April 02, 2014

Destination: Richmond, VA

Skyline of Richmond, VA - Photo courtesy of Adam Marable

"While you weren't looking, Richmond got cool."
- Frommer's Top Destinations for 2014


Yes, that's right.  Richmond has blossomed into an up-and-coming destination for travelers and culture enthusiasts alike, having been named in Frommer's Top Destinations for 2014 - one of only two U.S. cities to make the list and rubbing shoulders with more well-known travel destinations such as Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, Scotland and the Dominican Republic.

So what makes the River City so special?

Invariably, when you ask Richmonders this question, their responses can be summed up in five words:  History.  Culture.  Food.  Nature.  Location.

Historic Richmond
J.E.B. Stuart Statue on Monument Ave
(C) WilliamMillerHouse.com
Richmond has a lot to offer in the history department, having been a center of revolutionary thought in the 1770s when Patrick Henry delivered his motivating "Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me Death" speech at St John's Church and later a hotbed of secession resulting in the capitol of the Confederacy being moved to Richmond in 1861 during the American Civil War.  Many Civil War battlefields are scattered within an hour's drive of Richmond, and 2014 marks the 150 year anniversary for many of the biggest battles in the area, including Battle of the Wilderness and the first siege of Petersburg.  Or if battlefields aren't your cup of tea, you could tour one of the James River Plantations scattered along Route 5 between Richmond and Williamsburg.  These lovely 18th century plantations were birthplaces and homes to U.S. Presidents, Virginia governors, and signers of the Declaration of Independence.  Or you could venture back into Richmond itself to tour the Virginia House or Agecroft Hall, 11th and 14th century transplants from Warwick and Lancashire, England, respectively, which were brought to Richmond in the 1920s after being put up for sale at auction in their original locations.

And when it comes to history, one can't overlook Hollywood Cemetery, the last resting place for two U.S. presidents, six Virginia governors, two Supreme Court justices, and countless other important figures; Monument Avenue with its impressive statues and beautiful gilded-age style houses; or the Edgar Allan Poe Museum.

Friday night racing at RIR
(c) RIR.com

Cultural Richmond
Both geographically and culturally, Richmond is where North meets South, and over the years, this mixing-bowl effect has manifested itself in a wide variety of community events.  Whether it's donning ties and pearls to cheer on their favorite horses at Colonial Downs, watching the Monster Truck show at the Coliseum, enjoying a night of movies under the stars at the Goochland Drive-In Theater, or throwing on their favorite driver's number to tailgate at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Richmond International Raceway, Richmonders are multicultural.  They take their Southern heritage seriously, but are not so closed-minded as to disregard the diversity that has come to the area in recent years.

The Richmond music scene is just as multifaceted as its residents - with venues for everything from classical music, country, heavy metal, and all genres in between.  The metal scene is especially vibrant in Richmond with local bands such as Seraph aspiring to reach the same level of recognition as GWAR and Lamb of God, who both found their beginnings in Richmond.  Or you could check out country group River City Gang playing their song "This Old Town" in a restaurant somewhere in the city.  Other venues such as The National, Innsbrook After Hours, Pocahontas Live or one of Richmond's many festivals draw big-name stars from all over the country if that's more to your liking.

Festivals are a huge part of life in Richmond, resulting in an unofficial nickname of the "festival city."  Whether it's Shamrock the Block in March, the Greek Food Festival in May/June, the Watermelon Festival in August, the Richmond Folk Festival or the Central Virginia Celtic Festival & Highland Games in October, you can almost always find at least one festival underway in Richmond!  A recurring theme in the festival culture is to pair music with food, which brings us to our next category.

"Foodie" Richmond
Martini's at Bar Louie
Photo courtesy of Meghan M.
Eating is an experience in and of itself in Richmond.  You can enjoy almost any type of cuisine and have multiple options of each in various price ranges.  In the mood for Thai?  Mexican?  French?  Seafood?  Italian?  Cuban?  Farm-fresh?  Vegetarian?  Good ol' fashioned burgers?  If you want it, Richmond probably has it.  Within the past few years, foodies have started to take notice of Richmond, ranking it #4 on The Daily Meal's Best Small Towns for Food in 2013 and naming it one of the "next big trend[s] in dining" in Wine Mag's "Eating and Drinking in the South."

