I’ve heard so many raves from Greenbelters and other friends in the DC area about their visits to Richmond, just a two-hour drive away from us, that I decided to go for an overnight visit. I grew up just outside Richmond but hadn’t been there in almost 20 years, and never as a tourist. Here are my recommendations for your visit – and scroll down for interesting Richmond tips from other Greenbelters.
Statues in the News
So I headed down 95 with my trusty bike and damn if cycling didn’t turn out to be the perfect way to see the sites on my agenda. It helped that the weather was freakishly cool for summer.
With all the uproar over statues of Confederates along Richmond’s most famous Monument Avenue, my top priority was to see their remains. Of the six statues of Confederates, all the city-owned ones were gone (just the platforms remain) but the Robert E Lee statue is owned by the state, and we’re all waiting for its Supreme Court to decide what to do with Lee here, looking pretty battered above all the graffiti and fencing. (The court heard arguments in the case last month.)
My hope is that after Lee is removed, all six traffic circles be turned into neighborhood parks, with seating and shade.
I posted photos of Monument Avenue homes and gardens (and more monuments) here on the garden blog I contribute to.
The statue of Richmonder Arthur Ashe is still standing, despite having been vandalized last summer (“White Lives Matter”). And I was eager to see the cheeky “Rumors of War” statue by Kehinde Wiley, most famous for this portrait of President Obama. Now on the grounds of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, it depicts a youth in what’s called “street garb” in the classic general-on-horse manner.
I always recommend visitors take the tour of Virginia’s Capitol Building, which from my visit in the ’70s I vividly recall the docents wearing period garb and referring reverentially to “Mr. Jefferson,” with a Southern drawl. If that doesn’t appeal to you, it’s still worth a visit for the architecture (credited to Jefferson) and art inside the building.
More fascinating docent stories can be heard at nearby St. John’s Episcopal church – site of Patrick Henry’s “Liberty or death” speech. And the Edgar Allen Poe Museum. All very close.
Everyone raves about the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), where my favorites on this visit were the “Rumors of War” and their famous Faberge collection. For strictly modern art there’s the Institute for Contemporary Art, which “presents art that prompts conversation about modern topics.” The museum is FREE.
Richmond is a treasure trove for history buffs, and not just the white-washed kind. There’s the Black History Museum and Cultural Center, the Valentine Museum, Virginia Museum of History and Culture and American Civil War Museum. There’s the Poe Museum, (with its regular “Unhappy Hour”) and the Science Museum of Virginia housed in the historic Union Station.
But there’s more. Hollywood Cemetery is a “garden cemetery, a landscape style that became popular in the 19th century” where Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler and many other prominent Virginians are buried.
Carytown was a revelation for me, having not seen since it changed from a lonely strip mall to what it is today – block after block of shops, restaurants, and a funkiness that reminds me of Georgetown in the ’70s. Loved it!
Garden-lovers should visit Maymont, (above) a 100-acre Victorian estate and public park. It contains Maymont Mansion, now a historic house museum, an arboretum, formal gardens, a carriage collection, native wildlife exhibits, a nature center, and Children’s Farm. And it’s FREE, except for special exhibits.
In Richmond’s North Side is the equally popular 50-acre Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. It features a conservatory, library, cafe and tea house restaurant. Regular daily admission is $14 for adults, $11 for seniors, $8 for children, under age 3 are free.
More Great Outdoors
Richmond’s done a great job opening up the James River to human activities. As the New York Times wrote:
To know Richmond well, you need to know the James River. Among several vantage points within the James River Park System, three stand out. Belle Isle has a multitude of rocks where you can view the river and its rapids. The island has biking and running trails and is a hot spot for nature lovers. In the warmer months, Pony Pasture Rapids Park is an excellent area for swimming, canoeing and inner tubing. Exercise caution, as there can be slippery spots. Huguenot Flatwater Park, the westernmost park in the system, is one of the best launching areas for paddling.
Shown above, Riverside Outfitters looks like fun place to start an adventure.
The Virginia Capital Trail starts at the river in downtown Richmond and ends in Williamsburg (51.7 miles!).
More Things to Do
“Live Music in Richmond” includes two awesome historic buildings I remember from growing up there and can’t wait to see the interiors again.
Check out the Top Richmond attractions per Trip Advisor.
Recommendations by Greenbelters
I asked on Facebook and lots of Greenbelters (and a few other DMV friends) had tips for visiting Richmond!
- Jefferson Hotel. Famous for, among other things, where the film “My Dinner with Andre” was made. Way downtown near the Capitol.
- “Fun thriftiness! Check out Class and Trash, Diversity Thrift, West End Antiques, RVA antiques, Odd Balls Collectibles, Through the Garden Gate.”
- “Check out the Washington Post article on Tiffany windows in Richmond. I think there are multiple buildings a tourist can visit and see the beautiful glass.”
- “Maymont; Carytown (great shopping, good restaurants, best chocolate/sweet shop you’ll ever find); Canal Walk downtown, Bottoms Up Pizza; hands-down, the VMFA is tops, and definitely worth checking out the new Kehinde Wiley sculpture.”
- The American Civil War Museum at Tredegar.
- “The ghost tours up on Church Hill are fun & pretty interesting”.
- “We loved the Metro Richmond Zoo.” (Never heard of it!)
- Science Museum of Richmond Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.
- Secret Sandwich Society – “A great place to grab a bite to eat.”.
- “The Camel on Broad Street is a fun music venue – check their schedule and there might be someone neat playing when you’re down there! And Boulevard Burger & Brew is a great little joint not too far from the Camel for dinner. In addition to what you’d expect from a burger & beer joint (really good burgers and a great beer list), they’ve got a fair amount of vegetarian and vegan items (including vegan milkshakes!) and boozy milkshakes for the drinkers in the group!”
- “VA Fine Arts Museum is like an exquisite jewel!”
- Dot’s Back Inn – “Good food and reasonable priced. Funky interior and great staff.”
- “I grew up near Richmond and still have family there. I still love to visit Maymont every so often. The otters at the nature center bring me great joy and the whole park is free (donations appreciated).”
- “Museum of Fine Arts; Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden; Maymont, and Hollywood Cemetery for history lesson.”
- “I haven’t been a tourist there in some time, but I remember enjoying the Poe Museum. Nice MD-VA connection!!” (Poe lived in Baltimore before moving to Richmond.)
- “All my trips involve a visit to Proper Pie Co.“
- “For history, stay: Jefferson hotel; see: Valentine museum, St. John’s Church, Canal Walk Cruise, Anti-Slavery Monument.”
- “The Graduate with its roof-top bar and pool, is a fun place to stay. Quirky hotel for a more expensive boutique spot.”
Thanks, tipsters. Clearly I need to go back!