An ultimate 72-hour summer excursion in three movements
The prospect of narrowing Richmond activities down to the most important is a difficult one to confront, as it necessitates a clash between “fun things” and “things that your life depends on.” Then of course, the questions creep in. Is this a guide for myself, if I had only one weekend left in Richmond? Or for the general public at large? Or for a friend’s first visit here? If it’s for a friend, what kind of person are they? A shopper? A lover of history, or art? Only one rule seemed clear: avoid the West End at all costs! You can eat at Applebee’s and see homogenous apartment complexes in any town in the Union. Below I have endeavored to funnel a completely unrealistic amount of activity into the small droplet of a single weekend in an effort to present the most comprehensive list possible. Thank goodness we Richmonders have the luxury of spreading this schedule out over a little more time. And if you do share this list with guests, tell them who the streets are named after. If you don’t know, find out. This is your town. Be your own kind of tourist here, every day.
Friday: Southern exposure
- 8am – 9am: Breakfast at Perly’s. Diner / sandwich shop with cozy booths and delicious croissants. A Richmond tradition since well before any of us knew what “retro” meant.
- 9am – 11am: Valentine Richmond History Center. Of all the museums, this one comes closest to capturing what this city is all about. Do not forego the tour of the Wickham house, the loveliest representation of Regency-era living in town. The back garden is sublime.
- 11am – 1pm: Museum of the Confederacy. The highlight is a tour of the White House of the Confederacy, which hearkens back to that magical time during which “bling” meant flocked velvet wallpaper and gilded mirrors. Inside the museum itself, don’t miss the replica of Lee’s tent (complete with the man’s own boots), beautiful old uniforms, and the soldiers’ accounts in their own words. This is a rare chance to focus on who the soldiers were and why they fought as opposed to what started the war.
- 1pm – 2pm: Lunch at Comfort. Exactly what it says: southern-fried comfort food of the finest degree. Highest priorities include the catfish and the squash casserole.
- 2pm – 3pm: Virginia State Capitol. Stark and white, the Greek Revival building that Jefferson designed makes an impressive picture as it rises over greyish downtown. Inside, enjoy an array of oil paintings of governors from years gone by and the amazing, full-size Houdon sculpture of George Washington. Pick up Virginia-shaped cookie cutters and miniature busts of Thomas Jefferson in the gift shop.
- 3pm – 5:30pm: Carytown. Richmond’s favorite shopping district. Bygones for vintage, Plan 9 for music, and World of Mirth and Mongrel for amusing gifts of all kind
- 5:30pm – 6:30pm: Pump House – 3-mile Lock Park. The abandoned 19th-century pump house doubled as a water-pumping facility and dance hall and today performs the function of making jaws drop in awe over its beauty. Gothic Revival architecture at its pointiest, grayest, and creepiest.
- 6:30pm – 8pm: Dinner at Can Can Brasserie. A new town favorite, Can Can serves French fare in posh surroundings. The fresh bread and pastries they bake are an accent to every meal.
- 8pm – 10pm: Walk Monument Avenue. Giant lit-up statues of Confederate war heroes draw many tourists and protesters alike each year. Any way you shake it, they and the beautiful homes that surround them are magnificent spectacles for an evening walk.
Saturday: Over the James
- 9am – 10am: Breakfast at 821 Cafe. The best biscuits in town await you here, as well as strong mimosas and a chance to run into everyone you know.
- 10am – 12pm: Walk and picnic at Hollywood Cemetery. From a picnic blanket on the edge of the river you can survey the entire sprawling cemetery to the north, the skyscrapers of downtown to the east, and the rapids and Belle Isle to the south. Besides dead Presidents and extravagant tombstones, solitude and beauty will be your dependable companions in this burial ground all gift-wrapped in wrought-iron gates.
- 12pm – 2pm: American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar. The north, the south: we got into a fight. These circumstances are now presented in Richmond’s newest and shiniest museum. The best part is that it’s located on the lovely brick ruins of Tredegar Iron Works, a big part of Richmond’s industry in the Civil War era.
- 2pm – 5pm: Walk Brown’s Island and Belle Isle. On Brown’s Island, don’t miss your chance to soak up the tragedy of the city by checking out the old bridge extending south into the James. Emblazoned on the bridge are quotes from citizens as they fled flame-engulfed Richmond during the Civil War. The suspended bridge over the river to Belle Isle affords a fantastic view and is always a favorite with tourists and locals alike. On Belle Isle itself, you’ll discover that the former prison camp makes a beautiful stomping ground with its sunny rocks, stone ruins, plentiful honeysuckle, and shaded paths.
- 5pm – 7pm: Dinner at Mamma Zu: Inside the unassuming brick box that is Mamma Zu await tender pastas, flavorful sauces, and enough garlic to choke / delight a horse.
- 7:15pm – 9pm: Movie at the Byrd Theater. This 1920s gem is by far the best theater in town, peddling movies for $1.99 in an ornate setting. Bob Gulledge stuns the crowd before Saturday night movies on the pipe organ that rises out of the stage.
- 9:00pm – 11pm: Dessert and drinks at Ipanema. For dinner the vegan caesar salad will become the object of many cravings, but the homemade pies with their crispy crusts will invade your dreams as well. Drinks are at their most entertaining with all of Richmond’s beautiful and interesting people, minus the frat boy quotient.
- 8am – 9am: Breakfast at Joe’s Inn. Greasy, satisfying breakfasts at Joe’s have cured the hangovers of Fan residents for decades.
- 9am – 11am: Swimming at Pony Pasture. In the summer, one has to wake up this early to beat the crowds. Pony Pasture’s biggest attraction is the natural rapid slide that can keep a person entertained for hours.
- 11am – 12pm: Poe Museum. This place pays homage to everybody’s favorite Virginian writer. For first-timers, the incredible diorama of Richmond during Poe’s time will help you get your historical bearings.
- 12pm – 1pm: Late brunch at Avenue 805. Elegantly poached eggs in a beloved Richmond brunch spot.
- 1pm – 3pm: Reenactment of Patrick Henry’s famous speech at St. John’s Church. The old “give me liberty or give me death” routine leaves listeners as breathless now as it did over 200 years ago. Dotted throughout the congregation, others in tri-corner hats play their parts as well, giving context to Henry’s vitriol.
- 3pm – 5pm: Virginia Historical Society. Get the bigger picture at this museum dedicated to the history of Virginia. Don’t skip the gift shop, as it’s your best bet on everything from specialized books to interesting toys to historically-themed note cards.
- 5pm – 7pm: Maymont. This may be the cliché place to recommend, but with good reason. In addition to the park’s extensive, impeccably landscaped grounds (complete with Japanese and Italian gardens and a man-made waterfall), kids will love the native Virginia wildlife exhibits and history buffs will love the pristine Victorian specimen that is the Dooley house.
- 7pm – 8pm: Dinner at The Hill Cafe. If the comfortable, friendly manner of this neighborhood haunt doesn’t win you over, the meatloaf surely will.
- 8pm – 9pm: Moonlit walk around Church Hill. Without the cars parked along the streets, you’d think it was the early 19th century again. Before the western expansion of the city throughout the Victorian era, this is where it all began.
- 9pm – 11pm: Bottle of wine at Libby Hill Park. Hands down the best view of the city. As William Byrd II took in this same view circa 1730, he named it Richmond after a similar riverside location in England. Spread out a blanket and situate yourself looking westward over the lights of downtown as you celebrate your conquest of the River City.