Things to Do in Richmond! (Indoors)
Museums in Richmond
Places to shop in Richmond
A variety of miscellaneous indoor activities
A few personal stories
This post Part II of a mini collection all about things to do in Richmond, Virginia
The Roller Dome
This second post in my mini collection about things to do in Richmond and here I will focus on indoor activities. I’ll tell you right now there are a lot of museums. So, just chillax while you scroll through the photos and read my little blurbs, and if you really want to know more about a place on this list, everything is pretty easy to find on the internet and social media. This list is in no particular order, so let’s get started!
Godfrey’s – Godfrey’s is fabulous. It is a restaurant and club that is known for its weekend Drag Brunches. They also often have night performances and allow guests who are 18 & up (compared to most Richmond clubs which are 21 & up). The place has a really good energy about it; it’s a good time out.
Tour a brewery – The past few years have seen quite an increase in the number of local breweries. Many of them offer tours.
The Circuit arcade bar
The Circuit – This is an arcade bar and, as you may expect, it is full of beer and vintage games. They have family-friendly hours during the late afternoon, but once evening approaches it’s exclusively 21 & up. The food is so/so and the beer is good (based on the review of one of my friends, having that I don’t drink), but it’s really the games that are the highlight of this place. It is a genuinely good place to have fun, whether your drink or not, and that’s one of the things that I like the most about it.
The Tobacco Company Club – This club is attached to a restaurant bar called The Tobacco Company and I didn’t know it existed until recently. I am not much of a club person for a long list of reasons, but I would be willing to try this one because it doesn’t seem to be as twerk-centric as other nightclubs around Richmond.
Cathedral of the Sacred Heart
Cathedral of the Sacred Heart – This is a Catholic cathedral that opened in 1906. I used to pass by it almost every day on my way to class or work in undergrad, but I didn’t step inside until I was invited to an evening candlelight vigil. It is gorgeous inside and I really loved the atmosphere, but I’ll be honest with you, the exclusively white churchgoers inside stared at me hard. I felt judged and uncomfortable, and ultimately left early.
The Roller Dome
Roller skating – There are at least two roller rinks in Richmond on opposite sides of town. The one I am most familiar with is the Roller Dome. It hosts many school fundraisers, roller derby practices every week, and the occasional themed night. The arcade games have never worked and there is a misaligned floorboard in the rink that might trip you up, but the music and vibe is always on point.
The Altria Theater – It was once called The Mosque, and then The Landmark, but a few years ago it was bought and rebranded as the Altria Theater. They host a variety of plays, performances, guest speakers, and even the occasional graduation ceremony. To add, it is a beautiful building, with much of the intricate tilework Islamic architecture is known for plus some ceiling murals that were added later.
Galleries – Richmond has a lot of galleries along West Broad Street that always have something on display. If you’re looking for a lively gallery experience, check them out during First Fridays, an art walk that happens the first Friday of every month. The Anderson Gallery is also included in First Fridays and I recommend either starting or ending here because it is the furthest away (but still within walking distance).
American Civil War Museums – Richmond was the capitol of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, so it is no surprise that the area is full of historical Civil War sites. I’m going to be honest with you, though, there are so many Civil War-related locations in Richmond that I lose track of what is what.
Some of these museums I haven’t been to in at least a decade and others I haven’t been to at all, so I am not surprised to learn that some things have changed, making it even more difficult for me to tell what is what. I know that the Museum of the Confederacy that apparently merged with the American Civil War Center recently. The former was located in downtown Richmond along Monument Avenue and, as far as I could tell, it is still functioning as its own entity. After all, why would armed gunmen project an empty museum from Black Lives Matter protesters? The Museum of the Confederacy is also a part of the White House of the Confederacy, come to find out. I have never been to this museum myself; the Museum of the Confederacy staffers—or whoever they were—that always posted up outside the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts waving their flags always made me feel as though their museum was about “Confederate pride”, and not history, which made me feel unwelcome to say the least. I was also always told by Black and white patrons alike that the Museum of the Confederacy was whitewashed, depicting the story of the way in a way that omits the whole “we are fighting to preserve slavery” thing, instead opting to highlight, well, everything else.
