Looking for the best things to do in downtown Richmond, VA?
The Virginia state capitol is filled with some of the best museums, parks, historical sites, and art galleries that the commonwealth has to offer!
Many of the top attractions in town are conveniently located in or around downtown Richmond.
Whether you want to see George Washington’s private diary at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture, learn more about gothic literary giant Edgar Allen Poe, or take in a movie at the historic Byrd Theatre, downtown Richmond has the perfect vacation destination for you!
Check out some of my other favorite things in Richmond! Including the best rooftop restaurants, the best breakfast spots, the best ice cream, the best burgers, the best shopping, and the best hiking trails!
Map of the Best Things to Do in Downtown Richmond, VA
The following map can help you plan your next Richmond vacation by showing you how to get to all of the best sites and attractions!
12 Best Things to Do in Downtown Richmond, VA
Below are some of my top recommendations for the best things to do in and around downtown Richmond.
Edgar Allen Poe was born in Boston and died in Baltimore, but he spent much of his childhood and young adulthood in Richmond, VA, in the home of John Allen.
In 1806, the Poe Museum was created by a group of literary enthusiasts to pay homage to the literary great.
The centerpiece of the museum is the Old Stone House, which is also the oldest building still standing in Richmond.
The house had only a loose association with Poe. He’s not known to have ever entered the building, but he stood guard outside the home in 1824 during a famous Revolutionary War general Marquis de Lafayette visit.
The grounds also include the Poe Shrine that was built using the bricks of the Southern Literary Messenger where Poe worked.
The museum features artifacts from Poe’s life, as well as the most comprehensive collection of his literary works.
When you visit, keep an eye out for the cats who live on the property. Poe famously loved cats, and two cats were found by the museum and adopted by museum staff!
Maymont is located a little further outside downtown Richmond, but it is a major attraction in town and well worth the visit!
It’s located along the James River on the other side of Hollywood Cemetery from downtown Richmond.
The sprawling 100-acre estate features not only the Maymont mansion, but also gardens, an arboretum, the Robins Nature Center, and more.
Maymont dates back to the Gilded Age of the late 19th century. The home features 12 restored rooms that you can tour and includes many of the opulent furniture and decor of the original owners, James and Sallie Dooley.
The restored rooms also include the original kitchen, wine cellar, butler’s pantry, and more.
Guided tours of the mansion will give you a fascinating glimpse into the lives of its original inhabitants, as well as a chance to see gilded-era fashion.
Beyond the mansion, you can explore the gardens and arboretum, including gazebos, fountains, and statues.
And if you love animals, be sure to visit the Robins Nature Center, where you can see animals from the James River, including snakes, alligators, river otters, and salamanders.
The Virginia Holocaust Museum is another historically important museum in downtown Richmond that you will want to take time to visit.
The museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the holocaust in order to “educate future Virginians to fight prejudice and indifference.”
It includes many personal items in its collection, including letters, photographs, and objects that illuminate the horrors and atrocities of the Holocaust.
The incredibly moving and powerful Children’s Memorial was added in 2022 to pay tribute to the 1.5 million children murdered in the Holocaust. The exhibit features a stunning display with lights, mirrors, and empty classroom chairs depicting the magnitude of the lives lost.
The museum is also the home of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame, which pays tribute to over 50 men and women who were Jewish-American pioneers in business, science, art, entertainment, religion, sports, and more. Some of the famous honorees include Albert Einstein, George Gershwin, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Dr. Jonas Salk.
You can get an even richer glimpse into the extraordinary history of Virginia by visiting The Virginia Museum of History & Culture. The museum is operated by the Virginia Historical Society, and it is devoted to preserving and showcasing the rich history and culture of the Commonwealth.
Permanent exhibitions include “The Story of Virginia”, which spans 16,000 years in the history of the commonwealth; “Landscapes of Virginia”, an art gallery that displays sweeping paintings inspired by the Shenandoah Valley, Mount Vernon, and more; and “Treasures of Virginia”; which features some incredible artifacts, including a personal diary of George Washington and The Virginia Declaration of Rights by George Mason.
The museum has featured an eclectic mix of special exhibitions, including “Oh, Shenandoah”, which highlighted the artwork of the Shenandoah Valley; “Founding Frenemies”, which focused on Alexander Hamilton’s complicated relationship with George Washington, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson; and “Apollo: When We Went to the Moon”, which is all about the Space Race.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is located next to the Virginia Museum of History & Culture, which makes both destinations convenient cultural stops for your next trip to the capital city.
The Museum of Fine Arts features an excellent and diverse collection of over 50,000 works spanning thousands of years and every corner of the globe.
The permanent collection includes African sculpture, pottery from Ancient Greece, Chinese artifacts, European paintings, Native American clothes, and much more.
Special exhibitions have included a wide range of works, such as Japanese woodcuts, Indian paintings, and American painters in France.
Another major attraction in downtown Richmond is, of course, the Virginia State Capitol!
The classic white building was designed by famous Virginian Thomas Jefferson. It dates all the way back to 1785, and it’s actually the seat of the oldest legislative body in the country!
The striking architecture of the Capitol building is modeled after classical Roman temples. It is a National Historic Landmark and it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
You can take a guided tour of the building to learn more about its design and rich history. Free, one-hour guided tours occur throughout the day Monday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm (1pm to 4pm on Sundays.)
