Richmond, Virginia, is the place where the most famous words of the Revolutionary War — Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” — were spoken. It was the capital of the Confederacy and, a century later, a locus of civil rights protests. Here, you’ll find historic homes and gardens; museums, markers and monuments dedicated to the evolution (and near-dissolution) of the nation; and tree-lined streets of Federalist and Victorian homes.
But history isn’t all there is to experience in Richmond. With the James River coursing through and plenty of hiking and biking trails, nature abounds. A burgeoning gallery scene augments excellent art museums. Loads of vintage shops offer intriguing finds, and new restaurants continually add to the city’s nationally recognized dining scene. It’s a great place to make a day of it.
Awaken at the Hideaway Report-recommended Jefferson Hotel (101 W. Franklin St.), a Beaux Arts beauty downtown, and make your way to Church Hill, named for St. John’s Church, where Henry fired up the Founding Fathers. Here, at Sub Rosa Bakery (620 N. 25th St.), you can indulge in exemplary breakfast pastries. Local heritage grains are milled in-house and wood-fired for flaky, crackly croissants; savory meat-filled börek; and incomparable fruit tarts, breads and more. The coffee is also excellent.
You’re fortifying yourself for a walk across the James River. Park in the lot at Tredegar Iron Works, which houses the American Civil War Museum (ACWM) (500 Tredegar St.), and take the ramp up to the pedestrian suspension bridge to Belle Isle, a former quarry site and prison camp that housed thousands of captured Union soldiers. Historic ruins dot the island, and the footpath borders the raging Hollywood Rapids, beloved by whitewater kayakers.
Stroll at least halfway across the other foot crossing, the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge, which leads out to Browns Island. Embedded in the walkway are quotes from those who witnessed the night in 1865 when the Confederacy fled its capital and the city burned, ending the Civil War. Included is President Abraham Lincoln’s “Thank God that I lived to see this.” Bring binoculars because cormorants roost in midriver trees, and ospreys nest on old pilings.
Prefer gardens? Walk instead around Maymont (2201 Shields Lake Dr.), an 1893 mansion situated on 100 landscaped acres along the river. The estate’s ponds in the Japanese gardens are particularly exquisite. The house itself offers a fascinating upstairs-downstairs look at Gilded Age Richmond.
It’s museum time. If history is your thing, tour the ACWM, which depicts the wartime experiences of Southern whites, Northern whites and African Americans. Then head to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia (122 W. Leigh St.), where interactive displays reveal more of the black experience from Colonial days through Jim Crow and beyond. You’ll learn, for instance, about Richmond teacher, newspaper publisher, businesswoman and activist Maggie Lena Walker, who became the nation’s first black female president of a bank (which she also founded) in 1903. There’s a prominent memorial to her, as well, on Broad Street.
If it’s art you’re after instead, tour the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (200 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd.). The excellent painting collection includes everyone from 14th-century Veronese painter Altichiero Altichieri to contemporary portraitist Kehinde Wiley, who will have a bronze sculpture called Rumors of War outside in the sculpture yard, as of December, as a response to the Confederate statuary of nearby Monument Avenue (see below). But perhaps the museum’s greatest asset was the bequest of Richmond socialite Lillian Thomas Pratt, who amassed more than 400 Russian decorative artifacts, including what is now the largest collection of Fabergé eggs in the United States.
Revel in local shellfish at Rappahannock (320 E. Grace St.), a wood-fired seafood house where the creamy bivalves come from the owners’ century-old oyster farm. In the rotunda of the Virginia State Capitol (1000 Bank St.), just five blocks away, stands Jean-Antoine Houdon’s 18th-century marble statue of George Washington, considered one of the finest likenesses of the president.
The afternoon is for shopping. Well-curated vintage shops like Bygones (2916 W. Cary St.) and Ashby (3010 W. Cary St.) line hip Carytown’s main drag. Others, including Halcyon (117 N. Robinson St.) and Addison Handmade & Vintage (103 S. Addison St.), are just off the strip. Phoenix (3101 W. Cary St.) and Brick & Mortar (3011 W. Cary St.) offer high-end looks and housewares, and you can pick up the latest kids’ reads at BBGB Tales for Kids (3003 W. Cary St.), or get lost amid the new and used volumes at Chop Suey Books (2913 W. Cary St.). For extra eye candy, check out the murals that cover the sides of neighborhood buildings.
A block from The Jefferson Hotel is another shopping hot spot, the emerging Broad Street Arts District, anchored by the Quirk Hotel (201 W. Broad St.). Here, nonprofit galleries like 1708 Gallery (319 W. Broad St.) and Art 180 (114 W. Marshall St.) are revitalizing old-timey storefronts. Rosewood Clothing Co. (16 W. Broad St.) and Verdalina (325 W. Broad St.) offer women’s fashions, and Ledbury (315 W. Broad St.) serves up bespoke suits for men. Housewares fill Someday (22 E. Broad St.) and 68 Home (5 W. Broad St.). For kids’ clothes, hit Little Nomad (104 W. Broad St.). Sweet tooths of all ages love A Secret Forest’s (2601 Maury St.) gorgeous handmade lollipops.
On your way to pre-dinner drinks, cruise Monument Avenue. Along this National Historic Landmark are triumphalist statues of Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis, among others, facing south, and a bronze likeness of tennis star and Richmond native Arthur Ashe, facing north, surrounded by children. Needless to say, the avenue has seen its share of controversy. An exhibit at the Valentine (1015 E. Clay St.) history museum through December 1, 2019, depicts how a number of designers would reimagine the thoroughfare to incorporate current debates on the national past.
Now it’s time for a drink. Start with one that’s been popular here for 250 years: hard cider. Blue Bee Cidery (1320 Summit Ave.), in Scott’s Addition, is right around the corner from Longoven (2939 W. Clay St.), Richmond’s most sophisticated restaurant, so stop in before your meal for a flight that includes recipes like the Charred Ordinary, named for the Colonial taverns, or ordinaries, that British troops set ablaze to keep Revolutionaries from gathering in them.
After dinner, catch a late movie amid the art deco splendor of Carytown’s Byrd Theatre (2908 W. Cary St.). If it’s a Saturday, they’ll even play the Wurlitzer. End the night down the street at the Jasper (3113 W. Cary St.) with another vintage drink, the Quoit Club Punch, a rum-and-brandy elixir named for the Antebellum club where freed-black bartender Jasper Crouch devised it. Or, if it’s nice out, have a nightcap with a rooftop view at the Byrd House atop the “mod-meets-preppy” Graduate hotel (301 W. Franklin St.), just two blocks from your bed at The Jefferson.