17 Reasons to Drive to Richmond, Virginia

Amazing restaurants, public art, and beautiful scenery abound.

Need to get away and try a new city on for size? Richmond, Virginia, just 90 minutes south of DC—give or take the traffic situation on 95—is an easy and affordable option while still having some room to safely social distance. River City is home to gorgeous parks, some tasty restaurants, street art, as well as some comfortable digs where you can sleep-in and order up coffee from the lobby. For a quick escape, here are some of the best ways to eat, drink, explore  in Richmond.

Lay your head down in a creative, boutique hotel

First, you’ll need a place to rest your head for the night, and the boutiquey vibes of Quirk Hotel are the perfect place for a weekend away. Quirk is currently upping its game with safety protocols including remote check-in and check-out. Plus, it’s a central location location that delivers on value—room rates start as low as $189 per night, and there’s even a special geared toward Washingtonians. The DC Commuter package comes with a $25 food and beverage credit, free parking, and a room upgrade upon check-in. You can redeem that credit at the coffee bar in the lobby, or cocktails at the hotel bar. And there are plenty of creative touches in the design and art that adorn this property for a hotel stay that feels anything but cookie-cutter.

Ruby Scoops
Ruby Scoops | Photo Courtesy of Ruby Scoops

Support local restaurants from DC and Richmond

There is a special bond between chefs from our nation’s capital and Virginia’s capital. Several food entrepreneurs either maintain equal footing in both cities. Start at Ruby Scoops, owned and operated by Rabia Kamara, who recently brought her ice cream parlor from DC to Richmond. Her shop opened late last year in the North Side neighborhood, and you’ll find flavors like mango sorbet, cookie butter, and dulce de leche. 

Another chef with a dual presence in both DC and Richmond is Brittanny Anderson, who will soon appear on the next season of Top Chef. Her most recent addition to the Richmond food scene is Black Lodge—an all-day restaurant and cafe that serves one of the best burgers in town, plus thick slices of pie and expertly crafted coffees and cocktails. 

No trip to RVA would be complete without slurping down a few bivalves from Rappahannock, which maintains a strong oyster presence on menus around the Mid-Atlantic region but comes served freshest at this farm-to-table restaurant in Richmond’s City Center.

Richmond Mural Project
Richmond Mural Project | Photo Courtesy of Richmond Mural Project

Take street art tour by bike

It’s one of the easiest ways to get around town, and at $1.75 per ride, RVA Bikes, the city’s bikeshare program, is a safe and socially distanced way to get from point A to point B. You’ll find  20 stations and 220 bikes spread throughout Richmond’s 11 neighborhoods, and it’s a great way to enjoy a scenic tour through the city’s abundant street art. Let the Richmond Mural Project be your guide.

Many of the installations spread throughout the city are the result of the RVA Street Art Festival, which takes place each fall and attracts artists from around the country and world. For this tour, start with installations by renowned international artists, such as Australia’s Stormie Mills and Argentina’s Jaz. Find these murals in The Fan, a neighborhood adjacent to Virginia Commonwealth University and filled with Queen Anne-style homes and Tudor Revival mansions. 

Between here and Carytown, you’ll also discover murals on the sides of homes, shops, restaurants, and bars. Look for installations by David Flores, an American artist best known for mosaic-style images and popular figurines, including Woodstock from the Peanuts comic strip, flying around Richmond.

Maymont | Photo Courtesy of Maymont

Get lost In a garden of wonder

Maymont is Richmond’s most popular outdoor park and garden. It receives more than 600,000 visitors a year and is a great place to take a socially distanced stroll or sit down for an outdoor picnic on “Picnic Hill” with plenty of year-round flora, fauna, and green space. But there’s one Instagram-worthy location that might make it feel as if you’ve been transported to Japan. The Japanese garden features a waterfall and bridge where you can selfie and trick a few friends into thinking you’ve flown halfway around the world. Also, among the newer attractions here is the renovated Robins Nature Center with a renewal of its river-themed exhibitions. It’s the perfect place to explore no matter the time of year.

Unsplash/Somi Jaiswal

Shop the South of the James Farmers Market

Looking for a year-round farmers market with plenty of fresh, organic produce, plus unique artisan crafts? The South of the James Market is one of the few year-round markets currently open during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, last year, it changed positions to Bryan Park, just north of the city. Check Facebook for weekend operating hours and specific vendor lists. Masks are required and social distancing is required as you shop. 

Brewery crawl through Scott’s Addition

Richmond is home to a wide array of craft breweries. If you’re finding it difficult to know where to begin amongst all the options, consider a brewery crawl in the neighborhood of Scott’s Addition. That’s where you’ll find several beer producers, including some critically acclaimed IPAs from The Veil Brewing Co. Next up, visit an original and local hangout, Isley Brewing, which has been in the neighborhood for almost an entire decade. Finally, round out your brewery crawl at Three Notch'd Brewing Company—this brewery is currently open for to-go and curbside pickup—and it’s best known for doing frequent collaborations. Most recently the brewery did a collaboration beer, aging beer in whiskey barrels, with the Virginia Distillery Co.

RVA Riverfront
RVA Riverfront | Photo Courtesy of RVA Riverfront

Cross the footbridge to Belle Isle

Richmond is a city defined by its river. The James River is a hub of activities, whether kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, or river tubing in the warmer summer months. In the winter, it’s also a great place to explore for some hidden ruins, as well as a footbridge that delivers stunning views of the river. Belle Island was formerly a prison for Union soldiers during the Civil War. Now, it’s a prime place to relax, run wild, or let your dog run around. If you’re into cycling or running, consider exploring the Capital Trail while you’re here.

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Tim Ebner is a food and travel writer based in Washington, D.C. and writes for Eater, Edible, Washington City Paper, and Forbes Travel, among others. He's from Maryland and has a weakness for Old Bay seasoning. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.