The best things to do in Richmond, VA from a local! Find out the best attractions and areas of the city to explore for your upcoming trip, all in one post.
We are Samantha and Chris and we run Boozing Abroad! We help connect travelers with local cultures through booze, which is why our mantra is always to “Drink Locally. Travel Globally”.
While we love tasting and exploring all of the interesting local libations and cultures that this great world has to offer, our hometown of Richmond, Virginia has its fair share of local experiences (and drinks, of course) to keep us busy all by itself.
Samantha was born and raised in Richmond and has lived here her whole life (except for college), while Chris has lived here since graduating college in 2010.
We have literally watched Richmond evolve and grow up before our eyes, offering visitors many things to do, see, eat, and drink, and making it an ideal weekend (or longer) getaway.
Richmond, the capital city of Virginia, is one of the best-kept secrets in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Situated only two hours west of Virginia Beach, two hours south of Washington, D.C., and one hour east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Richmond is the perfect centrally-located destination for solo travelers, couples, and families.
Dripping with history, there is no shortage of tourist sights with historical (aka really old) significance, with most of the main sights dating back to before the Civil War period.
Everything in Richmond seems to have a touch of history associated with it, making it one of the most unique cities to visit in the US.
Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.
20 Things to Do in Richmond, Virginia
Take a Stroll Around Maymont
Maymont is a hidden oasis near downtown Richmond. Originally a 100-acre Victorian estate, Maymont was gifted to the city of Richmond and is now a public park.
Whether you are picnicking on the grounds, feeding baby goats and sheep, touring the historic house museum, or wandering through the Japanese Garden, Maymont is a great half-day adventure in Richmond.
The grounds, gardens, and petting zoo are all free, though donations are suggested. The Nature Center and House Museum charge between $3-$5 per person.
Make sure you bring water, a hat, and comfortable walking shoes as there are many hills all over the property. If you’re looking for fun cheap or free things to do in Richmond, Maymont is one of the best options.
Grab a Pint at One of 30+ Breweries
No Richmond guide is complete without mentioning our love for breweries! For a city of its relatively small size, a brewery population of over 30 (and growing every month) is significant.
You can find breweries – as well as distilleries, cideries, and a meadery – scattered all over the city.
If you want a solid day of brewery hopping and don’t want to worry about transportation, head to Scott’s Addition. It’s dubbed as Richmond’s booziest neighborhood and breeding ground for all things craft beer.
Today, eight breweries, two cideries, a meadery, and a distillery litter this small patch of Earth, making this one of the hottest neighborhoods in the city, if not the region, for craft libations.
Each brewery seems to have their own style of beer that they have perfected, from IPAs and pale ales to sours and saisons. It’s hard to pick a favorite around here since they change their lineups so frequently.
To help you out, we’ve put together a guide of all of the breweries in Richmond and how to hop around them safely and efficiently. Brewery hopping is one of the best things to do in Richmond for any beer enthusiast.
Explore Hollywood Cemetery
What do three presidents, 18,000 soldiers, and a vampire have in common? Hollywood Cemetery.
And no, not that Hollywood.
Opened in 1849, Hollywood Cemetery (named for the numerous holly trees on the property) is considered one of the most famous cemeteries in America. It’s the final resting place for President James Monroe, President John Tyler, and Jefferson Davis (the only President of the Confederates States of America).
During the Civil War, Hollywood Cemetery became one of the largest locations for military funerals, burying a total of over 18,000 Confederate soldiers.
While not all cemeteries are haunted, Hollywood Cemetery is known for sightings of the Richmond Vampire. In 1929, after a railroad tunnel collapsed, a man-like creature doused in blood with jagged-teeth was seen in Hollywood Cemetery entering the mausoleum of a man named W.W. Pool.
This urban legend has since been debunked, but the story of the Richmond Vampire continues to be passed down to future generations, keeping the ghost story alive.
Hollywood Cemetery also offers one of the best views of downtown Richmond, the James River, and Belle Isle.
If you’re wondering what to do in Richmond and you’re a history buff (and into ghost stories), Hollywood Cemetery is the perfect place to visit.
Recommended Tour: Hollywood Cemetery Segway Tour
Hike to Belle Isle
Located in the middle of the James River, Belle Isle is a 54-acre island park that was originally a prison camp for Union soldiers during the Civil War.
The James River has massive, flat rocks that locals love to hop all over and then sunbathe on during the summer. However, the rapids surrounding the island can be quite dangerous and swimming is not recommended.
The most common entrance to Belle Isle is across the suspended pedestrian footbridge on Tredegar Street, but there are a few other ways onto the island depending on the water level of the river.
