July 15, 2016

Richmond Through the Eyes of a Local [Travel Blogger]

Every city has a combination of personality, culture, and natural attractions (or lack thereof) which makes it distinct from any other place in the world. Call it a fingerprint or call it a flavor - but each town is unique. When traveling to a new city or country, I seek out the best examples in each of these categories to get a holistic view of that place as a living, breathing entity of people and attractions.

And when I stop to seek out these same ideals in my own backyard, I come to one conclusion:

Richmond is one cool city.

Whether you live here, work here, or just pass through here, Richmond has something for everyone.

St. John's Church
...Come for the History, Stay for the Food
Richmond's history is colorful, and at times dark, but familiarity with its past brings deeper understanding of its present. You can find vestiges of revolution in St John's Church (located in the historic Church Hill neighborhood) for daily guided tours or every Sunday in the summer for free reenactments of Patrick Henry's famous Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me Death speech of 1775. Fast forward nearly a century to a nation at war with itself when Richmond was the capitol of the Confederacy during the American Civil War. The Museum & White House of the Confederacy and the historic Tredegar Ironworks, which will soon be breaking ground on a new museum, are both located in Richmond, and the area around the city is scarred with the battlefields of that conflict, most notably the famous crater at the Battle of Petersburg just to the south.

Twentieth century notables for Richmond include Agecroft Hall and the Virginia House, both originally built in England, bought, shipped, and reconstructed in Richmond along the James River during the the 1920s. These Tudor houses predate the oldest Virginia colonies, and touring Agecroft Hall in particular can take you back through several centuries' worth of history spanning two different countries.

Today Richmond stands out as a foodie destination, having most recently been named by National Geographic Travel as a must-taste destination for your taste buds in 2016. This is not Richmond's first appearance on various "best places to eat" lists, but perhaps the most buzzworthy shout-out in Richmonders' opinions was when Daniel Radcliffe (yes, Harry Potter himself) informed Thrillist that one of the best meals he's ever had - in the world, mind you - was a steak fromage at Buckhead's Chophouse, located in a rather nondescript strip mall in Richmond's Tuckahoe district. Who would've thought?

In recent years many Hollywood standouts have visited Richmond to film movies and shows. PBS's new hit drama, Mercy Street, uses Richmond as their film location. Daniel Radcliffe was filming his upcoming movie Imperium when he discovered Buckhead's, and Spielberg's in-depth drama, Lincoln, used various buildings and locations in Richmond as stand-in representations of a 19th century D.C. Many waiters and waitresses in the River City will never forget the day they served a meal to various cast members, and the whole city was caught up in "Daniel Day-Lewis sightings" while filming was in progress.

Other RVA Favorites
Edgar Allan Poe Museum: Did you know that Poe spent many years living in Richmond? His mother is actually buried at St John's Church.
The Virginia Holocaust Museum: The late Elie Wiesel said that "for the dead and the living, we must bear witness." A visit to this museum will remind you of the atrocities of which man is capable along with the hope that can be found with those who survived the holocaust.
The John Marshall House: Belonging to the Great Chief Justice John Marshall, a native of Virginia, this brick residence was completed in 1790 by John Marshall and is one of the best examples of Federal architecture in the Commonwealth.
Shirley Plantation: Visit the oldest family-run business in the United States! The plantation dates back to 1638 with the house having been completed in 1738. It is a wonderful example of early American plantation life, best viewed in the summer when the crops and livestock are in full swing.

At the Capitol Complex
...Black and White and Rad All Over
Richmond has an attitude problem in the best possible way. For a state that was at the forefront of the Confederacy, Virginia ranks the highest in the US for interracial marriages. In fact, the landmark civil rights case Loving v. Virginia, which resulted in the Supreme Court striking down anti-miscegenation laws as unconstitutional, originated right here in Richmond, Virginia. With racial tensions seemingly engulfing the nation, one can only hope that the interwoven relationships and friendships will continue to set Virginia - and Richmond - apart. Truly the state tourism slogan rings true in Richmond: Virginia Is For Lovers.

