Are North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Washington D.C., or Philadelphia part of your family’s summer vacation plans this year? If the answer is yes, then it’s likely that you’ll be driving to your destination via I-95. I’d like to suggest that you make a stop along the way. Stop for a few hours, or even an entire day, to discover the all the fun things to do in Richmond, VA with kids from museums to white water rafting in Virginia. You could even stay longer and make your Richmond stopover in to a Richmond, Virginia vacation with the family.
Richmond, Virginia Vacation with Kids – Things to do in Richmond, VA
Recently, I took a Richmond, Virginia vacation and discovered lots of things to do with in Richmond, VA with kids. It is a much more of a kid-friendly, outdoorsy destination than I had thought. And now, based on several road trips through the area, I believe that it is the best Virginia vacation destination for families along I-95.
Check out Trekaroo’s Top 10 Things to Do in Virginia!
Play Outdoors on the James River – White Water Rafting in Virginia
Did you know that you can go white water rafting in Virginia? The James River is not only some of the best whitewater in the East. It’s also among the best urban whitewater destinations in the nation. Families looking to combine their trip to Washington D.C. and Philadelphia with a little outdoor adventure should consider a white water rafting experience with Riverside Outfitters while on their Richmond, Virginia vacation.
Families with kids as young as six years old can go white water rafting in Virginia and experience the Upper James River. The paddle begins a ten minute drive outside of town at the Pony Pasture Rapids. The Pony Pasture Rapids are a beautiful place. A visit to this scenic spot is one of the best things to do in Richmond, VA even if you don’t have the time for whitewater adventure. When the water is high enough, there are enough rapids to get the youngest adventure seekers hooked on whitewater adventure. During lower water levels, this section of the river is a pleasant SUP, canoeing, or kayaking experience for the more experienced whitewater enthusiasts in the family.
For families with teens, the Lower James River offers Class II – Class IV whitewater right in downtown Richmond. It’s a two to three hour experience (including a snack) just like the Upper James River. It’s this stretch of the James that has earned Richmond the reputation for being a premier, urban, whitewater destination. Padding the James River is one of the best things to do in Richmond, VA with your kids.
Take the Little Ones Out to Explore Beautiful Gardens – Things to Do in Richmond, VA with Kids
If you have little ones, you’ll want to make a stop at Maymont while on a Richmond, Virginia vacation. I cannot think of a more ideal place to spend a pleasant morning with toddlers or preschoolers. The real highlight of Maymont for everyone, no matter their age, are the gardens, especially the beautifully landscaped Japanese Garden. Tots will enjoy spotting the koi, standing beside a tall waterfall, and hopping stones to an island in the middle of a pond.
However, parents of toddlers are most likely to spend the majority of their time at the small zoo. The zoo is home to about a dozen locally found animals. There is also a large nature center highlighting the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed including several aquariums. Finally, parents will especially love that the outdoor areas of Maymont are completely free. There is only a small fee for the indoor exhibits. The outdoor area is certainly one of the best things to do in Richmond, VA for free.
Another beautiful garden in the Richmond area is the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. They have a large children’s garden where kids can climb a tree, play hide and seek, or build a fort with natural materials.
Bike or Walk Along the Waterfront – Things to Do in Richmond, VA
Still need to spend a bit more time outdoors before hitting the road with the family? Richmond’s recently completed Virginia Capital Trail is a nice place to take the teens for a bike ride on a Richmond, Virginia vacation. When we visited, there were bikes available to rent at a gravel parking area near Great Shiplock Park. Heading out of the city, families with older children can bike on the trail. The trail runs along a county highway for miles often within sight of the James River. Families with little ones can walk or bring their own bikes. They should take the trail towards the city. Eventually, the path joins up with a beautiful downtown area Canal Walk. There are also plenty of trains around that will keep your transportation-loving tot thoroughly amused.
If you’re just looking for a quick stroll, Brown’s Island, near Historic Tredegar might be the perfect place. We caught the sunset here one night. It was magnificent!
