Anyone who knows me knows that my love for Richmond, Virginia (RVA as the locals call it) is grand. While completing medical school there, I could not believe all that RVA has to offer. It was named “Best River Town” and “Best Outdoor Town” by Outside Magazine and one of the “best underrated, rejuvenated, and out-of-this-world” places to visit by Lonely Planet.
Believe it or not, RVA is the only city in the U.S with Class IV rapids inside city limits. And if rapids aren’t your thing, there are plenty of boulders to scramble, mountain bike trails to shred, and drinks to be had. So pack your bags, and plan a weekend RVA stay in Richmond, VA! Trust me, you’ll be glad you went outside to play in Virginia’s state capital.
Adventures along the James River
Here are some of the best outdoor activities to do during your RVA weekend stay in Richmond, VA!
Belle Isle is the crown jewel of the James River Park System, and perhaps, all of RVA. A 54-acre island on the James River that was once home to a prisoner-of-war camp during the American Civil War is now a playground for over 1 million visitors per year. Access to the park is free. A suspended pedestrian footbridge located near the free parking at Historic Tredegar will take you to Belle Isle.
The park features activities for anyone. Mountain bikers can rip on more than 12 miles of singletrack trails. Climbers can scale the Manchester climbing wall with over 40 routes of different difficulties. Hikers can enjoy observing the wildlife on numerous wooded trails. Sunbathers can utilize the numerous flat rocks that are perfect for sunbathing. Fishermen/women can fish in the quarry pond or in the river itself. Photographers can take an excellent shot of kayakers bouncing through the wild rapids or of the magnificent skyline view from the pedestrian bridge. Trust me, Belle Isle is the place to play in RVA.
The Canal Walk is located along downtown’s riverfront stretching 1.25 miles along the James River and Kanawha and Haxall Canals. Built in the 1800s, the canals were vital to allow cargo-carrying boats to bypass the falls and promote commerce in the city. Numerous free access points at nearly every block between 5th and 17th streets make the Canal Walk easy to explore by foot, bike, or even by boat. Learn about Richmond’s history by reading the 22 informative bronze medallions along the Canal Walk. If you prefer art over history, RVA has no shortage of street art. Enjoy the outdoor gallery along the Canal Walk. But wait, there’s more to do along Richmond’s Canal Walk. Find out more here.
Browns Island Park
Browns Island Park is another free park located at the bottom of 12th Street on the James River. The island is connected to the Canal Walk and is also reached from the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge. Browns Island is an epic music venue that is also home to the Dominion Energy Riverrock Festival that occurs in mid-May. Riverrock is the nation’s premier outdoor sports and music festival with everything from mud-races, SUP races, flying pups, delicious beer, and more.
Located on the other side of the river in Manchester is the floodwall walk. The Floodwall was completed in 1995 to protect areas of downtown and Manchester from devastating flooding. The Floodwall is a popular spot for hikers, runners, fishermen, and birdwatchers. Enjoy my favorite view of the city skyline and the James River from atop the floodwall. Go in the spring if you want to observe numerous Blue Heron and Osprey feeding on the migrating fish.
The Pipeline Rapids Walkway
The Pipeline is Richmond’s best kept secret! Luckily, now you know it. From the parking lot at the end of South 12th St, you walk to a metal ladder, then descend to the metal catwalk atop the pipeline which offers fantastic views of the rapids below. The Pipeline is a perfect escape from the city and a great spot to go after grabbing a cup of coffee or drink from our friend’s shop Ever Better.
Pony Pasture is one of the most popular swimming and sunbathing spots in Richmond. It’s located 10 minutes from downtown Richmond with free parking for 150 cars. There are Class II rapids located in the park and easy access points to launch your canoe, kayak, or rafts. Also, there are miles of trails in the park for you to explore.
Run the Rapids
As mentioned earlier, Richmond is the only city in the U.S with Class IV rapids running downtown, and your trip cannot be complete without getting on the rapids. RVA Paddlesports and Riverside Outfitters provide friendly and experienced guides to lead you on your James River rapids adventure. Riverside Outfitters offers about any adventure you could think of to include rafting, kayaking, paddle boarding, cycling, and even tree climbing. So, be sure to check them out. If you would rather do it yourself, you can rent kayaks and inner tubes, and push off at Pony Pasture for a 3.5 mile float that ends at James River Park’s Reedy Creek. You’ll see the beautiful James River Railway Bridge on the way!
Adventures off the River
Pedal the Virginia Capital Trail
The 52 mile Virginia Capital Trail is a dedicated, paved pedestrian and bicycle trail that connects Williamsburg and Richmond. Start the ride at Great Shiplock Park and enjoy the pedal along the James River and numerous historical sites such as Shirley Plantation and Berkeley Plantation. Don’t worry, you will also pass numerous restaurants, breweries, and vineyards on the way. If you do not want to bike the whole trail or need a ride back, the Cap Trail Bike Shuttle can pick you up! Rent a bike here! Basket & Bike offers rentals that include chic bikes, picnics, and wine!
