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Local’s Guide to 18 Unique Things to Do in Richmond, Virginia

Local’s Guide to 18 Unique Things to Do in Richmond, Virginia

Founded in 1737, it’s a no-brainer that Richmond holds a mega amount of history within its cobblestone streets, wrought-iron architecture, and renovated tobacco warehouses. It might surprise you that Richmond is also a hotbed for the arts, stage performances, world-class festivals, and thrilling outdoor recreation.

Add a thriving culinary and craft brewery scene to that list, and you’ve got the perfect set-up for a weekend getaway, family vacation, or even a solo excursion. While modern technology and cars have replaced the horse-drawn carriages of the days of yore, Richmond has just enough history to mix with modern times.

The tobacco warehouses are now home to museums, trendy restaurants, and upscale condos. And the cobblestone streets? Some are still here. We like to keep things interesting.

The capital city is close to the mountains of Charlottesville, the museums of Washington, D.C., and the shores of Virginia Beach. Richmond is also one of the best places to live in Virginia. Let’s get into the best things to do in Richmond, whether you live here or not.

TL;DR

Best of… Attraction/Activity
Best Place for Foodies Carytown
Best Attraction for Families Kings Dominion
Activity for adults Brewery Tour
Best Free Attraction Maymont
Best Outdoor Activity Hiking and Biking along the James River
Best All-Around Accommodation The Hampton Inn & Suites – Richmond – Downtown

A Local’s Guide to 18 Unique Things to Do in Richmond, Virginia

1. The Virginia Capital Trail

Richmond Virginia Capital Trail and Skyline
Sandy Allen / ViaTravelers

I’ll start with my favorite part of Richmond’s landscape…the Virginia Capital Trail. Running from the Colonial capital of Williamsburg to the current capital of Richmond, this paved path spans about 50 miles of scenery and history. Sites along the way include Shirley Plantation, Edgewood Plantation, Rocketts Landing, Chickahominy Riverfront Park, and Dorey Park and Recreation Center.

It was completed in 2015 and winds along Route 5, and it’s popular with runners, bicyclers, walkers, and in-line skaters. The eastern end is at Jamestown Settlement, and the western end is at the floodgates near Great Shiplock Park. Great Shiplock has parking, which makes for convenient access to the trail.

2. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Building of Museum Fine Art, Richmond  in Virginia
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Address: 200 N. Arthur Ashe Boulevard, Richmond, Virginia 23220

Opened in 1936, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) is one of the best free things to do in Richmond (although special exhibits have an admission fee). The museum features contemporary art, portraits, photographs, sculptures, ancient Egyptian artifacts, textile art, Fabergé eggs, exquisite equestrian drawings from the age of Napoleon, and more.

Special exhibitions have included Edward Hopper, Van Gogh, Dale Chihuly, the Terracotta Army, and the guitar in art. The Virginia Museum of History & Culture is next door to the VMFA. It’s right up there as one of my favorite Richmond museums.

Colorful exhibits showcase historic Virginians, artisan crafts, George Washington’s personal diary, and historic musical instruments. There’s even an autographed baseball from the Richmond Virginians baseball team that played from 1954 to 1964.

See Related: Things to Do in Norfolk, Virginia

3. Historic St. John’s Church

Richmond St Johns Church in Virginia
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Address: 2401 E. Broad Street, Richmond, Virginia 23223

St. John’s Church overlooks the Church Hill neighborhood and serves as a reminder of the city’s places in the history books. The original structure, the first church in the city, was built in 1741, but it’s been modified over the years.

Its claim to fame is that it’s the site of the famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech given by Patrick Henry to the delegates of the Second Virginia Convention. Reenactments of the 1775 Second Virginia Convention are held throughout the year.

Listen as costumed versions of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Patrick Henry argue about military preparation and arming the Virginia militia in the same location as the real guys did! It’s a step back in time.

If you prefer, you can also take walking tours led by costumed interpreters or take a stroll on your own. Wander through the cemetery, where you’ll find the headstones of Elizabeth A. Poe (actress and mom of Edgar) and George Wythe, founding father and professor.