Even if you aren’t going to sunbathe, you can ride around on your bike or bring your walking or running shoes and enjoy this unique view of the Richmond skyline, Hollywood Cemetery, and Tredegar Iron Works.
Whitewater Rafting on the James River
Looking to test your whitewater rafting skills? Richmond is one of the few urban cities that has a river running through it that offers class III and class IV rapids.
The most active rapids in the river are located between the Boulevard Bridge and downtown Richmond, called the lower James.
This part of the river includes runs down the class IV Hollywood Rapid, right in front of the crowds at Belle Isle (could be super awesome or super embarrassing depending on your success), as well as the triple drop down the class III Pipeline Rapids.
There are several local companies that offer rentals or tours if you’re up for the challenge.
Visit Libby Hill Park – Where Richmond got its Name
Despite the fact that the first known settlers to Richmond were in the early 1600s (aka Christopher Newport), it is the view from this park where the city of Richmond actually got its name in 1737.
William Byrd II named the city based on the view from this hill overlooking the city and the James River. He found the view to be a striking resemblance to the one of the River Thames from Richmond Hill in England.
Located in the historic neighborhood of Church Hill, you can stroll around the neighborhood admiring homes from the 1800s.
This is also a great spot to take in the beautiful sunset over the city’s skyline and the river after a full day of checking out the best Richmond attractions around town.
Reenact Patrick Henry’s Famous Speech at St. John’s Church
Historic St. John’s Church is located a few blocks from Libby Hill Park. It was here, in 1775, that Patrick Henry gave his famous “Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death” speech to the Second Virginia Revolutionary Convention. The speech is considered one of the turning points of the Revolutionary War.
On Sundays during the summer, you can witness a reenactment of the speech for around $6 a person or you can set up a tour of the grounds for free.
Experience Royalty at The Jefferson Hotel
Established in 1895, The Jefferson Hotel is one of the most luxurious hotels in the United States and the top hotel in Richmond. Even if you aren’t staying the night, you can be pampered at their spa or enjoy a glass of bubbly in their majestic lobby.
Patrons have included 13 United States presidents, famous writers, and celebrities, including the likes of Henry James, Charles Lindbergh, The Rolling Stones, Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, and Anthony Hopkins, among many others.
Back in the early 1900s, alligators lived in the fountain just outside of the main doors. The alligators are long gone from The Jefferson Hotel, for obvious reasons, but a bronze statue remains near the main hotel entrance in their honor.
Cruise Down the Riverfront Canal
George Washington established Richmond’s first canal system in 1789 and connected trading markets as far west as the Rocky Mountains. While the canal does not directly connect via water to the Rockies, it did open the Richmond Harbor to trade and helped the city flourish.
Today, you can ride down the canal on a cruise and see first-hand the design of the canals, the unique Triple Crossing railroad, historic tobacco warehouses, and more.
The canal cruise operates daily from May through September (varying hours in April, October, and November). If you aren’t in the mood for cruising, you can walk parts of the canal through downtown Richmond and read about all of the cool stuff on the historic plaques and signage.
Watch out for bikers as the Canal Walk is where the Virginia Capital Trail begins.
More than just being home to musical acts (Friday Cheers) and iconic Richmond festivals (Riverrock and Richmond Folk Festival), Brown’s Island is Richmond’s outdoor paradise.
Connected to the Canal Walk, Brown’s Island offers a chance to see the James River rushing through a downtown city, which isn’t something you see every day. From the park, you can see Belle Isle and part of the downtown skyline up close and personal.
From the back-end of Brown’s Island (the western side), you can hop on the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge (T. Pott for short) and take this pedestrian/cyclist pathway across the James River to Manchester and back.
As you’re crossing the bridge, listen for the sounds of rushing rapids beneath your feet (you’re pretty close to the water – especially when the river is higher than normal) and don’t forget to gaze back towards the understated, yet beautiful, Richmond skyline.
Once you’re across the bridge in Manchester, you’ll find the Manchester Climbing Wall, fashioned out of a series of abandoned train trestles that have been equipped with bolts. It’s not a climbing destination, per se, but a great spot to hone your skills before your next big climb.
Get Your Nerd on at the Science Museum
The Science Museum of Virginia is, without a doubt, one of our favorite museums. The museum is interactive and explores everything from space, health, electricity, and the Earth, to various rotating exhibits such as the human body, dinosaurs, or the city of Pompeii.
With hundreds of hands-on exhibits, this place is fascinating for the young and the young at heart and has tons of multi-sensory items to explore.
