Updated on November 21, 2023 by Julie McCool
Discover unique, fun, and cool things to do in Richmond VA, plus great places to eat, drink, and stay with our getaway guide to Virginia's cool capital city. Whether you're planning a family trip or a romantic weekend getaway, you'll find fun Richmond attractions and activities on our list.
Virginia's mid-sized capital city offers a beautiful combination of natural adventure and urban fun spread across unique neighborhoods. From urban hikes to food and brews to history, museums, art, and shopping, you'll find it in Richmond. In fact, Southern Living included Richmond on its list of The South's Best Cities 2023, and Food and Wine named the city a “Culinary Powerhouse.”
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The only challenge you'll encounter on a Richmond VA getaway is fitting all the tempting sites, food, and fun into a few days. Fear not. Since Richmond is only two hours (or less) from the Northern Virginia, Washington DC area, you can happily return for a Virginia day trip or longer getaway.
Unique and Fun Things to Do In Richmond VA
Here are more than 25 of the best places to visit in Richmond Virginia that we have enjoyed during many visits to the city. Destinations and activities are grouped based on interest and include outdoor activities, historic sites, art museums, cool neighborhoods, places to eat and drink, and great places to stay in downtown Richmond.
James River Park Trails in Richmond VA
The Jamer River Park System is a collection of riverfront trails, rapids, meadows, and forests along the James River. The system includes some very cool trails in downtown Richmond plus places to paddle, bike, climb, or just kick back at an outdoor event.
The beautiful James River, a historic canal, and an abundance of bridges provide a sweet, gritty backdrop to outdoor adventures. Riverfront walks are our favorite things to do with kids in Richmond because they keep everyone active and engaged.
Belle Isle and Suspension Bridge
The second-largest island in the James River, Belle Isle is a great spot to hike, mountain bike, and rock climb. In warmer months, Belle Isle is a fun place to watch kayaks and rafts shoot the Hollywood Rapids. You can wade near the rocks, but the current is not safe for swimming.
Walk the 1,040-foot-long Belle Isle Suspension Bridge under the Lee Bridge and getting there is part of the fun. The suspended footbridge is also a great place to watch the sunset in Richmond as the glow lights up the skyline (see our short Richmond sunset video).
Once on Belle Isle, hike the 1-mile trail around the island to see the remains of a power plant and a Confederate gun emplacement and learn about the notorious Civil War prison camp here. The Belle Isle Trail passes flat rocks near the river that are a popular spot to hang out and watch the rapids.
T Tyler Potterfield Bridge
The .3-mile-long T Tyler Potterfield Bridge (aka T Pott) is fun during the day and evening. On a summer day, the bridge offers a great view of people swimming, kayaking, and rafting in the James River. On the south side of the river, you can watch rock climbers training on the Manchester Wall. You're sure to see joggers and cyclists as you make your way across the T Pott.
The bridge begins with a history lesson. The installation “Three Days in April” tells of the fall of Richmond during the Civil War. In the evening, clusters of light tubes add a slightly alien look to the scene. The bridge is always open, and it's one of the best things to do in Richmond VA at night. It's also a perfect spot to watch a beautiful sunrise or sunset over the river.
On the north side of the river, cross the bridge over the Haxall Canal to Brown's Island. The island is a popular spot for special events and concerts in Richmond. It is also the start of the T Pott Bridge and the Canal Walk.
Emancipation and Freedom Monument
In 2021, Richmond unveiled a powerful new sculpture on Brown's Island. The Emancipation and Freedom Monument includes two 12-foot bronze statues of “a man, woman, and infant newly freed from slavery.”
Richmond was the largest source of enslaved Africans on the east coast of America from 1830 to 1860. Learn more on the Richmond Slave Trail, which connects former port and slave markets
Riverfront Canal Walk
The 1.25-mile Riverfront Canal Walk is marked with interesting medallions, statues, and exhibits that highlight the area's role through four centuries of Richmond's history. The Canal Walk is one of the best outdoor family things to do in Richmond VA with lots to see.
When you reach the old Power Plant near 11th Street, you'll see fantastic murals created during the RVA Street Art Fest.
The Canal Walk follows the James River and Kanawha Canal through the Shockoe Slip neighborhood. You'll pass below the railroad lines at Triple Crossing. Richmond is the only city in the world with a triple main-line railroad crossing still in operation.
Be sure to stop at the monument to Henry “Box” Brown. When Henry's wife and three children were sold away, he made a desperate journey to freedom in a tiny box.
Want to see the canal from a different perspective? Take a narrated, 40-minute Riverfront Canal Cruise for many of the Canal Walk highlights. Or book a highly-rated guided Richmond Walking Tour with Viator.
