One of Charlottesville’s most celebrated and educational events, the Virginia Festival of the Book , brings some of the biggest names in literature, as well as its rising stars, to the city for five days of signings, readings and general appreciation of the written word.

Another cultural event, the Ash Lawn Opera Festival , held at the historic home of fifth president James Monroe, is one of the world’s leading outdoor opera festivals. And Monroe’s estate, a charming plantation, provides a scenic and historic backdrop to the lovely music and myriad festivities.

Most people only know about the endpoint of Lewis and Clark’s historic journey, but few realize that their quest kicked off in 1803 from Charlottesville. Every year, the city celebrates the December departure of the party, with a series of reenactments, cultural events, food and crafts in the historic downtown area.

Also, for nearly two decades the Charlottesville Downtown Foundation and local radio stations have been holding concerts on the historic Downtown Mall as part of the Fridays After Five series. Every Friday from early May to early September, great national and local acts in every genre take the stage around 5:30 at the Charlottesville Pavilion in the Mall’s east end for an evening of outdoor entertainment—and it’s all free.

For an easy to read calendar of events, complete with arts guides and maps, read the Charlottesville Welcome Book.