In Virginia, rhythms of the South blend with cosmopolitan buzz
If you’re looking for varied terrain and vibe as well as interesting history and distinctive local cultures with meeting destinations capitalizing on them, Virginia has something epic for your group.
From the Tidewater region in the southeast to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west, and from Southern-inspired influences to the cosmopolitan buzz of our nation’s capital in the north, this state offers planners compelling reasons to meet here.
Virginians are very proud of their state’s long and colorful history, especially the gatherings that unfolded in Williamsburg during the 18th century as patriots prepared to go to war with England. Today, there’s equally important face-to-face decision-making in Northern Virginia, which regularly hosts U.S. and international politicians for detente and black-tie galas.
“Fairfax County is indeed an ideal place to meet,” says Barry Biggar, president and CEO of Visit Fairfax. “Aside from our proximity to Washington, DC, the area offers an incredible array of attractions, restaurants and hotels. Companies meeting here not only get the big-city vibe without the big-city prices, but enjoy easy access to top thinkers in research and government, and benefit from cutting-edge technology developed here.”
George Washington’s house, Mount Vernon
Northern Virginia: DC’s Neighbor
Fairfax and Arlington counties are where the distinct rhythms of the South meld into the international hubbub of Washington, DC.
“There’s a definite multicultural atmosphere in Fairfax County,” says Jan Morehead, CAE, who brought 170 from the Virginia Department of Transportation to Fairfax Marriott at Fair Oaks in December for the annual Dialogue with VDOT. “And our attendees who come from abroad really appreciate that. There are ethnic restaurants, and shops with foreign goods and foods. Yet, the area also has some quintessentially American day trips: wine country, horse country, George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon. And, even though it’s one of America’s wealthiest counties, the prices for meetings are very reasonable.”
Fairfax County sits across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. The county boasts world-class museums such as Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly and Civil War battlefields. National and state parks abound, including Great Falls Park and Meadowlark Botanical Gardens (home to the only public Korean Bell Garden in the Western Hemisphere), as well as expansive hiking and biking trails. Fairfax County also has a constantly evolving foodie scene, and is said to have the largest concentration of shopping on the East Coast, outside of Manhattan.
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, Vienna
There, you can host your meeting at the home of the first president of the United States. Mount Vernon is considered the most popular historic home in America. It offers meeting spaces inside and out, one of which is George Washington’s Distillery & Gristmill. (Yes, he entered the whiskey business in 1797 and apparently was pretty successful at it.)
Another key venue in Fairfax County is Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, the only national park dedicated exclusively to the performing arts. It has meeting and event space for up to 400 people.
Even though Fairfax’s roots trace as far back as the 17th century, its focus is squarely on the future. Five new Metrorail stations recently opened here, enhancing accessibility to DC and local dining/shopping centers such as Tysons Corner in McLean. Metrorail’s continuing expansion will reach Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) by 2020.
Convene, the New York-based conference-center builder, recently opened Convene at Tysons, its first conference center outside Manhattan, with 15,000 sq. ft. of state-of-the-art technology and collaborative workspace. Nearby hotels include Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner Center (300 guest rooms, 15,500 sq. ft. of meeting space) and Crowne Plaza Tysons Corner (316 guest rooms, 5,400 sq. ft. of meeting space).
The Mosaic District, a mixed-use shopping, restaurant and nightlife urban village, continues to grow in Fairfax. Angelika Film Center & Cafe has event space for 295. Coming soon is National Museum of the United States Army, tentatively scheduled to break ground in April and open in late-2019 or early-2020.
National Conference Center, Leesburg
In nearby Loudoun County, National Conference Center in Leesburg is very popular with meeting planners. It features 250,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, 917 guest rooms, amenities such as a fitness center and a location on 65 very scenic acres.
The conference center has helped put this Northern Virginia subregion on the meetings map. Leesburg is also home to AAA Four Diamond Lansdowne Resort, a luxurious retreat that is complemented by an IACC-certified conference center and 296 guest rooms.
Salamander Resort & Spa is located in Middleburg, 20 miles west of Washington Dulles International Airport. It offers 168 guest rooms and suites, a variety of meeting space including a 5,000-square-foot ballroom, a full-service spa and an equestrian center. There’s even a zipline course adjacent to the resort.