I also recommend taking time to explore Capitol Square, which includes footpaths, statues, gardens, and more buildings. The Executive Mansion (the home of the governor of Virginia), George Washington Equestrian Monument, and Old City Hall are all located nearby.
American Civil War Museum is actually comprised of three sites: two sites in Richmond and one at Appomattox, which is about 90 miles west of Richmond.
The two Richmond sites are Tredegar and the White House of the Confederacy.
Virginia served as a central point in the American Civil War, and the museum at Tredegar tells part of that story.
The museum is located at the site of Tredegar Iron Works, which dates back to 1837 and played a pivotal role in the war. Tredegar produced the cannons that fired the first shots at Fort Sumter, as well as the iron playing for the CSS Virginia (Merrimack).
The museum features regular exhibits that highlight different aspects of the war, such as “Richmonders at War”, “Black Virginians in the Age of Emancipation”, and “The Confederate Navy”.
You’ll find numerous artifacts, letters, photographs, and much more on display to enhance your experience.
The White House of the Confederacy was built decades before the Civil War in 1818, but it most famously served as the residence of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from 1861 to 1865.
You can book a guided tour of the two-story house, which includes a walkthrough of the restored bedrooms, a dining room, sitting rooms, and more. The rooms are decorated with opulent 19th-century furniture and art, including fancy curtains, plush chairs and sofas, and gilded chandeliers.
You can find a list of daily tour times online.
The Black History Museum and Culture Center is another culturally significant museum in Richmond that is worth visiting. The museum was founded in 1981 to honor the lives and stories of the African-American men and women in Virginia who helped shape the history of the commonwealth and of the nation.
The museum endeavors to tell the sometimes painful story of black history in Virginia. It does so through exhibitions that highlight pioneers like Howard Baugh, who was born in Petersburg, Virginia and was part of the famous Tuskegee Airmen; and Oliver Hill, who was a prominent civil rights attorney from Richmond.
Some of the museum’s other unique exhibitions include a collection of black dolls called “I See Me!”, as well as “The Art of Freedom”, which showcases artwork by African American Virginians.
The museum has been located in a historic building since 2016. The Leigh Street Armory underwent a major renovation and became the new permanent home for the museum.
Hollywood Cemetery is another prominent attraction in the heart of Richmond. The cemetery dates all the way back to 1847, and it is laid out in a garden style, which gives it a unique and beautiful aesthetic.
Among the 135 acres of the cemetery grounds, there are numerous noteworthy burial sites, including the final resting place of the 5th President of the United States, James Monroe, and the 10th President of the United States, John Tyler.
Monroe’s gravesite features an elaborate, cast iron, gothic cage structure surrounding the sarcophagus, and it is one of the most stunning features of the cemetery.
You can also look for The Iron Dog, a small dog statue that dates back to the mid-19th century.
The sprawling cemetery sits on the shores of the James River and features lovely water views, particularly from Palmer Chapel Mausoleum and Presidents Circle.
There are many different tour options available at the cemetery, including walking tours, guided tours, private tours, and driving tours.
10. The Byrd Theatre
The Byrd Theatre is another major site in downtown Richmond. It’s located close to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
The theater dates back to 1928, when it opened as a premiere motion picture theater in town. The theater contains many cool historic elements, including a Wurlitzer Organ that dates back to 1928 and was used in silent movies.
The theater was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1980.
Today, the Byrd Theatre still hosts regular movie showings plus special events. The movie lineup features an eclectic mix of older movies, classics, and newer movies.
You’re also likely to find seasonal films, like horror classics around Halloween, and Christmas movies in December.
The theater is also available for private events! You can find a schedule of upcoming shows and buy tickets online.
11. Canal Walk
One of the best ways to take in the best that downtown Richmond has to offer is to go along the Canal Walk! It’s also one of my favorite hikes in Richmond!
The 1.25-mile walkway runs along the James River and features water views, city views, art, shops, restaurants, historic monuments, and more.
Canal Walk is popular for walking, running, and biking.
Along the way, you’ll find historic medallions and statues commemorating famous events through Richmond’s history, such as the Powhatan Chiefdom along the James River; Belle Isle’s ties to the Civil War; and the first “commercially successful electric streetcar, which was built in Richmond in 1888.
And when you’re ready to catch a bite to eat, be sure to stop by one of the many restaurants nearby, like Southern Railway Taphouse and Casa del Barco!
You can also check out my favorite rooftop restaurants in town!
12. Belle Isle
Belle Isle is a lovely oasis close to downtown Richmond. The island sits in the middle of the James River and features bike and walking trails, a rock climbing cliff, places for fishing, picnic areas, plus popular sunbathing spots in the warmer summer months.
The park is also a great place to see the Richmond skyline!
You can reach Belle Isle from Tredegar Street, which connects to a pedestrian footbridge leading to the island.
Where to Stay in Richmond, VA
This charming historic hotel is filled with character and unique design in each room. It also has a fitness center and an excellent location near downtown Richmond.
This lovely modern hotel has plush, opulent decor. It has a prime location right next to the State Capitol. It also has a fitness center and it’s pet friendly!
Learn about even more great things to do in Richmond, VA!