Things to Do in Richmond! (Outdoors)
A list of outdoor activities to do in Richmond
Two outdoor activities to do slightly outside of Richmond
A handful of personal stories
This post Part III of a mini collection all about things to do in Richmond, Virginia
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
This third and final post in my mini collection about things to do in Richmond is all about outdoor activities. There is quite a variety of things on this list, and nothing is listed in any particular order, so let’s just get to it!
Fruit picking – There’s Hanover Peaches, an orchard that grows peaches, tangerines, possibly apricots, and soon apples. There is also Gallmeyer Farms, which I have been going to since I was a kid to pick strawberries and pumpkins. Both these places also sell fresh fruits, vegetables, and unique foodstuffs (like peach salsa and honey sticks).
17th Street Farmer’s Market – I know I said this post was in no particular order, but I really thought this was a good follow up to that blurb about fruit picking. This market has been active for literal centuries and most recently has featured many Black-owned businesses. In my lifetime they have had consistently good produce (some of the best tomatoes I have ever had came from the Farmer’s Market) as well at seafood, the occasional event, and sometimes an ice-skating rink. However, I have a vague recollection of the market having undergone renovations (or something) that raised concerns for some in the community, mainly the Black community. I can’t find any articles on it, and this memory is from over a year ago, but I still felt like it was important to mention.
A few snippets from the Carytown Watermelon Festival, including an oversized Barbie Doll box. There wasn’t actually that many watermelons around.
Festivals – Richmond hosts a lot of festivals almost year-round. Meadow Farm has a Fall Festival, as does Gallmeyer Farm; between the two, I prefer the latter because it’s a bit smaller (and you get to ride a tractor!). There is also the Bacon Festival, Arts in the Park (which is going on its 50th year), Broad Appétit (a food festival that shuts down Broad Street), the Mac and Cheese Festival, the 2nd Street Festival (often locally referred to as the “Two Street Festival”), the Watermelon Festival, a variety of world culture festivals (most memorably the Filipino Festival was going on the day my partner arrived in Richmond), and so many more.
State Fair of Virginia – Every late September & early October is the State Fair, a great place for anyone looking for a very Americana experience. It’s got craft vendors, carnival games, petting zoos, fried Oreos, chainsaw wood carvings, concerts, roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, giant pumpkins, and the same “plants of Virginia in a bottle” kids activity that they have been doing for the past twenty years. The State Fair used to be hosted at the Richmond Raceway, but a few years ago it relocated to Doswell (an area about 30 minutes outside of Richmond). Its current venue has way more space and better parking and, come to find out, the State Fair has been going on since 1854!
Haunted tours – In October different organizations around Richmond offer ghost tours. I took one through my university and it was interesting (especially for a history nerd). Granted, was cold as hell on that late October night, but I learned things about my city I had never known. For reference, Richmond is an old city with links to the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and slavery, so I wasn’t surprised to learn we’ve got enough ghosts to make a tour of it.
Baseball game – America’s favorite pastime, right? Richmond is home to a Minor League baseball team, the Flying Squirrels. Their mascot is Nutzy with the occasional appearance by Nutasha; I have often seen Nutzy hang out with Rodney the Ram, VCU’s mascot.
Adventures at Kings Dominion
Kings Dominion – Alright, technically this isn’t in Richmond, it’s in Doswell (again, about 30 minutes outside of town). It’s totally worth the short drive, though! I believe it is now open year-round. In the summer they open up Soak City (their water park) and October is Halloween Haunt, a fabulous event where the park transforms into a collection of haunted spaces. Fake smoke, dim lights, scary mazes, and actors in spooky costumes, many of whom are students from the Center for the Arts (my high school art program). I think the storytelling during this event is superb; I’m kind of neutral when it comes to horror as a genre, but as a conduit for cross-disciplinary art? Sign me up. They also recently launched WinterFest, a winter holiday themed event that pops up in December. I have made many memories at Kings Dominion, and I have seen it transform a lot over the years, but it has consistently been a fun time out.
Go Karting – The go kart place I am thinking of—G-Force—is outdoors, but there are some other options around town that are indoors. Either way, it is so much fun . . . as long as the track isn’t wet.