With more than 40 wineries, Loudoun County is considered Washington, DC’s wine country. It’s a meeting destination unto itself, tastefully blending the sophistication of the nation’s capital with a land ripe with sustainable food and locally grown wine.
Quirk Hotel, Richmond
Greater Richmond: Wine & Craft Brew
Virginia was the first of the 13 original colonies, and its capital city was also the capital of the Confederacy. Richmond is literally steeped in history. Yet, it, too, is undergoing some surprising changes. For instance, who would have thought that this area would become one of America’s emerging wine regions? The surrounding countryside is filled with wineries in which entrepreneurs are creating engaging new tastes, along with offering enchanting space for meetings and events.
“We’re within one day’s drive of half the U.S. population,” says Jack Berry, president and CEO and Richmond Region Tourism. “The size and central location of the Greater Richmond Convention Center—the largest in Virginia—make it a great choice for meeting planners. When the meetings are over, attendees love our vibrant outdoor, craft beer and culinary scenes. And we’ve recently been honored by several national magazines.”
James River Cellars Winery sits atop a picturesque hill in historic Hanover County, 10 minutes north of Richmond. The banquet room can accommodate up to 60 people, the big tent can hold up to 200 and 300 can gather on the lawn.
Black Heath Meadery, Richmond’s first meadery, opened last March, using local ingredients to bring the world’s oldest fermented beverage into the 21st century. Blue Bee Cider, in the heart of downtown, crafts fermented products and is the state’s only urban cidery.
Richmond’s hotel scene also is evolving. Quirk Hotel is an art-centric boutique property that opened in September in a building that was J.B. Mosby Dry Goods Store dating back to 1916. The Quirk showcases original commissioned artworks throughout its 75 guest rooms and artisanal restaurant, bar, rooftop terrace and two conference rooms for up to 20.
The Hilton Garden Inn Richmond Downtown was recently upgraded to Hilton Richmond Downtown, the first full-service Hilton hotel downtown. It reopened in November after an $11.5 million renovation. Meeting space was doubled to 12,000 sq. ft. and all 250 guest rooms were upgraded.
This city also has some interesting offsites. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, with a combination of historic old buildings and striking new ones, can hold dinners for 300 and receptions for 1,000. Science Museum of Virginia, in an old train depot listed on the National Register of Historic Places, can host receptions for 800.
Southeast of Richmond in New Kent County, Saude Creek Vineyards sits on the Pamunkey River, where climate and mineral-rich clay soils produce distinct wines. It was formerly an inn and public house for travelers heading to the Colonial capital of Williamsburg. Two of those travelers were George Washington and French Gen. Rochambeau. The winery can host meetings for up to 250.
New Kent Winery, 20 minutes from Richmond, features a terrace, tasting room and tented pavilion with space for more than 200 people. The quintessential winery was built almost entirely of reclaimed materials that date to the 1800s, connecting Virginia’s historic past with its burgeoning future. The winery also is conveniently located for those visiting Williamsburg.
Battleship USS Wisconsin, Naval Station Norfolk
Tidewater Region: Tides of History
Southeastern Virginia, with its scenic beaches and water everywhere, is known as the Tidewater region. The cities of Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Hampton, bordered by the ocean and bisected by Chesapeake Bay and rivers, offer interesting downtowns, plenty water sports and flexible meeting facilities, many overlooking the water.
Each year, Velma J. Ballard, associate director of administration at the Virginia Department of Housing & Community Development, brings 800 attendees to a different city for the Virginia Governor’s Housing Conference. She just staged a meeting in Hampton in November, and it’s become one of her favorites.
“Our attendees love Hampton,” she says. “It’s small enough to get around easily and to have very friendly people, but large enough to have a lot to see and do. The CVB and hotel people always seem to anticipate our every need before we even ask, and the Hampton Roads Convention Center is excellent. This year we did an offsite reception at the Virginia Air & Space Center. Can you spell awesome?”
Virginia Air & Space Center is the visitor center for NASA Langley Research Center and Langley Air Force Base. Attendees can dine below soaring aircraft or next to the Apollo 12 Command Module. (The original Mercury 7 astronauts actually trained here.) An observation deck can hold 500 people for a banquet, while providing stunning views of the downtown Hampton waterfront.
Hampton Coliseum has been a showplace for top rock and pop artists since 1970, and can seat up to 6,200 for meetings and 2,000 for banquets. There, planners can also avail themselves of the special sound, lighting and technological touches normally used for concerts.
