Welcome to Backpacker’s Boutique. Every Sunday, this spot will feature a new travel blogger. Some weeks it will be a really fun interview about packing, fashion, and fitness so you can snoop inside their bags & lives a little bit and other weeks it’ll be a detailed luxury guide to a city the featured blogger/expat knows very well. E-mail me if you’d like to be featured.
A Luxury Guide to Richmond
Tell us a little about yourself and why you’re an expert on luxury travel in Richmond.
Like Pocahontas, Tumblr, and Missy Elliot, I too was born and raised in good ol’ Virginia. Originally from Richmond, I have been writing from different places around Asia over at louistraveling.com for the better part of a year. Although I have called many places around the world home, I consider myself a native of the Old Dominion. I enjoy reading, writing, painting, and aspire to write professionally in the future.
What makes Richmond a perfect destination for travelers seeking a glamorous trip?
Richmond was rough for a lot of years but then it became really cool. Thanks to the efforts of the local government, the Virginia Board of Tourism, and the expansion of Virginia Commonwealth University’s downtown campus, the city is now more colorful, friendly, and alive than ever.
In the past ten years Richmond has seen a renaissance of sorts. The university’s expansion has brought with it everything that comes with hip, urban, millennial culture. Upscale shopping, boutique hotels, cool coffee shops, wine bars, beer culture, and a proud indie music scene. In 2015 Richmond was voted as Travel + Leisure’s number two best place to visit in the world (yes, the world) and hosted the UCI Road World Championship.
What hotel is the best in Richmond?
If you’re going for the Neo-Classical, old southern vibe I suggest the Jefferson Hotel. It is Richmond’s premiere hotel for everything that is elegant and southern. Think lots of marble, gaudy stained glass, bronze cherubim, cigar smoke, and thick southern accents. Hell, they even filmed parts of Gone With The Wind at The Jefferson. Their bar is great for a low key nightcap and a visit to see their Christmas tree around the holidays has become an annual tradition.
If you’re looking for something modern and chic I suggest the Quirk Hotel which opened last year. Their rooftop bar draws both hotel guests as well as locals for a drink on a warm evening to watch the sun set over the James River.
I want to do some shopping. Where should I go in Richmond?
Carytown is the place to go if you’re looking for a boutique shopping experience. With upscale stores like popular Need Co. and Traveling Chic Boutique, Carytown will be your place to go for unique and trendy finds.
If you’re looking for more mainstream, upscale brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Prada, etc. you will have to head to Stony Pointe Shopping Center.
By far the most popular shopping center in Richmond is the Short Pump Shopping Center, about 20 minutes drive from downtown in Short Pump. Here you will find the midrange clothing stores for the masses like H&M, Urban Outfitters, J. Crew, Orvis, Hollister, Free People, and the like.
What should I do during the day in Richmond?
There’s a lot more to do doing the day than just shop and drink (see below).
As the old capitol of the Confederacy, there is a huge amount of Civil War history and many historical sites to see in Richmond. In the historic Church Hill neighborhood you can visit St. John’s Church where Patrick Henry made his famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech. Just around the corner from the church is beautiful Libby Hill park where visitors can watch the sun set over the city.
Easily accessible by suspension bridge from downtown is Belle Isle, a large recreational park in the middle of the James River. The rocky rapids are a popular hangout for young people in the warm months. If you’re feeling adventurous, several tour companies offer river excursions like kayaking and rafting on the Belle Isle rapids as well.
My favorite daytime activity in Richmond is visiting the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Large and quite dense for its location, the VMFA has a diverse collection of American, European, African, and Asian art ranging from Ancient to Modern works. Notable artists include Dürer, Monet, Picasso, and Pollock. Have a look at the VMFA’s calendar of events for new exhibitions and upcoming events.
Let’s talk drinks- what place makes the best?
The craft beer scene has boomed in Richmond over the past several years. You could really spend your whole visit hopping around from brewery to brewery. RVA Trolly Tours will shuttle you from to and from local breweries so you can leave your keys at home. A few of the local favorites are Legend Brewery, Hardywood Brewery, and Strangeway’s Brewery.
