Located an hour south of Washington DC and an hour north of the state capitol Richmond, Fredericksburg began as a tobacco seaport until the Civil War, when, in December of 1862, the area became synonymous with a battle that took the lives of 12, 000 thousands soldiers. Today, visitors come for an education in Revolutionary War and Civil War history and a chance to explore the numerous museums and historical sites.
Before coming into town, check out VisitFred.com for tons of planning suggestions, itineraries, and events. The website is well organized and offers lots of filters geared towards specific interests. Check here for special seasonal events. There are many historical spots throughout the greater Fredericksburg area and many of them are included in either the Timeless Ticket or Day Pass. The Timeless Ticket allows a visitor one time access to nine locations without an expiration date. Children receive a free Timeless Ticket with every adult ticket purchased. The Timeless Ticket is definitely the way to see many of the most popular sites (and ones we’ve mentioned below) and allows visitors the flexibility of not cramming everything in one day (although there is a Day Pass with 24 hours access).
Alternatively, the Washington Heritage Museums oversees the Apothecary, Rising Sun Tavern, and Mary Washington House and offers a combination Heritage Pass ticket to visit all three locations for a reduced rate. More information, including special events, can be found here.
Getting around town: Fredericksburg is the most pedestrian friendly city we have visited. Motorists stopped for us at every crosswalk and many times when we were approaching a crosswalk. There is plenty of 2 hour free street parking (Sundays are all day!) and plenty of public lots- check out the map with locations here. A very useful map with popular locations (many of which are on our top 10 list) can be found here (and hard copies are available at the Visitor Centers). We felt very safe and comfortable walking around town.
Caroline Street is a main road (one way) with lots of great boutiques and restaurants. Because we were with children who don’t consider shopping a fun excursion we passed through quickly, but I would have loved to go back and duck in to several shops and graze at many restaurants. We did have a great dinner at Capitol Ale House ; definitely get the Bavarian pretzel- it’s huge! Make sure to leave room for dessert; Fredericksburg Cupcakes are delicious and come in a variety of flavors and toppings. A more complete list of dining options can be found here– and you can filter by interest.
The locations we’ve included below are family friendly and offer guided tours or kid friendly activities that are under an hour. Some of them do not have restrooms on site and not handicap accessible (we’ve noted it) and many have limited hours on the weekend and during “off season” so check ahead of time.
10 Family Friendly Things to Do in Fredericksburg:
1. Stop at the Fredericksburg Visitor Center on Caroline Street and pick up tickets, tours, and information. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable and has tons of takeaway information. Make sure to grab a seasonal chart with top spots to visit, admission hours, admission fees, and other pertinent information. The Center also has more in depth information, brochures, and souvenirs. The Center sells tickets for guided tours and Timeless Tickets, which I highly recommend for substantial savings if you plan on visiting multiple spots on this list. There are restrooms on site. Visitor Centers are also located on Southpoint Parkway (Spotsylvania) and Falmouth (Stafford County).
2. Smell dozens of ointments, medicines, and potions used by Dr. Hugh Mercer at his Apothecary Shop. Dr. Mercer provided medical treatment for many of the locals, including Mary Washington. A guide explains how the various flowers, vegetables, and animal and fish parts are used to cure various diseases and ailments. The main floor also includes the doctor’s office and an exhibit room. The upstairs powder room and bedroom are self guided and not handicap accessible. Tours take 30 minutes and the museum has no restrooms or handicap accessibility.
3. Brush up on your decorum and etiquette at the Rising Sun Tavern, built in 1762 by George Washington’s youngest brother. It was later turned into a tavern, and then a museum in 1907. Guided tours describe life in Fredericksburg in the late 1700s and share stories explaining the meaning of “getting off on the wrong foot” and the carousing of the “tavern wenches”. There are no restrooms on site and the museum is not handicap accessible. Plan to spend 45 minutes for a tour.
4. Debunk myths about “closet taxes” and lifting pinkies while sipping tea at the Mary Washington House. Learn about the fierce stubbornness and independence of Mary Washington, mother of America’s 1st president George Washington, at her home. Orphaned by the age of 13, Mary gave birth to 6 children and raised them throughout three homes in Virginia. She spent the last 17 years of her life (1772-1789) at this home in Fredericksburg before dying at the age of 80, more than double the expected age for women during that time. Have children look out for the pale green paint in the sitting room (expensive for the time period because it was “painted with money” copper), the chamber pot hidden in a sitting chair, and the mirror the Washington family actually used on a daily basis. A copy of her will is displayed on the second floor, which is self guided and includes several bedrooms. Tours last approximately 30 minutes, plus time to explore upstairs, and only the first floor of the museum is handicap accessible.
5. Complete the scavenger hunt at the James Monroe Museum. Monroe, the 5th President of America, practiced law in Fredericksburg before serving virtual every political position before becoming president The museum includes a brief introductory video and several pieces of furniture Monroe used to furnish the White House after it was burnt down by British soldiers. Kids can complete a scavenger hunt, sort items Monroe would have brought on a trip, check out the china used by Monroe and his family and learn about Monroe’s granddaughter who opened the home as a museum in 1927. There is space for puzzles, games, and a reading nook. The museum is handicap accessible for the main floor, but there is one step up to one portion of the museum and restrooms are located on the lower level.
