We love living in Essex County because no matter what you’re into, there are plenty of options nearby. Maybe you’re a history buff, an outdoors fanatic, love going to concerts, or always like to check out new bars and restaurants. The city of Richmond, Virginia is similar in that it has so much to offer visitors. This historic city, located on the James River, is known for being the capital of Virginia — and it’s one of the most creative and inventive places to be. Between the vibrant arts scene, eclectic architecture, creative bars, and awesome restaurants, there is so much to enjoy. Whether you like a more history-filled vacation or are looking for a leisurely trip, Richmond has you covered — and The Montclair Girl has your next trip to Virginia all planned. Read on for ideas for a weekend trip to Richmond, Virginia.
History of the Area
Richmond is chock full of history. Modern-day Richmond is definitely American but feels a bit European. There are cobblestoned streets; picturesque, walkable neighborhoods; and stunning architecture any way you look. Several movies and TV shows have been filmed in Richmond, including 2012’s Lincoln, starring Daniel Day Lewis.
The wide Avenues are dotted with historical homes. Monument Avenue, perhaps the most famous street in town, is a wide road that is almost better to walk or bike than drive — between the incredible monuments and the amazing homes, there’s plenty to look at. The original monuments were built in honor of Civil War figures on the Confederate side. Over time, as these individuals came under more scrutiny, the city has taken some down and added others.
A monument to Richmond native and tennis star Arthur Ashe was added in 1996. During the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, a monument to Jefferson Davis was removed and the remaining pedestal became a site of protest art and rallies. Artist Kehinde Wiley was commissioned by the Virginia Museum of Fine Art to create a sculpture in the style of the original monuments but in protest to their meaning, called Rumors of War.
Richmond’s deep roots not only anchor the state of Virginia but also the history of the US as a whole. The city was incorporated in 1742 and has frequently been the site of history-making moments. Virginia itself was one of the first 13 colonies, and the state is known as the ‘Mother of Presidents’ as eight presidents were born there, including four of the first five presidents.
Patrick Henry’s famous speech, ‘Give me liberty or give me death,’ was delivered at a church in Richmond in 1775. After the American Revolution, Richmond was temporarily the capital of the new country. It was during this time that Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom’ was passed, which became the blueprint for the nascent democracy’s effort to keep church and state separate.
Richmond’s location on the James River made it a prime spot for commerce. As the US railroad system was built, Richmond’s relevance as a market city grew. By 1850, Richmond was connected to the rest of the country by both a north-south route and an east-west route. Similar routes are still traveled today, operated by CSX Transportation.
In 1861, Richmond became the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War. At the same time, the Tredegar Iron Works was one of the most valuable assets in the country as it produced much of the country’s supply of guns and ammunition. The city was deeply damaged by the war, as it was quite literally burned to the ground.
The Postbellum, Victorian era, and early 20th century were times of incredible growth for the city. The city’s population grew, its role in commerce was re-solidified by the amount of manufacturing and industrial growth that took place, and in 1914, Richmond became a seat of the Federal Reserve Bank.
In addition to banking, some of the industries that took root in Richmond included tobacco, paper, spices, law and legal services, and manufacturing. At the present time, there are six Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the Richmond area, including CarMax, paper manufacturer MeadWestvaco, Genworth Financial, and the Altria Group.
There are three colleges and universities in Richmond, making it an ideal hub for innovative artists, scientists, and thinkers of all types. The University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Virginia Union University all call Richmond home. Things get a little hectic during basketball season, as UR and VCU play each other several times during the year in a friendly rivalry called the Battle of Broad Street, named after the major road that connects the two schools. The minor league baseball team, the Richmond Flying Squirrels, is a fun draw during the season, offering theme nights and family-friendly activities at its home field called ‘The Diamond.’
The James River still holds a central place in Richmond as a hub for outdoor activities. There is whitewater rafting, paddle boarding, tubing, fishing, and bike riding along newly-paved paths along the river. Most of the historical downtown area is along the James River, and The Canal Walk is a popular route for visitors to explore and learn more about the city’s history through murals and statues.
How to Get There
Richmond International Airport is a short, one-hour flight from Newark. It is also a stop on many regional Amtrak routes, including the Northeast Regional. Richmond is located approximately 340 miles from Montclair, and the drive averages about six hours.
Where to Stay
The Berkeley Hotel | 1200 E Cary Street
(Photo credit: @theberkeleyhotel_rva)
A stay at this dog-friendly boutique hotel puts guests squarely in the middle of the historical downtown part of Richmond, known as Shockoe Slip. The cobblestoned streets are a clue to the building’s origins in the neighborhood. Some rooms even have small balconies on which to savor a morning cup of coffee overlooking the city and the James River. This hotel is a short walk away from the Canal Walk, which many visitors like to do to learn more about the city’s history.