4. Learn Civil War History

Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia
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Fast forward to the 1800s. If you’re in town to look into the region’s Civil War past, the first place you’ll want to head to is the American Civil War Museum at historic Tredegar. Tredegar Iron Works was the biggest iron manufacturer during the Civil War. It also produced steam trains and railroad spikes.

The building now serves as the visitors center for the Richmond National Battlefield Park system, which includes 13 Civil War battlefields and defensive fortification sites around the city and outlying areas, including Cold Harbor Battlefield Site, Gaines’ Mill Battlefield, Beaver Dam Creek, Malvern Hill Battlefield, and Chimborazo Medical Museum.

Other relevant sites include the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia and the Richmond Slave Trail. This 2.5-mile walking rail runs from historic Manchester docks to auction houses in Shockoe Bottom, which is great for a morning or afternoon walk.

For bonus points, history enthusiasts will want to hit up the Virginia Holocaust Museum, which tells the story of the Holocaust through victims’ personal stories, and the Virginia War Memorial, dedicated to Virginians killed in World War II, the Korean War, and later the Vietnam War.

See Related: Washington D.C. Sightseeing Pass Review: Is it Worth it?

5. Hollywood Cemetery

Richmond Hollywood Cemetery in Virginia
Sand Allen / ViaTravelers

Address: 412 South Cherry Street, Richmond, Virginia 23220

Designed in 1847 and named for the stately holly trees, the 135-acre Hollywood Cemetery is a peaceful area overlooking the James River. Take a leisurely walk or drive through valleys and hills.

This cemetery is where US soldiers, Confederate generals, city founders, and presidents lay at rest. As you’re walking or driving about, take notice of native trees like the black gum, the tulip poplar, and a 140-foot-tall bald cypress.

The cemetery is also a recognized arboretum. It’s one of the best places to check out cherry blossoms without traipsing all the way to Washington D.C.

The best displays are at President’s Circle, by the burial places of United States presidents John Tyler and James Monroe. You’ll also find the headstones of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury in Hollywood Cemetery.

Book a Richmond lore and Civil War tour to explore the cemetery while listening to tales of war, disease, supposed hauntings, the Richmond vampire, and even Viking funerals!

6. The Poe Museum

The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia
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Address: 1914 E. Main Street, Richmond, Virginia 23223

Another one of my Richmond favorites is the Poe Museum. Baltimore lays claim as Poe’s death site, and Boston takes credit as his birthplace, but Poe lived in Richmond for a large part of his life and took on his first literary job in the city.

He became the assistant editor at the Southern Literary Messenger in 1835, later becoming the editor. It’s no longer there, but the building was originally near the museum property.

The Poe Museum, which is in the oldest house in the city, features exhibits exploring his novels, poems, life, and influence in pop culture and horror genre history. Artifacts include his walking stick, a vest, and a lock of his hair (it’s actually brown, not deep black like all media portrays it).

The house was built in 1740 and became known as the Old Stone House in 1922. However, Poe never lived here.

Walk through the enchanted garden courtyard decorated with a fountain, a shrine, and Poe-inspired gardens. There’s even a brick wall topped with broken glass (an homage to the short story William Wilson). Trust me, this place is a haven for the literary traveler.

7. Agecroft Hall & Gardens

Agecroft Hall in Richmond, Virginia
phoebe reid / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0

Address: 4305 Sulgrave Road, Richmond, Virginia 23221

Originally built in Lancashire, England, in the 1400s, Agecroft Hall & Gardens magically made its way to Richmond in the 1920s. The house was dismantled and shipped to Richmond by Thomas C. Williams Jr., a wealthy entrepreneur.

Located in the Windsor Farms neighborhood, visitors can take self-guided tours of the Tudor Mansion. Its antique furnishings, art, tapestries, family crests, and Elizabethan gardens draw crowds year-round.

The property hosts seasonal events, guided tours, historical reenactments, and an annual Shakespeare Festival. Festival events are a terrific time to break out the blankets and picnic supplies and enjoy a showing of titles such as The Comedy of Errors, Hamlet, and Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus.

