Simultaneously, beaches and forests continue to beckon nature lovers of all ages. Bird watchers spotting a cerulean warbler are just as giddy as adrenalin junkies tackling Class IV river rapids. While the ads for this state say “Virginia is for lovers,” in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Southeast Virginia, the stage is set to welcome the adventurer, foodie, culture monger and sophisticated shopper.
Government organizations, associations and faith-based entities have long been meeting clients here, says Joni Johnson, national sales manager for Virginia Tourism Corporation. They know the hidden secrets behind this superior destination, and the word is getting out. According to meeting experts, the busiest time for meetings is fall and spring, but the value season runs December through March, and July through mid-September.
Endowed with horse farms and vineyards, Northern Virginia is home to more than one-third of the state’s 2.8 million residents. Much of the populace is affluent and highly educated, and half of the state’s Fortune 500 firms are headquartered here.
A bold renaissance is transforming older neighborhoods, particularly in Alexandria, Reston and Arlington. Trendy restaurants, along with new galleries and theaters, have come to stay. Reston’s Passion Fish boasts a drool-worthy lobster roll and decor reminiscent of an ocean liner. Meanwhile, in Alexandria fans rave about Cedar Knoll Inn’s new American dishes with Argentinean flair.
The after-dinner crowd often heads to Old Town in Alexandria, where music emanates from storied buildings. Among many clubs, Murphy’s Irish Pub woos patrons with Celtic song. You can find live jazz at 219 Restaurant and guitar solos at Bilbo Baggins. Old Town is defined as the city’s entertainment and shopping district, with the majority of meeting hotels within walking distance.
Arlington’s Clarendon district sizzles with dozens of eateries and bars. Likewise, visitors love The Village at Shirlington, a European-style promenade that includes more than 35 shops and restaurants in Arlington.
Culture hounds give nods to Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, where attendees can watch a show under the stars. Wolf Trap is the country’s only national park dedicated to the performing arts and is famous for concerts.
Adventure is Calling
Following hours in a boardroom, a trip to Great Falls Park, an 800-acre spectacle of waterfalls and trails in McLean, will untangle mental cobwebs. A canal boat ride, during which park rangers dress in period clothing, is another fitting way to unwind and experience the 19th century.
Attendees can savor the outdoors and local specialties at more than 40 wineries in Loudoun County. Reston Limousine delivers groups for a full or half-day of libations, and it can customize tours.
Meanwhile, horse lovers can get their kicks at Salamander Resort & Spa, Loudoun’s grandest luxury property. The Equi-Spective Experience allows participants to learn to work with each other by communicating with horses. There are even stables so that guests can board their own horses.
“With rolling hills, lush vineyards and stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Loudoun is a unique and affordable meeting escape just 25 miles from Washington, D.C.,” says Jennifer Ritter, director of sales for Visit Loudoun.
Airports serving this region include Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD).
Served by Richmond International Airport (RIC), this thriving metropolis reigns as the capital of Virginia, with Civil War sites throughout. Richmond was hailed as the capital of the Confederacy and the epicenter for slave trading. Today, museums and site markers remind visitors of the sober past.
While respecting much of the city’s original architecture, Richmond entrepreneurs are getting the OK to renovate century-old buildings. “When people weren’t looking, we got surprisingly hip,” says Kristin McGrath, vice president of sales and services for Richmond Region Tourism. “Most people think of Richmond as only a historic destination, but we are cool.”
Shockoe Slip is very cool. This previous working-class neighborhood for the tobacco industry is a nightlife mecca, with cobblestone streets, alleyways, restaurants and boutique shops. The Tobacco Company Restaurant, located in a former tobacco warehouse, is as an icon with fine dining.
The Shockoe Bottom District is becoming a distinctive arts and fashion enclave led by retailer Shockoe Denim, which designs and sews men’s jeans onsite. Carytown, known as the “Mile of Style,” is another trendy area that is packed with boutiques and top-notch restaurants. Not to be missed is the Fan District, which is dotted with Edwardian- and Revival-style homes, bookstores and cafes, and is a key part of Richmond’s urban resurgence.
Those with gourmet palates can dive into the downtown core with more than 190 eating establishments. Epicureans can sign up with Real Richmond Food Tours to sample yummy plates.
Craving beer or cider? Tourists can join a Richmond Brewery Tour. At least a dozen breweries in Richmond craft the delicious concoctions in novel ways. Lickinghole Creek, a 260-acre farm that creates artisan beers, uses orange peel, vanilla and ginger. Meanwhile, Blue Bee Cider blends apple cider with hops or mulberries.
Adventure is Calling
Richmond’s outdoor activities are diverse, from a stroll through the 40-acre Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden to racing with an instructor at Richmond International Raceway.
