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Sky scrapers, converted warehouses, white water rafting, gorgeous walking trails, and rich history – the city of Richmond, Virginia has it all.
Whether you’re a foodie looking for trendy spots to eat dinner, an adrenaline junkie seeking adventure, a couple hoping for hipster nightlife or friends in need of a chill day in nature, you’ve come to the right place!
This city has something for everyone, and one of the best parts is that it’s a city easily done on a budget as there are so many free things to do in Richmond aka RVA!
So no matter what your budget or your interests, be sure to stop by if you ever get the chance!
Free Outdoor Things to do in Richmond
Richmond is a fun all year round destination and it really has a lot to offer those who enjoy outdoor activities, especially in spring, summer, and fall!
One of the best things to do in Richmond is simply wander around, orient yourself, and get a feel for this walkable city!
There are so many walking trails to choose from, but if you’re up for getting your steps in and have the better part of an afternoon you can easily create a self-guided walking tour by looping all of these separate walks together!
For this loop, start with the canal walk (1512 Canal Walk, Richmond, VA 23219).
Richmond sits right on the James River, but there is also a man-made canal looping through the city, and the walk along the side of it takes you over bridges, through tunnels and winds through some of the best parts of Richmond.
After you complete the short canal walk, you’ll pass by a massive collection of murals on your way to the pipeline (1201 Haxall Point, Richmond, VA 23219).
The murals are a popular Rochmond attraction, so be sure not to miss them!
The pipeline (310 S 14th St, Richmond, VA 23219) is a unique walking trail located on the river side of a concrete wall, and there’s a small path that will lead you to a ladder that takes you onto the pipeline.
It is a very narrow walk-way, and you have to squeeze by people going the other way, but it is absolutely gorgeous and a very unique thing to do in Richmond, Virginia!
Walk to the end and take a rest, watching the white water rafters and kayakers whizz by through the rapids, or even dip your feet in the James if it’s a warm day!
T Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge
After you’ve completed the pipeline, turn around and head towards the Memorial pedestrian bridge.
This is a favorite of the locals, and many people choose to spend their evenings jogging or walking with their kids across this bridge.
The skyline makes for a gorgeous backdrop, and it’s definitely one of the best free things to do in Richmond, Virginia.
Once you reach the end of the pedestrian bridge, turn left.
You’ll have to walk on some small dirt paths, but they’ll take you past a rock climbing wall and under a bridge, where you’ll find the steps up to the city’s flood wall.
This is where you’ll end your DIY walking tour, along the flood wall that’ll give you, without a doubt, the best views of Richmond, and if you time it well, a gorgeous sunset view!
Swim in the James River
Another amazing free thing to do in Richmond is to go swimming in the James!
Right near the pedestrian bridge, to the right side, is a suspension bridge that will take you to a magical place called Belle Isle.
While you can visit year round (and you should, as it is beautiful in all seasons), most people choose to bring their bathing suits and visit in the summer.
You can walk around this island fairly quickly, but the best thing to do is to pack a picnic and some towels, and spend the afternoon swimming in between the rocks, exploring the civil war ruins, and getting some sun!
Huguenot Bridge at Sunset
If you are looking to end the day with a stunning sunset head to Huguenot Memorial Bridge for dusky views over the James.
Another thing that you could do for free in Richmond is to bring your outdoor equipment from home.
There are outdoor rock walls available to those who have climbing gear, and a beautiful river for those who have either kayaks or paddle boards.
Richmond is a very outdoorsy city, and you should definitely take advantage of it.
If you’re more of a city than a nature person, don’t worry!
Although Richmond has more nature than the average city, it still has all the perks of modern, urban areas, and Carytown is an excellent place to spend an afternoon.
Covered in murals and street art, this quaint little street is full of unique cafes, hipster thrift stores, incredible restaurants and breweries, and is one of the best places to pass some time.
There are so many boutiques to visit, and even some souvenir shops so that you can bring little pieces of Richmond home with you.
Take a walk, do some window shopping, and pop into the stores that interest you.
Carytown Farmers’ Market
The Carytown Market showcases local farmers and producers at City Stadium from summer through to fall.
The market features a variety of vendors from the Richmond area and live music.
If you’re in the mood for some history, be sure to head over to Hollywood Cemetery.
Also located along the river, Hollywood cemetery is one of the most picturesque places in all of Richmond.
There are multiple presidents buried here, but the main appeal comes from simply wandering through the incredibly manicured grounds with the view of the river as the backdrop.
Another incredible, free thing to do in Richmond would be to visit Maymont Park.