8. Paddle, Pedal, or Traipse Along the James River 

Belle Isle Trail in Richmond, Virginia
Sandy Allen / ViaTravelers

Tackle the outdoor recreation of the James River and its parks, trails, and Class III and IV whitewater rapids, the only ones of that type in the US that run through an urban area. We’re all pretty proud of that fact, and you’ll find that we like to mention it a lot.

Belle Isle, part of the James River Park System, is one of the most popular riverfront areas for hiking, biking, rock climbing, fishing, kayaking, birdwatching, and just relaxing on rocks. Swimming is discouraged as the water can be rough. Seriously, it’s not advisable at any time of year.

Afterward, head over to Brown’s Island and the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge, a 1,600-foot-long pedestrian bridge that crosses the river and makes for beautiful pics of the river and the Richmond skyline. Bonus points if you happen to snap a colorful kayak in your pic.

Built above a former hydraulics dam, this cool bridge opened in 2016. The south side of the bridge, known as Manchester, has a popular rock-climbing area.

On the north side of Brown’s Island, don’t miss the “Three Days in April 1865” installation. It tells the story of how the former Confederate capital fell and was consumed by a fire set by fleeing Richmonders to scorch the city rather than let it fall into Union hands. The bridge floorboards have inscriptions of quotes from generals, presidents, and many more.

Take a guided hike in James River Park to explore Belle Isle, Brown’s Island, and the Pipeline Walk, among others. Other activities along the James River include narrated riverfront canal cruises on the Kanawha Canal (surveyed by Mr. George Washington himself).

See Related: Best Hiking Trails in the United States

9. Maymont

Maymont Goat in Richmond, Virginia
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Address: 1700 Hampton Road, Richmond, Virginia 23220

Maymont is Richmond’s favorite spot to take the kiddos. I mean, if there’s anything more fun for little ones than feeding goats and sheep, I don’t know what it might be.

Along with the cute and cuddly creatures at the Children’s Farm, the 100-acre park features a Gilded Age mansion (home to the Dooley family, who left the property to the City of Richmond as a public park and museum in 1926), a historic carriage collection, Japanese and Italian gardens, a nature center, and wildlife exhibits. Check out black bears, otters, a bobcat, and raptor-type birds.

Richmond garden lovers are also fond of the 50-acre Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and its rose gardens, themed gardens, holiday light displays, ponds, and native plants. There are also children’s gardens and water play areas.

My personal favorite is the Tropical Conservatory. There’s no better place to enjoy orchids, a waterfall, stately palm trees, seasonal flower displays, and annual butterfly exhibits.

See Related: Day Trips from Washington D.C. By Train

10. Boost your Insta Presence with Richmond Murals

Mural Warrior in Richmond, Virginia
Sandy Allen / ViaTravelers

Richmond has a thriving art scene thanks in part to the artsy vibe of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). You’ll find colorful murals, part of the Richmond Mural Project, on walls around the city. A few to put on your list include Greetings from Richmond, Together We Rise, Nina Simone, and Owl.  

Book a street art bike tour to get a non-blurry pic of Richmond’s many murals. It’s really hard to snap those pics from a car. You can also take a self-guided smartphone mural tour to check over 60 colorful, unique, and imaginative murals within the city walls.

The Hampton Inn & Suites – Richmond Downtown is an excellent spot to anchor a Richmond visit, whether you’re eyeing murals, checking out street art, learning Richmond history, or bicycling around the city. It’s located in the heart of downtown and within walking distance of Brown’s Island and the Canal Walk.

Check out the hotel’s Kabana Rooftop bar for terrific views of the city skyline and the James River. Fans of the rooftop scene might also want to check out the Q Rooftop at Quirk Hotel or the Hofheimer Building’s rooftop bar.

See Related: Minneapolis Murals You Need to Visit

11. Breweries, Cideries, Wineries, and Distilleries Galore

Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond, Virginia
Sandy Allen / ViaTravelers

With more than 30 craft breweries (along with wineries, cideries, and distilleries), Richmond has become a major beer town over recent years. The city has been named the world’s number one craft beer destination by Vinepair. The award-winning Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout has been named the top beer in Virginia by Thrillist.