Alright, a second ago I mentioned that the Museum of the Confederacy merged with the American Civil War Center, right? The American Civil War Center is near synonymous with Historic Tredegar and Tredegar Ironworks. Tredegar Ironworks was the biggest iron factory in the Confederacy during the war, located near the James River. It is also the official entrance to National Battlefield Park and something called the Civil War Visitor Center at Tredegar Iron Works, which may or may not be the same thing as The American Civil War Center. Either way, the Museum of the Confederacy and The American Civil War Center combined to create The American Civil War Museum, located at the Tredegar Ironworks location. Something that I was surprised to learn was that the CEO of this new American Civil War Museum is Christy Coleman, a Black woman historian. That newfound fact alone drives my interest in this museum way, way up because perhaps the inclusion of Coleman’s voice in the creation and curation of this historical environment has helped craft a space that gives a more transparent and well-rounded view of the American Civil War.
Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia – This museum is awesome. It is housed within the historic Leigh Street Armory, which was the country’s only 19th century armory for a Black militia from 1895-1899. Then it was a school for Black children, then a reception center for Black soldiers during WWII. The building was abandoned for a long while, but fast forward a few decades and now it is the current location of our Black history museum (which was originally located in a smaller house a few blocks over). This museum is still relatively small but, boy, is it packed with great information. There is a permanent collection and cool temporary exhibitions every so often. I found two documents on display that mentioned my great-great grandfather’s name and businesses, and that is one of the most satisfying moments of my life.
This is outside the entrance to the museum. I will write more about the museum and post more photos in the post about art in Richmond.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts – An incredible art museum. Their permanent collection is stunning, and their temporary exhibitions never cease to amaze. I have spent a lot of time in this museum, either interning, training, researching, or just wandering, and every time I think I’ve seen this all before the museum offers me something new.
The Valentine – This museum is dedicated to Richmond history and offers all kinds of exhibitions and activities. This was where I got my first two paper doll books, objects that started one of my favorite collections and inspired the project Black Girl Magic. The Valentine was the first private museum in Richmond, founded by Mann Satterwhite Valentine II, a guy who served in the Virginia State Reserves during the Civil War and later made his fortune by selling meat juice.
Virginia Holocaust Museum – It is as it sounds: A museum dedicated to remembering The Holocaust. I am not sure what else to say about it other than it is worth a visit for reasons that I feel are kind of obvious. One of the things I remember most about it is this small crawl space that mimicked what those in hiding would have had to endure.
The Poe Museum
Poe Museum – One of my favorite museums of all time is the Poe Museum. The entrance of the museum is the Old Stone House, the oldest residential building in Richmond. Poe never lived here—he lived and worked a few blocks away—but it commemorates the few years he spent living in Richmond. The museum has a huge collection of original texts and memorabilia, as well as two black cats and apparently the playful ghost of a boy. I haven’t seen any cats or ghosts for myself, but I have heard enough stories.
Science Museum of Virginia – This museum is housed in what was once Broad Street Station, an active train station from 1917-1975. It was converted into the Science Museum by 1976 and it has consistently been a cool place. I have had many a field trip and birthday party here, and they’ve even got an IMAX Dome. In fact, one of my earliest memories is seeing Fantasia 2000 at the Science Museum in The Dome. I also have memories of the giant pendulum that greets you upon entry, having some artwork displayed here at some point, and buying rocks at the gift shop for my collection.
Children's Museum of Richmond – Located right next door to the Science Museum, the Children’s Museum is a genuinely fun place for kids. I made a lot of fun memories here, most notably with the pretend apple-picking wall, the pretend grocery store, these huge parallel cymbals that make your voice reverberate, their arts & crafts room, and one particular exhibit called Shadow Play. I would stand in front of projected images of marbles or bubbles and my shadow would make the images move; it was one of the most mesmerizing things I have ever experienced.