Our personal favorite is the Speed exhibit, where you can race a bear (simulated, unfortunately) on foot. You can also see if you’re ready for a baseball career by testing your arm strength on the radar gun.
Shop Until you Drop in Carytown
Coined as the “Mile of Style”, Carytown is the top shopping destination in Richmond for local boutiques and stores. You’ll be amazed at how many options there are for shopping and dining on this small nine-block stretch of Cary Street.
The majority of shops in Carytown are open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm Monday through Saturday, and 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm on Sundays. With more than 25 places to eat and a local brewery/urban winery combination, you will be able to refuel after a day of shopping.
Recommended Tour: The Carytown Food Tour
Catch a Flick (and an Organ Player) at the Byrd Theatre
Named after the founder of the city, the Byrd Theatre is an iconic Richmond landmark that opened way back on Christmas Eve in 1928.
Fun fact – it was the first movie theater in Virginia to be built with a sound system incorporated in it since it opened when the US was transitioning from silent to talking movies.
With it being so old, the Byrd has oodles of history and has played thousands of films. It hosts the French Film Festival every year too. In today’s day and age of $15 movie tickets, the Byrd’s ticket price of $4 is a steal, especially considering the relatively new releases they screen.
On Saturdays, the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ is played throughout the day before showtimes by the house organist. It’s a super cool and local experience and by far one of the best things to do in Richmond at night.
Stroll Down Historic Monument Ave
Monument Avenue, divided by a beautiful tree-lined grassy median, is one of the few streets in the country to be dubbed a National Historic Landmark. It’s the nation’s only boulevard with monuments of its scale surviving mostly unchanged to the present day, according to the National Park Service.
It is a sight to see on foot or by car as it is lined with mansions and monuments dating back to the early 1900s.
Monuments on the street include J.E.B. Stuart, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, Matthew Fontaine Maury, and Arthur Ashe.
Regardless of your views on Confederate monuments and their historical place in our cities, this avenue is significant for its architecture and as an example of city planning – the city of Richmond developed around this monumental avenue.
Weather permitting, locals can be seen picnicking, sunbathing, running, or walking dogs in the median.
During the spring, Monument Avenue is the focal point of several events, such as the Easter on Parade and the Monument Avenue 10k – one of the largest (over 25,000 participants) and best 10k’s in the country.
See the Government in Action at the Capitol Building
On the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion, which is the oldest-occupied governor’s mansion in the country, you can head inside for a tour of the Executive Mansion. The Executive Mansion was designed by Thomas Jefferson and includes a life-sized marble statue of George Washington.
Tours are offered Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from the hours of 10 AM to 12 PM and again from 2 PM to 4 PM. The tour only lasts about 30 minutes and same-day walk-up tours may be available depending on availability.
The Capitol is also the location of the Zero Milestone Marker for Richmond. When you are on the highway and it says 15 miles to Richmond, that is referring to the distance to the Capitol.
Discover More than Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Where can you find the largest collection of Fabergé eggs outside of Russia? In little ‘ol Richmond, of course….at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, or the VMFA as the locals call it.
The VMFA was opened back during the Great Depression and has been chugging along ever since with the help of their generous donors.
With some hugely popular rotating exhibitions, such as the Hollywood Costume exhibit and the Mummy exhibit, along with some Picasso and Van Gogh thrown in, it’s no wonder the VMFA makes our list of top things to do in Richmond.
Even better, it’s free admission (for the non-traveling exhibitions) and open 365 days a year.
Seek Out Thrills at Kings Dominion
Located 30 minutes north of Richmond, you will find a 2-in-1 amusement park at Kings Dominion. From twisting roller coasters to a complete water park, one ticket will admit you to both for all-day fun.
You can ride up a replica of the Eiffel Tower which is exactly one-third of the size of the real thing in Paris.
Fun for all ages, the park has specific zones for young kids and pre-teens so everyone can have a great time. The Grizzly is the oldest roller coaster in the park and has been around since 1982.
It’s still on the wooden tracks so if you’re brave enough to hop on, prepare for a wild ride. White Water Canyon is also fun for the whole family, holding six people per tube. Do this ride on your way to the water park – you’ll get soaked.
If you’re looking for fun day trips from Richmond VA, Kings Dominion is an easy-to-get-to attraction that will get your heart thumping. Plus, it’s a good day out for the whole family.
You can grab your admission tickets ahead of time for Kings Dominion here.
The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart
No matter your religious affiliation, head over towards the main VCU campus and the Altria Theater to find this undeniably beautiful Catholic church.