Graduate Hotel Richmond | 301 W Franklin Street
(Photo credit: @graduatehotels)
The Graduate has a prime downtown location making it easy for guests to get to different museums, galleries, bars, and restaurants. This small chain of boutique hotels is designed to show off the best of the college towns in which they are located. Richmond has three colleges and universities nearby, offering plenty of inspiration. The hotel’s decor pays homage to one of Richmond’s most famous sons, Arthur Ashe, and has a classic preppy-cool meets mid-century vibe. Guests and visitors can enjoy a rooftop bar with a pool called Byrd House on the top floor of the hotel.
The Jefferson Hotel | 101 W Franklin Street
(Photo credit: @thejeffersonhotel)
This historic property is known for its gracious, five-star hospitality and Beaux-Arts architecture. The hotel was built in 1895 and has been welcoming overnight guests as well as patrons for Sunday brunch and afternoon tea ever since. The main staircase may have a whiff of familiarity to it — author Margaret Mitchell stayed at The Jefferson while writing Gone With the Wind and is said to have been inspired by the staircase. Mitchell’s version appeared in the character Scarlett O’Hara’s Atlanta mansion.
Linden Row Inn | 100 E Franklin Street
(Photo credit: @lindenrow)
The Linden Row Inn is made up of several historic row homes built in the Greek revival style. In fact, the Inn is one of the best-preserved buildings of this architectural style. The homes were built in the mid-1800s, used as a girls school, rented as private homes, and then were renovated in the late 1980s as part of a historical preservation effort. The historical nature of the property means that the rooms vary in size and shape. Some rooms are even pet-friendly.
Quirk Hotel | 201 W Broad Street
(Photo credit: @quirkhotelrva)
The building that houses Quirk Hotel began life in 1916 as a dry goods store. It had many owners and identities over the years until a major renovation by new owners took place in 2005. The core of the project was the Quirk Gallery, designed to showcase local artists, and the hotel came soon after. The art experience and creative vibes are still at the heart of this pet-friendly hotel, where each guest room has unique art pieces. The rooftop at Quirk is a popular destination for evening drinks, where patrons can watch the sunset over the city.
What to Do
Agecroft Hall + Gardens | 4305 Sulgrave Road
(Photo credit: @agecrofthallgardens)
Agecroft Hall is one of those things that has to be seen to be believed. It is located on a 23-acre plot of land overlooking the James River and was built in the 1500s in England. It was disassembled piece by piece and brought over on a boat in the early 1920s to be reassembled in its current location. The Tudor mansion is perfectly at home, and has been landscaped with English-style gardens and decorated with historically accurate accouterments. Visitors can tour the house and grounds or plan their visit for a special event. Some frequent special events include in-depth garden tours and the Richmond Shakespeare Festival, which takes place on-site every summer.
Virginia’s role in the formation of the US government cannot be overstated. In addition to being the home state of many leading figures of the American Revolution, Virginia’s colonial government served as a model for what would become the US Government. A visit to Capitol Square gives visitors just a glimpse into its consequential role. On the first stop, at the Virginia State Capitol, visitors can take a tour of the Thomas Jefferson-designed building, which he called a Temple to Democracy. This building is where the Virginia House of Delegates and State Senate meet to this day. Nearby is the Historic St. John’s Church, where Patrick Henry gave his revolutionary ‘Give me liberty or give me death’ speech. Today, visitors can take a tour of the church and even see reenactments on select days. The final stop here is the Virginia Supreme Court, where tours are available by reservation Monday through Friday.
Maymont | 1700 Hampton Street
(Photo credit: @maymont_rva)
Maymont is a Victorian estate, garden, and zoo located on 100 acres in Richmond. The Maymont Mansion is open for tours – and the swan-shaped beds are not to be missed. Maymont’s gardens are world-famous for their ever-changing blooms. In particular, the Italian Garden and the Waterfall as well as the Japanese Garden that overlooks the James River are insta-worthy spots. The Nature Center often has children’s programming about the animals on-site, which are mostly native to Virginia, including black bears and eagles.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) | 200 N Arthur Ashe Boulevard
(Photo credit: @vfmamuseum)
The VMFA’s permanent collection features artworks in different media from around the world. There is an on-site library for research, a restaurant and cafe for visitors to enjoy, and an outdoor sculpture garden. The building is also certified as a Virginia Green attraction, designed to minimize the Museum’s environmental impact. The temporary exhibits often feature things like Fabergé eggs and pop art. There is often after-hours programming and during the summer, outdoor music events.
Where to Drink
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery (Photo credit: @hardywood)
Whether cider, beer, or liquors are your beverage of choice, chances are there’s something to suit your taste made right in RVA. Some people visit Richmond simply to take a tour of all of the breweries. Some of our favorites include:
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery | 2410 Ownby Lane
Hardywood is an extremely popular craft brewery that started right in Richmond. The taproom has now expanded to include an outdoor patio, pizza, and special events.
Legend Brewing Co | 321 West 7th Street
Legend Brewing Co has been at it since 1994. The Richmond taproom overlooks the James River and is an ideal spot to while away the afternoon and enjoy a beer flight.
Belle Isle Moonshine | 615 Maury Street
The tasting room for this distillery is located in Richmond, and a flight includes four tastes of premium moonshine and infused spirits.
