World-class museums, music festivals and historical landmarks await travelers in Richmond, Virginia © Wendy van Overstreet / Shutterstock
You don’t need to splurge to have a good time in Richmond, Virginia. In fact, many of this capital city’s top events and attractions are free.
From world-class museums and historical sites, to music festivals and mural tours, here are some of the best things you can do for free in Richmond.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is free to visit every day of the year © Steve Heap / Getty Images
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts isn’t just notable for its expansive collection; it’s also rare to find an art museum of this caliber that’s so focused on accessibility. Open 365 days a year with free admission for all, the VMFA boasts a remarkable collection of pieces ranging from ancient artifacts and art deco furniture to contemporary paintings and installations. While there is an admission fee for featured exhibitions, many regular museum events are free. Enjoy live music and refreshments at events like Fridays After Five in the sculpture garden or Thursday jazz cafe concerts. The Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU is another free art museum that’s worth exploring.
RVA First Fridays
Looking for free things to do in Richmond at night? Get a taste of Richmond’s cultural scene at RVA First Fridays. Held on the first Friday of every month, this year-round art walk highlights galleries, shops, restaurants and organizations within the rapidly evolving Arts District in downtown Richmond. Follow the event’s Facebook page for the latest calendar of events.
The James River offers gorgeous sunsets and kayaking adventures © WHL / Getty Images
T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge
Affectionately called the “T. Pott,” this pedestrian and cycling bridge sits atop a former hydroelectric dam that spans the James River. An easy stroll along the bridge lets you take in the river rapids while enjoying views of Richmond’s skyline. On the Brown’s Island side of the bridge (closest to the city), there’s a sobering installation called “Three Days in April 1865,” which recounts how Richmond fell to a fire when it was the capital of the Confederacy. On the Manchester side (south of the James), the path continues beside a popular climbing wall, underneath a striking bridge and alongside the river.
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Richmond Mural Tour
Street art is big in Richmond – literally. More than 100 buildings serve as canvasses for local and international artists. Although you’ll notice plenty of murals while traveling around the city, you can take a deeper dive with a self-guided Richmond Mural Tour. This Google map allows you to plan your route based on all of the city’s murals, with background information about each one.
You could easily spend a day exploring the 100-acre Maymont Estate in the city. Admission to Maymont is free, but donations are accepted. Families flock here on the weekends in particular, with children scurrying around to feed the livestock at the children’s farm or catch a glimpse of the resident bears. The estate’s rolling fields and tranquil Japanese gardens are popular picnic spots, and the Maymont Mansion offers a fascinating glimpse of what life would have been like for a railroad tycoon in the late 1800s.
Enjoy the spring blossoms and other free activities in Richmond © Ron_Thomas / Getty Images
Richmond Canal Walk
Stretching more than a mile along the James River and Kanawha and Haxall canals, the Richmond Canal Walk takes walkers through four centuries of the city’s history. Monuments, medallions and exhibits offer insight into historical highlights ranging from Chief Powhatan’s rule in the 1600s to the first commercially successful electric streetcar system in the world. The mural-covered old hydroelectric plant is the perfect spot for taking selfies.
The Richmond Folk Festival is an annual event full of music and dance © Oscar C. Williams / Shutterstock
Richmond Folk Festival
One of the largest festivals in Virginia, the Richmond Folk Festival takes over the grounds of Brown’s Island every October. This free multi-day event celebrates U.S. culture through music, dance, food, storytelling and crafts. Dozens of local and national artists fill the six festival stages throughout the event, and recent performances have ranged from western swing and reggae to hip-hop, jazz, go-go and Argentine tango.
Virginia Holocaust Museum
Located in an old tobacco warehouse in downtown Richmond, the Virginia Holocaust Museum was founded by a local Holocaust survivor. The museum not only details the story of that survivor and his family, but also of the Holocaust in general and the role it plays in our global history. The Oral History Archive contains more than 230 digitized testimonies of Holocaust survivors and liberators, along with personal stories from other Virginians who experienced genocide or other mass atrocities.
Jackson Ward celebrates the contributions of the city's Black community during the 2nd Street Festival © Richard T Nowitz / Richmond Region Tourism
2nd Street Festival
Once called the Harlem of the South, Richmond’s diverse Jackson Ward neighborhood is the site of the annual 2nd Street Festival. The two-day event, which takes place every October, celebrates the city’s Black community through live music, dance, food and crafts. The headliner for 2021 is Richmond’s own veteran saxophonist, songwriter and producer Plunky and Oneness.
Virginia War Memorial
Perched on a hill with views of the James River on one side and Richmond’s skyline on the other, the Virginia War Memorial is a moving tribute to Virginia’s veterans. The memorial’s Shrine of Memory is engraved with the names of nearly 12,000 veterans who died in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf and the War on Terror. It’s open daily during daylight hours, and visitors are invited to take part in veteran-led tours, educational programs and documentary film screenings.
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