Add These RVA Activities to Your Bucket List!

Fun and Unique Things to Do in Richmond, VA

1. Glassblowing at The Glass Spot

2. Get Cultured at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts 

Even if you don’t consider yourself to be an art aficionado, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) is well worth a lengthy visit. As one of the largest art museums in North America, you’ll find all sorts of impressive collections scattered around the VMFA.

Explore the building, and you’ll come across a massive collection of ornate Fabergé eggs, African art, Himalayan art, British sporting art, and 20th-century European art, including works from iconic artists like Matisse and Picasso. And that’s just scratching the surface!

One of the coolest things about the VMFA is that it’s open 365 days a year and is totally free to visit. Plus, if you stop by on a Friday evening, you’ll likely be able to take part in one of the informative (and free!) 30-minute tours, complete with wine-fueled Happy Hour specials. 

The VMFA is tucked away in the heart of Richmond’s Museum District, which means that the Virginia Museum of History & CultureChildren’s Museum of Richmond, and the Science Museum of Virginia are all just a stone’s throw away.

3. Get Outdoors at the James River Park System 

Set right on the rolling James River, it’s no wonder why Richmond is an outdoor lover’s paradise. And spending some time getting outside and exploring the riverside trails, meadows, and forests of the 550-acre James River Park System is one of the best things to do in Richmond if you’re craving a bit of heart-pumping fun in the sun.

The James River Park System is the jumping-off point to over 22 miles of hiking and biking trails, not to mention all sorts of opportunities for whitewater rafting, tubing, kayaking, wildlife watching, and rock climbing.

If you’re looking for a more challenging hike, you’ll definitely want to follow the popular 8-mile loop trail along the park’s North Bank and Buttermilk trails. If history’s your thing, other notable trails include the 2.5-mile Historic Slave Trail, which offers insightful and sobering information about the history of slavery in Richmond.

4. Go Brewery Hopping in Scott’s Addition 

If you’re looking for fun things to do in Richmond, definitely go brewery hopping in Scott’s Addition. Richmond is home to dozens of breweries, with new ones popping up all the time. If you prefer to walk between the city’s buzzing breweries, then make your way to the hip Scott’s Addition neighborhood.

Scott’s Addition is home to at least 10 breweries, in addition to a handful of distilleries and cideries. Start your boozy journey off by sipping the popular IPAs at The Veil Brewing Company before heading down the road to sample a rotating list of goses and stouts at Ardent.

If you need something to soak up all those brews, head over to Three Notch’d for creative collaboration beers and a rotating selection of food trucks. Or, if you prefer to take a load off in a proper restaurant, Bingo Beer serves up their signature German-style lager alongside an impressive menu of creative American-style pub grub.

If you’ve got the tolerance to keep going, you’ll find plenty more to choose from in Scott’s Addition. Or, if you prefer to branch out, grab your “passport” and stop off at a few of Richmond’s 30+ breweries on the Richmond Beer Trail!

5. Learn About Civil War History at Richmond National Battlefield Park

Richmond National Battlefield Park is one of the best Richmond attractions for history and Civil War buffs. Located a 25-minute drive from the heart of town, this fascinating park will take you back in time to the days of the Civil War.

Explore the sprawling grounds, and you’ll come across 13 battle sites, where you can check out the cannons and learn all about the crucial role Richmond played in the Civil War. Be sure to pay a visit to the largest hospital of the Confederacy to learn about how wounded soldiers were treated during battle. There are also multiple visitor centers to help you get your bearings.

If you want to delve deeper, the on-site museum houses a range of rotating exhibits, lectures, and unique events. It’s also possible to get history lessons from the Rangers and hike to different battlefields on the many trails.

6. Get Out in Nature on Belle Isle 

If you’re looking to get out into nature, a visit to Belle Isle is one of the coolest things to do in Richmond. Belle Isle is the second-largest island in the James River and comprises 54 acres of beautiful land.

To get there, you’ll want to cross the 1,040-foot-long pedestrian- and bicycle-only suspension bridge, which is located underneath the Robert E. Lee Memorial Bridge. Crossing the bridge is an experience unto itself!

Once you’re there, you can follow the 1-mile loop trail and check out the views of Hollywood Cemetery, the old Tredegar Iron Works, and the city’s skyline. If history is your thing, learn all about the brutal Civil War prison camp that was once located on the island. 

There are also plenty of opportunities for rock jumping, kayaking, and swimming in the James River, as well as rock climbing. Or, if you prefer to take it easy and soak up the sun, pack up a picnic lunch and claim your spot on one of the riverside boulders.

