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Dozens of craft breweries and a farm to table foodie scene in Richmond, VA, first captured TravelingMom with Pets Judy Antell’s attention. But there’s more. The river city has the only urban rapids in United Sates, plus easy access to the ocean, mountains, and Washington DC. And Richmond, Virginia’s capital, has many free attractions.
Are you an urban adventurer? Then Richmond, Virginia, is for you. You can thrill to the urban rapids right in the city of Richmond. Kayak or raft on these class IV rapids. Or swim in James River. Since it is close to Washington, DC, it has sophisticated places to eat and drink. There are so many free things to do in this southern city, you need a few days to explore.
Free things to do in Richmond, VA
The final resting place of U.S. Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler, this cemetery was established in 1847. Also buried here are numerous Virginia notables and thousands of Confederate soldiers. There is a monument to the Confederate War dead, along with one to a Newfoundland dog. You can get great views of the James River from Hollywood Cemetery. It is a renowned arboretum, with many specimen trees. You can also take a Segway tour, for a fee. (Note: you are in the heart of the Confederacy. Remember that before sharing opinions about the Civil War. Or, at least, remember you are in a state that seceded from the Union.) Open 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily.
Collections include ledgers of plantation owners and petitions of slaves and free blacks, as well as Indian treaties and Virginia’s original copy of the United States Bill of Rights. Learn about Virginia’s women in history. And a variety of activity books will engage young visitors. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Explore the grounds and gardens at Maymont House Museum for free. There is a $5 suggested donation to see the barn and wildlife exhibits and a $5 suggested donation to tour the house. Grounds open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. October through March, and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. April through September. Visit in December; Maymont is decorated for a Victorian Christmas.
See Southern mansions and monuments to Confederate generals. The National Historic Landmark area starts in the Fan District. It is THE place to see an Easter parade. Everyone is Richmond dresses in their Easter best and promenades down the avenue.
Meet a National Park Service Ranger and see three floors of exhibits. Learn about Richmond during the Civil War and hear about the battlefields that surround downtown Richmond. You can run or hike the trails, and dog are allowed. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.
Nature for free in Richmond VA
This year round facility has tons of hands-on activities. Learn about air, water and land, from the wetlands to woodlands. The nature center has a 50,000 gallon aquarium.
The park, just outside Richmond, has nature exhibits and live animals. The Children’s Corner features hands-on activities, both outdoors and in the log cabin visitors center. Open noon – 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The nature center is closed in winter.
History for free
This National Park Service site commemorates the life of a progressive African-American woman who grew up in post-Civil War Richmond. Walker was the first female founder/president of a chartered bank in the United States. Open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Rangers lead tours every hour from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
The site of Patrick Henry’s impassioned oratory “give me liberty or give me death,” this is the oldest wooden church in Virginia. St. John’s remains an active congregation. Visit summer Sundays at 2 p.m. to see a free re-enactment of the 1775 debate among 10 of our nation’s founding fathers. You can make a reservation for $5, but there are day of seats for free. Guided church tours – 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.
The museum has a suggested admission fee, but you don’t have to pay. Formerly the Virginia Historical Society, the museum features exhibits on Southern history, civil rights and art. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1–5 p.m. on Sunday.
Learn about the Holocaust and survivors’ stories of the Kovno Ghetto and Dachau concentration camp. There are also exhibits on civil rights and hate crimes around the world. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. There is also free parking.
The VMFA is open 365 days a year, and the permanent collection is always free. The art includes French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art and British sporting art. It has the largest public collection of Fabergé outside Russia. There is also a sculpture garden.
Designed by Thomas Jefferson, the Capitol houses America’s oldest legislative assembly. Daily one-hour guided tours showcase historical statuary and paintings, rare exhibit objects, and newly restored legislative chambers. Self-guided tours are also available. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 1 – 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Branch Museum of Architecture and Design in a historic Tudor Revival mansion on Monument Avenue designed by renowned architect John Russell Pope.
Bring your bicycle!
The Virginia Capital Trail offers a free way to sightsee and use no fossil fuels. The 52 mile dedicated paved trail connects downtown Richmond with Jamestown.
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
This gorgeous botanical garden offers free admission every July 4th and on a Community Day in September. It also has free admission for a week in January, after its annual nighttime night spectacular, GardenFest, closes for the season. And if you are traveling with a dog, GardenFest has special nights where dogs are allowed. [But both owners and dogs have to pay admission.]
Note: this is an update of a post originally by Cindy Richards.