6. Study the history of the area at the Fredericksburg Area Museum, housed in the former mayor’s office and city council chambers building. Be on the lookout for a manual cash register from a shoe store in the 1930s, a switchboard unit used in town, a soap box derby car, a massive Civil War musket collection, and a collection of cellophane (a local production plant produced thousands of rolls in every color, width, and weight). The museum is handicap accessible and restrooms are located on the basement floor and third floor. Plan one hour to explore the museum, a little longer to linger on some exhibits.
7. Retrace the steps of Confederate and Union soldiers during the December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. Start at the Fredericksburg Visitor’s Center and spend time exploring the museum exhibits learning about the battle. Make sure kids complete a Junior Ranger booklet to earn a special badge. There is a 22 minute introductory film (nominal charge) and guided tours of the Sunken Road are offered multiple times each day. The Sunken Road, the focal point of the day long battle where more than 8,000 soldiers died, is also a self-guided ¾ mile path. Grab a map and drive to the six stops on the driving tour- more information here. The book store sells souvenirs and historical books- make sure to stamp your National Park Passport. The park also includes the National Cemetery, establish in 1865, which is the resting spot for Union soldiers; Confederate soldiers are buried in cemeteries by the courthouse. There are four spots on a walking tour with a map here. The main floor of the museum is handicap accessible and restrooms are located near the bookstore. Plan on an hour to explore the museum and nearby grounds, longer for the walk on the Sunken Road and driving tour.
8. (Literally) Pull up a chair inside George Washington’s childhood home, Ferry Farm. The original home, built in 1727 and purchased by George’s father Augustine in 1738, was one of three plantations that the Washington family owned. The original home was left to ruins after the Civil War until archeologists uncovered the foundation of the home in 2008. Historians spent a decade confirming the exact blueprint of the home and recreating it. A replica home opened in 2018 on the exact spot of the original home and includes all replica furniture and furnishings. The best part? The home is heated and air conditioned and kids can touch and sit on EVERYTHING! Kids will be intrigued by the sugar trunk, roped beds, and wig curlers (there were over 200 found on the property). Guides tours last approximately 30 minutes and the first floor of the home is handicap accessible. Start in the Visitor Center, which has two rooms explaining how archeologists discovered the grounds and foundation of the home as well as the will of Augustine Washington and the probate inventory of all items in the original house (which is how the museum was able to recreate everything to match the original home). iPads are available to take self-guided tours of the grounds and for guests who cannot climb the stairs to the second floor of the house. Check out the various signs of the “Rules of Civility.” Leave time to explore the gardens, walk down to the Rappahannock River for the best views of the house, and ask the archeologists working on site questions. Restrooms are located in the Visitor Center and in a separate building on the short walk to the home. Because there is no lighting in the home, the home and museum close earlier in the fall and is closed in January and February.
9. Evaluate the decorating skills of Betty Washington and Fielding Lewis at their retirement home, Kenmore. It took 80 servants of George Washington’s sister Betty and her husband five years to build the home, completed in 1775. After their death, the property was sold by Betty’s son to pay off a substantial family debt Fielding had accrued helping to fund the Revolutionary War through his gunnery. Two more families lived in the home until the early 1900s when it was abandoned. Local members of the Daughters of the American Revolution saved the home from demolition and it opened as a museum in 1925, with a Visitor Center added in 1975. Guided tours are offered throughout the day and last 30 minutes. Tours include access to the first floor of the home- visitors will surely be impressed by the extravagant paintings and stucco ceilings and murals, which have been exquisitely maintained. Check out the 12 fashion plates displayed in the drawing room which offered the ladies of the home suggestions for fashion choices each month. A replica kitchen is located to the left of the house and a replica laundry cottage is stationed to the right of the home. Photography is not allowed in the home or museum. Plan on 30 minutes to explore the Visitor Center, which includes a small gift shop and restrooms, in addition to the guided tour.
10. Honor the men and women who serve as United States Marines at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, just outside Fredericksburg in Triangle, Virginia. The museum, which opened in 2006, is already expanding, with galleries starting with the Revolutionary War through the Vietnam War. The museum has thousands of real artifacts used in combat, including aircraft, tanks, and vehicles. There are uniforms and medals from every war, and several areas geared towards explaining complicated events in our nation’s history to children. Children under six will like the Children’s Gallery and Chesty’s Corner. The museum has both a cafeteria and full service restaurant on site, as well as an outdoor Memorial Walk with over 40 displays honoring individuals, corps, and events, and a chapel. The museum is FREE to visit 364 days a year (closed on Christmas) and is fully handicap accessible. Plan on at least 3-4 hours to fully explore the museum and view the introductory video.
Staying Local: We always stay at Marriott properties (you can read about why here) and found the Courtyard Fredericksburg to be accommodating and in the perfect location. We walked to most of these locations and the hotel is surrounded by dozens of dining options.
Disclosure: My family was provided Timeless Tickets to explore Fredericksburg. All opinions expressed are my own.