7. Take a Self-Guided Street Art Tour

Richmond just happens to be home to a thriving street art scene. You’ll find over 150 colorful murals adorning the city’s walls, building facades, and more. Take a look around, and you’ll immediately see why The Huffington Post listed Richmond as one of “The 17 Lesser-Known Cities You Should Visit for Its Street Art.”

Each year, the RVA Street Art Festival attracts world-class street artists from around the globe to spruce up the city’s streets. If you’re a serious street art fan, be sure to check their website so you can time your trip with this unique festival.

Even if you can’t attend the annual RVA Street Art Festival, you’ll love embarking on a self-guided street art tour. Lace-up your walking shoes or hop on a bike, and cruise around town to take in some of the most well-known pieces like Voices of Perseverance on 504 W. Broad Street or Greetings from Richmond on 311 W. Broad Street. 

You can even check out this site for the locations of specific works.

8. Attend ‘UnHappy Hour’ at The Poe Museum

If you’re looking for unique Richmond attractions, you’ll love exploring The Poe Museum and attending the quirky “UnHappy Hour.” Tucked away in the historic Shockoe Bottom neighborhood, this quaint museum pays homage to the time Edgar Allan Poe lived and worked in Richmond. 

Located in the oldest standing residential building in Richmond, The Poe Museum houses one of the largest collections of original manuscripts, first editions, personal items, letters, and other memorabilia in the world. There’s even an 1845 publication of The Raven!

You’ll learn all about the life, career, and work of the American author and get a feel for what life was like in Richmond in the early 19th century. For something truly unique, attend one of the museum’s UnHappy Hour events, where you’ll have a miserable time sipping cocktails and beer and celebrating Poe with Poe-themed pop-ups, live music, and lite bites.

9. Eat Your Way Through Town

If you’re a foodie, you are going to love eating your way through Richmond! With so many farm-to-table restaurants and innovative eateries, there’s a reason this city was listed as one of the “10 Most Underrated Food Cities” by USA Today.

For some seriously good fine dining, you can’t go wrong with Scott’s Addition’s Longoven, where Chef Andrew Manning serves up a seasonal six-course tasting menu, or L’Opossum, which specializes in creative modern French dishes with a global twist. 

If you’re looking for something a little more casual but equally as tasty, try the famous fried chicken at Mama J’s Kitchen, the seasonal “Smashville” soft shell crab sandwich and fried pimiento cheese at Lillie Pearl, or the saucy birria tacos and tortas at TBT El Gallo. From modern Afghan restaurants to Texas craft barbeque joints and locally-sourced, farm-to-table seafood places, you won’t go hungry in Richmond. 

And if you’re vegan or vegetarian, fear not. Try the Not So Pad Thai Fries at Go Go Vegan Go food truck, stuff your face with vegan Afghan-inspired dumplings at The Mantu, or sample vegan Southern-inspired mac and cheese and crab cake sandwiches at NuVegan.

10. Get a History Lesson on the Canal Walk 

Taking a leisurely stroll along the Canal Walk is easily one of the top Richmond activities for nature lovers and history buffs alike. Located right in the heart of downtown Richmond, the Canal Walk stretches for 1.25 miles along the James River and Kanawha and Haxall Canals.

One of the coolest things about the Canal Walk is that it’s dotted with statues, exhibits, and medallions that highlight all sorts of historical facts and sites. It’s the perfect place to get a history lesson about this fascinating city.

Along the way, you’ll learn all about the Native Americans who lived along the river as many as 12,000 years ago, the city’s railroad and industrial past, and its importance in the Civil War. If it’s not history you’re after, you’ll also find all sorts of cool graffiti murals, sculptures, and statues along pedestrian pathway.

When hunger strikes, stop off at one of the many bars and restaurants that line the Canal Walk, including the popular Southern Railway Taphouse and Bottoms Up Pizza.

11. Shop Till You Drop at Short Pump Town Center

Located a 20-minute drive from downtown, the Short Pump Town Center is one of the best things to do in Richmond for all things shopping and entertainment. This massive open-air shopping mall is the largest in Richmond and is brimming with all sorts of stores.

Explore the two-level mall, and you’ll find nearly 150 shops. You can peruse makeup at Sephora or pick up home decorations at Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn. 

But the Short Pump Town Center isn’t all about shopping. Kids will love playing at the Children’s Museum of Richmond and the indoor/outdoor play areas. While adults can spend hours getting pampered at Red Door Spa, going wine tasting at Cooper’s Hawk Restaurant & Winery, or catching a show at Funny Bone Comedy Club. 