Adventures in Lewis Ginter
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden – This is a very large, very beautiful garden with lots of plant life, information cards to tell you what’s what, and the occasional installation (when I went there was a LEGO exhibit). They also have indoor displays including watercolors painted from life by the visual arts students from my old high school and a life sized version of Mr. McGregor’s cottage (which you can’t actually enter, but it’s still very cute). There is also the annual Butterflies Live exhibit, which is, well, an exhibit of live butterflies! Lewis Ginter is also still open in the winter for the GardenFest of Lights, an event where the whole garden lights up with colorful, beautifully designed lights in the evenings (and there is usually hot chocolate nearby).
RVA Illuminates at Kanawha Plaza – This used to be called the Grand Illumination and, I’ll be honest with you, I am not entirely sure how this new event is different (or if it’s different at all). They changed the name and who was in charge of the event while I was living in Qatar, so there are a few gaps in my understanding of it all, but if it is anything like the Grand Illumination, it’s quite magical. During December, the Richmond skyline is literally outlined with Christmas lights and downtown there is a field of light up reindeer—including one hidden Rudolph—scattered around a giant colorful Christmas tree.
A view of the James River from Rocketts Landing
Belle Isle (and the James River in general) – Belle Isle is just one of a few specific areas along the James River that are open to the public and relatively safe. I like Belle Isle because it is very calm. You’re able to walk on the rocks and touch the river, and you may even run into some sunbathers and children on field trips, but be very careful; the James River has Class 4 rapids in some spots, the kind of rapids Olympic whitewater rafters train on, and it is prone to flooding. Belle Isle is also a nice place to spot some wildlife, find some beautiful rocks, see an old granite quarry, and see a big empty field that was once a Civil War hospital. Be warned, though, to get to Belle Isle you will have to walk over a very long, skinny, but sturdy bridge that lies at least a hundred feet above the river.
Riverview and Hollywood Cemeteries – Hollywood Cemetery is a historic cemetery filled with the final resting places of many Richmond celebrity families like Valentine, Ginter, and Cabell. There are also some U.S. presidents buried here, politicians, and some Civil War Confederate soldiers. Nearby is Riverview Cemetery, which is essentially the cemetery where many of the “others” are buried. I find Riverview more interesting, and the view more beautiful, but both places overlook the James River and are surprisingly lovely spaces to walk around.
Parks – Richmond and its neighboring counties have a lot of public parks, each with its own vibe, charm, and amenities. Byrd Park, Maymont Park, Dorey Park, and Chimborazo Park are the ones that first come to mind. Expect to see various combinations of playgrounds, artificial lakes, ducks & geese, tadpoles, grills, tall trees—and in the case of Maymont Park—a Victorian mansion and petting zoo.
A few places around Richmond: Main Street Station, some buildings in the Business Distract, Cabell Library at VCU, an old clock tower, and a collection of statues that I think are honoring Thurgood Marshall.
Walk (or bike) around - Generally speaking, Richmond is very walkable and bikeable city, especially downtown. Biking around The Fan—a sort of neighborhood between the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Maymont Park, Carytown, and Riverview Cemetery—is a nice ride, especially if you’re in a group. Walking around the VCU area can also be fun, especially as a way to pass the time while you wait for a show to start or just to work up an appetite—there are a lot of really great places to eat in the area.
Virginia’s state seal. It reads “Sic semper tyrannis,” thus always to tyrants
Did you know all the states and many cities in the U.S. have their own nicknames? Virginia is also known as “Old Dominion” and “Birthplace of Presidents,” while Richmond’s nicknames include “The River City” and simply “Capitol of the South.” I’m thinking about these names because as I conclude this mini collection about things to do in Richmond, I realize I don’t relate to any of these nicknames describing my hometown or state. I understand how all of these relate to Virginia and Richmond, but I can’t help but feel like they don’t fully represent the Richmond I know, the Richmond I’ve been telling you about. These names make the place sound kind of fuddy duddy, kind of dusty and boring and mono-dimensional. When I think of Richmond I think of art, history, food . . . snow, sunshine, diversity—small-town vibes with big city goals, a place that is constantly evolving. So maybe together we can think of a new nickname, not to replace the other ones, just to add in another option that I feel captures the spirit of everything I have shared with you over the past three posts.