What to see in romantic Richmond, Virginia

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Richmond, Virginia, is a beautiful city, and one that doesn’t get half as much attention as it deserves. Rich in history and culture, the city is an American gem, filled with interesting landmarks and places to see. But you’ll also find romance in the air, making it the perfect boomer romantic getaway.

Are you planning a trip with that special someone to visit the River City? If you’re looking for suggestions on what to see in romantic Richmond,  Cheryl Rodewig is here to help you out.

What to see in Romantic Richmond

The romance of Richmond, Virginia, isn’t the long walks on the beach or Valentines variety of romantic experiences. It’s layers on layers of history, galleries of world-class art, detailed architecture and photo-worthy landscapes. In a word: beauty.

Clouds and a blue sky reflect in the James River near high rise buildings in Richmond, VA
The James River curves through the heart of Richmond, a lifeline for a host of activities: canoeing, swimming, fishing, kayaking, rafting, tubing or just enjoying the view. (Photo credit: Richmond Region Tourism)

I was on the hunt for beauty when I visited the city last spring, the temperatures still mild and the flowers just blooming. Richmond, or RVA for short, has warm weather late March through September, making the days ripe for outdoor fun and the sun-dipped evenings perfect for al fresco dinners or soaking up the culture.

Enjoy the outdoors on a romantic spring day in Richmond

If you only see one place in RVA, make it Maymont. This 100-acre estate near the James River is a relic from the Gilded Age.

In the tax-free days of Rockefeller and Carnegie, America’s well-endowed families were competing to build the swankiest country retreats. Think Biltmore House, Hearst Castle or the Jekyll Island Club.

Maymont was one of these, and it certainly must have been a contender for the prize: Tiffany stained glass windows, a wraparound columned-studded porch and an impressive 12,000 square feet of living space.

Sallie May Dooley's swan-shaped bed and a mannequin displaying a dress in Maymont Mansion.
Sallie May Dooley’s swan-shaped bed is one of the more unusual pieces of furniture in the dozen period rooms open for tour in Maymont Mansion.

Inside, as you can imagine, the decor is anything but understated. The tour guide answers questions and points out treasures from the original owners, the Dooleys.

These include a table from Queen Victoria, a vanity made of narwhal tusk and Mrs. Dooley’s weirdly elegant swan-shaped bed. Meanwhile, a downstairs exhibit introduces you to the workaday staff who ran the estate.

With a farm, gardens, fountains and carriage house surrounding the mansion, it’s easy to spend half a day here. Just bring a picnic and spread out on the lawn under the trees for a romantic afternoon in Richmond.

Don’t miss the formal Italian Garden or the 45-foot waterfall near the Japanese Garden. The grounds also have a few nontraditional residents, namely a bobcat, gray fox, two black bears, bison, deer and sundry raptors in their wildlife exhibits.

Maymont's Italian Garden is one of the romantic things to see in Richmond.
Filled with roses, Maymont’s Italian Garden is built above a terraced fountain that leads to the Japanese Garden below.

Shockingly, it’s all open to the public free of charge, though donations are welcome and there is a small fee for a kid-friendly nature center. If you’re looking for free things to do in Richmond, Maymont is an excellent choice.

Near Maymont but far less familiar to tourists is another outdoor attraction, Pump House Park. Looking like a European cathedral but actually the city’s former waterworks, the building was once popular as an open-air dance hall.

For now, the interior is derelict, but the granite facade is as Gothic as ever, reflecting in the canal and tempting photographers. Walk the level mile-long loop to get some exercise and enjoy the stillness.

Gothic stone building at the Richmond waterworks in a tree-filled park.
The city has long-term plans to restore the old pump house to its former glory, meaning it may once again serve as a venue for special events, but for now, it’s part of a scenic park.

A city park of a different style, Belle Isle is best enjoyed in full sunshine. Take the pedestrian footbridge across to the island to discover a rocky oasis covered in small pools. It’s something like a stone beach, and you’ll probably run into a few sunbathers and families playing games, but head farther south for different company, like turtles and herons.

There’s lots more outdoor fun. Stroll the manicured grounds of the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Depending on the season, you can see cherry blossoms, roses and tulips. Or tackle the Capital Trail.

Curving past historic sites and countryside, this 52-mile path starts in Richmond and will carry you, if you let it, as far as Williamsburg. Rent an electric bike and you won’t even notice the hills, beyond appreciating the view.

Richmond culture and history create a heady mix of romance

Throughout Virginia, you’re walking in the land of presidents (eight were born here, more than any other state) and in the capital, they won’t let you forget it it. Downtown, watch the street names: Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe.

Presidential likenesses pop up around town, too, from statues to portraits. And the city’s historic five-star lodging is, of course, called The Jefferson Hotel. Tip: Even if you’re not staying at this luxury hotel, stop in to see the impressive Beaux-Arts lobby.

Boomer Travel Tip

spired to explore more of Richmond? Start your search for hotels in Richmond with us.

White columns of the Virginia State Capitol as the sun rises over Richmond.
The Virginia State Capitol was designed by Thomas Jefferson and first occupied in 1788 by the state general assembly, making it America’s oldest English-speaking legislature. It’s also a beautiful building to tour. (Photo credit: Virginia Tourism Corporation)

Jefferson lent his design help, not his name, to another city landmark, the Virginia State Capitol. The neoclassical building includes a life-size marble statue of George Washington. Above, a 30-foot cream and gold dome crowns the rotunda.

My favorite architectural gem, though, is next door to Capitol Square. Old City Hall, a Victorian Gothic marvel that takes up a full city block, looks like a castle from a romance. The inside is just as theatrical with bright colors and pointed arches.

While the city’s historic buildings are open for tours, you don’t want to miss Richmond’s museums. They cover black history, fine arts, the Civil War and more. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but the Edgar Allan Poe Museum is certainly unique, a home for the poet’s memorabilia and manuscripts and a bittersweet tribute to his life.

Edgar Allen Poe bust stands against a brick wall in the Edgar Allan Poe Museum.
The Edgar Allan Poe Museum has more of the famous poet’s personal possessions than any other museum in the world. (Photo credit: Poe Museum)

But the museum everyone is talking is The Institute for Contemporary Art. Framed by glass walls and wide galleries, the ICA showcases multimedia, sculptures and paintings from creators around the globe as well as Richmond’s own backyard. And it’s another free thing to do in Richmond as ICA does not charge admission.

With all that exploration, I didn’t have time to do the culinary scene justice, but you should. The city is a growing foodie destination, dishing up everything from soul food to fine dining.

Richmond Magazine put together a list of the 25 best restaurants in town, and my Richmond friends assure me that this is a good place to start. If you try just one, they recommend the German-inspired Metzger Bar & Butchery (think pierogies and schnitzel). Its menu varies with the season and the imagination of the chef, a semi-finalist for a James Beard award.

Sipping on a drink, gazing out the window at passersby, planning the next day’s adventure—now that’s romance.

Looking for a tour? Here are more romantic things to do in Richmond, VA, from Viator:

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