Every five lines a travel documentary will tell you how Portland is chill and LA is gloriously lazy, but honestly, you haven’t felt this weird mix of chill and excited until you’ve felt Richmond. A historic city due to its history as the Confederacy capital, it is the ideal place to have a great time without breaking the bank. The city itself is pretty budget friendly without giving up the adventure or excitement that it promises you.
From kayaking in the tides of James River to talking a stroll through the Thomas- Jefferson designed Virginia State Capitol building, Richmond offers a lot for all types of travelers, thrill seekers and history geeks alike. The city is scenic and the locals are extremely helpful and will always go a step extra to make you a part of the city they love for its arts, history, food scene and- above all- it’s river and the riverfront.
Richmond has traditionally had a gentle and soft nature. Recently however, a new Richmond has emerged, one with a booming college scene and ambitious students. This new influx of permanent residents mean greater diversity and an ever booming restaurant scene that constantly evolves, changes and yet somehow remains constantly brilliant. If you’re travelling on a budget, here’s 15 Free Things to do in Richmond VA:
Fabled to be partially designed by Thomas Jefferson, the Capitol building is the seat of the government of the state of Virginia and home to the General Assembly, the oldest continuously operating legislature in the Western hemisphere. The building is famed to be designed based on the structure of the Maison Carree temple in Nimes, France and is a unique experience for architecture enthusiasts. There are also exhibitions and displays at the Capitol that highlight Virginia’s central role in American history. The surrounding area, the Capitol Square has monuments dedicated to the civil rights movement as well as famous Virginians (Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and Edgar Allan Poe)
The Capitol is open to the public from Monday through to Saturday (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Free guided tours are also available for everyone from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. If you want to catch a legislative session, you might want to visit their official website beforehand.
Probably the city’s hippest and most vibrant corner, the best restaurants and shops converge in this Museum District adjacent area called Carytown. This place isn’t your everyday shopping district, as people who come here aren’t really looking for name brands but rather look for quirky alternatives. However, Carytown’s eateries are notoriously overpriced, but the infrastructure and the environment of the entire region is warm, welcoming and beautiful. It is a nice place to visit for a casual walk or just a breath of fresh air, you can set/ tune your travel plans to visit Carytown in August when they hold the Watermelon Festival.
Carytown shops are open from 9 am to 6 pm Monday through afternoon. Some shops open up right at noon on weekends too.
Maymont is a 100 acre property that was left to the state by Richmond residents James Henry and Sallie May Dooley. If you’re looking to spend an afternoon just hanging out, Maymont is the perfect place for you. Admission is free, but a 5 dollar donation is suggested.
A place of undeniable history and beautiful architecture, Maymont is open to the public daily 10 am to 5pm, October through March and 10am to 7am from April through September.
If you were looking for a beautiful place where you can learn about nature from the wetlands to the woodlands, the Three Lakes Nature Center is your chance to put your hair back, your legs up and relax. The nature center doesn’t come without its fair share of surprises either, as the facility has a 50000-gallon aquarium which gives visitors a “fish-eye” view of what’s underneath. An assortment of live exhibits, dioramas, and interactive displays offers something for every field of natural interest and is appropriate for all ages.
The greater Church Hill area is a collection of neighborhoods with surprisingly intact 1800s architecture, landmarks and gas-lit cobblestone streets. It is said that this is where the city of Richmond was founded in 1773, on the banks of the James River. The location offers an adventure, culture and theatre while giving you ample green space to just lay down and admire it. While you can choose to dine in local restaurants, the neighborhood is extremely pedestrian friendly as it offers a fantastic view of the city’s historic skyline. Be sure to follow the Capital Trail and check out Shockoe Bottom.
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“Give me liberty or give me death”
– St. John’s Church is the site of probably the 7 most important words in American history. Every Sunday at 2pm organizers set up a re-enactment of the 1775 debate among 10 of America’s founding fathers. Edgar Alan Poe lies in the graveyard next to George Wythe, a Declaration of Independence signatory. The Church itself is a fabulous piece of architecture, being the oldest wooden church in Virginia.
Sunday prayers are held at the Church from 8:30 am and from 11am on Sundays. The Church is then open from 1pm to 4 pm. Tours run from 10 am to 4 pm Mondays through Saturdays. The Church suggests a donation of 5 dollars, but it’s not mandatory.
