Just an hour’s drive from Washington DC, you’ll find Fredericksburg, a charming historic city with a bloody past. Some of the bitterest battles of the Civil War were fought here, and the city’s close ties with George Washington and James Monroe made it a frequent stopping point for influential figures during the Revolutionary War.
Fredericksburg’s quaint colonial streets, historic attractions, and quirky antique shops and boutiques have always attracted US tourists in their droves, but until now the city has remained little-known by travellers from further afield, overshadowed by its better-known neighbours Charlottesville and Richmond.
This year, the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, is the perfect time to discover a city closely linked with the historic conflict.
Why should I visit now?
For history buffs, Fredericksburg is best known as the site of the most one-sided battle in the Civil War. The Battle of Fredericksburg saw the Union experience a crushing defeat, suffering more than twice as many casualties as the Confederates. Thousands more died in the nearby Battles of Wilderness, Chancellorsville and Spotsylvania Court House.
Fredericksburg has marked the 150th anniversary in style, with re-enactments and smaller exhibits and performances highlighting the impact of the Civil War on the city and surrounding area.
What should I see?
Beyond the battlefields, there’s plenty to see in Fredericksburg. Top of the list should be Mary Washington House, a fascinating homage to George Washington’s mother, who lived here from 1772 until her death.
Just a short walk away is Kenmore Plantation, the former home of Washington’s sister, Betty Washington Lewis, and her husband. This Georgian-style mansion has been beautifully restored and is set in stunning grounds.
Another famous Washington family residence is the Rising Sun Tavern. Initially the house of George’s younger brother Charles, this place was a frequent stopping point for many influential figures during the Revolutionary War, most notably Thomas Jefferson. The building became a popular tavern in 1791 and is now a living museum.
Other important sites include the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library, a museum filled with an eclectic mix of objects from the life of the Fifth President of the United States (who practised law in Fredericksburg), and Chatham Manor, a former plantation house that was the site of a slave rebellion in the nineteenth century and later became a hospital during the Civil War.
Where do only the locals know about?
Locals will tell you that the very best way to get a feel for Fredericksburg is to stroll through the streets of the Old Town and explore some of the city’s more unusual shops.
Must-see stores include the Picket Post, a veritable treasure trove of items from the Civil War battlefields; the Cottage Room, a shop dedicated to antique teapots and jewellery; and Fraser Wood Elements, which specializes in distinctive wooden furniture and one-of-a-kind hand-carved items. A tempting array of fresh fruit, vegetables, bread and local wine can also be found at the Farmers’ Market in Hurkamp Park.
Where are the best places to eat?
No trip to Fredericksburg would be complete without visiting Carl’s. There’s always a queue round the block for this retro frozen custard stand, which set up business in 1947 and hasn’t changed a bit since then. Opt for a scoop of one of the three flavours available (vanilla, chocolate and strawberry), or try one of the legendary root beer floats.
Where can I stay?
There’s a wealth of hotels to choose from in Fredericksburg, but if you want to really immerse yourself in the history of the city you should book a room at the Kenmore Inn. Set in a series of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century buildings in the heart of the Old Town, the rooms are beautifully decorated with colonial-style furniture.