The Best of Richmond, Virginia

Richmond is absolutely steeped in history. The state capital (and former capital of the Confederacy) has a multitude of museums and its atmospheric downtown includes more than 20 national and state historic districts. The Fan District, home to Virginia Commonwealth University, Monument Avenue, Jackson Ward, Shockoe Slip, Shockoe Bottom, and Church Hill are all worth exploring. And while Richmond may venerate the past, it also celebrates the present with a booming food and nightlife scene.

200 N Boulevard, Richmond, VA 23220, USA
The VMFA is, well, something else. For a city the size of Richmond to have such an amazing art museum is kind of incredible, and for it to be free to the public is even better. In addition to the diverse permanent art collection spanning Egyptian to postmodernism, the traveling collections, which range from Picasso to Chihuly to Fabergé eggs, are worth repeat visits. And the gift shop is filled with super fun art projects for kids that I can’t help buying for my niece and nephew. But my favorite part? Strolling around the sculpture garden on a nice day, and then sitting outside in the cafe or the restaurant with a carafe of wine and taking in the view (and knowing that I’ll inevitably run into someone I know, who is also playing hooky at the museum).
500 Tredegar St, Richmond, VA 23219, USA
Once the biggest ironworks in the Confederacy, the Tredegar complex now houses the American Civil War Museum’s flagship exhibit. Explore the war’s causes, history, and legacies from the viewpoints of Unionists, Confederates, and African Americans. Artifacts, movies, plasma screen maps, and text provide a thoughtful, balanced look at the conflict and its aftermath, geared toward adults and teens. Tredegar is located on the James River Canal Walk next to the Potterfield pedestrian bridge, which gives a great close-up view of the James. The American Civil War Museum’s other branch, The White House & Museum of the Confederacy, located at 1201 E. Clay St., includes the mansion where Confederate President Jefferson Davis lived during the war.
Richmond, VA, USA
A stroll, run, or drive along Monument Avenue is an essential Richmond experience. The broad thoroughfare, divided by a shady median, is lined with early 20th-century mansions, townhouses, and apartment buildings. The street’s statues of Confederate heroes Lee, Davis, Jackson, and Stuart have recently stirred controversy, with monuments to Matthew Fontaine Maury (“Pathfinder of the Seas”) and Richmond-born tennis great Arthur Ashe providing some balance.
2201 Shields Lake Court
Before Maymont was a public park and museum it was a Victorian country estate. You can still tour the lavish mansion and read all about the historical significance of the family who owned it, but I usually head straight for the gardens. The romantic Italian garden has arbors and fountains aplenty amid the rows and rows of brightly colored flowers. Continue past that and you’ll hit the Japanese garden, which instantly transports you to the other side of the world. The bamboo, koi ponds, waterfall, and traditional Japanese architectural elements are enchanting, and inspire moments of quiet introspection. The zoo and nature center are worth a visit, too, and great for families, but it’s the gardens that I keep going back to see.
412 S Cherry St, Richmond, VA 23220, USA
Sprawled on a bluff above the James River, Hollywood is one of the country’s most historic cemeteries. Victorian-era mausoleums and monuments include the tombs of Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler (and a host of notable Richmonders) along with a cast-iron Newfoundland dog and a 30-meter stone pyramid honoring the 18,000 Confederate soldiers buried here.
Carytown, Richmond, VA 23221, USA
For visitors, Carytown, located near the downtown hotels and the Museum District, is the preferred place to shop. This several-block stretch of West Cary Street is full of independently owned shops and restaurants, as well as the historic Byrd Theatre, a 1920s movie palace showing recent and classic films at bargain prices. A few notable shops are Mongrel, an all-occasion gift shop with a great selection of Richmond- and Virginia-themed items, World of Mirth, a colorful, kitschy toy store that’s fun for all ages, and Eurotrash, featuring fashion-forward European women’s clothing for all styles and budgets.
623 N 25th St, Richmond, VA 23223, USA
Housed in a cozy former drugstore, the Roosevelt excels at seafood (consistent rave reviews for the mussels, scallops, and rockfish), though everything is well prepared in updated Southern style. Cocktails are taken seriously and the restaurant has an all-Virginia wine list.
320 E Grace St, Richmond, VA 23219, USA
Seafood is the star at Rappahannock Restaurant in downtown Richmond. This is the third venture of the Croxton family, which has played a major role in the Chesapeake Bay oyster resurgence. The restaurant’s raw bar features four oyster varieties, clams, and caviar; Virginia fish and meat round out the menu. Cocktails are given similar reverence and made with fresh, seasonal ingredients to complement the food. Should you wish to go straight to the source, the Merroir tasting room is an hour from Richmond and overlooks the Rappahannock River where the oysters are grown.
111 East Grace Street
Popular all day long, Perly’s has an authentic art deco interior and an equally authentic, slightly updated New York deli menu. Breakfast includes latkes and blintzes, lunch includes a sublime Reuben, and dinner might start with lox or smoked whitefish, proceed to brisket, and end with a commendable cheesecake.
5009, 101 W Franklin St, Richmond, VA 23220, USA
Located in the gorgeous Jefferson Hotel and named for Thomas Jefferson’s French chef, Lemaire is Richmond’s premiere white-tablecloth restaurant. Its grand, classic setting is matched by refined food and service, with specialties drawing on Southern and French traditions. White almond–garlic soup, Manikintown salad, beef tenderloin, seared scallops, pan-roasted swordfish, and Chesapeake Bay oysters are favorites, each given a contemporary twist.
2337 W Broad St, Richmond, VA 23220, USA
Experience culinary time travel—and classic southern flavors. Box lunches include a chicken salad, Smithfield ham or pimento cheese sandwich (among other choices), potato salad, cheese wafer, deviled egg, and a famous upside down iced cupcake, all packed in cardboard boxes tied with string, just as they have been since the 1920s. Try their lemon chess tart, too.
626 China Street
This relatively new arrival to Richmond’s booming dining scene is located in Oregon Hill, once home to Civil War–era ironworkers. L’Opossum has a witty menu (“Beef Swellington”, “Darth Grouper”, “Polyamorous Hippie”) and flamboyant, romantic décor that sets it apart from the pack. The food is punchy, nuanced, and memorable. Service is relaxed yet professional. Reservations are essential.
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