Additional Hampton attractions include free smartphone walking tours and Hampton Carousel (one of only 75 antique carousels left in America). Hampton University Museum is the oldest African-American museum in America. Casemate Museum is at Fort Monroe, where Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and writer Edgar Allan Poe were both stationed. The fort, incidentally, has several rentable spaces, among them Fort Monroe Theatre, with a capacity of 500; Paradise Ocean Club, which has catering and dining facilities; and a picnic area that can accommodate 100 attendees.
Hampton also offers some very good festivals, among them Blackbeard Pirate Festival, named third-best pirate festival in North America by USA Today, and the nationally known Hampton Jazz Festival.
Across Chesapeake Bay is Norfolk, perhaps best known as home of Naval Station Norfolk, which ranks as the world’s largest Navy base. It also attracts meeting groups.
“Our group loves Norfolk,” says Bob Ramsey, president of Richmond-based Ramsey Management Group, which stages annual meetings for Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Services. “We brought 2,000 people to Norfolk Nov. 11−15. And we’ve heard nothing but raves about the location. The facilities are great and people at the Norfolk CVB are genuine professionals. And when someone once suggested that we also try other cities, our people wouldn’t hear of it.”
For the past 20 years, Ramsey has been hosting his meeting at Norfolk Waterside Marriott and using other nearby hotels to help accommodate his group. The Marriott, located on Elizabeth River, has 405 guest rooms and suites, and a 60,000-square-foot conference center. It completed a $1.2 million renovation in September, with artwork and decor that reflects the area’s rich maritime history and upgraded Wi-Fi.
Norfolk features the sixth-largest containerized cargo complex in the United States. It’s surrounded almost entirely by water, bordered to the west by the Elizabeth River and to the north by the beaches of Chesapeake Bay. Attractions and restaurants are within walking distance of hotels. In addition to the Navy base, Norfolk is home to the battleship USS Wisconsin, MacArthur Memorial, Fort Norfolk and other historical attractions.
Exciting meeting and event upgrades are underway. Hilton Main Hotel and Conference Center is scheduled to open in March 2017. This full-service meeting hotel will have 300 guest rooms and 50,000 sq. ft., along with three excellent restaurants.
Virginia Beach, the largest city in the state, serves as a vacation destination, with towering oceanfront hotels, well-maintained beaches and a 3-mile boardwalk. The city hosts numerous beachfront events, which are great for groups.
“Attendees will discover who we are when strolling through the ViBe Creative District, eating Southern beach food seasoned with salt air, whale watching in the Atlantic, farming oysters from the Lynnhaven River, doing yoga on the beach and swinging through the trees at the Adventure Park,” says Jim Ricketts, director of Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau. “That’s when your attendees will say it’s the best conference they’ve had.”
Next fall, a Virginia Beach icon will reopen, bringing back an era of glamour to the beach. Cavalier Hotel, a local landmark since 1927, will unveil its $70 million renovation. The Cavalier was a Roaring ’20s hot spot for the rich and famous, and seven presidents have stayed there. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and just steps from the ocean, the “new” Cavalier will be a member of Marriott’s prestigious Autograph Collection. In addition to 85 guest rooms and 4,430 sq. ft. of event space, the hotel will have a spa, fine dining, a bourbon distillery, a garden, a pool and a museum.
Sheraton Virginia Beach Oceanfront Hotel, with 214 guest rooms and more than 13,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, finished a $12 million renovation two years ago, with upgrades to all rooms and public spaces, a new fitness center and a new restaurant.
The emerging ViBe Creative District—an enclave of art galleries, museums, shops and restaurants several blocks away from the ocean—features artisans creating everything from painting and jewelry to custom surfboards and locally crafted coffees. The district is already a must for locals, with spots such as Studio 17 showcasing local artists and craftspeople. Three Ships Coffee is a roastery that’s creating its own coffee blends. Commune is Virginia Beach’s first farmer-owned restaurant. Esoteric is housed in a 1920s building and serves European-influenced fare with local ingredients from an onsite garden.
Virginia is for Meetings
Virginia’s amazing variety ranges from major metropolitan cities to historic towns with award-winning wineries. Boasting destinations that are affordable and fun for attendees, the state is serious about meetings, as evidenced by new and improved properties that feature glamorous event space.
