10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Richmond
Richmond, the state capital of Virginia, lies on the James River in the heart of the state and has deep connections to two major eras in American history. It was a hotbed of independence in colonial times and served as the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War, when it was the scene of more than five years of battles as Confederate troops struggled to defend it from Union capture. When that finally happened, it was the retreating Confederate army that set fire to storehouses, starting the fire that destroyed much of the antebellum city. Today, many of Richmond's attractions tell the story of the Civil War and the way of life the south struggled to protect. But tourists don't just come here for the history; the city also offers lively neighborhoods, an active cultural life, and activities for all ages.
See also: Where to Stay in Richmond
1 Canal Walk
It was George Washington who urged the Virginia General Assembly to build a canal and roads to connect east coast harbors to western markets. The result was the James River-Kanawha Canal, which you can follow today along 1.25 miles of paved promenades interspersed with historic sights, statues, and markers telling Richmond's four-century story. Along the Canal Walk is Brown's Island, scene of outdoor concerts and the annual Richmond Folk Festival, and the American Civil War Center at the former Tredegar ironworks. You can also cruise the canal on 40-minute historical tours that depart on the hour from the Turning Basin, between 14th and Dock streets on Virginia Street.
2 Church Hill Historic District
For an impression of what Richmond was like before the Civil War, visit the streets east of the State Capitol, beyond I- 95, where you'll find about 70 antebellum houses and St. John's Episcopal Church, built in 1741. It was here that patriot Patrick Henry made his famous speech that coined the slogan, "Give me liberty or give me death" during the Second Virginia Convention. This is the oldest church in the city, and you can take a guided tour of its highlights. The oldest building in Richmond is The Old Stone House at 1914 East Main Street, built in 1737. It now houses the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, remembering the poet and author who lived in Richmond for several years and worked on a local newspaper. Some of his original manuscripts, documents, and personal items are displayed in the museum.
Address: 1914 East Main Street, Richmond
3 White House of the Confederacy
Beautifully restored to its wartime appearance, the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis during the US Civil War is now furnished in the height of period fashion, with Rococo-revival furniture upholstered in silk, fine carpets, and flocked wallpaper as it would have been when guests like Robert E. Lee visited the mansion. Along with the adjacent building it serves as a Museum of the Confederacy, with vast collections of artifacts from the Civil War and the Confederate states. Although the collections include flags, hand weapons, photographs, and other artifacts, the focus of the permanent and changing exhibits is on the personal stories. The collections are used to illustrate the activities and lives of leaders like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and J.E.B. Stuart, as well as those of common soldiers. The White House changes with the seasons to reflect the way Mrs. Davis would have kept her home. In the summer, you'll find ladies' parasols and fans, and mosquito netting draped over the beds, while in the winter, there are quilts, blankets, and warm clothing, including a red shawl owned by Mrs. Davis.
Address: 1201 East Clay Street, Richmond
4 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
he important collections of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts are the envy of many museums in larger cities. Permanent galleries of early 20th-century European art include works by leading French artists - Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque among them. The Fischer Collection of Modernist works made the museum's holdings internationally significant by adding outstanding examples of German Expressionism. Other noted collections include French Impressionists, English silver, Fabergé jeweled works, and especially the collections of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Modern and Contemporary American art. South Asian, Himalayan, and African art are other collections considered among the finest in the country.
Address: 200 North Boulevard, Richmond
5 Virginia State Capitol
The imposing white Capitol was built in 1785 to 1788 to the design of Thomas Jefferson, who modeled it after the Roman temple known as the Maison Carree in Nimes, France. Several major events in Confederate history took place here, including the ratification of Virginia's secession and Robert E. Lee's appointment as commander of the Southern army. The statue of George Washington in the lobby was the work of Jean-Antoine Houdon. The capitol sits in a spacious park known as Capitol Square, where you can also see the 1813 Governor's Mansion, a bell tower built in 1824 that now houses a visitors center, an equestrian monument to George Washington erected in 1857, and the 1924 Washington Building housing state offices.
