The countdown is on! Richmond is about to host the UCI Road World Championships and the city is ready to welcome nearly 1,000 cyclists and 450,000 spectators. If you’re coming in town for the bike race, you’ll find plenty of events to fill your visit. However, there are lots of things to do in Richmond VA even if you’re visiting for another reason.
As a six-year resident and travel lover, I’ve experienced the city through the eyes of a local and also understand what’s important to tourists. Check out the best of Richmond when you visit (or add it to your bucket list and start planning a trip now!).
So Why Richmond?
In the time that I’ve lived here, I’ve watched Richmond grow up. It used to be a little awkward, not knowing where it stood as a travel destination. Thankfully, Richmond grew out of that phase — and today, it’s a full-fledged city with world-class attractions, some of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten at, and enough variety to ensure you’re never bored.
Like many cities, Richmond is a city of neighborhoods and the atmosphere between each changes quickly. Downtown Richmond, however, is unique: many of these neighborhoods are just a few square blocks, meaning that we have double or triple the amount of distinct identities in a small area. If you don’t like one part of town, you might just fall in love with somewhere a few minutes away.
Who Should Visit Richmond?
- History Lovers: You’ll find colonial sites, like St. John’s Church where Patrick Henry delivered his famous “Give Me Liberty or Give me Death” speech. Antebellum mansions line parts of the city and plantations are just outside town. Civil War history is everywhere, since Richmond was the Confederate capital and numerous battles were fought nearby.
- Art Lovers: Cultural vibrancy shines in Richmond. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is world-class and street art is easy to find downtown. Galleries, classes, and exhibits at Virginia Commonwealth University prove that the art scene is thriving.
- Foodies: According to Saveur, Richmond is “the next great American food city”. It’s true: our restaurants have incredibly high standards and each one offers something unique. You’ll find everything from gourmet donuts to ultra-fresh seafood to great food trucks. Pack your appetite!
- Outdoor Lovers: I’m torn on this, because an outdoor lover I’m left underwhelmed…but for visitors with 3-4 days to fill, Richmond is perfect. We have the best urban whitewater rafting in the country, mountain biking in Powhite Park, and climbing on old quarry walls on Belle Isle.
When Should You Visit Richmond?
September through June are best. July and August are brutally muggy for anyone who’s not used to the climate, but the rest of the year is gorgeous. October is my favorite, with crisp air and daytime highs that still make it really pleasant to walk through the neighborhoods. Winters are cool without much snow and spring is usually warmer than you’d expect.
Related Post: Why the Fourth of July is My Favorite Time in Richmond Specifically, I highly recommend visiting for the 4th of July, it’s an incredible city to visit this time of year!
How Should You Get to Richmond?
Richmond is pretty much dead center on the east coast, making it within driving distance for a lot of visitors. Amtrak makes trips several times a day, as do Megabus and Chinatown buses (I’ve had good luck with Eastern bus line). The Richmond airport is about 15 minutes east of downtown and despite being small, there’s a fair amount of flights available.
Hint: The northbound drive on I-95 as you approach the city is one of my favorite views of Richmond.
How Do You Get Around Richmond?
The short answer: by car. A lot of what makes Richmond fascinating is spread out — gardens, battlefields, and concerts, for example. However, intrepid travelers can get away without a car if they stay in the downtown core. From Church Hill on the east side of downtown to Carytown on the west side of downtown is a distance of about six miles, making it realistic to get around by bicycle, foot, infrequent bus lines, and car services.
Hint: Taxis in Richmond are available, but you’ll rarely see them driving around looking for business. Hail a car using the Uber app instead (and use code uberthegirlandglobe for a free first ride, up to $20).
How Long Should You Spend in Richmond?
It’s absolutely possible to visit Richmond on a day trip from Washington DC or as a stop on an otherwise longer roadtrip. However, unless you’re on the tightest of schedules, I think 3 days is perfect for the downtown metro or 4 days if you want to explore the greater area (heck, you could spend all week if you use Richmond as a base to visit places like Williamsburg, Charlottesville, Shenandoah National Park, and amusement parks).
What Should You See in Richmond?
Let’s start with a few really great walking areas.
Church Hill is my favorite part of Richmond. It’s a completely photogenic part of town, with gorgeous brick row houses, picturesque historical buildings, and parks that overlook the downtown skyline (head to Libby Hill). This is the best place in town to book a walking tour, bike tour, segway tour, food tour, or pretty much any other activity. If you don’t love it, I’ll be shocked.
Shockoe Bottom: With cobblestone streets and easy access to the Canal Walk, this is a great place for a stroll — especially if you’re inbetween visits to the capitol, courthouse, museums, historical sites, or farmers market anyway. Hidden away is Tio Pablo Taqueria, the only place worth eating at in that area (in my opinion).
The Fan: When I first moved to Richmond, I lived in The Fan (hint: there’s a polar bear in front of my old apartment now, see if you can find it!). Now, it’s still an area I walk through frequently. Monument Avenue is the obvious draw here, with huge monuments erected to Civil War figures, but the houses on Grove Avenue in particular are also lovely.
Carytown: I’ll be honest…I don’t like Carytown. It’s crowded, the restaurants are mediocre at best, and no one seems to know how to park on the street. But if you’re a shopper, Carytown is paradise. The street is lined with boutique shops selling all sorts of specialty items, gifts, and clothing. What I do love about Carytown is the vintage Byrd Theatre, where you can get a ticket, popcorn, and soda for less than $10.