The best food is paired with an excellent beverage, and when it comes to having craft beers on the menu, Mekong takes the cake, winning the top spot for best Great American Beer Bar in 2012 and 2013 according to CraftBeer.com.  Or if wine is more your style, you could try the Wine Loft in Richmond's West End.  And speaking of wine, Virginia currently ranks fifth in grape production in the U.S. and is working hard to emerge as the "East coast capitol" for the wine industry.  There are almost 200 wineries in the state, many of which are within easy striking distance of Richmond.  If visiting in October, the Virginia Wine and Oyster Classic in the Northern Neck or the Powhatan Festival of the Grape showcases Virginia wineries all in one event location.  Bring a designated driver, because over thirty wineries usually show up for the Powhatan event!

Belle Isle
Photo Courtesy of Joanna Landrum

Nature near Richmond
Is nature more your thing?  Well, Richmond is the perfect spring-board for your outdoor activities, especially water sports.  With the James River as its backbone, how could it not be?  Black Dog Paddle and Riverside Outfitters are just two places offering paddle-boarding, kayaking, and canoeing in the Richmond metro area.  Or if you're up to creating your own adventure, grab a few inner tubes and use the public landing access points along the James to lazily float the day away.  There are many parks and walking trails to take advantage of in Richmond as well.  Maymont Park is a local favorite year-round with 100 acres of gardens, woods, paths, and even a small zoo to enjoy.  For more manicured beauty, you should stroll through the gardens of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, ranked second on USA Today Travel's 10Best Readers' Choice award for Best Public Garden in North America.*  Or if raw landscapes appeal to you more, Belle Isle is a favorite with VCU students looking to sunbathe and wade in the summer.  If you're looking for a camping adventure, there are many state and private campgrounds in the general area.

Convenient Location
Shenandoah River near Luray; 2 hrs from Richmond
Photo courtesy of Brittany James

But if the beach, mountains, lakes or the attractions of D.C. beckon you for the day, luckily Richmond is situated within easy driving distance!  Richmond makes a convenient home-base to take day trips to the river-ways and secluded beaches of the Northern Neck to the northeast, the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west, historic Williamsburg or Yorktown to the east, the salt life beyond that in Virginia Beach, Lake Gaston to the south, Lake Anna to the north, or take the train up to Washington D.C.  You can reach any of these places in roughly 90 minutes.

So, yes!  Richmond has a lot to offer, not only to its residents but to travelers from all corners of the globe.  And this Richmonder is particularly happy to see that the world is finally taking notice!

~ Just a Thrifty Gypsy

Have you visited Richmond?  What are some of your favorite places there?

P.S.  If my piece hasn't sold you on a visit yet, be sure to drop me a line with your particular interests, and I'd be glad to tailor-fit a few sites for you!

@ BioRideRVA.com

*Updated 04/03/14 13:21 to mention Lewis-Ginter Botanical Garden's ranking as #2 Best Public Garden in North America by USA Today Travel's 10Best Readers' Choice awards.


  1. What can I say, Katrina? Why haven't I been? Aside from lack of funds and a large ocean, and the fact that I'd barely heard of the place till I met my friend, Cathy!

    1. It's true that we're just a blip on the map in the large scale of tourism! We'll never be able to compete with the big cities, but we're a good representation of life in small city U.S.A and have a lot to offer for our size! :)

  2. Still stalking around on your blog (found you via Travel Tuesday) - are you from Richmond? I am!!! I love this city - it's the city of my youth and college years and I've always loved it!

    1. Yes, I'm from the Richmond area! Lived here since I was about 6 years old. When did you last visit? Richmond has changed in leaps and bounds, but has managed to keep the same feel throughout the changes. Love this city!


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