Some of the most popular outdoor activities are compliments of the James River, which helps Richmond stand out as the only urban setting with Class III and IV rapids. Even if attendees aren’t ready for whitewater rafting, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the James, including float trips, tubing and pontoon boat tours that show off the bald eagle population.
Fishing on the James and its many tributaries has made a huge comeback thanks to conservation efforts by groups such as the James River Association. Today, a portion of the river that runs through Richmond offers the best smallmouth bass fishing on the East Coast.
For many, Southeastern Virginia conjures up images of the famous Virginia Beach boardwalk. But there is so much more.
Virginia Beach is a serious meeting hub anchored by Virginia Beach Convention Center, with 500,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and 80 hotels. A half-hour away is Norfolk, a bustling port town with a strong military persona. Chesapeake is the state’s third largest city and is dotted with canals and wetlands. Across the Chesapeake Bay is historic Hampton, home to Hampton University and the oldest African-American museum.
Events in these communities are bolstered by 160 daily flights at Norfolk International Airport (ORF). For those who want to combine a meeting or an event with a pre- or post-trip to Virginia’s Historic Triangle (Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown), consider flying through Newport News Williamsburg International Airport (PHF), which is about an hour from the oceanfront.
Town Center is Virginia Beach’s newest urban alcove, featuring eats and sleeps at the Westin Town Center, Crowne Plaza Hotel and Hilton Garden Inn. With the 1,300-seat Sandler Center for the Performing Arts plus more than 120 restaurants and shops, Town Center is great for groups.
For a celebratory dinner, planners should reserve the AAA Four Diamond 50-seat Terrapin as early as possible. Chef Rodney Einhorn raises the bar with winning wagyu beef cheek and duck pot pie entrees. “This restaurant is definitely on the bucket list for every Virginian, and a must-do for every visitor,” says Sally Noona, director of convention sales and marketing for the Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Virginia Beach’s locally grown produce and fresh coastal catches add flair to all of the menus throughout the city.”
For entertainment in Norfolk, consider a concert at Attucks Theatre, a national historic landmark. Also renown is the restored NorVa Theater, rated by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the venues that “rocks the hardest.”
Norfolk also scores high for food and nightlife. The Ghent District is made up of antique shops, coffee houses and restaurants. In the Freemason area, the 142-year-old Freemason Abbey Restaurant offers patrons fine dining in a former Presbyterian church.
Bordering Virginia Beach and Norfolk is Chesapeake, consistently rated one of the 100 best places to live. Chesapeake features Cahoon Plantation golf course, which offers 1,100 sq. ft. of meeting space in the clubhouse and an outdoor covered pavilion that overlooks the greens. Lunch meetings for up to 180 can take place at the elegant Amber Lantern Restaurant on the Intracoastal Waterway. It features Mediterranean cuisine. The Irish Isle Bed & Breakfast, situated on 11 acres with a pond and waterfall, is popular for business functions.
After hours, Chesapeake’s Greenbrier is a hip neighborhood, with hot spots such as 45 Degrees Martini and GameWorks sports bar and lounge.
Hampton has a notable meeting complex that features the state-of-the-art Hampton Roads Convention Center and the 13,800-seat Hampton Coliseum. Other event space can be found at historic Fort Monroe, which was proclaimed a National Monument in 2011. Hampton University provides lots of meeting space, including the Convocation Center, which can seat 8,200.
Adventure is Calling
Virginia Beach is an aquatic playground, with miles of coastline thanks to the Atlantic Ocean, Chesapeake Bay and tributaries. The Virginia Beach Boardwalk, a three-mile paved esplanade, is open to pedestrians and cyclists, and serves as a thoroughfare for beachfront concerts and events.
Intrinsic to Virginia’s pastimes is fishing; more fish species live here than in any other state. Even beginners have strong chances of hooking a big one. Charter companies such as AquaMan Fishing outfit anglers with all the necessary gear.
The Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium in Virginia Beach features rope courses and ziplines. The 13 trails range in levels of difficulty, so everyone in the group can have some fun.
The new Pleasure House Oyster Farm Tours ferries guests past oyster farms to learn about the celebrated Lynnhaven oyster. Onboard, visitors can share a bottle of wine and, of course, fresh oysters.
Even with a depressing name, Dismal Swamp Canal is an upbeat destination for gatherings. Attendees can ply the 22-mile waterway via canoe or kayak and end up at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. The forested wetland is a favorite for hiking and bird watching.
Something for Everyone
There are an abundance of services and activities in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Southeast Virginia. These regions are remarkably affordable compared to first-tier cities, and offer authentic Southern hospitality within reach of local and international airports. These areas prove that Virginia isn’t only for lovers; it’s for everyone.
- It’s pronounced Naw-fok, not Nor-folk.
- Virginia Beach features more than 20 golf courses.
- Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is the world’s largest bridge-tunnel complex, stretching 23 miles by virtue of its seven bridges and seven tunnels. It connects Virginia Beach to Delaware. For people with phobias, the police department will assign an employee to drive their cars across the bridge.