After many attempts, we finally found our way to the Richmond Pipeline Walkway and it's amazing. If you're looking for unique things to do in Richmond VA, the Pipeline should be top of your list. It's short and a little gritty, but so cool!
The Pipeline Walkway is a catwalk on top of a huge stormwater pipe over the James River. From the catwalk, you'll see the Pipeline Rapids and James River below your feet. You may also hear (and feel) a train on the railroad tracks above you as we did.
To reach the Pipeline Walkway, walk through the door cutouts in the Flood Wall from the E. Bird Street parking lot. Turn left and look for the steps down to a steel ladder on your right. You can also reach the Pipeline from Brown's Island but the area looked sketchy to us.
Virginia Capital Trail
The Canal Walk ends at the floodwall, but if you continue through the door you'll reach the Virginia Capital Trail. This 52-mile dedicated, paved bike trail runs from Richmond to Jamestown along the Route 5 corridor.
Richmond is Virginia’s current capital, and Jamestown was its first, so the trail is well named. Rent a bike from Richmond Bike Share, which has 20 stations around town.
Boating and Swimming in Downtown Richmond
Riverside Outfitters runs an outpost near Brown’s Island that rents kayaks and SUPs in the summer. You can also swim in the river from Tredegar Beach, at the edge of Brown's Island.
This is a nice calm area for kids to splash around as long as you don't venture out into the main flow. Also note that swimming is prohibited if the water level reaches 9 feet, and life jackets are required at 5 feet and up. Also, avoid swimming after heavy rains as run-off can mean unsafe bacteria levels.
Explore a Richmond Neighborhood
Richmond is full of unique neighborhoods, many of them connected by driving and walking trails that highlight history.
- Shockoe Slip is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, where restaurants, bars, and shops line the cobblestone streets. Much of the Canal Walk is in Shockoe Slip.
- Shockoe Bottom is another historic neighborhood (just east of the slip) with shops, dining, and historic sites like the Poe Museum.
- Visit the Church Hill neighborhood for Historic St. John's Church (info below) and great views from Libbie Hill Park (a nice sunset spot).
- Drive or walk through the Fan District to see beautiful 19th and 20th-century architecture on quiet residential streets. At the eastern end, Monroe Park is a popular hangout for VCU students.
- At the western edge of the Fan, Carytown, aka “The Mile with Style,” is a fun street lined with quirky shops and tasty food.
- Jackson Ward, a National Landmark Historic District, was one of the most important black neighborhoods in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Stop at Broad and Brook Streets to learn about Maggie L. Walker, a leader in the African-American community and the first female bank president (of any race) in the US.
- If you're looking for great breweries in Richmond VA, the Scotts Addition neighborhood has you covered. It's just west of the Children's Museum of Virginia and the Science Museum of Virginia, two of the best places to go in Richmond with kids.
Richmond neighborhoods host special weekend events throughout the year. For example, enjoy carriage rides and performances in the Court End neighborhood each December.
Virginia State Capitol
The Virginia State Capitol was designed by Thomas Jefferson in the Monumental Classical style. A 2007 renovation added an underground Visitors Center on the south side of the square where you enter the building.
Visitors can explore the Virginia Capitol on their own or join a scheduled tour. Don't miss the life-size marble statue of George Washington surrounded by busts of 7 other Virginia-born presidents and Lafayette under the beautiful rotunda.
Be sure to visit the Virginia Women's Monument on the grounds of the Virginia State Capitol. 12 statues depict women from throughout Virginia's history.
One of the more unique places to visit in historic Richmond VA is the Poe Museum. The museum honors the life of Richmond native and beloved author Edgar Allan Poe. Displays include the largest collection of Poe manuscripts, personal belongings, artifacts, and memorabilia in the world.
Upstairs in the Exhibit House, you can take a selfie “under the floorboards” of The Tell-Tale Heart or behind the bricks of The Black Cat. The Poe Museum hosts monthly “Unhappy Hours” and other special events, and the shop has some great Poe-inspired gifts. Poe fans on a Richmond getaway can book a room at the Linden Row Inn where Poe played as a child.
St. John's Church
One of the most important historical sites in Richmond VA, St. John's Church, is located in the Church Hill neighborhood. This is the site of Patrick Henry's famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech to delegates at the Second Virginia Convention including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Guided tours of St John's Church, led by costumed interpreters, explain the ideas and Virginia events that led to the American Revolution. You can also tour the graveyard on a self-guided tour or with a guide. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, re-enactors bring the famous speech to life every Sunday afternoon.
Visit St. James and other historic Richmond sites on the 6.2-mile Richmond Liberty Trail, marked on the sidewalk with a blue logo.