Address: 910 Capitol Street, Richmond
6 Valentine Museum and Richmond History Center
The eclectic collections and exhibits at the Valentine Museum tell the stories of the people and incidents that made Virginia. But in addition to its galleries are two other significant buildings. One is the Edward V. Valentine Sculpture Studio, one of only four surviving 19th-century American sculpture studios open to the public. Casts and models for a number of his works are there, as well as sketches, plans, and his working tools.
The National Historic Landmark 1812 Wickham House is an outstanding example of 19th-century Federal architecture, especially known for some of the finest examples of interior decorative painting in America. It shows how prominent Richmond families lived and gives a glimpse into their private world. At various times, the basement floor is also accessible to the public, showing how the household slaves lived and worked.
Address: 1015 East Clay Street, Richmond
7 Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar
The former Tredegar Iron Works sits on the James River in downtown Richmond. Its five original buildings illustrate how iron was processed and have been named a National Historic Landmark. Here, too, is the American Civil War Center, the first museum to interpret the Civil War's causes and effects from perspectives of the Confederates, the Union, and African-Americans.
Address: 500 Tredegar Street, Richmond
The estate of Maymont was left to the city of Richmond by James and Sallie Dooley, who built it in the late 1890s and lived here through 1925. It includes the mansion, arboretum, several gardens, a 100-acre park, a children's petting farm, and a carriage collection. The mansion itself is a museum, restored and furnished in the opulent and luxurious style popular in the late 1800s when the Dooleys first lived here. It is filled with the treasures they collected in their travels around the world and is the epitome of the Gilded Age when millionaires displayed and enjoyed their wealth quite publicly. The gardens, on which the Dooleys lavished the same attention, are spectacular and meant for enjoyment. You can bring a picnic and visit a Nature Center that probes the natural history of the James River, which the estate overlooks.
Address: 1700 Hampton Street, Richmond
9 Richmond National Battlefield Park
During the Civil War, as the capital of the Confederacy, Richmond was a prime target for capture by Union forces, and they mounted several attacks before succeeding in April of 1865, only a few days before Lee's surrender at Appomattox ended the war. Richmond National Battlefield Park examines not only the two major campaigns to take Richmond - the 1862 Peninsula Campaign and the Overland Campaign of 1864 - but also the Confederacy's largest hospital and a naval battle. Walking trails take you along miles of original fortifications and to the places where opposing soldiers fought only a few feet apart. Several visitor centers highlight and interpret events and sights. Cold Harbor Visitor Center features a walking trail past Union and Confederate lines, setting the scene of June, 1864 with an electronic battle map. At Fort Harrison, you will learn more about a September 29, 1864 attack on the fort. Exhibits and an electronic battle map at the Glendale National Cemetery visitor center explain the Glendale and Malvern Hill battles, part of General McClellan's Seven Days Campaign in 1862. At Chimborazo Park, you'll learn about the 1860s Confederate Chimborazo Hospital, which was one of the largest military hospitals in the world.
Address: 3215 East Broad Street, Richmond
10 John Marshall House
John Marshall House was the home of the distinguished jurist, and is one of the few remaining Federal-style homes in the area. The fourth Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, Marshall served from 1801 to 1835 and his court opinions established several crucial concepts of constitutional government. Most important of these was making the Supreme Court an equal branch of government with the Congress and the president, and reinforcing the principle that federal law took priority over state laws. His home, within walking distance of the State Capitol, is filled with the nation's largest collection of Marshall family relics and furniture, plus the largest collection of Richmond Federal period furnishings.
Address: 818 East Marshall Street, Richmond
Where to Stay in Richmond for Sightseeing
We recommend these great hotels near the top museums and historic sites in Richmond:
- The Jefferson Hotel: grand luxury, elegant decor, beautiful lobby, Sunday brunch, lovely indoor pool, nightly turndown.
- Hilton Richmond Downtown: mid-range pricing, iconic building, friendly staff, indoor pool and whirlpool, fitness center, free shuttle.
- Linden Row Inn: three-star boutique hotel, great location, period furniture, historic feel, fountain courtyard.
- Best Western Plus Governor's Inn: budget-friendly rates, complimentary hot breakfast, seasonal outdoor pool, fitness room.