In the nearly 300 years since its founding in 1737, Richmond has teetered between periods of great prosperity and utter hardship. Today, it boasts a stern “capital city” vibe like so many pint-sized capital cities around the U.S. There are historical monuments and statues on every other block. Its citizens move with a hustle typically reserved for politicians and people with serious meetings to attend.
However, in its until-recently deserted side streets and quieter neighborhoods, there are glimmers of creativity, renewal, and rebirth. Boutique hotels, gallery spaces, and nouveau chefs are finding their groove in previously forgotten corners of the city. Here are the best restaurants, bars, hotels, and things to do in Virginia’s capital.
Things to Do
A cemetery might seem an odd place to “play,” but Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery is arguably one of its most relevant and fascinating historical monuments. The 150-year-old graveyard is the final resting place for two (three, if you prefer to count Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederate States of America) U.S. presidents, more than 18,000 Confederate soldiers, purported vampire W.W. Pool, and thousands of the city’s elite and proletariat. It’s a beautiful park in its own right, one where cycling locals mix with curious tourists among the sprawling tree-lined grounds along the James River. Walking tours are available on select days April through November, and they’re recommended as you’re all but guaranteed to get lost among the more than 135 acres.
The music and culture scene in Richmond is — and has long been — far more interesting and notable than it gets credit for. The city was the birthplace of Aimee Mann, D’Angelo, even GWAR (you’re welcome). Modern-day Richmond is home to a diverse music scene from block parties to touring acts at The Camel to the creative oddities at Gallery 5 (a one-time firehouse that now hosts gallery exhibits and live shows). For a true taste of the city’s African-American culture, head to The Hippodrome, a speakeasy and theater with live music. Don’t miss the RVA First Fridays, a year-round art walk featuring dozens of the city’s best restaurants, galleries, shops, and organizations in the Arts District.
Restaurants and Bars
Don’t let the “gluten-free” label on the menu fool you — Tio Pablo Taqueria is as legit of a Mexican restaurant as you’ll find anywhere in the U.S. Street-style tacos are available a la carte with authentic sides like nopales (sauteed cactus with tomatoes and jalapenos) and frijoles charros (pinto beans with bacon). Back your order with a happy-hour-priced margarita or a proper shot from their deep tequila store.
Penny Lane Pub is a fantastic, proper British pub in the heart of Richmond. The dark wood bar and high top tables here are canopied with a 40-year-old blanket of sports memorabilia, celebrity photos, and random bits of Liverpudlian kitsch. It’s an ideal spot to sip a few Fuller’s, fill up on steak and Guinness pie, and catch an afternoon footie match.
In the morning, a hearty breakfast from The City Diner is the ideal hangover cure. It’s a legit locals’ joint where you’re as likely to see mayors, local celebrities, construction workers, and students all rubbing elbows. It’s also loud and bustling every day of the week, so come hungry and expect a wait.
We’ve long been fans of Graduate Hotels. The micro-chain leans hard on “back to school nostalgia” chic — chalkboards, stodgy university logos, and faded faculty headshots — in a clever way that just works. Like many of its sibling properties in college towns throughout the country, Graduate Richmond (aka Brookfield) is no different. The preppy-meets-mod decor is a unique blend of tartan patterns, mid-century modern furnishings, bold artwork, and quirky, miscellaneous accents that all pay homage to the city’s rich history in a fun, upscale way.
The Brookfield lobby lounge and bar area is a swanky spot for a quick bite or one of a dozen local beers on draft. The adjacent room boasts classic table arcade games, billiards, ping pong, and shuffleboard. But, the real action is on the 16th floor. Here, a rooftop deck provides panoramic city views and unique pool space for guests only. After noon, the adjacent Byrd House lounge serves snacks and bespoke cocktails amid strings of twinkle lights and cushy outdoor couches. It’s arguably one of the best spots in the city to catch the sunset.