of interest. If you’re wondering what hikes to check out, my recommendations are Dark Hollow Falls, Stoney Man, South River Falls and Upper Hawksbill. The latter is said to have some of the best views in the area!

Whether you have just a few hours or plan on spending a full day exploring, you’ll want to make sure the Skyline Drive makes your list of things to do in Luray VA. If you can manage to do so close to golden hour, that’s even better as those sunset colours make the drive even more magical!

Explore the City of Harrisonburg

If you do hop on the Skyline Drive, chances are you’ll pop out at Swift Run Gap. While you can head back to Luray along the 340, I recommend heading a little further west to the city of Harrisonburg! Let’s just say that with the tagline ‘friendly by nature’, you’re guaranteed to feel right at home.

The city has a very west coast vibe with friendly faces, unique shops and a relaxed atmosphere. There are a number of fascinating museums and historical sites that are worth checking out. The Valley Turnpike Museum inside the Harrisonburg Visitors Centre shares the history of US Route 11 and the pivotal part it played in settling the Shenandoah Valley. There’s also the Virginia Quilt Museum which is much cooler than your grandma’s sewing collection, the Museum of American Jewellery Design and Manufacturing, the Explore More Children’s Museum that will entertain the kid in everyone, and more.

One spot you can’t miss in Harrisonburg is the Agora Downtown Market. This collection of local artisans is absolutely impressive and they have so many amazing items! You’ll find amazing t-shirt designs, handmade bags, hand-poured candles, vintage clothing and more. Peruse the bright and airy open-concept space and I will be surprised if you walk out empty-handed.

Take a Mini Road Trip to Staunton

Since we’re talking about road trips, just another half hour south along Interstate 81 is another fantastic spot to visit. Pronounced Stan-tonne, this beautiful city has plenty to offer Virginians and visitors alike.

Start with a stroll through the downtown core. Take a moment to admire the gorgeous architecture as it’s the only city in the United States where you’ll see designs inspired by countries around the world side by side! You also won’t miss some of the incredible street art, including the gorgeous “You Belong Here” mural by Charlottesville artist Christie Baker on 102 West Beverley Street facing North Central Avenue.

Close by is the Wharf Historic District which is where Staunton grew as a city in its early days. The arrival of the Virginia Central Railroad in 1854 brought with it business opportunities and tourism. While it’s changed quite a bit since those days of saloons, distilleries, liveries, and brothels, the Wharf Historic District is still bursting with character. Now you’ll find a number of boutique shops, restaurants, the Staunton Farmer’s Market and more. Make sure you head up to Sears Hill and Woodrow Park for some great views of the city before you depart!

Good Vibes & Great Eats To Be Had at The Speakeasy in Luray :: I've Been Bit! Travel Blog

Good Vibes & Great Eats To Be Had at The Speakeasy in Luray

Places to Eat in Luray Virginia

All that exploring is certain to work up one’s appetite. Luckily there are a number of great restaurants in Luray to grab a meal! When hunger strikes, check out these spots in town.

Baby Moons

Keep an eye out for the big EAT arrow as you explore Luray and head to Baby Moons. One of the many family-owned businesses on Main Street, it’s a popular spot thanks to its delicious desserts, tasty sandwiches and homemade quiches. Plenty of old signage and memorable hang on the walls of this kitschy restaurant so settle in at one of the old school booths and take in the unique atmosphere. They also have a lovely outdoor patio in the summer months so you can soak up some sunshine as you sink into one of their cinnamon buns, danishes or other tasty treats.

Gathering Grounds Patisserie & Cafe

If you’re looking for good food with good friends then Gathering Grounds is the place to get together! This coffee and espresso bar has a number of breakfast items, gourmet sandwiches, soups, salads and pastries made fresh each day. The folks at Gathering Grounds pride themselves on their homemade menu as all of their meats are roasted and hand carved on the premises. They also have a number of vegetarian options for the herbivores though I’m most excited about their coffee flights that change weekly where you can try four out of their six brews!

The Valley Cork

One of Luray’s most popular restaurants, The Valley Cork is an adorable little eatery in the heart of town. It’s beautifully decorated with rustic wooden accents and a gorgeous bookshelf featured along one wall. Their menu is limited but they often have daily specials like their homemade chili and chicken and dumplings which are not to be missed. Easily one of the cutest restaurants in Luray, The Valley Cork is also a wine bar and bottle shop so if you’re looking to just grab a drink or get a bottle to go, be sure to stop by! Reservations are recommended.