Want more options? Try Experiencing a Civil War Battle at Wilson’s Wharf I was never a fan of fort tours and battlefields growing up, but now I have discovered that a lot of it is really quite interesting.
What Should You Do in Richmond?
Have a Picnic in Byrd Park: After you’ve walked the grounds of Maymont Estate and rented a paddleboat on Swan Lake, spread out a feast in the park and enjoy the peaceful area. Byrd Park has the right amount of activity to have interesting people-watching without feeling like it’s crowded. If you come during July, don’t miss the Independence Day festivities.
Spend Time on the River: The James River is an iconic part of the city and there are a million ways to experience it. Buy a tube and go tubing from Pony Pasture to Reedy Creek (that’s my favorite!) or go wading and sunbathing on Belle Isle. If you want something more active, I highly recommend whitewater rafting, but kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing are also popular options.
Related Reading: Richmond VA: America’s Best Urban Whitewater Rafting A really great way to see the green side to Richmond.
Go to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts: I don’t like museums, but the VMFA hosts great events like tango nights, wine and jazz (and art, obviously), yoga on the patio, and workshops. Since admission is free, it’s easy to pop in for events even if you don’t take in the collections. And if you do appreciate art? All the better — this is a world-class art center that recently underwent a $150 million renovation.
Find Out Where to Tailgate: Richmond hosts two NASCAR races annually, is home to the Redskins’ training camp, has an amazing college basketball team at VCU, and has even managed to turn tacky holiday light tours into drinking events. No matter what time you visit, there’s a way to socialize — just check out local events to find out what’s going on during your visit.
Related Post: A Scavenger Hunt Through Richmond, Virginia What better way to see a different side to a city you live in!
Where Should You Eat in Richmond?
I’ve got a whole list of my favorite restaurants in Richmond and just like a celebrity sighting, if you eat at one of those places, you’ve got a good shot of running into me. But if you’re truly looking for la creme de la creme, these are the stand-outs.
Stella’s: I have never had a bad meal at Stella’s. Let me repeat: I have never had a bad meal at Stella’s. Everything from the service to the cocktails to the food is always 100% spot on and for the quality of food, prices are spot on. If you like Mediterranean flavors, this is absolutely the place to be. If there’s one downside, it’s that you always need a reservation (try OpenTable).
Burger Bach: I am addicted to burgers, and Richmond’s finest are at Burger Bach. I’m quite proud to say I’ve sampled every burger on their menu and although I have preferences, there’s not a bad choice. My go-to is usually the North Lamb, a grass-fed lamb burger with lettuce, tomato, onion, tzatziki sauce, and garlic aioli.
Proper Pie Co: Richmond has a fair amount of good, cheap food and it has a ton of great, moderately-priced food but so far, Proper Pie Co is the only place I’ve found that is both cheap and amazing. I cried myself to sleep a few times when they closed for summer vacation (just kidding. maybe.) but their meat pies are where it’s at.
Related Post: Best Restaurants in Richmond, VA Grilled octopus, lamb burgers, and roast pork omelets? Who knew Richmond had such a happening foodie scene!
Where Should You Grab a Drink in Richmond?
Ardent Brewery: Richmond has a ridiculous amount of craft breweries, and I’m okay with that! Out of them, Ardent is my favorite for a combination of great tasting beers, an awesome outdoor deck, and generous sampler flights.
Postbellum: Richmond only has one rooftop bar, but luckily it’s a good one. Postbellum’s views are only okay, but the outdoor lights and atmosphere make up for that. The crowd is a mix of all ages, which I love since other bars in this area tend to lean heavily toward college students. Worth a visit if the weather’s nice!
Alchemy: Not all drinks must be alcoholic, and the best cup of coffee can be found at Alchemy. Don’t expect Frappucinos here: these are legit brews from serious connoisseurs. Ask them the difference between a pour-over and a yama tower and be prepared to be amazed.
Related Post:Brewasana (Beer and Yoga) at a Richmond Craft Brewery Richmond’s craft beer scene has officially exploded, try out an unique event at one of the local craft breweries while you’re in town.
Where Should I Stay in Richmond?
The Jefferson: As far as I’m concerned, The Jefferson is *the* hotel to stay at in Richmond. Alligators no longer live in the Palm Court’s marble pools, but the property is still opulent in every way. Climb the majestic grand staircase into the lobby and check out the stained glass windows. If you can’t afford it (I can’t), then stop in for happy hour.
HI Richmond: The HI-Richmond hostel is brand new and I’m so excited about it! I obviously haven’t had an excuse to stay there, but it looks fabulous! As part of the Hostelling International USA chain, you can expect super clean rooms, free Wi-Fi and breakfast, plus lots of social activities. Dorms start at $30/night, but here’s the cherry on top: private rooms with private bathrooms are just $79, meaning anyone can comfortably stay there on a budget!
The Bottom Line
Richmond is a terrific place to visit and it’s easy-to-reach location means you really shouldn’t wait to plan a visit. Come soon, while city energy is still booming, and then come back again later (I know you’ll want to).
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Any more questions? I’d love to give you an insider’s view of Richmond!
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