ANNUAL MANUAL: Our Town- Travel
The big interstates nearby are I-64, which is nice, rural, and rarely crowded; I-81, which is terrifyingly full of tractor-trailers exceeding the speed limit; I-66 to the north, which is prone to traffic jams; and I-95, which seems to be one continual gridlock all the way to Florida in one direction and DC in the other.
Other major highways include U.S. 29, which, although it slows down considerably in the commercial strip in Albemarle County called Seminole Trail, is actually a pretty speedy way to go north and south. Ditto for Rt. 250 east and west.
You can check road status by dialing 800-367-ROADS.
The Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport (CHO), although long scorned as puddle-jumper central, is now famous for its direct jets to several fat hubs. It's located about 20 minutes north of downtown in a scenic place called Earlysville. Currently, there are nearly 60 daily departures and the same number of arrivals. Its website shows some pretty competitive fares to top destinations, and also a page showing up-to-the-minute flight status for each and every departure and arrival.
Carriers: United Express, U.S. Airways Express, Delta Connection, and Northwest.
Direct to: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, New York (LaGuardia), Washington (Dulles), Charlotte, Philadelphia
Parking: hugs the terminal, $7-12/day
Amenities: snack bar, mountain views
Get a free hour of parking at the Charlottesville airport with a purchase at the snack bar/gift shop. And the first half hour of parking in the short term lot is free anyway!
With gobs of flights to near and far places, Washington Dulles (IAD), two hours north of town (unless I-66 is backed up), draws many travelers who might otherwise depart from Charlottesville. Take your pick from many parking options. If you don't want to spring for $15/day for convenient parking, allow at least 20 extra minutes to get from the vast economy parking ($9/day) lots to the beautiful single-terminal airport.
A comfortable mid-size airport, Richmond International (RIC) often offers competitive fares to domestic cities, especially since the arrival of JetBlue this year. The drive is a simple hour and 20-minute shot east on never-jammed I-64.
Other airports occasionally used by Charlottesville travelers include Reagan National (DCA) (2hrs), Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) (2hrs 30min), and Norfolk International (ORF) (2hrs 45min). Less likely: the skimpily served Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD), aka "Weyers Cave," about 45 minutes northwest of downtown Charlottesville.
Charlottesville is incredibly blessed as one of America's smallest cities to have passenger service in three different directions. Even if the provider, Amtrak, is always teetering on the edge of financial disaster, the rails score points for romantic, affordable, kid-friendly travel.
Departures per day: 2.85 (no joke– the Cardinal comes through only six times a week; the Crescent comes through twice a day)
Location: 810 W. Main in the heart of midtown
National reservations: 800-872-7245
Charlottesville station (CVS): 296-4559
Counter hours: 6am-9pm
Parking: onsite lot– $3/day; $5/overnight
Service: The Charlottesville station is served by two trains whose service has been renewed by Congress, The Crescent, which runs between New York and New Orleans, and The Cardinal, which runs between Washington, D.C. and Chicago.
Hook Tip: Because the trains run infrequently, connecting is a chore, so if your destination is farther north than New York or anywhere south, the best bet becomes one of the following stations:
Richmond's Staples Mill Station (RVR)
Location: 7519 Staples Mill Road in Henrico County
Drive time: 1 hour. Go east on I-64 to Exit 185 and head West on Staples Mill Road for one mile. Don't look for a grand place– it's a shoebox hidden off the right side of the road. But it does have nearly 14 daily departures.
Bonus: Richmond actually has a second Amtrak station, the historic 1901 Main Street Station (RVM), with eight daily departures.
Washington's Union Station (WAS)
Location: Four blocks north of the U.S. Capitol
Drive time: 2 hours (if you're lucky)
Parking: $12/day in adjacent garage
Phone: 202-371-9441 (undependable)
HookTip: You can avoid inside-the-Beltway traffic by driving up to Vienna on I-66 and parking at the Metro station for $3.75/day (but you have to buy a $10 card, unfortunately). From there, take the Metro's Orange Line to Metro Center and transfer to the Red Line to Union Station. If you're heading northeast, stay on the Orange Line all the way to New Carrollton, Maryland, where you can still catch most north-bound trains and save enough on the ticket to pay for lunch.
Typical taxi ride downtown to CHO: $23
Typical taxi ride Ivy/Keswick to CHO: $33
Typical limo ride downtown to CHO: $65
Typical towncar ride to RIC: $150
Typical limo ride to RIC: $300
Typical towncar ride to IAD: $200
Typical limo ride to IAD: $300
Sample fares above do not include gratuities. Most limousines are described as 8-passenger vehicles but will feel crowded with more than 6. Also, limos have ordinary-sized trunks, so families or other heavy-luggage users may want a van for about the same price.
All of the pricier hotels (and even the Days Inn) have free airport shuttles in Charlottesville.
Inside Charlottesville's airport terminal, we have Avis 434-973-6000, Hertz 434-297-4288, and National 434-974-4664. Enterprise also has two locations: 151 Seminole Court, 974-7488, and Pantops Shopping Center, 979-5566, plus various indie rental services elsewhere in town.
Greyhound: The station is very conveniently located midway between the Amtrak station and the Downtown Mall and has 14 or 15 buses per day.
Typical trip: $113 round-trip to NYC takes 9-10 hours with about five daily departure times.
National reservations: 800-229-9424
Charlottesville station: 7:30am-10pm daily; 295-5131; 295-0503
Parking: none on site
Starlight Express: Nonstop roundtrips from Charlottesville to NYC every weekend. The luxury bus offers BMW seats, music, and treats along the way. Trips to New York leave from 1117 E. Market St. (three blocks east of the Downtown Mall) at 6am and arrive half a block from the corner of 9th Ave. and 13th St. in the Big Apple at noon. Return trips leave at 5:30pm and arrive in Charlottesville at midnight. Occasional Friday night departures. $159. New departures being added all the time: see nycshuttle.com for the latest schedules and specials.