Visit a Historic Plantation – A microcosm of American History
There are two unique historic plantations 20-30 minutes outside of Richmond along the James River as it flows towards the ocean. These plantations have been inhabited by only a couple of families since the early 18th century before the American Revolution. Unlike typical history museums that cover a certain topic, time, or place, the historic stories told at these plantations are simply the journeys of one American family as they move through the scope of American history beginning with the colonization of America proceeding through the American Revolution and Civil War to the modern day.
The Shirley Plantation is still inhabited full-time by the Carter family who has lived on this property since the early 18th century. The Carter family was one of the wealthiest and most influential families in colonial Virginia. Prior to the Civil War, a daughter from the Carter family married into the Lee family. So, Robert E. Lee likely spent some of his formative years in this house. While the guided tour itself is not particularly kid-friendly, the tour guide has plenty of fun anecdotal stories to tell. There is a kid’s scavenger hunt guide to the out buildings on the property.
Nearby the Berkeley Plantation tells the story of the family of William Henry Harrison; yes, the American President famous only for having the shortest term of office and the longest Inaugural address. The plantation was settled by English colonists around 1624. It’s location led it to be a lucrative shipping center in colonial Virginia. Notably, the house was used during the Civil War by General McClellan of the Union.
Thoughtfully Contemplate the History of The South at a Richmond Museum – Things to Do in Richmond, VA
Many familiar names have made history in the Southern city of Richmond, from founding fathers Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson to Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee of the Confederacy to Edgar Allen Poe. Hence, there are lots of museums in Richmond, VA. If you’re looking for a quick 45 minute history lesson, the National Park Service’s Visitor Center Museum at Historic Tredegar Iron Works provides an overview of the history of the Confederate years in Richmond. The Edgar Allen Poe Museum, located in a historic building near the house where Poe himself was raised, displays Poe memorabilia, and shows what life was like for Poe in antebellum Richmond; it takes just about 30-40 minutes to visit.
If you’re looking to inspire conversation with your older children about historic perspectives of The South, the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar and the Black History Museum and Cultural Center both provide a more complex history of the city. My family history dates back more to the California Gold Rush than the Civil War, so I found the perspectives presented at these Richmond museums particularly thought-provoking as they gave me a different view of modern United States history.
Explore Richmond’s Neighborhoods on Your Richmond, Virginia Vacation
Even if you have only a short time in Richmond, I recommend that you eat at least one meal in Richmond’s historic neighborhoods.
On two separate visits to Richmond, I found two hidden gems in Church Hill. First, for breakfast Sub Rosa Bakery has some of the most amazing pastries that I have tasted on this side of the Atlantic. It’s easy to stop in and get some flakey croissants to go. Also, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum is a fun stop nearby.
Before a Richmond museum visit to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, my daughter and I stopped for lunch at Boulevard Burger and Brew. Based on the outside of the restaurant, I thought that this was just your typical diner, but not so; this California girl was able to get a burger topped with kale, mushrooms, and goat cheese. It’s not too far from Richmond’s classic Monument Avenue or the Science Museum of Virginia.
Carytown came highly recommended by all my Richmond friends. It is the trendy neighborhood where we ate dinner at the Daily Kitchen and Bar during Richmond’s restaurant week Halloween weekend 2016. After a yummy dinner made with fresh ingredients, my daughter and I took a walk and discovered Richmond’s favorite toy store, World of Mirth, just down the road.
With cobbled streets that are steeped in Southern history, all visitors to Richmond should spend a bit of time walking around the downtown area on their Richmond, Virginia vacation. Parents of tots will especially love the laid back atmosphere at Urban Farmhouse Market and Café, which has a creative children’s menu especially for little ones.
Looking for more things to do in Richmond, VA? Check out Trekaroo’s full guide to Visiting Richmond with Kids.
All photos are by Melissa Moore unless credited otherwise.
Disclosure: I was hosted by Visit Richmond at many of the attractions and a couple of the restaurants mentioned in this article. All opinions are my own.