Best Free Things to Do in Richmond VA

Downtown Richmond Virginia
Photo credit: STEPHEN POORE on Unsplash

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Richmond, Virginia, is less than an hour drive to Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown and less than three hours to Washington DC. But you don’t need to drive far, or even spend a lot of money, to have a fun trip. That’s because Richmond has a ton of free attractions. Here are our favorites.

Riverfront Canal Walk

The 1.25-mile canal walk along the James River and the Kanawha and Haxall Canals in the city of Richmond has multiple access points from 5th to 17th Streets. Look for the 22 bronze medallions embedded in the path, marking historic sites. The canal walk also features public art, exhibits and statues.

Richmond National Battlefield Park Civil War Visitor Center at Historic Tredegar

Meet a National Park Service Ranger and see three floors of exhibits at the National Battlefield Park. Learn about Richmond’s history during the Civil War and hear about the battlefields that surround downtown Richmond where the Union and Confederate forces clashed. You can run or hike the trails, and leashed dogs are allowed. Biking is permitted on the Totoptomoy Creek trail and most park roads. Open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

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The walking path at the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. Photo credit: Hollywood Cemetery

Hollywood Cemetery

The final resting place of U.S. presidents James Monroe and John Tyler, this cemetery was established in 1847. Numerous Virginia notables and thousands of Confederate soldiers are buried here. There is a monument to the Confederate War dead, along with one to a Newfoundland dog. You can also get great views of the James River from the Hollywood Cemetery.

The Hollywood Cemetery is also a renowned arboretum with many species of trees. You can take free self-guided tours, by foot or car. There’s also a paid tour by trolley, Segway or electric car. Open 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily, and 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. during Daylight Saving Time. 

Library of Virginia

Collections include ledgers of plantation owners and petitions of slaves and free Black Americans, as well as Native American treaties and Virginia’s original copy of the United States Bill of Rights. This is a great place to learn about the history of notable women in Virginia. A variety of activity books will engage young visitors. Open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Rockwood Nature Center

Located just outside Richmond, this park has nature exhibits and live animals. The Children’s Corner features hands-on activities, both outdoors and in the log cabin visitors center. Animal life includes native reptiles, amphibians and a honeybee hive. You can hike five miles of paved and unpaved roads. Rockwood Nature Center is open noon – 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday in summer and noon – 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday in fall, winter and spring. 

Belle Isle

An island on the James River, Belle Isle is the perfect place to spend some time in the outdoors. You can wade out into the water, go kayaking or go biking along the riverfront. The island also has birdwatching, climbing and historic sites to visit!

Maggie L. Walker National Historical Site

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 and president of a chartered bank in the United States. Open 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Rangers lead tours every hour from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

 St. John’s Church

St. John’s Church is the site of Patrick Henry’s impassioned oratory “Give me liberty or give me death.” This was the first church built in Richmond and is the oldest wooden church in Virginia. St. John’s remains an active congregation. Visit on summer Sundays at 2 p.m. to see a free re-enactment of the 1775 debate between 10 of our nation’s founding fathers. You can make a reservation for $5, but there may be seats for free if you check on the day of your visit. Guided church tours – 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12:30 p.m.- 4 p.m. Sunday.

Virginia Holocaust Museum

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. What makes the museum extra poignant is that its founder is a Holocaust survivor. Open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. There is also free parking.

Did you know the Virginia Museum of Art is free 35 days a year?
The sculpture garden at the Virginia Museum of Art. Photo credit: Virginia Museum of Art

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

The VMFA is open 365 days a year, and the permanent collection is always free. Some special exhibitions require paid admission. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts 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. Take a free tour. Pick up a family gallery hunt at the Visitor Services desk. Families can join hands-on art projects and kids will find interactive exhibits.

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Virginia Capitol and Executive Mansion

Designed by Thomas Jefferson, the Capitol in Richmond is America’s oldest legislative assembly. The design is based off a classical Roman temple. Daily one-hour guided tours showcase historical statuary and paintings, rare exhibit objects and restored legislative chambers. Self-guided tours are also available. The Virginia State Capitol is a National Historic Landmark. It is also nominated as a World Heritage site. Open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 – 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Branch Museum of Architecture and Design

This design museum is housed in a historic Tudor Revival mansion on Monument Avenue. Designed by renowned architect John Russell Pope, the Branch House is on the National Register of Historic Places. If you’ve visited Richmond’s breweries, you might be pleased to know that this house was designed with a hidden storage area for illegal liquor during prohibition.

Beth Ahabah Museum & Archives

Learn about Jewish history and culture and this museum, which is open by appointment only. There are exhibits on the Jewish Experience in Virginia and Richmond’s Jews support during World War I. Note that the museum is closed on Jewish holidays.

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. Biking just a portion of it is a great way to see the area.

Carytown

Carytown is known as the ‘mile of style.” This nine-block neighborhood is filled with boutiques, art galleries and local eateries.

Byrd Park

With nearly 300 acres to explore, Byrd Park is a must-go destination for your first visit to Richmond VA and for many future trips too. It’s located in the city’s Near West End and is picture perfect in summer when Fountain Lake is filled with pedal boats.

Traveling with your fur baby? They’re welcome in the main park and at two dedicated dog parks, Barker Field and Chimborazoo. 

Use the money you save seeing all of the free things to do in Richmond on one or more of these activities that also deserve a place on your “must do” list:


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