American history buffs have long included Richmond, Virginia, on their short list of destinations worth exploring. But there’s much more to this Southern city than its Civil War prominence as the capital of the Confederacy. Flowing through Richmond’s downtown district, the James River makes for unique outdoor recreational experiences. A wealth of museums, performance venues and art hubs provides visitors with a multifaceted cultural experience that continues to evolve. Ravaged by fire in the last year of the Civil War, Richmond has demonstrated an iron will to survive and thrive, growing into a modern urban center that takes heed of its past as it strives to become a true reflection of its diverse population. And it’s all less than four hours by car from the Main Line region.
A young Edgar Allan Poe played in the gardens at the Linden Row Inn, and local lore has it that one was the enchanted place he refers to in the famous poem “To Helen.” Composed of seven 18th-century rowhouses, this charming inn has preserved its original architecture, and most of the rooms are decorated with antique and period furnishings. Its location in the heart of downtown Richmond makes getting around easy on foot or by public transportation. The inn also provides a complimentary in-town shuttle service for destinations within two miles. 100 E. Franklin St., (804) 783-7000, lindenrowinn.com.
Richmond’s Carytown neighborhood is filled with small, locally owned one-of-a-kind shops. AlterNatives Boutique showcases jewelry, hand-woven textiles and personal and home accessories made by indigenous and woman-owned local and international artisans. 3320 West Cary St., (804) 342-5886, alternativesboutique.com. Beasties features adorable animal-themed clothing, toys and housewares. 3218 W. Cary St., (804) 466-3600, richmondbeasties.com.
A novel way to get acquainted with the city is with the self-guided Discover Richmond Tours Scavenger Hunt in either the downtown, museum area or Church Hill (Richmond’s oldest neighborhood). At each destination, trivia questions lead you to well-known and interesting off-the-beaten-path sites. If you like to nosh while you explore, Discover Richmond also offers several neighborhood food tours. (804) 213-2330, discoverrichmondtours.com.
The arts scene is alive and vibrant in Richmond, encompassing numerous galleries and over 100 murals on buildings throughout the city (mendingwallsrva.com). The city’s crown jewel is the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, one of the largest museums in North America, featuring modern and contemporary works from around the globe. Check out its expansive East Asian collection and take a stroll through the contemporary sculpture garden. Wednesday evenings, the museum hosts live performances by the area’s top jazz musicians. 200 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd., (804) 340-1400, vmfa.museum.