The Virginia Museum of History and Culture
Virginia Museum of History and Culture – Previously called the Virginia Historical Society, this is the official historical society of Virginia and includes information about the entire state. That description makes it seem kind of boring, but this museum can be really cool. One of my favorite exhibitions of all time was presented here: A toy exhibit that featured toys spanning a few decades, interactive area, staged environments, and lots of color.
Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site – This was the home of Maggie Lena Walker, the first woman to serve as president of a bank in the United States. It is just a beautiful and triumphant coincidence that she was also a Black woman.
Institute for Contemporary Art – Also called the Markel Center at the VCU Institute for Contemporary Art, this is—as you may have guessed—a contemporary art museum. It opened in 2018 while I was studying abroad in Qatar and two years later I still haven’t been there (though, to be far, I’ve been in Qatar for the past 12 months). All I can tell you about this museum is the experience I have with it as a student: The opening date was continuously postponed, there seemed to be a lot of leadership changes throughout the process, they offered me job opportunities that didn’t actually exist (and wouldn’t exist for another two years), and the construction woke me up many, many times. I used to live right across the street from its current location.
Virginia State Capitol – The eight Virginia capitol building to be built, this one was constructed in the late 18th century; the others didn’t work out mainly due to fires. It still serves as the seat of state government and houses the Virginia General Assembly (originally called the House of Burgesses), the oldest elected legislative body in North America dating back to 1619.
Chop Suey Books in Carytown
Some stores and products I saw in Carytown
Carytown – Carytown is a trendy neighborhood near downtown Richmond that is full of stores that come at a variety of prince points. Boutiques, antique shops, vintage stores and thrift shops, toy stores, and plenty of restaurants too can all be found here. Some I’d like to highlight include Chop Suey Books (a bookstore), a few stationary stores, and a store that sold . . . stuff. I’m not sure what it was called, but they had cookbooks, journals, humorous tchotchkes, and RVA paraphernalia. I also want to mention Bits & Pixels—a game store that has really excellent deals and wide collection of merchandise—and Cary Wellness, a store that sells CBD products that are expensive, but genuinely helpful.
Thrift stores – I have noticed that the definition of “thrift store” changes depending on where I am in the world, or even if I’m just in a different part of town. Well, the thrift stores I am highlighting here are not big-name companies and the products they sell range from furniture, to old tech, to clothes from the past three decades or so. Everything is organized well and priced quite reasonably; it is easy to find a $30 ballgown or $5 dress shirt. The thrift stores I am thinking about right now are Diversity Thrift and Fan Thrift.
Barnes & Noble VCU – Listen, I feel like Barnes & Noble will be extinct—or at least semi-extinct—within the next two decades or so, so check one out while you can. The one on VCU’s campus is cool in that it specifically caters to college students, so you’re going to find a wide variety of books in a very small space. You’ll also find art supplies, a Starbucks, and a lot of expensive university paraphernalia.
Lakeside Towne Center
Antiques and local art in local shops
Random shops – I am not sure how to really describe this, but I want you to know that there are plenty of places around Richmond that sell . . . stuff. For example, I stumbled upon a collection of antique stores and artsy boutiques near Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden that I didn’t know even existed. The same goes for a small record store—one that sold original records and local art—that was on a random corner near Chimborazo Park. These are the kinds of things you find when just walking around a neighborhood or random shopping center, the places that probably won’t pop up on your standard Google search.
The front of the tortoise I bought from Luxor in Carytown
And so concludes Part II of this collection! Something I didn’t mention before is that if there is ever a choice between pursuing an indoor or outdoor activity, I would almost always choose indoor. The outdoors can be fun but, hey, I like museums and hate bugs. But the thing is, there are so many awesome outdoor activities to do in Richmond too and I really look forward to writing about them. So, the next and last post in this mini collection will be about activities to do outside in Richmond. ‘Til next time!