While the cathedral might not look like much more than an old church from the outside, the real beauty of this cathedral, built in 1905, is inside. The building is built in the style of Italian Renaissance architecture, so the symmetry is breathtaking and awesome.
The large towers rise high into the air above the huge columns at the entrance, which overlooks the newly-refurbished Monroe Park.
Virginia Capital Trail
If you’re into being active, specifically being active on a bike, then you need to take a ride on the Virginia Capital Trail. The trail is a 52-mile dedicated bike and multi-use trail that runs from Richmond to Williamsburg.
We’ve seen many different types of events happening on the trail, from bike races to running races, and you can even walk your dog or rollerblade on the trail if you want.
Really, just no motorized vehicles. And yes, that includes those e-scooters popping up everywhere.
Shine Bright on the Tacky Light Tour During Christmas
We know what you are thinking – a tacky light tour? While this is only a fun activity for one month out of the year, Richmond has an over-the-top holiday light display each year that only gets bigger (and brighter).
Whether you do a self-guided driving tour, purchase a tacky light tour, or rent a party bus/trolley, this is the top local thing to do if you are in Richmond between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. It’s also one of the best things to do with kids in Richmond.
Insider tip: the house on Asbury Court serves hot cocoa and cider, so make sure you bring a few dollars to enjoy the holiday spirit.
Where to Stay in Richmond VA
Richmond has a variety of hotel options all around the city, but given some of the must-see places on this itinerary, we suggest you stay near downtown to be centrally-located and just for ease of getting around.
Here are some suggestions broken down by price range.
HI Richmond Hostel – Part of the HI family, HI Richmond Hostel is Richmond’s only true hostel. Conveniently located right near all of the major roads in downtown Richmond (Cary Street, Main Street, and Broad Street), HI Richmond has many of the comforts you look for when traveling, including free breakfast and WIFI.
There is even a pool table for you to hustle your friends!
Delta Hotels by Marriott – One of the newest hotel additions to downtown Richmond, Delta Hotels offers beautiful views overlooking the James River and easy access to many of downtown Richmond’s top attractions and businesses. Right outside of the hotel is Brown’s Island, which means being active in the outdoors is super convenient and easy.
Quirk Hotel – Complete with an art gallery on-site, which is fitting considering it’s in the Arts district, Quirk is a boutique hotel that was named one of the south’s best hotels by Southern Living magazine in 2018.
The rooms are super bright and fun and the seasonal and locally-inspired menus at the Maple and Pine restaurant are delicious. The Q Rooftop Bar offers some great views of Richmond while soaking up the sun and sucking down tasty drinks.
Where to Eat and Drink in Richmond VA
Let’s start by saying this is a foodie and beer town. While everything is fantastic, there are quite a few incredible restaurants in Richmond that make narrowing down this list very difficult.
The following are the top restaurants we love from each neighborhood, but remember there are countless others that should be on this list too.
Located in Scott’s Addition, Lunch.SUPPER! was one of the first eateries established in this now bustling neighborhood. Really, there needed to be something to soak up all of the alcohol flowing in this part of town.
The restaurant is actually two separate buildings, but basically the same restaurant (with different hours) with very similar menus. Lunch. is open every day for breakfast, as well as lunch and dinner. To further confuse us, SUPPER! is open every day for lunch and dinner.
On weekends, the brunch at SUPPER! (see what we mean about confusing?!) is a must-do.
One of the most scrumptious dishes is the Last Stand (house-smoked pulled pork, scrambled eggs, onions, peppers, and cheddar rolled in a tortilla and topped with salsa and sour cream).
Another favorite is the Train Wreck (house-buttermilk biscuit topped with Supper! Sausage, scrambled eggs, American cheese, and smothered in breakfast gravy).
You’re sure to leave extremely happy and extremely full after eating here.
23rd and Main
One of the best downtown Richmond restaurants, on the corner of 23rd and Main (bet you didn’t see that coming), this restaurant is one of our favorites in Richmond.
From the parmesan honey truffle fries to the porky fig pizza to the seared tuna tacos, 23rd and Main has an option for all foodies.
The food is absolutely divine and we always take visitors there for their first meal in RVA. Get the fries to start – you can send us a thank you card later.
A true Richmond staple! Joe’s Inn has been around for decades in the historic Fan neighborhood. They have a kick-butt happy hour from 3 PM to 6 PM Monday through Friday, serving up many local and international beers.
“Portion control” is not a term that Joe’s Inn ever learned, so you definitely won’t go home hungry.
One of the most popular places for brunch in the city, dust off your weekend hangover quickly and get here early (they open at 8AM) so you can grab a table.