But enough about the news. It’s always best to check it out yourself. A large number of these breweries can be found in the historic and uber-trendy Scott’s Addition neighborhood, which also features restaurants and bars serving American, Belgian farmhouse, Irish, and German beers.

A Brewery Tour is a terrific way to sample the beer scene under the direction of a local guide. The tour takes you to Ardent Craft Ales, Vasen Brewing Company, and Legend Brewing, the oldest brewery in Richmond.

You’ll learn about the brewing process and Richmond’s diverse craft beer scene while sampling brews. This tour starts at Capital Ale House.

If you’d like to get out and explore Richmond on your own, check out the Richmond Beer Trail to plan your own tour. Or perhaps consider any of the following tipple-centric attractions:

  • The Veil Brewing Company
  • Hardywood Park Craft Brewery
  • Triple Crossing Beer
  • Final Gravity Brewing
  • Blue Bee Cider
  • Virago Spirits
  • James River Winery

See Related: Best Breweries in Charleston, South Carolina

12. Kings Dominion  

Kings Dominion Amusement Park
Sandy Allen / ViaTravelers

Address: 16000 Theme Park Way, Doswell, Virginia 2304

Kings Dominion, which is part of Cedar Fair amusement parks, isn’t technically in Richmond, but it is one of the most popular things to do for locals and visitors. It’s located about 30 minutes from downtown Richmond in the Hanover County town of Doswell.

Whether it’s roller coasters, water slides, funnel cakes, Snoopy and the gang, or seasonal events like Christmas, 4th of July fireworks, and Halloween HAUNT, this is the place to be if you want to have fun in the Richmond region.

Doswell is also the home of the State Fair of Virginia, found just down the road from Kings Dominion. The fair takes place in mid-October and features the usual fair fun of midway games, rides, agricultural exhibits, pig races, wood-carving demonstrations, and food trucks full of fried everything.

This annual event is one of the area’s best family-friendly attractions. It’s held at the Meadow Event Park, which happens to be the birthplace of a pretty famous equine named Secretariat. You can check out the stables while you’re there.

13. Take a Haunted History Tour

Patrick Henry Pub in Richmond, Virginia
Sandy Allen / ViaTravelers

Even when it’s not the spooky season, you can take a Richmond Boos and Booze Tour. US Ghost Adventures takes groups on a walking tour of the historically haunted Shockoe Bottom.

The tour takes you by some of the oldest sites and attractions in the city, including the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, St. John’s Church, Richbrau Brewery, Mason’s Hall, and Patrick Henry’s Pub & Grille. Tours meet at Rose Connolly’s Pub.

If you’re feeling like a luxury stay is in order, check into the Jefferson Hotel. Dating to 1895, the gorgeous retreat offers upscale amenities, antique furnishings, a gourmet restaurant, afternoon tea, champagne Sunday brunches, a salon, and an indoor pool. It’s a great location to base a Richmond visit.

See Related: Most Haunted Places in the US

14. Cheer on a Local Team

The Diamond in Richmond, Virginia
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Richmond may not have a football team, but it does have an array of other spectator sports. Take in a game of Virginia Commonwealth University basketball at the Siegal Center, University of Richmond basketball at the Robins Center, or Virginia Union University basketball at Barco-Stevens Hall. The Richmond Kickers USL soccer team plays at City Stadium.

One of the most popular sporting events in town is a game of Richmond Flying Squirrels baseball at The Diamond. Yes, flying squirrels. The Minor League Baseball team, originally known as the Richmond Braves, is an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.

Rebranding took place in 2010 with huge success. Local fans walk through the Squirrely Gates to cheer on the team and its super squirrely mascot, Nutzy, and his friend Nutasha.

The roar of NASCAR can be found at Richmond International Raceway. Richmond Raceway races are typically in the spring and fall and are generally a hoot.

15. Shopping and Dining in Carytown

Carytown Streets in Richmond, Virginia
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Nicknamed the Mile of Style, Carytown is the best place to find vintage clothing, quirky gifts, unique toys, designer stationery, gourmet kitchen tools, tea and spices, and the perfect prom dress. Can Can Brasserie is one of the best places in town to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or any other day you like.