The Speakeasy

Located inside the charming Mimslyn Inn, The Speakeasy is located at the inn’s once secret east entrance. It is inspired by the hotel’s early days during the prohibition era where you’ll find themed cocktails in this 1930s themed restaurant. Their menu changes seasonally and offers a variety of eats from hearty meals to appetizers and lighter fare. The Speakeasy has nightly specials and often features live music, making it a popular destination for both locals and visitors alike. 

The Exterior of the Elegant Mimslyn Inn :: I've Been Bit! Travel Blog

The Ever-Elegant Mimslyn Inn – A Top Hotel in Luray VA

Top Places to Stay in Luray

Luray’s proximity to destinations like Washington, Roanoke and Richmond make it a perfect day trip destination, but the best way to experience the area is with an overnight stay. While there are a number of great options for hotels in Luray, there’s one that stands out above the rest… literally.

The ever-elegant Mimslyn Inn is perched atop one of the tallest points in town, offering brilliant views of Luray. This 1931 classic Southern mansion-style hotel is nestled in the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley. Embrace luxury with their tall ceilings, elegant decor and beautifully manicured gardens as the Mimslyn Inn is the perfect spot to call home during your visit.

The Mimslyn Inn offers a number of accommodation options. I had the pleasure of staying in one of their historic rooms that are quite spacious and offer a queen-size bed. You’ll sleep soundly with their pillow-top bedding and luxury linens. They also have a full bathroom and quality toiletries in case you didn’t pack your own. However, they also have three varieties of suites that offer more room featuring pull-out sofa beds, jetted tubs and workstations for those business travellers on the go. Lastly, the Mimslyn Inn oversees four cottages and the gorgeous Manor House for those who are looking for more space during their visit to Luray.

On-site you’ll find a number of amenities to ensure your stay is wonderful. Guests have access to their fitness centre, seasonal outdoor pool as well as their hot tub that is accessible year-round. Spoil yourself to a relaxing massage or reflexology treatment at the spa. Grab a bite to eat at Circa ’31 or the Speakeasy. Then you can walk off that meal with their on-site trails or snuggle up at one of the outdoor fire pits. There are honestly so many that you really don’t need to leave once you’re checked in – though I certainly recommend exploring what Luray has to offer! 

See what others have to say about their experience at the Mimslyn Inn or book your stay now! If the Mimslyn Inn is all booked up during your visit, there are a number of other great hotels in Luray. Some other fantastic options include the elegant The Inn of the Shenandoah Bed and Breakfast, the Hotel Laurance (complete with library!), and the adorable Hawksbill House.

One of the Many Magnificent Views You'll Find in the Luray Caverns :: I've Been Bit! Travel Blog

One of the Many Magnificent Views You’ll Find in the Luray Caverns

Planning Your Trip to Luray

Have I convinced you to plan a visit with all of these things to do around Luray Virginia? Here are some frequently asked questions about visiting the town to ensure you enjoy your trip to the fullest.

Where is Luray VA?

Luray Virginia is located in Page County at the crossroads of US-340 and Bypass 211 just 20 minutes from Interstate 81. It’s approximately an hour from the Virginia/West Virginia border and less than two hours from the Virginia/Maryland border. It certainly makes a great day trip or weekend getaway from both states!

What is Luray VA known for?

Luray is best known for the famous Luray Caverns as this series of underground caves are a sight to behold. The historic downtown core is also a draw to visit the town as well as its close proximity to the northern section of Shenandoah National Park.

What is there to do in Luray VA?

As this blog post outlines, there are plenty of great things to do in Luray VA! The underground caverns are a must see when in the area. The complex features a number of attractions that are worth checking out and are included with your admission fee. Luray might not be very big but it has plenty of small town charm with beautiful architecture, great restaurants, cafes and more.

What are some of the free things to do in Luray?

On a budget? No problem! There are a few ways you can experience the area without spending money. Some of the free things to do in Luray are:

  • Explore the historic downtown core of Luray
  • Walk along the Hawksbill Greenway
  • Check out the Belle Brown Northcott Memorial
  • Visit the Luray Train Station Museum and Visitors Centre
  • Dare to visit Murder Mountain

Looking for More Things to Do in Virginia?
Check Out All the Stops to See on An I-81 Road Trip
Don’t Miss These Top Lookouts Along the I-81 in Virginia
See Why There’s Only One With This Guide to Wytheville, VA

Disclaimer:
This post is brought to you in partnership with Virginia Tourism. While I was compensated for my time, all of the content and opinions here are honest and speak to my personal experience!

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