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What is there to do in Richmond, Virginia? Richmond is a surprisingly fun family-friendly vacation destination in the South. From rafting to museums, there are lots of fun things to do in Richmond, VA. Families can enjoy splashing in the James River can even raft or canoe down the rapids of the James River enjoying some of the best urban whitewater in the United States.
Looking things to do with kids in Richmond, VA? Take your family to Maymont. It has gardens, a small zoo, and even a nature center where the kids can play. Of course there are plenty of museums in Richmond from the Science Museum of Virginia to several museums telling the story of the American Civil War. Read on to discover all Richmond has to offer.
8 Fun Things to Do in Richmond, VA
1. Play Outdoors on the James River
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. Those 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.
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 10-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.
Explore more of the state. Check out Trekaroo’s Top 10 Things to Do in Virginia!
2. Explore Beautiful Gardens and Zoo at Maymont
If you have children, you’ll want to make a stop at Maymont . I cannot think of a more ideal place to spend a pleasant morning with toddlers or preschoolers. The real highlight of Maymont are the gardens, especially the beautifully landscaped Japanese Garden. Kids will love 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 Maymont’s 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.
3. Climb About in the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
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. There is also a conservatory. The garden is always lit up beautifully for the holiday season.
4. Spend Some Time Indoors at a Museum
If your family needs so spend some time indoors, the Science Museum of Virginia and Children’s Museum of Richmond have lots of hands-on family fun for kids.
At the Science Museum of Virginia the staff and volunteers are enthusiastic and knowledgeable. There is typically at least one volunteer in every room, and they go of their way to interact with the kids. We saw a liquid nitrogen demonstration that entertained a room of 4-6 year olds while giving a lot of accurate, technical information.
Meanwhile, the Children’s Museum of Richmond checks all the appropriate children’s museum boxes. It houses every exhibit that you’d expect to find at a children’s museum is here. Grocery Store? Check. Water table with balls and boats? Check. Dinosaur Exhibit? Check. Tree house with slide? It’s got that too.
5. Bike or Walk Along the Waterfront in Richmond, Virginia
Richmond’s recently completed Virginia Capital Trail is a nice place to take your family for a bike ride. 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 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!
6. Visit a Historic Plantation – A Microcosm of American History
There are two unique historic plantations 20-30 minutes outside of Richmond, VA 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.
7. Thoughtfully Contemplate the History of The South at a Richmond Museum with Kids
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.
8. Explore Richmond’s Neighborhoods
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. 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.
Disclosure: I was hosted by Visit Richmond at many of the attractions and a couple of the restaurants mentioned in this article in order to cover Richmond for Trekaroo. All opinions are my own.