From its beginnings as a trading post for early settlers to the thriving economic center it is today, Richmond has grown into a city with a rich history, diverse culture and gracious hospitality. Tree-lined streets and quaint bricked walkways invite locals and visitors to explore this easily manageable city. Stroll along the river that brought Captain John Smith to this area, walk in the footsteps of patriots like Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson and see the Capitol building which once flew the flag of the Confederate States of America.
A charming blend of old and new, Richmond's city center is made up of commercial, residential and government buildings. Capitol Square , the seat of Virginia State government, is a good place to begin a visit to the city. On the grounds are the Virginia State Capitol , the second oldest in the country, the Executive Mansion , home of the governor and the historic Bell Tower which houses the Visitor Center. Nearby are the Museum and White House of the Confederacy and St. Paul's Church , reminders of the period during the Civil War when Richmond was the capital of the Confederate States. The The Valentine Museum depicts the city's history through artifacts, paintings and the Federal-style Wickham House, which dates back to 1812. Richmond recently experienced a downtown renaissance when old tobacco warehouses along the James River were converted into residential and commercial space. A large medical research facility and several office buildings contribute to the economic success of the city and especially the downtown area.
Shockoe Slip and Shockoe Bottom
Originally part of Richmond's commercial district, this newly renovated part of town is the hot spot for trendy restaurants and lively entertainment. Its location along the river, cobblestone streets lit with gaslamps and old warehouses converted into shops make it a great place for an evening stroll. The quaint Berkeley Hotel , Awful Arthur's —a Richmond favorite for steamed oysters and crabs—and the historic Tobacco Company restaurant are highlights of a visit to Shockoe.
This historic section of town is nicknamed “the Harlem of the South” because of the many legendary African-American performers who got their start here—among them Bill "Bojangles" Robinson , Lena Horne and Nat King Cole. Established by freed blacks in the late 1800s, this became the largest and most successful African-American business district in the South by the early 20th century. Notable citizens include Maggie Walker , founder of the oldest African-American bank in the nation, Giles Jackson, a former slave who became the first black lawyer to address the Supreme Court of Virginia and William Washington Browne, an entrepreneur who established many of the businesses in this neighborhood. The Black History Museum houses permanent exhibits about Jackson Ward and Virginia's black history and culture. The ornate cast iron on many of the buildings is some of the finest to be found anywhere.
Richmond's first suburb is so named because the streets fan out from Monroe Park creating wide lots and avenues, which are lined with stately homes. Several types of architecture are represented here including Queen Anne, Tudor, Spanish and what is believed to be the largest collection of Victorian buildings in the country. Monument Avenue is a showcase of these gracious homes as well as a tribute to Confederate heroes with statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis among others. The Avenue also features a statue of tennis great and Richmond native, Arthur Ashe. Today the neighborhood is more urban than suburban and has a diverse population and quaint restaurants and pubs.
Along the west end of Cary Street is Richmond's version of New York's Greenwich Village or Washington DC's Georgetown. Boutiques, cafes and ethnic restaurants line the streets where some of the city's best people-watching can be done. Everything from used bookstores and antique shops to specialty food stores and art galleries have been established in this former residential neighborhood making it a perfect place for a Saturday afternoon stroll. For those who need a break from all the shopping, coffeehouses are in abundance – more per square mile than anywhere east of Seattle. For something more substantial, restaurants range from casual eateries like Carytown Burgers and Fries to fine dining at Acacia .
Richmond's location in the center of Virginia provides easy access to other areas of interest as well. Washington DC is only 90 minutes to the north and a drive to the east leads to the resort town of Virginia Beach and Colonial Williamsburg . Charlottesville and the Shenandoah National Park are due west and historic Petersburg is just south of Richmond.
Richmond's dining scene is a rapidly evolving assortment of restaurants featuring everything from the trendiest epicurean delights to authentic international cuisine to traditional southern fare. As the downtown neighborhoods are renovated, more and more places are opening up to accommodate hungry Richmonders and visitors—especially those looking for something a little different. Additionally, the outlying suburbs are no longer areas where chains and fast food places reign. All sorts of eateries—from fine dining to casual pubs—have sprung up.
The busy downtown area is home to several places to grab a quick bite on a lunch hour or for entertaining that important business client. Lemaire , at the magnificent Jefferson Hotel , is the ultimate dining experience—superb new southern cuisine in elegant surroundings. Europa Mediterranean Cafe offers everything from sandwiches and salads to more substantial entrees and is a fun place to stop after a long day for some sangria and tapas. Fast becoming a Richmond favorite is Casablanca, with its decor reminiscent of Rick's Cafe from the classic movie and innovative dishes named after the film's stars. For a casual relaxed atmosphere, the Penny Lane Pub serves up traditional pub fare and plenty of beer on tap to go with it. If you're out late and need something to eat, stop by the Third Street Diner . This 24-hour diner is famous for breakfast which is available anytime.
This is the place to be for Richmond nightlife. On Friday and Saturday nights many places have live music—from jazz to reggae to rock and roll. Havana '59 is a popular club serving up Cuban food and a Latin beat with plenty of outdoor seating for the warmer months. Cobblestone Brewery has Jamaican/Cajun fusion food and several microbrews including their own. Awful Arthur's and the Surf Rider Grill specialize in seafood but both have plenty of pasta and meat dishes as well, and for contemporary cuisine, None Such Place is a romantic restaurant with dark wood and candlelight.
