There’s a lot to love about Richmond, Virginia. We have regularly been making the journey between Washington, DC and Richmond for years because it’s an easy day trip, the kind of drive that doesn’t take a lot of advance planning. Plenty of otherwise quiet Saturday mornings have started with one of us saying, “What do you want to do today?” before the other suggests lunch or sightseeing in Richmond, and a couple of hours later we’re trying a new restaurant or checking out a museum. Because we enjoy a front row seat to our state’s capital city, we have almost taken Richmond’s renaissance for granted. No longer is it just the seat of government; it’s a city with a serious beer scene, impressive outdoor spaces, and museums and educational experiences that rival much larger metropolitan areas. The truth is out: there are lots of things to do in Richmond!
Richmond is just 100 miles from both Washington, DC and Virginia Beach, making it a great stopping point when traveling between the two cities and a worthy destination on its own. Whatever experience you want to have—foodie, culture, history, or outdoors—Richmond offers it. After many trips to experience what the city has to offer, here are our 20 things to do in Richmond, Virginia!
Things to See in Richmond
► Edgar Allan Poe MuseumWriter Edgar Allan Poe’s footprints are all over the USA’s east coast. He was born in Boston, and Baltimore lays claim to his legacy because he died there, but he spent most of his formative years in Richmond. Poe’s life was often marked by sadness and death, both of which are common themes in his writing. A visit to the Poe Museum is a great way to learn about and reflect on his life and writing. The museum has a nice collection of his personal artifacts as well as items that belonged to his family. Admission is inexpensive and includes entry to the “enchanted garden” on the property. Whether you read “The Raven, or “The Tell-Tale Heart” in school or are curious about Poe’s impact on history and literature, the museum is one of our favorite things to do in Richmond.
More Information: PoeMuseum.com
► Floodwall River Walk
For a big city, there are lots of things to do in Richmond that involve the outdoors, and the floodwall river walk is yet another reason to lace up your sneakers and head outside. The trail is popular with joggers, and we saw a number of families making the most of their day with a walk as well. You’ll catch some great skyline views from the area, and you’ll find a nice landscaped space called Diversity Park that has a sister park in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
► Virginia Capitol BuildingA visit to Virginia’s capital city wouldn’t be complete without a visit to its capitol building. Richmond became the state capital in 1779, and the building was designed by Thomas Jefferson and erected in 1785. During the US Civil War, when Richmond served as the capital of the Confederacy, the Capitol Building served as the seat of the Confederate Congress until the war ended. Today, visitors can enjoy a free tour of the building to learn more about the state’s history. The building is beautiful, and a walk through and around it will take you past statues dedicated to such important historical figures as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington as well as monuments to civil rights and Virginia’s native tribes. Of the things to do in Richmond, this is a great way to learn about the city’s historical relevance.
► White House of the Confederacy
It’s difficult to visit Richmond without recognizing its role as the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War. It’s also important to learn about this period in American history. As students of history, we believe it is important to learn all we can about our past so we can grow and approach our future in an informed, educated way. That’s why a visit to the American Civil War Museum and the White House of the Confederacy is one of the interesting things to do in Richmond. In addition to learning about Jefferson Davis, his role as the president of the Confederacy, and his surrender at Appomattox, you will also learn about the daily life of southern citizens during the Civil War through stories from multiple perspectives. We appreciated the honesty with which the staff approaches a terrible time in the country’s history.
More Information: ACWM.org
► St. John’s ChurchIf you have heard the words, “Give me liberty or give me death,” you may know to attribute them to Patrick Henry, who spoke them during the Second Virginia Convention in 1775 to sway fellow delegates to enter the Revolutionary War. To stand in the spot where he made that call to action, plan a visit to St. John’s Church. In addition to daily guided tours, reenactments of the famous speech are typically offered on Sundays.
St. John’s Church played a critical role in the USA’s quest for independence, and of the things to do in Richmond it is one of the most interesting ways to learn about that time in our country’s history.
