On the James River, Virginia’s capital city feels decidedly “Southernish” — with a wave of cool cafes, boutique hotels and outdoor adventure.
From the gleaming Virginia State Capitol building, which Thomas Jefferson designed remotely with collaborator Charles-Louis Clérisseau during Jefferson’s time as ambassador to France in the late 1700s, to the colorful Victorian homes of the Fan, Richmond is a Southern city that has reinvented itself. Over the past few years, an explosion of craft breweries, hip restaurants and young businesses have moved in.
Its streets have the exuberance of a city finding its identity, from the wall-sized, spray-painted murals of the RVA Street Art Festival to the Valentine museum’s current exhibit “Monument Avenue: General Demotion/General Devotion” (through Dec. 1), which presents a dialogue on how the city might re-imagine the statues of its Civil War-era generals.
This interplay between new and old, culture and street life, and art and history give the city exciting layers to uncover.
Neighborhood-Hop on Saturday
Kickstart your day at the year-old 521 Biscuits & Waffles (521 E Main St., 804-482-8924, 521rva.com), a young, family-owned, gluten-free breakfast spot near Capitol Square. Then get to know the city with a Richmond Rides bike tour (1507 Oakwood Ave., 804-893-5065, richmondrides.net). For a solid overview, the 2-hour Richmond Highlights tour passes through Jackson Ward, the historic African-American neighborhood once known as the Harlem of the South, the Fan and the Museum District. Afterward, head to The Daily Kitchen & Bar (2934 W. Cary St., 804-342-8990, thedailykitchenandbar.com) in Carytown for healthy cuisine in a sleekly designed space inspired by nature.
Stroll down Cary Street, nicknamed “the Mile of Style” for its nine blocks of small boutiques and eclectic finds, including the must-visit, historic Byrd Theatre (2908 W. Cary St., 804-353-9911, byrdtheatre.org), built in 1928. Cross over the recently renamed Arthur Ashe Boulevard to Lamplighter Coffee Roasters (116 S. Addison St., 804-728-2292, lamplightercoffee.com), located in a transformed service station. Grab a picnic table in the sunflower-edged area out front or find a two-top inside. Then head over to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (200 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd., 804-340-1400 vmfa.museum) or the 100-acre Maymont Mansion (1700 Hampton St., 804-358-7166, maymont.org). For dinner, indulge your inner mall rat with an excursion to Short Pump, a sprawling, gentrification wonderland that locals love to hate with a Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and cult favorite Indian restaurant, Lehja (11800 West Broad St., 804-364-1111, lehja.com).
Kick Back Outdoors on Sunday
Head to Sub Rosa, a wood-fired bakery perfect for a fast and delicious breakfast in the Church Hill neighborhood that is Richmond’s culinary heart (620 N. 25th St., 804-788-7672, subrosabakery.com). Sample doughy delights, such as croissants, pain au chocolate, and fig and manchego pastries. Pick up snacks for later, such as meaty borek and stone-ground shortbread cookies. Next, hit the James River for some outdoor adventure, which is the only city river in the U.S. that has natural Class III and Class IV rapids depending on the water level. Book an urban rafting trip with Riverside Outfitters (6836 Old Westham Rd., 804-560-0068, riversideoutfitters.com), which offers outings on the upper and lower stretches of the river, as well as paddleboard and kayaking tours.
Steps from where Patrick Henry delivered the famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech, you can have your pie and eat it, too, at the Proper Pie Co. (2505 E. Broad St., 804-343-7437, properpieco.com), serving this Southern staple with a New Zealand spin. Then check out the Richmond Beer Trail, featuring more than 30 craft breweries. In the fast-growing Scott’s Addition neighborhood, you’ll find a clutch of them, including Ardent (3200 W. Leigh St., 804-359-1605, ardentcraftales.com) and the Veil Brewing Co. (1301 Roseneath Rd., theveilbrewing.com), along with cideries like Blue Bee Cider (1320 Summit Ave., 804-231-0280, bluebeecider.com). Cap off your evening with dinner at chef Caleb Shriver’s Dutch & Company (400 N. 27th St., 804-643-8824, dutchandcompany.com) and cocktails at The Jasper (3113 W. Cary St., jasperbarrva.com), a cute hideaway in Carytown.
Good to know
Getting there: You can drive, fly, take a train or take a bus to Richmond; it’s about a 1.5-hour flight, a 5-hour drive, or a 6- to 7-hour train or bus ride.
Getting around: On arrival in Richmond, there are two train stations: the historic Main Street Station, which while grand, has less frequent service than the more practical Staple Mills Road Station, which is located about 15 minutes by car from downtown. Within Richmond, it’s convenient to have a car, however, you can easily get around to the central neighborhoods with ride-sharing apps, a bike or a fleet of 500 brand-new, dockless, Bolt e-scooters, which the city rolled out in June, as well as public buses.
Where to stay: Steps from the Virginia State Capitol building, the recently renovated Commonwealth (901 Bank St., 804-493-5283, thecommonwealthsuites.com) offers stylish suites and studios, each marked with tattoo-inspired door art and a nickname nodding to local places or figures like “Poe” for Edgar Allan Poe who spent his childhood in Richmond. Inside, the colorfully designed rooms you’ll find handcrafted furnishings and artwork by local artisans that make them feel like well-styled apartments — with all the conveniences of a hotel. Or, stay in the Arts District at the Quirk Hotel (201 W. Broad St., 804-340-6040, destinationhotels.com), which has its own in-house gallery and ultra-Instagram-worthy rooms.