If you’re more of a wine person I suggest checking out Secco Wine Bar at their new location on Robinson St. With a laid back international vibe and extensive wine list, Secco is a great place to hang out and chat. Make sure to check out their menu of cheeses and small tapas style dishes.
Hands down, my favorite place to go for a cocktail in Richmond is Pasture. Creativity is what counts when it comes to developing a strong cocktail list. Each drink on their menu is named after a town in Virginia and they’re all unique in their own right. Bartender Beth knows exactly what she is doing behind the bar! My personal favorite is the Surrey; bourbon, smoked syrup, and a bit of lemon—delicious.
Let’s do brunch.
Brunch is a southern tradition as old as the Virginia itself. If you’re hungover in Richmond or you’re looking to keep the party going I suggest Millie’s Diner, Hill Café, or The Daily. Every one of these places has a delicious brunch offering. Expect a wait when you arrive; it’s no secret that these places are the best.
Where should I go for dinner in Richmond?
When I say Richmond has gone through a renaissance, I’m really referring to its gastro-culture. A handful of really nice, upscale-but-still-chill-enough-to-wear-jeans-to restaurants have opened in the past few years and really put Richmond on the map.
Some notable mentions for a night out would be The Roosevelt, Heritage, Pasture (mentioned above), Saison, and Metzger’s.
But because I am writing this review I’m going to tell you that the little Italian joint Mama Zu is by far the best spot for dinner and also my favorite restaurant in the city. Mama Zu is confident and sexy with zero pretension. When the food is this good you don’t need all the extra pomp and pageantry—the food speaks for itself.
Mama Zu doesn’t take reservations. Show up around 8 or 9 and grab a table for two. Head to the back and select a bottle of wine from their shelf and check the chalkboard menu. It’s all delicious, but I recommend the parmesan eggplant.
Let’s go out. Where should I go for night out?
If you’re looking for a club head down to Shockoe bottom where old factories have been repurposed into a stomping nightlife quarter. They’re all fun and kind of the same, but if I have to recommend one I would say The Tobacco Company is best.
If Top 40 and Diplo isn’t what you’re looking for, try Balliceaux. Popular with the university crowd, Balliceaux usually has a DJ and plays some of the best music in the city. The bar is stylish and modern and the dance floor is always full of people. Pregame Balliceaux at Pie, a little hole in the wall bar just across the street.
Richmond has a great live music scene. Check out who’s playing at The National or The Camel. Shows usually aren’t sold out and tickets can be bought at the door. If you’re a jazz fan I suggest heading over to Emilio’s Tapas Bar on Friday night around 10 and hearing Lady E sing. Her soulful vocals will blow you away.
Wow, it sounds really cool, how do I get there?
Richmond is located in the center of the state and is serviced by Richmond International Airport. Non-stop flights to Richmond can be found from Chicago, New York, Boston, and Atlanta.
Richmond is also easily accessed by train. There are two Amtrak stations in Richmond, Main Street Station downtown and Staples Mill Station a bit further out. Both stations connect to the Northeast Regional train line that runs daily from Boston to Newport News. Richmond is a six hour train ride from New York City, three hours from Philadelphia, and one and a half hours from Washington, DC.
Getting around the city is very easy with hundreds of Ubers circulating around town at all hours. A ride from uptown to downtown is no more than eight dollars.
Thanks to the Virginia Board of Tourism and Nick Davis for providing the photos.
Louis is a writer, traveler, and graphic designer from Richmond, Virginia. He likes coffee, 70’s rock, and his Jack Russel, Annie. Based in Hoi An, Vietnam, he has been traveling in Asia since 2015. You can find him on louistraveling.com, Instagram, Facebook, or at the beach with a book.
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Great article Rachel. Nicely summed up.
I do love southern VA but haven’t spent much time in Richmond, didn’t realize how much there is to do there! Love these guides btw
Thanks! Yeah it looks really nice, I was surprised!