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Best Things To Do in Richmond
Just like its slogan reads: Virginia is for Lovers, of history, that is. And like other best places to visit in the commonwealth, Richmond boasts some impressive American Revolution sites (like St. John's Church) and an extensive chronicle of Civil War memorabilia (found in The American Civil War Museum or the Virginia Historical Society). There's also a good selection of activities for nature lovers, fine arts lovers, literature lovers and more. Get the picture? That's not all: One of the best aspects of traveling to Richmond is how well the city also appeals to lovers of a good deal – many top sites are free to the public or cost less than $10 to enter.
Updated October 22, 2020
- #1View all Photos#1 in Richmond1.9 miles to city centerMuseums, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND1.9 miles to city centerMuseums, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Most visitors are impressed with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, comparing its collections to what you would find in the art museums of much larger cities.
This Museum District standout is best known for its five gorgeous Fabergé eggs, but it also features works by Degas, Cézanne and Renoir, and large collections of African, Indian and Tibetan art. Recent visitors were especially impressed with the McGlothlin Collection of American Art. In addition to its permanent collections, the VMFA regularly operates a series of temporary exhibits that explore everything from Black life in Virginia to jewelry to Asian religions.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Richmond2.8 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND2.8 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
In 1861, following Virginia's secession from the Union, Richmond became the capital of the Confederacy. The city's capitol building subsequently became the home of both the state's General Assembly as well as the Confederate Congress. Today, visitors stop by this imposing building not only to learn of Virginia's government history but to snap photos of its architecture, as it was partially designed by Thomas Jefferson (Charles-Louis Clerisseau, a French architect, also lent a hand). The surrounding area, known as Capitol Square, has several monuments dedicated to the civil rights movement, as well as to prominent Virginians like Edgar Allan Poe and George Washington.
Recent visitors said they were pleasantly surprised by how interesting a visit to the capitol building proved to be. Along with the unique architecture, reviewers also praised the knowledgeable guides and encouraged future visitors to join in on a free guided tour.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Richmond6.3 miles to city centerParks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND6.3 miles to city centerParks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Purchased by a prominent Richmond businessman in 1895, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden sits on property that was Powhatan Indian hunting ground. Now, the 50-acre garden attracts droves of Richmond visitors who come to marvel at its many blooms and domed conservatory – the only one of its kind in the mid-Atlantic. There are also several beloved family events throughout the year like Butterflies LIVE!, the Goblins and Gourds Halloween event and the GardenFest of Lights held in late November and early January.
Recent visitors called the garden a gem in Richmond and said it's beautiful year-round. When you're not enjoying the greenery, you can enjoy light snacks and tea in the on-site cafe and tea house. There's also a garden shop on-site in case you're inspired to plant some flowers of your own.
- #4View all PhotosfreeCarytown#4 in Richmond2.4 miles to city center2.4 miles to city centerEntertainment and Nightlife, Free, Neighborhood/Area, ShoppingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Locals and frequent visitors agree that the city's hippest shops and restaurants converge in a Museum District-adjacent area known as Carytown. But take note: Boutiques reign here, so don't visit expecting a Barnes & Noble, Best Buy or Crate and Barrel; instead you'll find quirky alternatives like the World of Mirth, Chop Suey Books, Plan 9 Music and Mongrel. There are also some familiar sights: Carytown hosts a Hair Cuttery, a sweetFrog and a Starbucks.
If you like to shop, you owe yourself a visit to at least gaze at the window displays. And if you're budget conscious, keep in mind that Carytown eateries are known to be overpriced. To save some money, just visit for ambiance: Mark the popular (and free) August Watermelon Festival on your calendar or go see a movie or live performance at the Byrd Theatre. The Byrd is a preserved Richmond movie house that's very popular with locals (particularly for its $2 ticket prices).
- #5View all Photos#5 in Richmond21.6 miles to city centerAmusement ParksTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND21.6 miles to city centerAmusement ParksTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
When you and your kids need a break from all the history lessons Richmond has to offer, head about 25 miles north of the city to Kings Dominion. This 400-acre water and theme park wins praise from recent visitors for its manageable size and family-friendly attractions. Thrill-seekers particularly liked all the roller coasters here, especially the wooden Grizzly coaster, which takes riders through a dense forest. And another bonus: Entrance to the kid-friendly Soak City water park is included in your general admission fee.
The only complaint offered by recent visitors pertained to the high price of food. Though you can't bring outside food or drink into the park, there are several shaded picnic areas in the guest parking lot if you want to pack food or drinks to consume before entering the park. If you do plan to buy soft drinks or water inside the park, consider purchasing the souvenir bottle. Though the price may seem steep ($10.99), it'll get you free refills all day.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Richmond2 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND2 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The Virginia Museum of History & Culture is operated by the Virginia Historical Society. The society's mission is to present Virginia's history in its entirety through inclusive storytelling. And once you step inside the building, you'll see it accomplishes that task. The museum boasts an exhaustive collection of the commonwealth's historic artifacts, including tools, maps, photographs, letters and artwork. The main exhibit, "The Story of Virginia," catalogues the history of Virginia from Native American tribes that inhabited the area thousands of years ago to the invasion of colonists to the present day. Additional exhibits explore the history of weapons in the commonwealth and Virginia's terrain through paintings. Want to do your own investigating? Head to the on-site library where you can look up historical records and conduct your own genealogical research.