For those of you more into places that tell a story, the Virginia Holocaust Museum is a great place to start. The core exhibition located on the first floor narrates the history of the holocaust as you get to progress through events chronologically. At the center of this exhibition is the story of the Ipson family. Popularly known as the Ipson Saga exhibition narrates the survival story of the family through confinement in the Konvo Ghetto. There is also a Nuremberg Courtroom, a recreation of room 600 from the Palace of Justice and also hosts stories and exhibits from the Dachau concentration camp.
The museum is open through 9amto 5pm, Monday through Friday and 11am to 5pm during the weekends.
If you’re looking for nature during your downtime, visiting a colorful farm might just be the respite you’re looking for. The Chesterfield Berry Farm is a lush blend of bright colors along with a cool soothing breeze. The farm grows 50 different varieties of fruits and vegetables that go to wholesale or through to the farmer’s market. The farm also offers pick your own packages during three specific seasons. A beautiful travel destination in its own right, the farm provides a family friendly option for those travelling with more light-hearted fun in mind.
9. Belle Isle
Home to the Robert E. Lee bridge, Belle Isle is a small Island within the James River. The park was originally set up as a prison camp for Union soldiers during the civil war but has transitioned into being a good popular sunbathing spot for locals. While the unique view across the Richmond skyline would be enough to sell you on it, the flat rocks that cover the entire Island make perfect sunbathing mattresses during the summer. Travellers seem to make the most of these rocks by just hopping around on these rocks all day anyway.
Now onto the business end of things for you music lovers and enthusiasts alike. The Richmond Folk Festival is one of Virginia’s largest events featuring performing groups representing a diverse array of cultural traditions on seven stages. The festival is a three day event that anyone can attend, which means you’d have to plan your trip around it, but a 220000 strong crowd from last year says that the festival is worth the wait. Usually held in October, keep checking the organizer website for regular updates on performers and dates.
An Avenue worthy of being called a National historic landmark, Monument Avenue is divided by a beautiful tree-lined grassy median. Regardless of your views on Confederate monuments and their historical place in our cities, this avenue is significant for its architecture and as an example of city planning. The entire city of Richmond was developed around the monumental avenue, making it sort of like a city center.
The street contains several monuments including – J. E. B. Stuart, Robert E. Lee. Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, Matthew Fontaine Maury and Arthur Ashe. The avenue hosts a multitude of events during the spring, including the Easter parade.
If you call yourself a bike-freak, feel free to explore the 52-mile trail that connects Richmond to Williamson. The trail will take you through or close to multiple historic and scenic sights. If you don’t have a bike or skates on you, feel free to take a stroll through the trail as it offers peace before moving on to history.
Tredegar Iron Works was the primary iron maker for the Confederacy during the American Civil war. Situated on the James River, the building today hosts a beautiful visitor’s center with incredible grounds filled with equipment used by the iron makers of the day. There’s also a section of the building that exclusively talks about Richmond during the Civil War. The place is emotionally significant to the locals and a visit there would tell you why.
The exhibits stay open from 9am to 5pm every day from Monday to Sunday other than on national holidays.
Being one of the major burial sites in the country, the cemetery is one that is significant for protection of the entire country’s history. The cemetery is famous for the grave of President Jefferson Davies and Confederate general George Pickett. There is a large Confederate Soldiers Pyramid monument in the cemetery. Local tales tell the story of a prisoner being pardoned for scaling the structure to place the capstone.
Personally, I am not an art enthusiast. But I loved the VMFA. There are so many nice exhibits and it’s not overcrowded with pieces like a lot of fine arts museums. It’s impressive, it’s beautiful, and most importantly, it’s free. The entire facility can be treated as a huge exhibition itself as the facility annually hosts lakhs of visitors anyway.
Here goes our list of 15 free things you can do in Richmond VA. Not only this list consists of some extremely amazing activities, but also they are very diverse. You are having an experience full of a wide range of activities by following this list. Apart from these free activities, you’ll be able to do a lot more in Richmond VA for a minimum charge. Your trip in Richmond can be magical without having to pay way too much. That’s why this is one of the most famous budget travel destinations in the US.
Hey, travelling on a budget is tight, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. But if there’s one piece of advice the author can give you, it would be better to bring a bike. The city is vibrant as ever and we’re quite sure you’ll always have something to do. Enjoy!