The state slogan is Virginia is for Lovers, but it could just as easily be Virginia is for Meetings. Some pretty important meetings have been held here, dating back to pre-Revolutionary War days, and the state continues to make history as an important gathering place.
Williamsburg: Time Machine
In the part of town known as Colonial Williamsburg, it’s still the 18th century. There, the heady days of political intrigue and revolution linger throughout red-brick buildings with white shutters, in signs painted in a long-gone style of writing and in the period attire of locals strolling cobblestone streets.
Helping preserve that history is The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which operates the 301-acre historic area. Besides overseeing the largest living history museum in the world, the foundation offers customized group tours.
Today, Williamsburg is historic and cutting-edge. Attendees can visit Revolutionary War battlefields on the same day they indulge in a luxury spa, and can utilize modern technology such as 3-D printers and glasses to immerse themselves in events that happened centuries ago. There’s ice skating at the brand-new Liberty Ice Pavilion. Attendees can also check out Muscarelle Museum of Art on the College of William & Mary campus and see a performance at Kimball Theatre, off Merchants Square.
Williamsburg boasts the largest winery in Virginia; Williamsburg Winery even received the first 90-plus point rating from Robert Parker, “The Wine Advocate.”
The farm- (and bay- and ocean- and vineyard-) to-table movement has also taken hold here. In fact, people are still tending some of the same gardens from the 1700s. There’s also been a comeback of breweries and even a meadery.
Busch Gardens (pictured) is a European-themed adventure park with 17th-century charm and 21st-century technology, emblematic of a state that embraces its history and sees into the future.
Meetings in the Blue Ridge
Roanoke, the “capital” of southwestern Virginia, features a pleasant blend of interesting historical and pop-culture accents, with diverse cultural amenities.
Center in the Square (pictured) is a restored downtown building with seven floors of unique cultural facilities, ranging from The Harrison Museum of African American Culture to Roanoke Pinball Museum. Taubman Museum of Art is a striking glass structure housing one of the Mid-Atlantic’s most impressive collections. Virginia Museum of Transportation offers a look back at the way residents used to get around on highways and rails, and in the air. O. Winston Link Museum provides a black-and-white look at the last days of the steam train in Virginia (and other parts of the United States), as depicted by a photographer with an uncommon touch.
Easily visible because of its white-Tudor exterior, Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center is a downtown oasis of Southern gentility, with its marble arches, columned public areas and paintings of Civil War heroes. Built in 1882, the hotel offers 63,000 sq. ft. of IACC-certified meeting space, along with 296 guest rooms. Comfort Inn Airport Roanoke has 96 guest rooms, a meeting room for 24, and provides breakfast, a daily newspaper and airport transportation.
This region is bisected by one of America’s most beautiful roads, Blue Ridge Parkway, featuring winding bends and stunning overlooks that lead to folksy old towns, artisans’ studios and “The Crooked Road,” winding through Virginia’s colorful musical heritage. Attendees enjoy attractions such as Old Mabry Mill, the plantation on which Booker T. Washington grew up, and the beautiful Chateau Morrisette Winery.
Elsewhere in the Blue Ridge, planners will find magnificent surroundings at the Peaks of Otter Lodge, with 63 guest rooms and two meeting rooms that each can accommodate up to 50.
–Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association
–Hampton Convention & Visitors Bureau
–Norfolk Convention & Visitors Bureau
–Richmond Region Tourism
–Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau
–Virginia Tourism Corporation
–Visit Loudoun County
Major Meeting Venues
Hilton Washington Dulles Airport
Stylish hotel in Herndon; indoor and outdoor pools; fitness center; business center; shuttle to Metrorail and airport; restaurant; 40,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space; 449 guest rooms.
Hyatt Regency Reston
Well-appointed hotel in Reston Town Center; indoor pool; fitness center; business center; shuttles to Metrorail and Dulles; Tavern 64 offers farm-to-table dining; 32,000 sq. ft. of meeting space with advanced technology; 518 guest rooms.
Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner Center
Opened in April at Tysons Corner Mall in McLean; indoor pool; fitness center; near historic battlefields and cultural attractions; excellent Barrel & Bushel Restaurant; 15,500 sq. ft. of space; 300 guest rooms.
