Until last year, most of my experience with Richmond involved trying to slog through its traffic on I-95 as I drove south from the Washington, DC area to visit friends and family in Florida. I had been to a wedding there a few years ago but wasn’t there long enough to get a flavor for the city.
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But my husband Craig and I have had a couple of recent occasions to visit and have found it to be an utterly charming and welcoming city.
Richmond has a long and storied history. It is where, in 1775, Patrick Henry famously declared, “Give me liberty or give me death.” And the White House of the Confederacy (home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis) is located there.
Richmond was also where one of the world’s first successful electric streetcars launched.
One of its neighborhoods, Jackson Ward, once known as the “Harlem of the South” and experiencing a renewed revitalization, regularly hosted such notable black performers as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Billie Holiday, and James Brown, among others.
Today’s Richmond has an eclectic mix of history, southern vibes, and a hipster, urban flavor. There is a lot to do and its restaurant and arts scene just keeps getting better. It’s a great place to spend a relaxing weekend.
If you’re looking to read more about Richmond, I would check out this guidebook written by one of the city’s locals.
Richmond is about two hours south of Washington, DC and about an hour from Charlottesville and Virginia wine country.
If you’re considering a stopover or a destination weekend in Richmond, here are some suggestions:
We stayed at The Quirk Hotel. True to its name, it is a fun little boutique hotel. The lobby has an upscale vibe and the rooms are trendy minimalist with “millennial” pink accenting everything from ice buckets to in-room refrigerators and sleep machines. If you enjoy funky artwork, you’ll appreciate the Nest product-outfitted bathrooms. Barbie was the star of the photo in ours.
The Quirk Hotel building was originally constructed in 1916 to house the J.B. Mosby and Co. dry goods store. The building was transformed into the hotel in 2015 in a way that honors the original building but integrates a peppy, vibrant aesthetic.
The Quirk Hotel has an attached art gallery that features both new and established artists. The close proximity to art translates into some really interesting pieces being sprinkled throughout the hotel.
The gallery shop, which is also attached to the hotel lobby, offers gifts that are refreshingly different from the standard tourist fare. I came home with a lovely brooch from the shop (I am nothing if not consistent in my ability to shop at every destination).
There are a few finishing touches in the rooms that the hotel didn’t get quite perfect when they renovated the building. Our room had a few weird looking ceiling stains and a couple of dirty beige light switch plates (a la the 1980s) that were out of place with the other updated switches and trendy decor. That being said, the vibe was so lively and unique that those small (and admittedly nitpicky) flaws didn’t affect our stay one bit.
We have also stayed at the Richmond Hilton Downtown. The location there is great, but the service and quality have not quite caught up with the changeover of the hotel from a Garden Inn to a full-fledged Hilton. But for the budget conscious, if you have Ebates, which you can get here, your Hilton reservation will mean cash back.
Next time we go, we plan to try out The Jefferson. Opened in 1895, it has recently been renovated and has received high marks for its rooms and location. We would also like to try The Graduate Hotel, which bills its style as “preppy elements mixed with mid-century minimalism.”
To Eat and Drink
When we were searching for restaurant options, I went straight to my favorite Richmond resident, Francesca Purcell of Raven Rock Events.
She gave us some fantastic suggestions for food along the way. She first suggested we try Tazza Kitchen in the Scott’s Addition part of town.
It did not disappoint. Their drinks are original and fresh with fun names like, “Oh for sure!” and “Barry Bluejeans.” (I highly recommend the sangria) And they’ve got a great beer list.
I usually hate it when people use the word “literally” to describe something, but I’m going to here when I tell you that Tazza’s brussels sprouts were literally the best I have ever eaten. I am not exaggerating. The mix of smoky tomato jam with, bacon jam, mustard seeds, and calabrian chilies gave the grilled brussels the best mix of flavors.
Tazza also makes heavy use of their brick oven, from perfectly made margherita pizzas to grilled sourdough slices served alongside spreads like pimento cheese and fig jam.
For breakfast, Little Saint is a charming little farmhouse-style restaurant over in the Museum District. They use fresh, local ingredients with a southern flare (think chicken and waffles). Is your mouth watering yet?
The lobby restaurant at the Quirk, Maple & Pine, offers a great brunch menu. Although we did not eat there for dinner, we observed quite the lively scene in the evenings.
We loved Bottoms Up Pizza‘s delightfully doughy pizzas. The pizzeria sits right beneath train tracks and it’s fun with kids to sit outside upstairs and watch the trains rumble overhead.
A side note: there is history everywhere you look in Richmond. Bottoms Up is on Dock Street in one of the cities oldest neighborhoods, Shockoe Bottom.
The cobblestone streets only hint at the area’s history. Shockoe Bottom was actually at the center of Richmond’s, and the nation’s, slave trade. Solomon Northup, the author of 12 Years a Slave, was actually held in Shockoe Bottom’s notorious slave jail in 1841.
Going back to food and drink, Richmond has a pretty fantastic brewery scene. The Scott’s Addition area of town is home to a number of award-winning breweries and cideries. If you wanted to do a brewery-hop, it would be a great setting for a bachelor party. Or just a fun Saturday night!
For other options, the Q Rooftop Bar at the Quirk Hotel offers great views when the weather cooperates. We also want to check out The Byrd House, a rooftop bar at The Graduate Hotel.
Richmond Magazine pulled together its list of Best & Worst 2018: Food and Drink and we plan to check out a number of spots on the list next time we are in town.
For history buffs, especially Civil War history buffs, Richmond has a ton to offer. From the Thomas Jefferson-designed Virginia Capitol building to the American Civil War Museum to the Black History Museum and a number of battlefields.
It also has a flourishing arts scene. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Institute for Contemporary Art both offer free admission. You could take a Segway tour and check out the Richmond Mural Project street art. Amazing local artists have painted 150 murals all over town. In addition to its exhibits on women in state history, the Library of Virginia has a wonderful local art shop that trains developmentally disabled people to work there.
If you’re an Edgar Allen Poe aficionado, you might hit up the monthly “Unhappy Hour” hosted by the Edgar Allen Poe Museum. The museum showcases the most comprehensive collection of Edgar Allan Poe memorabilia in the world.
And for the outdoor lovers, Richmond has almost anything you could want. Hiking, biking, kayaking, as well as white water rafting. The James River is home to the only class III and IV urban rapids. And the Virginia Capital Trail features 52 miles of biking and walking trails.
While we did not have time to wander there, the Broad Street Arts District is known for its shopping.
We did, however, spend time walking through Carytown, an eclectic little area to find the perfect gift, book, or outfit.
We particularly enjoyed the Crème de la Crème store, which offers a huge variety of gifts at every price point. I made it home with a wonderful grapefruit blackberry Nouvelle candle for myself, plus a couple to give as gifts.
The owners of Crème de la Crème also own Lou Lou Boutiques. We have one here in Northern Virginia, and they offer great jewelry, accessories, and clothing at really reasonable prices.
I love that weekend road trips don’t restrict me to my carry-on to bring home the fruits of my shopping excursions. And I love to shop for myself and others. To Craig’s chagrin, I’m sure, I took full advantage of our trunk space on our trip through Carytown.
Richmond is much more than a stop off of I-95. If you have a couple of days, I would encourage you to check it out!