Bryant’s Dry Cider | 2114 E Main Street
The cider made here is sugar-free and gluten-free —and it’s made using locally grown apples. Tastings are available daily and special events occur at the taproom frequently.
Where to Eat
Brenner Pass | 3200 Rockbridge Street #100
(Photo credit: @brennerpassrva)
The original Brenner Pass is a mountain pass in the Alps on the border between Italy and Austria. This version of Brenner Pass is an homage to the cuisine of the region, housed in an airy spot in downtown Richmond. The seasonally-focused menu has strong threads of both Italian and Austrian influence, for example, focaccia with truffle is alongside the appetizer menu with flammkuchen, a traditional Alsatian savory bread. The cocktail menu is ever-changing, and the wine and beer lists are thoughtfully curated to match the cuisine.
Charm School | 311 W Broad Street
(Photo credit: @charmschoolrva)
This quirky cafe serves handmade ice cream in clever flavors, including several vegan and gluten-free options. Pup-cups are available for four-legged friends. The cones and several of the toppings are also made in-house. Charm School is open Thursdays through Sundays only, and the flavors frequently change. We like the cherry lime sorbet on a hot day.
Longoven | 2939 W Clay Street
(Photo credit: @longovenrva)
The simply decorated interior of Longoven is a clue that the food is meant to be the star of the show. Longoven offers seasonally focused tasting menus of small plates with a curated wine and cocktails list. Longoven won Best New Restaurant in 2019 by Style Weekly and the same year was named one of America’s Best New Restaurants by Bon Appetit. Its location in the Scott’s Addition neighborhood has a cozy patio as well as kitchen seating. A meal here is a gustatory exploration of the season’s best offerings — make a reservation and get dressed up to enjoy the evening.
Perly’s | 111 E Grace Street
(Photo credit: @perlysrichmond)
Perly’s is a modern take on the traditional Jewish delicatessen. This downtown spot is open Wednesdays through Sundays. Of course, the matzoh ball soup is legendary, but we also like the creative sandwiches. Brunch is not to be missed here, with bagel platters with smoked fish and other deli meats, smothered french fries, and cinnamon babka French toast among the delights available.
The Continental | 5704 Grove Avenue
(Photo credit: @thecontinentalrichmond)
This restaurant’s modern twist on old favorites is a local favorite in the Libbie and Grove neighborhood of Richmond. The Continental has a big outdoor seating area with heaters, happy hour Monday through Friday, a full bar, and a menu that has all your favorites. The welcoming vibes and kitschy decor mean it’s as popular with families with children as it is with out-of-town visitors. Lunch and dinner are available daily, and the weekend brunch menu is worth a stop. Some of our favorites include the Continental Club sandwich served with piles of fries, the maple sausage corn dogs, and the must-order breakfast nachos.
Where to Shop
Ledbury | 315 W. Broad Street
(Photo credit: @ledburyshirts)
Ledbury is a men’s clothing brand using traditional methods to make modern clothing that is both wearable for real life but of incredible quality. In addition to ready-to-wear items including sport coats, ties, pants, footwear, and swim trunks, Ledbury specializes in custom and semi-custom made dress shirts. The company’s two founders made an international quest to find the best small makers around the world and now use those makers to complete customers’ orders. Some fans of Ledbury clothing include NBC anchor Willie Giest.
Mongrel | 2924 W. Cary Street
(Photo credit: @mongrelrva)
Cary Street is lined with little shops and fun cafes. From vintage stores to a pizza joint, there is lots to see and explore in ‘Carytown.’ Right at the center of it all is Mongrel. Since 1991, this boutique has kept Richmonders stocked with cards, gifts, and other goodies. Curated books, decor items, and home decor are often made by local makers, and there are plenty of pop culture jokes to be found.
Na Nin | 101 S Addison Street
(Photo credit: @naninvintage)
Na Nin started in 2009 as a vintage shop and in 2014 added a selection of personal and home fragrances, all made in Richmond. Today, the brand also has its own line of clothing. Shoppers will find Na Nin’s signature items as well as clothing, jewelry, and other items from other small makers, in particular small women-owned businesses.
The Someday Shop | 22 E. Broad Street
(Photo credit: @shop.someday)
This store opened in 2018, realizing the owners’ goal of ‘someday’ having a shop of their own. Now, the Someday Shop sells home accessories, kitchen tools, vintage art, plants and flowers, pantry goods, and more. The space is also used for workshops on things like wreath-making and dried flower arranging. Many of the items are vintage or come from makers with sustainable business practices.
Stella’s Grocery | 3351 W. Moore Street
(Photo credit: @stellasgrocery)
Stella’s Grocery is a market specializing in imported Greek goods, gifts, prepared foods, wine, coffee, baked goods, and more. Matriarch Stella Dikos has been in the Richmond restaurant scene for decades, and the grocery is an extension of her hospitable welcome and delicious cooking. There are five locations throughout Richmond and each one has its unique flair. The Scott’s Addition location cited here has a cafe and outdoor seating area.