Although Richmond has a long and storied past, the River City has come into its own in recent years as a haven for diners, bikers, art lovers, and more. As you might expect from the southern reputation for a love of flowers, RVA has ample gardens and nature centers to explore. You might be more surprised to find the abundance of local craft breweries, the great shopping opportunities, and the truly top-rate foodie destinations. Did we mention all of the water sport activities that take place on this capital city’s lifeblood, the mighty James River? There is truly something for everyone in the southern gem, especially for those who want to spend their time outdoors, so give yourself plenty of time to explore.
Play and paddle at Byrd Park.
Located close to Maymont, Byrd Park has tennis courts, baseball fields, and a playground as well as a popular pedal boat operation. Along with the Festival of Arts events held throughout the summer, Byrd Park’s 200 plus acres boast an exercise trail, three lakes, and monuments including the Byrd Park Pump House and the Carillon, a bell tower and World War I memorial.
Have outdoor adventures in Maymont.
Maymont holds a whole day’s worth of fresh air adventures (as well as a few if the weather isn’t so cooperative). Hop across a pond using stones at the Japanese Garden, tool around amongst the seasonal blooms in the Italian Garden, tour the historic mansion, visit the Nature Center, feed farm animals, take a carriage ride, visit the grotto, and play hide-and- seek in the butterfly garden. Bring a picnic to extend your visit and sprawl out and relax on Maymont’s 100-acre landscape.
Stroll and shop in Carytown.
Shoppers can find favorite national brands at several outdoor shopping malls in Richmond (such as Stony Point Fashion Park and Short Pump), but boutique lovers who love the local touch will be in heaven in Carytown, which also features delicious eateries and cafes as well as one of the best chocolate and candy stores we’ve ever come across. When evening comes, take in a flick at the Byrd Theatre, a cinematic wonder that has been continuously running movies since 1928 and features rich architectural details as well as old school prices.
Educate yourself on the beauty of the University of Richmond.
Consistently ranked as one of the most beautiful college campuses, the Westhampton Lake is one of U of R’s crown jewels. With romantic bridges and a gazebo connecting two sides of campus, walking around the lake in any season is a delight (no tuition check required). Wander a bit further and stop in at the Jenkins Greek Theater, where the university still holds events including weddings and concerts.
Inspire your artistic side at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is open every day of the year and it’s free, so there’s no excuse to bypass its amazing and evolving collections when you are in town. But don’t feel confined to the galleries: the museum’s sculpture garden features works by modern to contemporary artists including Chihuly and Aristide Maillol. The sculpture garden is great for burning off some extra energy (time your kids as they run up the stairs alongside the cascading waterfall) or simply taking a rest while mesmerized by the reflecting pool. You can also take one of the many art offered classes.
Sample the goodness of Richmond’s farmer’s markets.
The expanding number of local foodies has been reflected in the area’s eateries as well as in the city’s plentiful farmer’s markets. Richmond’s warm climate makes it ideal for a long-growing season so you can grab freshly picked ingredients or handmade goodies throughout the year. South of the James draws huge crowds each week who sip kombucha, sample cheeses, cool down with popsicles, and devour donuts while checking off items on their shopping list.
Sunbathe on Belle Isle or Pony Pasture.
Using a pedestrian footbridge to get to Belle Isle creates the feeling of going on a getaway, even when Richmond looms in full view. In addition to the large flat rocks that beg sunbathers to come and relax (and picnickers to pull up their basket), there’s a rock climbing area, mountain biking and hiking trails, and a fishing pond. Or head over to Pony Pasture, which is also part of the James River Park System, for swimming, biking, tubing, or rafting.
Visit the water spray parks.
Richmond weather can go from sultry to oppressive in mere minutes. Kids can cool off at spray parks throughout the city. Some offer a welcome diversion from shopping such as at Stony Point Fashion Park; others, like the large water play space at Twin Hickory Park, are worth a trip alone.
Tap into the growing craft beer scene at one of several breweries.
Legend Brewing Company features a full pub menu for drinking and dining with a scenic view of the James as its backdrop, Ardent has a dog-friendly beer garden, and Hardywood has a food truck court with 16 vendors each week. Take a short drive out of the city and visit Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery or Center of the Universe, full production breweries located on spacious grounds.
Be a shutterbug at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.
Considered one of the nation’s best botanical gardens, Lewis Ginter works hard to earn its reputation: the 50 acres hold more than a dozen themed gardens including the Rose Garden and Cherry Tree Walk. It’s also a haven for families with a giant treehouse, a butterfly exhibit in the conservatory, and numerous seasonal activities. Photo ops abound at these picturesque and meditative botanical grounds. The fact that Lewis Ginter educates more than 12,000 kids each year, grows more than 7,000 pounds of food annually to feed the hungry, and contributes to community greening initiatives is simply icing on the cake.
Get your live music fix at the Dogwood Dell or Innsbrook After Hours.
Swing by the Innsbrook Snagajob Pavilion after work or a day of shopping in Short Pump. This outdoor venue is great place to meet up and kick back with friends while listening to acts like The Band Perry. Dogwood Dell, an amphitheater located in Byrd Park, hosts a variety of musical genres and artists including jazz musicians, musicals, and ballets. It’s also a perfect location for viewing the 4th of July fireworks.
Indulge your adventurous side on the James River.
Outside Magazine named Richmond the nation’s most livable river town in 2012, but Richmonders have long taken advantage of the James and everything this waterway has had to offer. Local companies such as Riverside Outfitters are bringing the appeal to visitors and residents alike with white water rafting, canoeing, kayaking, rowing and paddle boarding activities for beginners and seasoned water sports aficionados.
Add some outdoor ambiance to your meal.
Richmonders love dining al fresco. Whether watching Carytown shoppers while devouring organic and sustainably farmed fare at The Daily, or enjoying any of the delicious eateries “on the avenues” at Libbie and Grove, you’ll be in good company.
Step into history in the Shockoe Slip.
Grab a cup of coffee from local haunts such as Lamplighter or Shockoe Espresso and then head over to the Historic Tredegar Ironworks and the American Civil War Museum or the Richmond Slave Trail, leaving time for the shops, galleries, or restaurants that strike your fancy along the way. Or give your feet a rest and take a historic Canal cruise along the Kanawha Canal and the James.