Recent visitors raved about this museum, which they described as a fun and educational rainy-day activity. Though it's next door to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, museumgoers say you cannot do both in one day. You'll need to reserve a day for each to explore both fully.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Richmond3.1 miles to city centerMuseums, Free, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND3.1 miles to city centerMuseums, Free, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Richmond has its fair share of Civil War history, but it's also home to a moving and impressive Holocaust museum. Founded in 1997 by one of Richmond's youngest Holocaust survivors, Jay Ipson, the Virginia Holocaust Museum focuses on two narratives: a broad detailing of the Holocaust's role in global history and the Ipson family's experience and survival. Visitors will hear stories of survivors who started over in Richmond, as well as the journey of the Ipson family.
Many recent visitors called this institution one of the nation's best Holocaust museums, crediting the moving and artistic exhibits as a source of their high praise. Reviewers were particularly affected by the poignant stories from survivors, which can be heard via audio.
- #8View all Photos#8 in RichmondMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia is a true gem, according to previous travelers. Museumgoers particularly enjoyed the presentation of the information, which blends both traditional presentation in the form of artifacts and placards and interactive touch screens. The exhibits trace the history of Black Americans with a particular emphasis on Black Virginians. In addition to permanent exhibits, the museum hosts temporary specialty displays – a 2020 exhibit told the story of enslaved peoples at Monticello – as well as monthly events.
The museum is housed in the historic Leigh Street Armory in the Jackson Ward neighborhood. Admission costs $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors and $6 for children ages 4 to 12. Children younger than 4 visit free of charge. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, BHMVA has limited its hours to Thursday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit its website for more details.
- #9View all PhotosfreeMaymont#9 in Richmond0.5 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, Historic Homes/MansionsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND0.5 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, Historic Homes/MansionsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Maymont used to be the sprawling home of wealthy Richmond residents James Henry and Sallie May Dooley (the estate name comes from combining Mrs. Dooley’s maiden name and the French word for hill). Upon their deaths, they left their home and its grounds to the city. Now, this 100-acre property is one of the top activities for Richmond travelers. The Japanese gardens are a particular highlight, but Maymont also boasts a carriage collection, a petting zoo, a nature center and an arboretum, not to mention a truly spectacular and well-maintained 12,000-square-foot, 33-room mansion.
Inside the mansion, visitors will get a glimpse at the lives of Richmond's well-to-do in the Gilded Age. The restored rooms boast original furnishings – including a bed shaped as a swan – and fixtures typical of the era like gas lighting and an elevator. In the Belowstairs space, you'll find "In Service and Beyond," which explores not only the Black employees who were instrumental in running the mansion, but also the experience of working Blacks in the South.
- #10View all Photos#10 in Richmond3.5 miles to city centerChurches/Religious Sites, Monuments and Memorials, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND3.5 miles to city centerChurches/Religious Sites, Monuments and Memorials, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Most tourists don't visit St. John's for liturgical reasons, but rather historical ones. This was the Richmond church where in 1775 Patrick Henry famously pleaded to "Give me liberty, or give me death!" And in the graveyard, you'll find the final resting place of Elizabeth Arnold Poe (mother of Edgar Allan) and George Wythe, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
And speaking of Sunday, you can also still attend church services at St. John's in the mornings. If you'd really like to get a feel for the history this church witnessed, consider attending one of its public reenactments. Costumed actors reenact the Second Virginia Convention and Henry’s famous speech. Alternatively, you can attend one of the graveyard tours to learn about the departed buried here. Recent visitors highly recommended attending a reenactment. Though reviewers said there's not much to see inside the church, they said the guides provide a wealth of historical context and interesting information.
- #11View all Photos#11 in Richmond3 miles to city centerMuseums, Historic Homes/MansionsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND3 miles to city centerMuseums, Historic Homes/MansionsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The American Civil War Museum actually comprises three sites: The American Civil War Museum at Historic Tredegar and the White House of the Confederacy can both be found in Richmond, while the Museum of the Confederacy-Appomattox sits in Appomattox, Virginia (about 95 miles west of Richmond). Thanks to its comprehensive collection of Confederate artifacts, weapons and art, this museum is a required stop for Civil War buffs.
The Historic Tredegar's permanent exhibit is "A People's Contest: Struggles for Nation and Freedom in Civil War America," which explores the Civil War chronologically through the eyes of military leaders and civilians. The multimedia exhibit wins rave reviews from visitors. The White House of the Confederacy, nearby Tredegar, is the former home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Guided tours through the house leave from the museum lobby regularly throughout the day. Past museumgoers said the home is well preserved and the docents are informative. If you decide to travel further afield to Appomattox, you'll find "Enacting Freedom: Black Virginians in the Age of Emancipation," an exhibit that explores Black Virginians' experiences following freedom from enslavement.
- #12View all Photos#12 in Richmond3.1 miles to city centerMuseums, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND3.1 miles to city centerMuseums, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This museum on Main Street (located just outside the town's aptly named "Museum District") is perfect for people with a passing interest in Edgar Allan Poe. More ardent fans of the writer's work might find themselves disappointed at the limited exhibits, however. To get more from your visit, previous museumgoers suggested taking a guided tour.
This site does earn kudos for its ambiance. You can view some of Poe's childhood items, an illustrated chronicle of "The Raven" poem and first editions of some of his short stories as they appeared in era newspapers. The museum's setting, in Richmond's Old Stone House, is close to Poe's home and his place of employment, the Southern Literary Messenger.
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