► Hollywood Cemetery
Of all the things to do in Richmond, a visit to a cemetery might not be high on your list—but it’s one of our favorite spots to visit when we’re in town! In addition to some really great views of the James River (we’re partial to the view from Presidents Circle), many famous leaders including presidents James Monroe and John Tyler are buried here. There are some impressive gravestones, and on a nice day it’s a good place for a peaceful walk. Don’t miss the famous Iron Dog monument, which watches over the gravesite of a young girl who died in the 1860s. During peak tourist season, tours of the cemetery are available daily; the cemetery’s app is another good tool to use if you are an independent traveler. If you are interested in history and a few good stories, that is a fun way to make the most of your visit.
► Polegreen ChurchTo visit a different kind of church, travel just northeast of Richmond to Mechanicsville; the site of the former Hanover Meeting House played a critical role in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Initially built in 1747, sermons delivered at the meeting house were based on the principles of the Revolution, and Patrick Henry himself attended to support conversations about the civil and religious liberties the people wanted with their independence. Years later, a clash between Union and Confederate troops led to the meeting house’s destruction, as Confederate soldiers ignited it while firing on General Ulysses S. Grant’s army. Today, where the meeting house once stood, an open-air structure welcomes visitors who walk through its silhouette. Visiting Polegreen Church is free, and it’s one of the more unique—and picturesque—things to do in Richmond!
► Monument Avenue
Richmond’s Monument Avenue is a bit controversial these days, as more than half of the monuments are dedicated to Confederate soldiers. For tennis fans like us, there is a great reason to include the street on your list of things to do in Richmond: it is home to the Arthur Ashe Monument. Born in Richmond, Arthur Ashe remains one of the all-time great tennis players and is the only African American man to win three Grand Slam titles (at Wimbledon, the Australian Open, and the US Open). His incredible career as well as his dedication to education, humanitarian causes, and civil rights is celebrated with his monument, which was erected in 1996. With a decent amount of free street parking in the neighborhood, it’s one of the faster and easier things to do in Richmond—and a drive toward downtown will unveil monuments dedicated to figures such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
► Lewis Ginter Botanical GardensJust outside of Richmond in Henrico you’ll find a beautiful retreat at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. Featuring everything from rose gardens in the spring to eastern hemlock in the winter, there is something beautiful blooming during every season. Our summer visit was timed with a special exhibit featuring butterflies; we had a chance to enter a space where hundreds of brightly-colored creatures fluttered by us as we watched in awe. It was a delightful way to experience the botanical gardens. The botanical gardens are a wonderful place to relax and are a perfect destination if you want to spend some time outside.
More Information: LewisGinter.org
► Byrd Theater
The Byrd Theater opened in 1928, and today it is one of the most amazing architectural spots in Richmond. Designed in the same style as European opera houses, the theater is an impressive structure that has retained all of its elegance over the years. Today you can still watch movies there; showtimes and selections are limited, but the experience can’t be replicated. Settle into your seat, admire the gold leaf and deep crimson décor that surrounds you, and enjoy one of the most iconic things to do in Richmond!
More Information: ByrdTheatre.com
► Belle IsleWalk along the footbridge to access historic Belle Isle, one of the many fun things to do in Richmond on a sunny day! Located within the James River, Belle Isle was once a POW camp for Union soldiers during the Civil War. Today, it’s an easy retreat from the city where locals and tourists can enjoy outdoor activities and wildlife watching. It’s a common spot for kayaking, rock jumping, and swimming, but miles of trails make it popular with joggers as well. It’s also a great scenic spot; you’ll get a memorable view of the Hollywood Cemetery and the city skyline from the shore.