In fact the Richmond of today is full of contrasts: black and white, genteel and edgy, traditional and progressive. On one block you can see the some of the best examples of Old South architecture lining Monument Avenue, the only street listed on the National Register of Historic Places and touting fine Georgian, Victorian, or Colonial houses, and on the next street over, you can view fascinating street art blanketing an otherwise plain apartment building. Plenty of y'alls permeate conversations among strangers as here in the South there's no such thing as a stranger - just a friend you haven't made yet. Even transplants to the area find themselves picking up the idiosyncrasies of a city where sweet tea and fried chicken could be the official fare.

Either as a testament to its alternative-friendly atmosphere or a result of it, hipsters have flocked to Richmond, deepening the cultural contrast between bearded, skinny-jeaned men and the Country Club Prep ladies and gents passing each other on Carytown's bustling streets. It's cool to buck the mainstream, and it's cool to be mainstream in Richmond. Whatever floats your boat, y'all, but no matter what side of the river you live on, everyone comes together for $2 movies at the Byrd Theater.

A photo posted by Thrifty Gypsy's Travels (@thriftygypsytravels) on

Other RVA Favorites
Strawberry Street Cafe: A Richmond taste bud destination since 1976, offering Southern inspired food.
Richmond Mural Project: Richmond gets a face lift and attitude adjustment at the annual street mural exhibit scattered throughout the city.
The National: This music venue brings in big names and local favorites, and a visit here is a must for any local, especially the hipsters.

...Summahtime is Rivah Time
When it gets hot and humid in Richmond, the only logical destination is the River. Richmond is the only city in the U.S. where you can navigate Class III and IV rapids against a city skyline. The James River is one of the most treasured natural resources of the area, and scoring a seat at a brewery, restaurant, or prime shady spot for river viewing might just be the highlight of your day. For family friendly outings, grab the stroller and head for Maymont Park; kids will ooooh and ahhhh over their small, but quality zoo. And if the thought of a cemetery doesn't automatically run chills down your back, head for Hollywood Cemetery, located on a commanding bluff over the river and as beautiful as any New Orleans or European resting place. There you can pay your respects to John Tyler and James Monroe, two of the five presidents claiming Virginia as their home, and also indulge in some supernatural legends of Richmond.

The abundance of festivals, many of which are hosted rain or shine, entice many to enjoy the great outdoors and ensure there is never a dull moment in the city. The Carytown Watermelon Festival, hosted annually on the second Sunday of August and now on its 33rd year, is possibly the most venerated, rivaled only by other fan favorites such as the Folk Festival, the Greek Food Festival, the Oktoberfest Festival, or maybe the Central Virginia Celtic Festival & Highland Games. But there are so many festivals in Richmond, how could one possibly choose a favorite?

Northern Neck, VA
But there's even more nature to explore beyond Richmond, and there's no need to travel all that far. Within a 90 minute radius, you can park yourself on a secluded beach on Virginia's Northern Neck or hike the Humpback Rock trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The region just west of Richmond in the Piedmont and Shenandoah Valley is emerging as the "Napa Valley" of Virginia; currently, there are over 250 wineries in the commonwealth and over 100 breweries, of which 10 can be found within Richmond city limits. Want some decent Vietnamese food with your beer? For the third year in a row, Mekong took the #1 spot for best "Great American Beer Bar" in the nation by CraftBeer.com, and for 2016, they won the top spot for Best Beer Bar in America hosted by USAToday 10Best! Take your Virginia brews on a float trip down the James River in Goochland County or escape to the beautiful Shenandoah River in the Appalachians. Richmond is the perfect staging point to reach most of the state in two hours or less.

Other RVA Favorites
The Canal Walk: Inspired by the beautiful River Walk in San Antonio, Richmond's Canal Walk is not quite there, but still pleases with its quiet pathways along the James River canals. (The TripAdvisor photos are sure to interest.)
Blue Bee Cider: Delicious local cider with beautiful views of Richmond's southern skyline. (Like, seriously, this view is legit.)

No matter how many beautiful cities, countries, and natural wonders I see on my travels, the unique combination of culture, personality, and outdoor entertainment makes the Richmond area a wonderful place to call home. Come by and see it for yourself.


Wander Mum

Linking up with:
 LaurenVanIsabel, and Marcella.

1 comment:

  1. It's not somewhere which had been on my radar before but it sounds fantastic, some great places to eat and such a variety to do. Definitely one for my list. Thanks for joining up with #citytripping


Thanks for stopping by! I'd love to hear your comments, feedback, and suggestions.