Richmond Beer Trail
If you prefer beer to bikes, then the Richmond Beer Trail is probably more your speed. Richmond, Virginia is a major craft beer player home to over 30 craft breweries. Believe it or not, RVA was recently named the #1 craft beer destination in the world by Vinepair. Download your Richmond Beer Trail Map here, and get your map stamped at each of the breweries. If you get five stamps, you’ll get some free Richmond Beer Swag. Leave us a comment of your favorite brewery! Ours is The Veil and Legend Brewing Company.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) Robins Sculpture Garden
After a day on the river or the trail, the perfect place to come unwind in the VMFA sculpture garden. Every Friday in the summer, the museum’s Best Cafe sells discounted beer and wine. Honestly, VMFA happy hours are one of the things I miss most about RVA. Grab a brew or a glass of wine, and explore the 3.5 acre outdoor space full of styled gardens, sculptures, and even a cascading waterfall. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is located at 200 N. Arthur Ashe Boulevard, Richmond.
Maymont Mansion and Grounds are spectacular and the perfect place to pack a picnic and spend the day. You could easily spend an entire day there visiting the mansion, nature center, children’s zoo, Japanese Garden, Italian Garden, and carriage collection.
Carytown is a unique shopping, dining, and entertainment district booming with small, locally-owned businesses, including the famous Byrd Theatre. If you are visiting Richmond, you have to catch a $4 movie at the Byrd Theatre. The theatre was built in 1928 and features an organ, the Mighty Wurlitzer, that is played every Saturday night prior to the evening’s film. Carytown is adjacent to the Museum District and is the perfect destination for dinner following the VMFA Happy Hour.
Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens
Located 12 minutes outside of the city is Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. This beautiful location was recognized as one of the top gardens in the U.S. So, take an afternoon, and explore the over 50 acres of well-manicured grounds. Regular daily admission is $14 for adults, $11 for seniors, $8 for children, under age 3 are free. If you visit during the holidays, you have to experience the magical GardenFest of Lights!
Libby Hill Park
Libby Hill Park is one of our favorite spots to watch the sunset over the city. It is located at 28th and E. Franklin Streets. The view from Libby Hill Park is said to closely resemble to view of Richmond on the River Thames in England. Therefore, it is thought that this is what gave the city its name. Watch the sunset, and then go for a stroll to numerous delicious restaurants located in the neighborhood of Church Hill or Shockoe Bottom. The park is free and open from sunrise to sunset.
Places to Stay
5 Amazing Hotels in Richmond, Virginia
The Jefferson Hotel: The Jefferson Hotel is a luxurious 5-star hotel that opened in 1895. Also, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. If you want to be pampered and feel like royalty, then this is the hotel for you!
Quirk Hotel: A boutique luxury hotel in downtown RVA full of creative delights including a gorgeous rooftop bar and restaurant. This hotel will certainly be a highlight of your Instagram!
The Berkeley Hotel: This sophisticated 4-star hotel is located in the heart of historic Shockoe Slip, in arguably Richmond’s best location!
Graduate Richmond: This hotel is conveniently located near Virginia Commonwealth University in downtown Richmond! Enjoy a rooftop pool, pet-friendly rooms, and a rooftop cocktail bar!
HI Richmond Hostel: This cozy, eco-friendly, Richmond hostel is located in a brick warehouse just a mile from Belle Isle and the VMFA. This is the best budget-friendly launching pad for all your RVA adventures.
5 Amazing Airbnbs in Richmond, Virginia
While you’re in RVA for the weekend, you cannot miss staying in these unique places around Richmond, VA!!!
Trailside Treehouse-Riverside in Richmond, VA: “Fulfill your childhood dream of camping in a treehouse! From this central spot by the river, easily explore the trails and river. Then, relax on the deck and enjoy the magic of the trees.”
History and Design at the Barrel Vault: “The Barrel Vault is a design lover’s getaway nestled in the center of Richmond, Virginia. The name refers to the ceiling of the space, an ode to French Renaissance carpentry invented by architect Philibert Delorme in the 16th Century. Barrel Vault is located in Richmond’s Monroe Ward, a bustling enclave populated with new restaurants and trendy shops.”
Charming Carriage House in Richmond’s Fan District: “Take a step back in time in your private RVA sanctuary! Located in Richmond’s Historic Fan District, this two-story Carriage House is just 2 blocks from the VMFA and countless restaurants, bars, shops, and much more.”
“The Fan” Monument/Blvd Large Family Tudor Home: This early 1900s Tudor Home located between Monument Avenue and Grace Ave is right in the middle of all Richmond has to offer!
Revitalized Industrial Space Adjacent to Monument Avenue: Located steps away from Monument Avenue and numerous restaurants!
While you’re in RVA for the weekend, you cannot miss these hot spots around Richmond, VA!!!
- Joes Inn – $
- Hibachi Box – $
- The Fancy Biscuit– $
- Chicken Fiesta– $
- Lunch Supper – $$
- Stella’s – $$
- Mama J’s Kitchen – $$
- Lemaire Restaurant– $$$
- L’Opossum $$$
- Bookbinders– $$$
For the BEST dessert go to Shyndigz!!! But beware of the lines… It’s worth it!
I recommend reading When Breath Becomes Air by Dr. Paul Kalanithi. The book is a memoir about his life and illness, battling stage IV metastatic lung cancer. I would be lying if I didn’t say I cried like a baby reading this book. Let us know what you think!