► Richmond National Battlefield Park
Visiting a battlefield is one of the more interesting things to do in Richmond on a nice day, and the Richmond National Battlefield Park is a great choice. Our favorite is the Cold Harbor Battlefield, which includes features that still look as they did during the battle in 1864; you will see trenches and battle lines that still exist to this day. It’s a great place for a hike, and there’s a good chance you will see wildlife in some of the areas with older growth or in the open meadows. Combined, the three trails offer about three-and-a-half miles of walking, although a shorter walk is easy to do if you select just one or two of the trails. If the weather isn’t nice enough for a hike, museums including the Chimborazo Medical Museum and Civil War Visitor Center at Tredegar Iron Works offer exhibits and films.
There are a few more interesting Civil War Battlefields not far from Richmond, check out our post to learn more and plan your visit.
More Information: NPS.gov
Our Post: 7 American Civil War Battlefields Near Washington, DC
► Science Museum of VirginiaThere is a lot to learn at the Science Museum of Virginia, and if you are traveling with children it’s one of the great things to do in Richmond! Traveling exhibits tend to draw the biggest crowds, including exhibits that investigate the biology of animals and humans. The museum is fun, interactive, and enjoyable no matter how old you are, and it’s easy to spend a full day if you want to make the most of the admission fee. Just outside the museum’s entrance is another fun attraction: the Grand Kugel. It’s a 29-ton granite ball that sits on top of a cup with a thin layer of water between the two. Because of the water layer, applying the slightest touch causes the enormous sphere to change its rotation. There is often a crowd around it as people use just their fingertips to push the sphere, changing its direction. If you visit, pay attention to the faint markings on the granite—you’ll see the outline of the seven continents!
More Information: SMV.org
► Virginia War Memorial
Virginia has sent many men and women to battle, and while you’ll see many Revolutionary War and Civil War sites while in Richmond, the Virginia War Memorial is a great way to learn about those who served our country. Spend a few moments outside at the Shrine of Memory, where the names of 12,000 soldiers are engraved on two walls that lead up to a large statue designed to reflect the sorrow and pride Virginians feel toward those who serve and defend. Inside, a collection of exhibits and presentations provide a great education about the role the military plays in Virginia’s history. Of the things to do in Richmond, we found this one to be among the most thought-provoking, and memories of our visit will stay with us for a long time.
Things to Eat and Drink in Richmond
► Blue Bee Cider
Virginia’s first urban cidery is one of our favorite things to do in Richmond, and Blue Bee Cider is a perfect place to try some great varieties. Blue Bee doesn’t add sugar or water to their ciders; raw juice is fermented without unnecessary additions, and each variety is heavily influenced by the types of apples used each year. We loved the off-dry Aragon 1904, which is delightfully crisp and refreshing. If you are new to ciders, opt for the full tasting, which is conducted in the same way a wine tasting is offered; you’ll get to try a small pour of nine different ciders. If you know your ciders (or have a favorite or two!) flights, glasses, and bottles are available for purchase.
More Information: BlueBeeCider.com
► Black Heath MeaderyIf you haven’t tried mead, a visit to the Black Heath Meadery should be first on your list of things to do in Richmond! Mead is the world’s oldest fermented beverage (it’s what the Vikings enjoyed centuries ago), and today mead is enjoying a bit of a resurgence in popularity. Black Heath uses local Virginia honey to produce some unique beverages, and a visit to their tasting room is a chance to create your own flight and see what the, well, buzz is all about. A flight includes your choice for four meads; of those we tried, the classic Muse, Blue Angel, and the sour cherry version were our favorites. Each mead has its own flavor profile with a distinct honey taste. This will be one of the regular spots we visit during future trips to Richmond!
More Information: BlackHeathMeadery.com
► Buz and Ned’s BBQ
When you’re making your list of things to do in Richmond, you’re going to want to include a meal or two, and Buz and Ned’s BBQ is a classic choice for lunch or dinner. With recipes that draw on some of the best of the most famous types of barbeque from the USA, you’ll find some delicious Southern staples on their menu. We especially love the pulled pork, which is tender and full of flavor. The same can be said for the ribs, which practically fall off the bone. We can never pass up a side of hush puppies, delicious fried cornmeal bites, and the seasonal Cajun-fried corn is a great choice in the summer. Buz and Ned’s have a few locations in the city, so make sure to include a meal on your Richmond itinerary!
