Established as a city in 1737, Richmond, Virginia is the place where a number of significant historical events have happened. Among the city’s attractions are historic sites, museums and parks, as well as a thriving food and craft beer scene. Read on to find out Richmond Virginia attractions.
A Historic, Yet Alternative City
An important settlement in the Powhatan Confederacy, the present site of the city was settled by colonists from Jamestown (albeit briefly).
By 1780, Richmond had become the capital city of the Colony and Dominion of Virginia. In 1775, it was the setting of Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech, one of many important events leading up to the American Revolutionary War. It was also where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, essentially the world’s first separation of church and state. During the American Civil War, Richmond served as the capital of the Confederacy.
After the Union troops had captured the city, the fleeing Confederates set fire to many warehouses in the city, which started a huge fire that eventually consumed most of Richmond’s buildings. This is why there are fewer historic buildings found in Richmond Virginia attractions than in other Virginian cities, such as Williamsburg, Alexandria, Staunton and Fredericksburg.
Current Day Richmond VA
Richmond is arguably the most modern city in Virginia. Tall modern buildings dominate the cityscape, housing governmental departments, banks and some Fortune 500 companies. Downtown Richmond is exactly what you expect from a capital city—it’s formal and modern.
However, Richmond is also one of the hippest cities on the East Coast, home to a thriving hipster subculture and boasting one of America’s greatest food scenes. The Richmond of the 21st century is characterized by revived neighborhoods, street art and murals, craft breweries, cuisine and fashion.
Richmond Virginia Attractions: 10 Suggestions
Richmond offers a bit of everything, from Civil War sites to art museums and from antique and vintage shops to historic cemeteries. If you’re wondering what to do in Richmond, Virginia, the following ten places are where you should start.
1.Virginia State Capitol
As the capital of Virginia, one of Richmond’s star attractions is the Virginia State Capitol. An imposing, perfectly white building, it was designed by Thomas Jefferson and modeled after a Roman temple he saw in Nimes, southern France.
This is where the secession of Virginia was declared and where Robert E. Lee was named commander of the Confederate army. Open to the public, the Virginia State Capitol is the centerpiece of Capitol Square. This urban park also comprises several statues of historic figures, a 1824 bell tower, the 1813 Governor’s Mansion and a huge equestrian statue of George Washington.
2.Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Occupying 50 acres to the north of Richmond, the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is rated as one of the best botanical gardens in the United States. It includes numerous themed gardens, a beautiful domed conservatory and a selection of eateries. If it’s a sunny day and you’re debating what to do in Richmond Virginia attractions, this would be a superb choice.
3.Church Hill Historic District
Situated to the east of the Virginia State Capitol, the Church Hill Historic District is where you need to be to see what Richmond looked like before it was destroyed by a fire at the end of the Civil War.
This beautiful old district is home to about 70 Antebellum buildings, most notably St. John’s Episcopal Church, the place where Patrick Henry gave his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. This church is the oldest one in the city. Also in the Church Hill Historic District, you will find The Old Stone House, the oldest building in Richmond. This historic building now houses the Edgar Allen Poe Museum.
When figuring out what to do in Richmond Virginia attractions, visiting a cemetery might not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, the Hollywood Cemetery is without question one of the city’s main attractions.
Open to visitors every day, this iconic cemetery is enormous—you literally have to get around by car. What makes this so worth visiting is not only the many impressive tombs and monuments, but also the fact that this is where two U.S. Presidents are buried, as well as Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederate States of America. The cemetery also offers fine views of the James River.
5.Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
For such a small city—Richmond is home to no more than 250,000 people—it has a rather astonishing art collection. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has permanent galleries featuring works by world-renowned artists such as Matisse, Braque and Picasso.
Its collection span periods from German and French Impressionism to Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Modern and Contemporary art. There’s also a collection of English silver and a celebrated exhibit of Fabergé jeweled works.
Built in the late-19th century by James and Sallie Dooley, Maymont is an expansive estate that is now open to the public. The grounds encompass a carriage collection, a petting farm, a 100-acre park, an arboretum and gardens, and the mansion itself, which is now a museum.
Visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic to enjoy in the gardens and visit the Nature Center exhibiting the natural history of the neighboring James River.
One of Richmond Virginia attractions’ most wonderful features is the James River-Kanawha Canal. It was George Washington himself who pushed the construction of a canal to connect the western markets with the harbors on the East Coast. Nowadays, the Canal Walk follows a 1.25-mile section of this historic canal, taking walkers past historic sites, markers and statues.
Highlights include the American Civil War Center located at the former Tredegar Iron Works and Brown’s Island, an outdoor venue that’s the setting for the Richmond Folk Festival.
Carytown, just to the west of Richmond’s museum district, is definitely one of the city’s hippest neighborhoods. Home to quirky shops, colourful boutiques and busy restaurants, this is one of the greatest Richmond Virginia attractions to go shopping or simply go for a stroll.
9.American Civil War Museum
Housed in the former Tredegar Iron Works, the American Civil War Museum sits on the banks of the James River. Comprising five original, historic buildings, together making up a National Historic Landmark, this is where you can see how iron used to be extracted and processed.
The American Civil War Museum is the first museum that explains and explores the causes, aftermaths, benefits and effects of the Civil War on all parties involved—the Union, the Confederates and the African-Americans.
If you like beer, you don’t need to worry about what to do in Richmond Virginia attractions. Just head straight to one of the twenty-something craft breweries in the city! In recent years, Richmond has gone to somewhat of a revival. From food to fashion and arts, everything has gotten its own subculture in the city. So has craft beer. This is one of the craft beer hubs in Virginia, so don’t miss it.