- Tysons Corner in Northern Virginia is the Rodeo Drive of the East Coast. Shopaholics will never tire of paying homage to the more than 500 stores within one square mile.
- Arlington is considered one of the country’s most bicycle-friendly towns. A favorite ride runs along the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Trail, a 45-mile, paved shared-use pathway.
- Most Northern Virginia cities are less than 30 minutes from Washington, D.C., thanks to the Silver Line rail that was launched in August.
Major Meeting Venues
In Reston; 15 minutes from lodging of all price points; 5,700 sq. ft. of space divided among 10 rooms; site works with local caterers to create unique menus; offers reduced meeting-room rates when scheduling multiple dates.
Former Woolworth Building in Arlington underwent a $2 million renovation in 2000; Art Deco property has become luminous event space; accommodates up to 700 people; rooftop pavilion and 80-foot-long Brazilian cherry wood bar have been added.
State-of-the-art facility located in McLean’s Tysons Corner; offers its own tech, production and gourmet food team; 15,000 sq. ft. provides six conference rooms that can handle up to 200 for meetings and 300 for receptions.
AAA Four Diamond hotel near Reston Town Center; designated rooms are certified Hyatt hypoall-ergenic rooms; six miles from Dulles International Airport; 518 guest rooms; 32,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; multimillion-dollar renovation in 2014. q
Downtown hotel features concierges dubbed “personal navigators,” so attendees are in good hands; 287 guest rooms; 17,307 sq. ft. of meeting and event space; in Pentagon Row shopping district.
Leesburg compound situated in 110 wooded acres; 917 guest rooms; 250,000 sq. ft. of event space; fitness center open 24 hours.
Next to Tysons Galleria; hotel includes day spa; named among top 50 hotels by Conde Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice Awards; 398 guest rooms.
State’s largest exhibition and meeting facility, with 700,000 sq. ft. of space; 179,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space; nearby attractions include Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Black History Museum, White House of Confederacy and Science Museum of Virginia.
Luxury hotel overlooks James River; at the center of financial and legislative districts; indoor pool; Tesla charging station; 361 guest rooms; 15,000 sq. ft. of event space; eight miles from Richmond International Airport. q
Connected to Greater Richmond Convention Center via skywalk; 410 guest rooms; 26,760 sq. ft. of event space that complements convention center.
On the Virginia Commonwealth University campus; multipurpose facility has 190,000 sq. ft., including Verizon Center, with 42,000 sq. ft.
Grand hotel built in the 19th century; one of only 33 in North America to carry both the Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond ratings; 262 guest rooms; 26,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Only 15 minutes from Norfolk International Airport (ORF); next to 226-room Marriott; 39,000 sq. ft. of meeting and banquet space; outdoor terraces can also be utilized.
Working glass studio accommodates up to 220 for seated diners and 720 for standing receptions; rental includes use of one of the galleries and gardens; fine-art museum and historic houses.
Renovation expected to be complete in March; next to Virginia Beach Convention Center, with complimentary transportation to and from the beach; 292 guest rooms; 12,040 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Distinguished by giant white sail cloths for nautical theme; light-filled facility features 344,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 102,000-square-foot exhibit hall; accommodates 14,000; connected to 295-room Embassy Suites Hotel. q
On-campus facility provides 14,000 sq. ft. of event space; suitable for assemblies, sporting events and concerts; historic campus is a bonus.
Adjacent to Chesapeake Convention Center; indoor pool; fitness center; restaurant and lounge; 226 guest rooms; 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Centrally located near park and waterfront; piano lounge; restaurant; fitness center; indoor pool; set in historic district with access to food and nightlife; 405 guest rooms; 60,000 sq. ft. of event space.
Located in heart of historic district with view of Elizabeth River; indoor pool; fitness center; seafood restaurant; 244 guest rooms; 24,355 sq. ft. of meeting space.
First convention center in United States to earn LEED Gold certification for existing buildings; offers more than 29,000 sq. ft. of meeting, exhibit space; 150,000 sq. ft. column-free exhibit hall; 31,000 square-foot-ballroom five blocks to the beach.
Private beach on Chesapeake Bay; free bikes; access to Seashore State Park; located just 10 miles from Norfolk International Airport; 295 suites; 16,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
• Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association – visitalexandriava.com
• Destination DC – washington.org
• Hampton Convention & Visitors Bureau – visithampton.com
• Norfolk Convention & Visitors Bureau – visitnorfolktoday.com
• Richmond Region Tourism – visitrichmondva.com
• Stay Arlington – stayarlington.com
• Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau – visitvirginiabeach.com
• Virginia Tourism Corporation – virginia.com
• Visit Chesapeake – visitchesapeake.com
• Visit Fairfax – fxva.com
• Visit Loudoun County – visitloudoun.org