American Civil War Museum at Historic Tredegar
Two historic Richmond sites are located near Brown's Island and the start of the Canal Walk. The American Civil War Museum presents the events and ideas that drove the Civil War before, during, and after the conflict. The site also preserves the Tredegar Iron Works, one of the largest and best-equipped foundries in the nation.
Visitors can also tour the nearby White House of the Confederacy. This National Historic Landmark was the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, his family, and 12 to 15 of their enslaved workers.
Two US presidents, James Monroe and John Tyler, are buried at historic Hollywood Cemetery. This is also the resting place of Jefferson Davis and 18,000 Confederate soldiers, many of them reinterred here after a hasty burial at Gettysburg. There's a wonderful view of the James River and Richmond skyline from the western side of the cemetery.
Virginia Museum of History and Culture
The Virginia Museum of History and Culture packs a lot of interesting artifacts and stories into its galleries. We particularly enjoyed the Story of Virginia exhibit, which highlights the history of different regions of the state. Temporary exhibits encourage return visits. For example, there was an excellent Apollo exhibit with interactive elements during our visit
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts opened in 1936, defying the difficult times of the Depression with a commitment to the value of public art. Years of careful acquisition and expansion have created a 13.5-acre campus with impressive collections of Art Deco and Art Nouveau, American, European, Asian, and African-American art.
Tip: The glass-walled Best Cafe has a great view of the Sculpture Garden and a nice patio for warm days.
Institute of Contemporary Art
You'll find an edgier collection at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Richmond. Rotating exhibitions occupy two floors and encourage contemplation and discussion. During our visit, a giant mural in the lobby displayed quotes collected from barbershops around the city. Exhibits change so follow the link for details on what you'll see during your visit.
Richmond Murals: a Street Art Lovers Dream
You could spend days exploring the vibrant murals that decorate buildings throughout the city of Richmond. From the huge to the hidden, in every mood and style, murals seem to pop up on every block. The Richmond Mural Project is your best guide to finding particular murals, or you can just wander the neighborhoods and streets and see what you discover.
Shopping in Richmond VA
Walk and shop the trendy stores on Broad Street in downtown Richmond. Stop in at Charm School for a tasty ice cream treat when you need a break. Or head to neighborhoods like Carytown for more eclectic local shops. We loved hunting for hidden treasure at Class and Trash in the Scotts Addition neighborhood.
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
USA Today readers voted the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden one of the top four gardens in North America, and it's definitely one of the best gardens in Virginia. 50 acres of gardens house an array of themed areas that offer beauty and fun to visitors of every age.
Lewis Ginter is also home to one of the best holiday light shows in Virginia when the Gardenfest of Lights sparkles with more than one million lights.
The Victorian country estate at Maymont is a beautifully preserved example of Gilded Age luxury. Visitors can explore the estate's beautiful parkland and gardens and tour the opulent Mansion. Before your tour, learn about the life of the servants and their work “belowstairs”.
During the holiday season, Maymont is decorated for a Victorian Christmas, reflecting the lavish sparkle and gifts of the 1890s.
Agecroft Hall is a 15th-century manor house that was moved to Richmond from Lancashire, England, by businessman T.C. Williams Jr. Join a house tour, then visit the lovely Elizabethan gardens that surround the house. Agecroft also decorates for the holidays each December.
Great Local Restaurants in Richmond VA
Richmond has a thriving restaurant scene, with tasty options for every budget and palette. National Geographic named the city one of the top six places for food travelers in 2016. Here is a selection of casual and fine dining Richmond restaurants we have enjoyed.
Casual Restaurants in Richmond
- Kuba Kuba in the Fan District serves delicious Cuban flavors in a funky, casual space. Our favorite pick is the Pork Roast Omelet packed with slow-roasted pork.
- Perly's Deli, in the Broad Street Arts District, is an award-winning Jewish deli with a cool retro vibe.
- Parterre, on the main floor of the Linden Row Inn, made the New York Times list of places to go in 2020. Order the roasted brussel sprouts—the best we have ever eaten.
- Lillie Pearl is one of a string of restaurants by Chef Michael Lindsey. Excellent American fare and great service make this a popular lunch or dinner spot. We loved the crabcake and fries!
- Lunch. or Supper! is a fun and funky diner on Summit Ave. Try the tasty shrimp and grits or the fried catfish.
- TJs is the place to start your day when you're staying at The Jefferson Hotel.
- Capital Ale House offers a big line-up of Virginia brews and a good pub menu.
