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12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Richmond, VA

Written by Barbara Radcliffe Rogers

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. Find the best places to visit with our list of the top attractions in Richmond.

1. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts | brownpau / photo modified

The 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, Virginia

Official site: https://www.vmfa.museum/

2. Maymont

Maymont

Maymont

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, Virginia

Official site: https://maymont.org/

3. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Although a botanical garden might not be the first place you would think of to bring the kids, the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden has a surprising number of things to do for both children and adults, making it the perfect place to visit on a nice day. The children's garden is designed to encourage interaction, and here kids can dig, climb, and even cool off in the water-play area, perfect on a hot day. This area also is home to the unique CWDKids Tree House, which is fully wheelchair accessible, allowing everyone to enjoy the view from up top.

The 63-foot-tall domed Conservatory also houses a variety of exhibits and things to see, including palms; cactus; orchid houses; and seasonal displays like the holiday light festival, a model train display, and a butterfly experience. Also occupying the 50-acre property are a rose garden with over 70 varieties; a community kitchen garden, which feeds local seniors and children in need; an area dedicated to Asian plants; and many more specialized gardens.

Address: 1800 Lakeside Avenue, Richmond, Virginia

Official site: www.lewisginter.org

4. Virginia Holocaust Museum

The Virginia Holocaust Museum

The Virginia Holocaust Museum

The Virginia Holocaust Museum provides visitors with a thorough history of the Holocaust, from the social and political climates that led up to its beginnings through the terrible aftermath. Exhibits include artifacts, photos, and personal stories that shed light on the tragedy. The most impactful of these artifacts is an actual German Güterwagen, or "goods wagon," which was used by the Nazis to transport prisoners to the camps; visitors can actually step inside to get a glimpse into the experience so many endured. Other major exhibits include the survival story of the Ipson family, a full reproduction of the Nuremburg Trial courtroom, and the Jewish American Hall of Fame.

Address: 2000 East Cary Street, Richmond, Virginia

Official site: www.vaholocaust.org

5. Virginia Museum of History and Culture

The Virginia Museum of History and Culture is home to permanent and rotating exhibits, which explore the natural and cultural history of the state. Its central exhibit, The Story of Virginia, contains a collection of over 500 artifacts, which give visitors a first-hand look at items from the past, from pre-historic tools to contemporary accomplishments. Smaller permanent exhibits include a collection of Confederate historical documents, a gallery of military-themed murals, and an exhibit about the silver industry in Virginia. The museum's library and archives are another important aspect of the collections, and there are a great deal of genealogy resources available, including the recently developed Database of Virginia Slave Names.

Address: 428 N Boulevard, Richmond, Virginia

Official site: www.virginiahistory.org

6. Canal Walk

Canal Walk

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, the 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, which depart on the hour from the Turning Basin, between 14th and Dock streets on Virginia Street.

Official site: www.rvariverfront.com

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Richmond

7. Church Hill Historic District

Poe Museum

Poe Museum | Eli Christman / photo modified

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, which 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, Virginia

Official site: www.poemuseum.org

8. Virginia State Capitol

Virginia State Capitol

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, which now houses a visitor center; an equestrian monument to George Washington erected in 1857; and the 1924 Washington Building housing state offices.

Address: 910 Capitol Street, Richmond, Virginia

9. The 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 here, 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, Virginia

Official site: http://thevalentine.org/

10. American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar

Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar

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.

Another important Civil War landmark and museum is the White House of the Confederacy, once the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis during the US Civil War. Beautifully restored to its wartime appearance, it 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.

Address: 500 Tredegar Street, Richmond, Virginia

Official site: https://acwm.org/

11. Richmond National Battlefield Park

Garthright House at Cold Harbor in the Richmond National Battlefield Park

Garthright House at Cold Harbor in the Richmond National Battlefield Park | Ken Lund / photo modified

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, Virginia

12. John Marshall House

John Marshall House

John Marshall House | Taber Andrew Bain / photo modified

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, Virginia

Official site: http://www.nps.gov/rich/index.htm

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.

Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Richmond

  • Richmond's Historic Landmarks: For those who are short on time or simply want to get a good overview of the city's history and layout, the two-hour Richmond Historic Landmark Trolley Tour is a great way to see the most popular tourist attractions. Tourists are provided with live commentary as the trolley goes past landmarks like St. John's Church, the State Capitol, Monument Avenue, and more.
  • A Segway through the City: Those who want the convenience of a guided tour and the ability to see a great deal in a short time but prefer to see the city up-close will enjoy the Richmond Landmark Segway Tour. Tourists can choose between one- and two-hour tours, and the guided tour cruises through the Canal Walk, Monument Avenue, and the historic Court End neighborhood, visiting historic landmarks like the State Capitol and the Old City Hall.
  • Richmond on Wheels: Another great way to squeeze a ton of sightseeing into one day is on the three-hour City Center Bike Tour of Richmond. Along with an excellent leisurely tour of the city's finest neighborhoods and most prominent historic landmarks, tourists will make a stop at a local bakery to refuel with a complimentary treat. In addition to the Monument Avenue Historic District, the tour explores the Jackson Ward neighborhood, Capitol Square, and the Downtown Arts District.

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Coastal Virginia: In less than two hours by car from Richmond, tourists can soak up even more history by visiting Norfolk, best known as the home of the world's largest naval base. In addition to several military attractions, like the Battleship Wisconsin and tours of the base, Norfolk is home to fine museums, a botanical garden, and an excellent zoo. The family-favorite Virginia Beach is not far from here, where you can find a plethora of traditional beach town recreation, as well as an impressive aquarium and many other things to do.

Beaches Galore: Despite its size, the coastal state of Delaware has an incredible amount of shoreline thanks to its shape and position on the eastern side of the peninsula it shares with Maryland. Most of Delaware's most popular beaches are located within the protected area of Delaware Bay, which provides calm swimming conditions, although the incredibly popular Rehoboth Beach sits right on the Atlantic, beckoning tourists and locals alike.

Inland Virginia: While Richmond and its coastal neighbors get a lot of attention, Virginia has plenty to offer as you travel deeper into the state. Charlottesville, just over an hour from Richmond, sits in the middle of central Virginia's Piedmont region and is a peaceful retreat beside the Blue Ridge Mountains. The area is popular with those who enjoy outdoor activities, but Roanoke is Virginia's top nature adventure destination, popular for its rock climbing, hiking, sports fishing, and boating. You'll also find excellent hiking in nearby Shenandoah National Park.

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