Enjoy French, Indian, Mexican, Thai, and Italian cuisine, or take in a dinner theater show. There are also a few ice cream, dessert, candy, and chocolate shops you won’t want to miss. Book a Carytown food tour to find some new favorites at local spots like East Coast Provisions or Carytown Cupcakes.

16. The Festival Scene

Riverrock Paddleboarding in Richmond, Virginia
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Music, food, and outdoor sports all have a place in Richmond’s festival scene. Dominion Energy RiverRock is the East Coast’s premier outdoor sports and music festival. Watch extreme sports such as rock climbing, slacklining, and paddleboarding demonstrations, as well as high-flying bicycle acrobatics.

Other RiverRock events include mountain biking, mud runs, and trail running. My favorite athletic sport, however, is the Subaru Ultimate Air Dogs. Nothing beats watching cute pups jump into a pool of water while leaping for a stick.

The city’s inaugural 2023 Iron Blossom Music Festival turned out to be a hugely successful event. While a certain Washington football team doesn’t spend training camp in Richmond anymore, their former field makes for an excellent music festival venue.

A massive line-up of talent took place over two days, culminating in the headlining acts of Elle King, Lord Huron, Noah Kahan, and Hozier. We expect the sophomore event to be even bigger; 14,000 Richmonders can’t be wrong.

Here are a few more of my favorite festivals in Richmond:

  • Shamrock the Block – March
  • The Richmond Greek Festival – June
  • Broad Appétit – June
  • Richmond Jazz and Music Festival – August
  • Carytown Watermelon Festival – August
  • The Richmond Folk Festival – October
  • Filipino Festival – October

See Related: Best Music Festivals to Attend This Summer

17. A Night, or Day, at the Theater

Altria Theater in Richmond, Virginia
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From local bands, national touring acts, comedy shows, and Broadway productions to classic films and box office hits, Richmond offers a variety of large and small venues. The National, originally opened in 1923, is a terrific venue for musical performances, comedy shows, and concerts.

Performers such as Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Violent Femmes, The FIXX, Pauly Shore, plus Richmond’s own Carbon Leaf, GWAR, and Lamb of God have all graced the stage here. It’s honestly a legendary venue.

The 1928 Byrd Theater, named after William Byrd II (founder of the city), is a favorite low-price option for classic movies, indie titles, and film festivals. The theater is an art deco gem with its gilded statues, velvet curtains, and majestic crystal chandelier. House organist Bob Gulledge plays the Mighty Wurlitzer organ before shows on Saturday nights.

Altria Theater, formerly known as the Landmark Theater, is one of the best places in Richmond to check out a concert, a comedy show, or the best of Broadway right here in Richmond. Head to a performance of Hamilton, Hadestown, The Book of Mormon, or Wicked. Or, spend the night laughing with Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Steve Martin, and Martin Short.

While the state-of-the-art Movieland at Boulevard Square shows modern movies, the building was originally a locomotive assembly plant that operated in the 1880s. Rather than extinguish the building’s historical factor, Richmond architects kept the memories alive with a decorating scene of exposed original brick, train art, and artifacts.

A piece of the track found during excavation glides around the lobby. It opened as part of the Bow Tie Cinemas family of movie theaters in 2009.

Other top Richmond Theaters you should check out include:

18. Triple Crossing Railroad Site

Triple Crossing in Richmond, Virginia
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Address: 1401 Dock Street, Richmond, Virginia 23219

Visiting Richmond offers the chance to explore the city’s past and present railroad scene. Richmond is the site of one of the only two spots in the US where three railroad tracks cross at different levels in the same spot.

The other one is in Kansas City, Kansas, which was just completed in 2004. Richmond’s has been around for more than a hundred years, so there, Kansas City.  

The ground level of the tracks was built between 1886 and 1895. The middle level is 18 feet high and was built between 1897 and 1900. The third level is 36 feet high and was completed in 1901.

The Triple Crossing is near the Canal Walk and several great Richmond restaurants, including Casa Del Barco, Siné Irish Pub, Bottoms Up Pizza, and the Hard Shell. It’s worth visiting just for the food choices.

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