More Information: BuzandNeds.com
► Legend Brewing CompanyRichmond is earning a reputation for being a great beer city, and Legend Brewing Company is one of the reasons it’s so well-deserved. In addition to a regular lineup that includes a lager, brown ale, and porter, the seasonal and specialty brews are particularly notable. I loved the vanilla bean brown ale I tried, which was full of flavor yet had a light, almost effervescent finish reminiscent of a crème soda. Legend Brewing Company also has a great food menu; I had an oyster po’boy (a daily special), and Adam loved the kielbasa sandwich served on a pretzel roll. Their patio has one of the best views of the Richmond skyline, so on a nice day it’s an unbeatable spot for a beer and lunch. But even if it’s just beer you are looking for, look no further and make sure this brewery is one of your things to do in Richmond!
More Information: LegendBrewing.com
► The Fancy Biscuit
When we arrived in Richmond early in the morning during a recent visit, we had an incredible breakfast at the Fancy Biscuit. Order at the counter, find a seat, and prepare for some delicious Southern cooking! We especially loved the B&G, two biscuits smothered in maple sausage gravy; it was filling enough that we had to postpone our lunch plans! The fried green tomatoes are also delicious, and we were glad to save a little room for them. The Fancy Biscuit is popular—arrive before 9:00 AM for a good chance at a quiet, relaxing meal before the brunch crowds arrive.
More Information: FancyBiscuitRVA.com
► James River Cellars Winery
If you’re looking for a glass of wine during your trip to Richmond, James River Cellars Winery is a wonderful stop. Their extensive tasting menu will provide you with a pour of 12-14 wines during your visit, and their proximity to Richmond makes this a popular destination for wine lovers. Try the Chardonel, which is a fun wine that tastes like summer melons and smells like white flowers; red wine drinkers will enjoy the Cabernet franc, which tastes of juicy blackberries. The winery has a nice outdoor area where you can enjoy a glass of your favorite wine. For a few more Virginia wine stops not far from Richmond, check out our post on some of our favorite wineries in the state.
More Information: JamesRiverCellars.com
Our Post: Make Mine Virginia Wine: Wineries to Visit in the Old Dominion
Where to Stay in Richmond
► Jefferson HotelFamous for the opulent staircase that inspired the one from Gone with the Wind, the Jefferson Hotel is a great hotel choice when you are looking for a place to stay in Richmond. With a nice, central location, the hotel provides a truly luxurious experience.
The Jefferson Hotel opened in 1895, and for years it was famous for housing alligators donated by enthusiastic guests. The alligators lived outside in the fountain (although some stories tell of alligators who ventured into the hotel itself), and although the last of them passed away in the 1940s they are still memorialized there. Whether you make The Jefferson Hotel your home base or simply visit for photos or brunch, it’s a gorgeous building and a great place to see in Richmond, Virginia.
Map of Things to Do in Richmond
Planning a few things to do in Richmond? This map covers everything we have shared—use it to figure out how you will make the most of your time!
Enjoy Richmond, Virginia!
With so many things to do in Richmond, you can easily fill up a day, a weekend, or a whole week in Virginia’s capital city. From a full day outdoors to hours exploring museums, there’s something for everyone as well as great food and drink options to keep you fueled. Leave a comment below and be sure to let us know which of the things to do in Richmond make your list—and let us know if we left your favorite out! Most of all, enjoy your time in Richmond!
Also, we wanted to send a huge shout out to our new friend Kelly, a Richmond local who shared some of her favorite spots with us when we met her on a day trip in Quito, Ecuador. We visited several of them and enjoyed them so much they are included on this list!
Hotels in Richmond, Virginia
Ready to plan a trip to Richmond, Virginia? Here are some hotel deals to consider.
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