Finer Dining in Richmond VA
- Lemaire is one of the best fine dining restaurants in Richmond. The restaurant is located in The Jefferson, a historic hotel you must visit (scroll down for details). The dishes have a modern flair, and we highly recommend the Scallops with red corn grits and black garlic cream.
- Vagabond serves Southern comfort food near the State Capital and The National theater. Their downstairs speakeasy features live entertainment, including jazz on Wednesdays.
Take-Out and Counter Restaurants in Richmond
- 521 Biscuit and Waffles opened a downtown location in 2018. The namesake biscuits and waffles are not only delicious, but they are also all gluten-free.
- Sub Rosa Bakery on Church Hill is a great stop for fresh baked goods.
- Stella's Grocery is a casual spot to pick up a meal in the Scott's Addition neighborhood. They offer seating inside and on the porch if you want to eat on site.
- The Cubano sandwich at Urban Farmhouse Market & Cafe is great and they have multiple locations in Richmond.
Richmond Rooftop Bars
If you're looking for fun things to do in Richmond VA for couples, head to one of the rooftop bars. You can relax with a cocktail and enjoy the city lights sparkling at night.
- Q Rooftop Bar, at the funky Quirk Hotel, spans two levels so you can stake out your favorite view.
- The Byrdhouse, at The Graduate Richmond, is another great rooftop spot.
- Kabana Rooftop, on top of the Homewood Suites downtown, has a great view of downtown and the James River.
Craft Breweries in Richmond VA
The Richmond Beer Trail includes more than 30 Virginia craft breweries in the Richmond area. You'll find a great collection of Richmond breweries in the Scott’s Addition neighborhood including Ardent, Vasen, The Veilhyt, Blue Bee Cider, and Hardywood Park. We're a little obsessed with Ardent's Sweet Potato and Sage seasonal beer!
In downtown Richmond, Triple Crossing Beer on Foushee Street has a small deck that's a nice spot on a warm evening. Their newer location in Fulton has a much larger tasting room and a huge patio.
Where to Stay in Downtown Richmond VA
Like any city, there are many hotels in Richmond VA to choose from. We recommend the downtown Richmond hotels if you plan to explore the riverfront. The area between Broad Street and the river is very walkable, though you will be walking uphill from the river. Here are three great places to stay in downtown Richmond.
The Jefferson Hotel, Richmond, Virginia
The Jefferson is a great choice for a romantic weekend getaway in Richmond VA. The beautifully renovated Gilded Age masterpiece offers sumptuous rooms in an excellent location. On-site dining and bars, an indoor pool, and beautiful areas like the Palm Court and Rotunda Lobby are perfect places to escape from cold or rainy weather.
Read our full review of The Jefferson Hotel and find more luxury lodging in our guide to Historic Hotels in Virginia and the mid-Atlantic.
The holidays are a special time to visit The Jefferson when a huge Christmas tree and elaborate decorations fill the public areas. Stop in for tea, enjoy free concerts, and take a photo of the ribbon-draped alligators. The festivities continue throughout downtown making Richmond one of the best Christmas towns in Virginia to celebrate the holidays.
Book an elegant Grand Premier Guest Room and you'll have room to relax with a comfortable king bed, separate sitting area, and spacious marble bath. The Jefferson is one of the most beautiful historic hotels in Virginia and a fabulous base for a Richmond VA getaway.
Linden Row Inn
Another of our favorite romantic hotels in Virginia is the historic Linden Row Inn. If you're planning a Richmond getaway for adults and you want maximum comfort, Linden Row Inn is an excellent choice.
Choose from 70 elegant rooms and suites that feature plush beds and period details. For maximum romance, book one of the huge Parlor Suites with soaring 12-foot ceilings and spacious living rooms. We have stayed in two of the Parlor Suites and they were both gorgeous!
Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown Richmond
The Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown is a more casual, and still centrally-located base for a Richmond stay. The hotel opened in 2016 in a former office tower that also houses a new Homewood Suites. Our corner room was spacious, bright, and very comfortable with a king-size bed, large desk, couch, and expansive windows offering excellent views of the city.
The lobby area includes plenty of seating and a breakfast area. Be sure to enjoy a cocktail and impressive city and river views at the rooftop bar. The Hampton Inn & Suites location was perfect for all of our exploring, and the comfy quiet room let us recharge for the next day's wanderings.
We first stayed in Richmond in the mid-1990s, and the city was dramatically different when we returned in 2017, and for many visits since then. There are so many fun and unique things to do in Richmond VA with new venues opening all the time. If you love food, beer, history, art, shopping, and urban outdoor adventures, plan a Richmond getaway to Virginia's hip capital city.
Visit Richmond hosted portions of our visits to Richmond, Virginia. As always, all opinions, text, and photos are our own.