Sheraton Tysons Hotel
Convenient to shopping center and dining options; indoor and outdoor pool; shuttle to Metrorail; business center; fitness room; 27 meeting spaces, with a total 45,000 sq. ft. of space; 449 guest rooms.
The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner
Connected to high-end Tysons Galleria; across street from Tysons Corner Center; indoor pool; spa; fitness center; business center; Vincent’s Wine Club; America Eats Tavern; 30,000 sq. ft. of space; 398 guest rooms.
Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles
Old Virginia-style hotel in Chantilly close to Dulles International Airport; indoor and outdoor pool; business center; spa; golf course; fitness center; three dining options; 40,000 sq. ft. of space; 336 guest rooms.
DoubleTree By Hilton Hotel Richmond–Midlothian
Close to downtown Richmond, Midlothian shops and restaurants; business center; indoor pool; 24-hour market; fitness room; newsstand; personalized Web page for groups; 26,000 sq. ft. of space; 237 guest rooms.
Greater Richmond Convention Center
Situated downtown; 700,000-square-foot facility can swallow four football fields; technologically advanced sound and lighting systems; 80,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting and breakout rooms; certified Virginia Green Convention Center.
Hilton Richmond Hotel & Spa/Short Pump
Located in Towne Center West shopping/dining complex; Shula’s American Steakhouse; Forbes Four Star Aura Spa & Salon; close to attractions and historical sites; 23,000 sq. ft. of space; 254 guest rooms.
In the heart of downtown; luxury and Southern charm; connected via skywalk to convention center; complimentary shuttle to dining and entertainment; T-Miller’s sports bar; 26,760 sq. ft. of space; 410 guest rooms.
Richmond’s grandest hotel since 1895; Elvis stayed here, along with alligators in the Palm Court lobby; Virginia Green Lodging hotel; 26,000 sq. ft. of historically significant event space; 155 guest rooms.
Courtyard Norfolk Downtown
Contemporary hotel near MacArthur Center Mall; free Wi-Fi; fitness center; pool; event specialist on staff; 24-hour business center; The Bistro restaurant; 4,816 sq. ft. of space; 140 guest rooms.
Crowne Plaza Hampton Marina Hotel
Spectacular setting overlooking downtown Hampton waterfront; interesting nautical motifs; grand ballroom seats 500; dockside ballroom seats 200; 6,000 sq. ft. of space; 173 guest rooms; private marina; rooftop pool; catering services.
Embassy Suites by Hilton Hampton Hotel Convention Center & Spa
Connected to Hampton Roads Convention Center by covered walkway; advanced technology in meeting rooms; 3,537 sq. ft. of space; 295 guest rooms.
Hampton Roads Convention Center
Striking facility opened in 2005; 35 flexible spaces can accommodate 14,000 attendees; 102,000-square-foot exhibit hall; ballroom seats 2,000.
Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront
Located on the Virginia Beach Boardwalk; rooftop infinity pool; fitness center; two award-winning restaurants; 12,000 sq. ft. of space; 289 guest rooms.
Williamsburg landmark overlooks James River; three golf courses; 20,000-square-foot, IACC-certified meeting space; 425 guest rooms.
Norfolk Waterside Marriott
On Elizabeth River in the historic district; fitness center; Shula’s 347 steakhouse; upscale piano lounge; event space on outdoor terrace overlooking river; 60,000 sq. ft. of space; 405 guest rooms.
Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel
Great views of the Elizabeth River in the heart of downtown; sustainable conservation practices; City Dock Restaurant has great views, seafood specialties; 35,000 sq. ft. of space; 468 guest rooms.
Sheraton Virginia Beach Oceanfront Hotel
Sweeping ocean views; outdoor and indoor pools; fitness center; hot tub; water sports rentals; free Wi-Fi; more than 13,000 sq. ft. of space; 214 guest rooms.
The Founders Inn & Spa
Close to Norfolk International Airport; 78-seat amphitheater; fitness center; indoor/outdoor pool; spa, team-building activities; two restaurants; 25,000 sq. ft. of space; 240 guest rooms.
Virginia Beach Convention Center
516,000-square-foot center was the first in America to earn LEED Gold certification; 150,000 sq. ft. of column-free exhibit space; 29,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 31,000-square-foot ballroom.
Virginia Beach Resort Hotel & Conference Center
Located on Chesapeake Bay; calm waters great for families; 295 suites; 16,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 10 miles from Norfolk International Airport.