If the waiting list for a table is too long, or you just want to eat dinner on the couch, head directly across the street to Shields Market where you can get your to-go orders or pre-made Joe’s Inn food.
Formerly located in the basement of an old building in Shockoe Bottom, La Grotta relocated to a more prominent spot in downtown Richmond on Broad Street.
Attached to the downtown Richmond Hilton, La Grotta offers up some unbelievably delicious Italian food. And that’s saying something considering Chris is an Italian citizen. There is so much great food and wine to choose from on their menu that you can’t possibly go wrong.
Our recommendation is to get the Wine Dinner, which is about $55 per person and includes an appetizer, entrée, and dessert, each paired with a glass of wine. It’s a steal for the quality and quantity of food and wine you get.
If you’re driving, pull into the Hilton parking lot and tell the valet that you are eating at La Grotta. You can get your parking validated for three hours, which is more than enough time for a full meal, and you can bypass the hassle of parking in downtown Richmond.
How to Get Around Richmond VA
Richmond’s transportation network is starting to catch up with the times. The city now offers a variety of options for getting around town. Other than your garden-variety car rental, Richmond has many other options for you to consider to get you to some of the best Virginia tourist attractions.
E-Scooters – The newest entrant to Richmond’s transportation market. One of Samantha’s favorite ways to cruise around town, these are super easy to quickly scoot from one place to the next without having to worry about city parking, which can be troublesome at times. Currently, BOLT is the only company in town, with plans to add more (Bird, Lime, etc.) over time.
Bikes – Richmond has shared bike stations in various locations throughout the city. Most of the stations are located in highly-visited places and neighborhoods, so you’ll likely have no problems finding a docking station if you’re sightseeing. Check them out online here to see where to find the stations.
Pulse/Bus – The city bus is run by the GRTC and has stops and routes all over the city, serving many different communities and neighborhoods. One of the newer additions to the bus network is The Pulse, which is an expedited bus service running about every 10-15 minutes, that goes right through the heart of the city on Broad Street and Main Street.
It spans from the east tip of Richmond at Rocketts Landing all the way to the near west end of Richmond at Willow Lawn. It’s about a 7.5-mile stretch and The Pulse covers it in about 35 minutes. That may not sound fast, but for traveling through a downtown city on public transportation, it’s pretty good.
And at less than $2 a ride, it’s budget-friendly too.
Uber/Lyft/taxi – Uber and Lyft drivers are all over the city and we have never had any trouble getting one, even for our 4:00 AM rides to the airport. Full disclosure, we haven’t been in a taxi in a while, but we still do see them at the airport.
Rental Car – We don’t recommend getting a rental car for your trip to Richmond, especially if you are staying in downtown Richmond.
Parking downtown can be a hassle, and if you haven’t parallel parked since your driving test, you won’t like your options for parking in the city and surrounding neighborhoods.
That being said, if you know you’ll need one for a longer drive or just like the convenience of having a car, all of the major rental companies can be found at the airport and/or around the city.
A rental car can be a good option if you plan to take a few day trips and want to explore other popular things to do in Virginia.
Airport – Our home airport is Richmond International Airport, or RIC. Although not the biggest airport by any means (currently 22 gates, with six more coming in 2020), Delta, American, United, Southwest, JetBlue, Spirit, and Allegiant all offer flights out of RIC.
Most of your flights are going to be connecting in some of the major hubs (think Atlanta, Charlotte, JFK, etc.), but as passenger traffic at RIC continues to break monthly records, airlines are adding more and more direct flights to cities across the US.
As a side note, it’s also easy to take the train from Richmond to DC, and vice versa, on Amtrak for around $30.
About the Authors
We are Samantha and Chris, a married Virginia couple. When we travel around to all corners of the world, we like to imbibe in the drink(s) of that particular culture. Hence our motto, “Drink locally. Travel globally.”
What we have found on our travels is that we learn so much more about the culture of where we are, not to mention the interesting people we meet, when we have a drink in our hands at the local hangout spot.
PRACTICAL INFO FOR RICHMOND, VA
Book a vacation rental on AirBnB (and get $40 off your first booking).
Buy your Virginia Guide here.
Pin this image for future reference
Looking for more US travel inspiration? Check out these related posts below!
- Torrey Pines Hiking Guide: Best Trails & What to Know Before You Go - March 3, 2021
- 18 Best Weekend Trips From San Francisco (From a Local) - March 2, 2021
- 5 Best Lake Tahoe Beaches (And What to Know Before You Go) - February 24, 2021