Many of Richmond's best restaurants can be found in this trendy warehouse district. The dining room at the historic Berkeley Hotel is known for their excellent food, impeccable service and serene atmosphere—the perfect spot for a special occasion. Sam Miller's Warehouse is one of the original establishments in this area and has remained popular for its prime rib and seafood and for the live music playing on weekends. The Tobacco Company is a local favorite. Three stories of artifacts and antiques surround diners as they enjoy traditional American fare in the renovated warehouse.
The elegant Fan District with its stunning architecture and tree-lined streets is home to several great neighborhood restaurants. The opera-themed Caffe di Pagliacci presents homemade Italian specialties in a cozy dining room. Avalon and the Strawberry Street Cafe are casual bistro-style places great for a Saturday lunch or a weeknight dinner. But it is not all about food in the more laid-back Fan neighborhood—there are several places to hear live music including New-Orleans jazz and zydeco at Gumbo Ya Ya and rhythm and blues in Bogart's Back Room.
Eateries like Farouk's House of India and Chopstix Vietnamese restaurant are fine examples of the diversity of this eclectic neighborhood. For wonderful breads and pastries, stop by Baker's Crust Bread Market—a fashionable bistro with a creperie—or visit Coppola's deli for hearty sandwiches. Richmond's finest Italian restaurant is located here as well; Amici Ristorante has received accolades from Bon Appetit and Southern Living magazines. After dinner, relax with a coffee at Coffee & Co. or one of the many sidewalk cafes along Cary Street.
Richmond's restaurant scene is continually growing to meet the needs and adventurous tastebuds of its population. While there is not the huge club presence like in larger cities, many places attract live bands to suit a variety of music tastes. Take a look at the Weekend section of the Richmond Times-Dispatch which comes out on Thursdays or pick up a free copy of Punchline.
With its colonial and Civil War history and modern-day museums and parks, Richmond is a city with much to offer the visitor. Many sections are easily walkable, but a car is necessary to reach some of the outlying areas. The city and surrounding area is easy to navigate and most attractions are well-marked. The Historic Downtown Richmond Ticket is a great deal for those who wish to visit several places of interest. They are available at many museums and visitors centers.
Tour One: Downtown Richmond
Begin at Capitol Square with the magnificent Virginia State Capitol , the oldest legislative house in the Western Hemisphere. In the enclosed park is the Executive Mansion , home to the Governor of Virginia and the Old Bell Tower which houses a tourist center where information on Richmond and Virginia can be obtained. The Old City Hall with its Victorian-Gothic exterior, is located at the northern entrance to the square.
One block up is Broad St. Turn right and then left on 13th St. to visit the Museum and White House of the Confederacy . A block west from here is the Valentine Museum with exhibits on the almost 400-year-old history of Richmond. The nearby John Marshall House –at 8th and Marshall Sts. has been restored to its original condition and contains memorabilia from the great Chief Justice who lived here until 1835. Head south on 8th St. to the corner of Grace St. to visit St. Paul's Episcopal Church , where Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, and Robert E. Lee, worshipped. Shockoe Slip - a restored warehouse district – is not far if a stop for a bite to eat or a little shopping is in order.
Tour Two: Church Hill and Eastern Richmond
Perhaps the most famous landmark in this area is St. John's Church where Patrick Henry delivered his famous line, "...give me liberty or give me death...," declaring his commitment to the cause of freedom from Great Britain. Eight blocks east of the church is one of the Richmond National Battlefield Park visitor centers. Housed in what was originally the Chimborazo Hospital for Confederate soldiers, it now contains exhibits, a bookstore and a film on the history of the battles around Richmond. Loop back towards downtown and make a stop at the Farmers Market – one of the oldest in the country dating back to 1740.
Tour Three: West Richmond
Jackson Ward, a thriving African-American community since the Civil War, is a good place for a walking tour. The neighborhood has the largest collection of castiron work outside of New Orleans. Be sure to visit the Maggie L. Walker residence, home of the first female bank owner, and the statue honoring Bill Bojangles Robinson. The Hippodrome Theater was host to many renowned performers from Jackson Ward including Lena Horne and Billie Holiday. Take Monument Avenue west, passing by the statues for which the street is named. Five Civil War heroes and local tennis legend, Arthur Ashe, are memorialized here. Carytown , with shops and restaurants, is not far away. Just take Malvern Avenue south to Cary Street.
Tour Four: Richmond Riverfront
Along the James River are two lovely homes: Victorian Maymont with its beautiful gardens and wildlife park, and the Tudor-style Agecroft Hall , built in 15th-century England and shipped across the Atlantic. Both houses have magnificent views of the river. Nearby is Hollywood Cemetery , final resting place of many historic figures including two presidents of the United States: James Monroe and John Tyler. Jefferson Davis, the only President of the Confederate States, is buried here along with one of his generals, J.E.B. Stuart and 1800 soldiers.
Tour Five: Colonial Heritage
Traveling southeast from Richmond, along the James River, are several 18th-century plantation homes open to the public. Among them are Evelynton , Berkeley , Sherwood Forest and Shirley Plantation . The plantation road leads directly into Colonial Williamsburg , the restored original capital of Virginia. Costumed guides lend an air of authenticity as visitors step back in time to the late 1700s. Jamestown is nearby with its replica of the fort that was built here in 1607 when the first settlers arrived in North America. Yorktown , site of the Revolutionary War victory, is also worth a visit.
If you would rather go with a guide, Historic Richmond Tours offers basic downtown tours as well as themed tours, which take in the battlefield, Hollywood Cemetery or the Church Hill district. Living History Associates lead walking tours with costumed guides and are also available for private tours.