If you want to stay for dinner, you’ll be spoiled for choice. From Indian at Lehja to Mexican at Casa del Barco, there’s something for everyone.

12. Explore the Historic Church Hill 

There’s so much to love about Richmond’s Church Hill (aka St. John’s Church Historic District). If you’ve got an afternoon to spare during your trip, make your way to the East End of the city and be prepared to be impressed!

This part of town is famous for being the first neighborhood in Richmond. If architecture is your thing, you’ll love wandering around and spotting the mix of Colonial, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Queen Anne architecture styles.

Church Hill is also known as being home to St. John’s Church, where Patrick Henry gave his iconic “Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death” speech in 1775. After you check out the church, make your way to Chimborazo Park for some Civil War history or Libby Hill for epic sunset views of the Richmond skyline and the rushing James River.

After the sun sets, it’s well worth hanging around to dine in one of Church Hill’s excellent restaurants, groove to live music at Union Market, or sip cocktails in one of the many buzzing bars.

13. Check Out the Fall Foliage at Hollywood Cemetery

Perched on the banks of the James River in downtown Richmond, the Hollywood Cemetery is well worth visiting any time of year. However, if you are visiting in the fall, taking in the views of the incredible fall foliage is easily one of the coolest things to do in Richmond.

Dating back to 1847, Hollywood Cemetery is set on 135 rose- and tree-studded acres of land. Explore the area, and you can check out the grandiose tomb of President James Monroe, President John Tyler’s Monument, and the massive 1869 Monument of Confederate War Dead. Look closely, and you’ll also find the gravesites of famous politicians, authors, soldiers, and more.

History aside, Hollywood Cemetery is also a great place to just get out in nature. You’ll find a range of scenic trails that will lead you to lush valleys, rolling hills, and tranquil picnic spots along the James River.

14. Attend a Festival on Brown Island

Set smack in the middle of the James River, you’d be remiss not to check out Brown Island. The island is a popular place for locals and visitors alike to get outside and go hiking, kayaking, and picnicking. But time your visit right, and you might have the chance to attend one of the many concerts and festivals that are held on Brown Island each year. 

One of the best Richmond activities is to go to a Friday Cheers event on Brown Island. For eight weeks every summer, the concert series attracts all sorts of talented bands, including the Zac Brown Band, Tyler Childers, Snarky Puppy, and The Head & the Heart, to name a few.

Adrenaline junkies will love getting their hearts pumping at Dominion Energy Riverrock. Held in the spring, this is an adventure lover’s dream where you can go trail running, mountain biking, bouldering, and so much more at this multi-day event.

The Richmond Folk Festival is another fun, music-filled event that’s held along the James River on Brown Island. Held in the fall, expect all sorts of live music, booths selling traditional crafts, diverse food stalls, and so much more!

15. Explore the American Civil War Museum

A visit to the American Civil War Museum should be at the top of your Richmond bucket list if you’re a Civil War buff. The museum is comprised of three parts: the American Civil War Museum at Historic Tredegar, the White House of the Confederacy, and The American Civil War Museum at Appomattox.

Explore the Historic Tredegar site, and you’ll spot the remains of Tredegar Ironworks, multiple permanent and rotating exhibits, and 500 fascinating artifacts. Alternately, the White House of the Confederacy is housed in a lavish 1818 National Historic Landmark, which was once the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Take a tour of the mansion, and you’ll learn all about its former residents and what day-to-day life was like back in the day.

Finally, the Appomattox Museum highlights the end of the Civil War and its lasting repercussions. Depending on when you visit, the American Civil War Museum hosts a range of special events and educational talks perfect for the whole family.

16. Go Gallery Hopping at First Fridays 

If art is your thing, you’ll definitely want to participate in RVA’s one-of-a-kind First Fridays event. Richmond loves to show off its artistic side, so it’s no surprise that the city is home to over 70 galleries. If you want to peruse as many as possible in one go, First Fridays is for you!

As the name implies, the event is held on the first Friday of every month when a bunch of galleries on and around Broad Street (in the Arts District) stay open late so the public can mix and mingle while browsing a wide range of works. 

It’s not all about art galleries, though. Tons of bars, restaurants, and shops in the area also participate in First Fridays to celebrate and support the local arts community. You’ll also find tons of fun pop-ups and live musical performances around this part of town. It’s basically one big street party, so be prepared to have a blast!

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