Not your ordinary park, Maymont is owned by a very wealthy family who has created three separate themed gardens right in the middle of Richmond named The Japanese Gardens, the Arboretum, and the Italian Gardens.
Each is distinctly different, but definitely best visited in the spring when all the flowers are blooming.
There are pagodas, waterfalls, a petting zoo, tulip fields, and bamboo forests, and it is a gorgeous place to visit with friends.
Free Indoor Things to do in Richmond
If the weather turns and spending your time in Richmond exploring the outdoors is not an option, never fear!
There are also some incredible free indoor things to do in Richmond such as observation decks, galleries and museums.
City Hall Observation Deck
For the best aerial, panoramic views of Richmond, be sure to head towards City Hall (1001 E Broad St).
Enter the lobby and head straight to the elevators that can take you up to the top floor.
This room has floor to ceiling glass windows that allow you to see the entire city from a unique vantage point!
Lots of people bring a coffee or a snack so that they can simply sit and enjoy the view.
Without a doubt, the best free thing to do in Richmond is to visit the VMFA (200 N Arthur Ashe Blvd).
This museum is home to works of art as well as archeological artifacts and valuable pieces of furniture and history.
They regularly have temporary exhibits that have a small entrance fee, but the rest of the museum is completely free.
Browse through the ancient Egyptian artifacts, East Asian scrolls and statues, the extensive African mask collection, and the absolutely stunning impressionist exhibit.
Even if you’re not a huge art-lover, the VMFA is not to be missed, even if it’s just for a walk through their sculpture garden and a quick coffee in the cafe.
Science Museum of VA
If art isn’t your cup of tea, you can always visit the Science Museum of Virginia (2500 W Broad St).
Located in a gorgeous, historic building, the science museum of Virginia is fun for people of all ages.
Most of the exhibits are either hands-on or very visually engaging, so this is an amazing option if you’re looking for free things to do with kids during your trip to Richmond.
Edgar Allen Poe Museum
Another amazing museum in Richmond, the Edgar Allen Poe Museum (1914 E Main St) will definitely appeal to any literature lover or English major, as the museum is located in Poe’s actual home.
There are dramatic recitations scheduled every day, as well as many different artifacts, original poems, and letters that tell the story of Poe’s life.
It is very interesting, and a good way to spend an afternoon and appreciate literature.
Children’s Museum of Richmond
If you’re looking for something even more family-friendly, consider the Children’s Museum of Richmond (2626 W Broad St).
There are so many fun activities for kids which will keep them entertained but also teach them new skills and provide fresh experiences.
Cheap Things to do in Richmond
While there are many free things to do in Richmond, your options expand if you have a little bit of a budget!
Fortunately, there are many affordable things to do in this city as well.
Conveniently located in Carytown and nicknamed “Richmond’s Movie Palace”, The Byrd Theater is one of the best places to see movies in Virginia.
Although they only show one movie at a time, and typically quite some time after they are newly released, the Byrd has extremely discounted tickets that make seeing a movie extremely affordable.
The enormous chandelier, the boujee red velvet curtains, and the old-world atmosphere make something as simple as seeing a movie into a unique, fun experience.
Every once in a while, the Altria Theater, a historic building with an interior covered in mosaic tile, will hold special events.
From Broadway shows to symphonies, from TV show premieres to movie screenings with live music, the Altria Theater can add a really special element to your trip, especially if you plan around one of these exclusive events.
White Water Rafting
Something unique about Richmond is that it is home to the only class four rapids in the US that are found within a city.
Some people leave their corporate jobs in a city highrise, and then head to the river to raft through top notch rapids – it’s a very unique dichotomy!
Paddle Board Yoga
If rapids aren’t quite your thing, don’t worry!
There are calm sections of the river that are perfect for paddleboarding, or even booking a sunset paddle board yoga class!
Perfect for the hot summer, paddle board yoga is challenging and fun, and you won’t even mind if you end up falling into the water!
Yoga combined with the sunset on the river with the skyline of Richmond as the backdrop… you can’t get much better than that.
Free Richmond Walking Tour
When in doubt, you can always book a walking tour of the city!
Most are labeled as free, but the tour guides always appreciate a tip.
Walking tours are an amazing way to get a little more historical insight into a city and its background, as well as orient yourself if it’s a new location for you!
Ghost Tour of Richmond
Join an experienced guide through the street of Richmond’s oldest neighborhood, Church Hill where they will share stories of ghosts and tragic events!
This tour includes St John’s Church graveyard.
Church Hill Scavenger Hunt
Make your way through Church Hill solving challenging riddles and clues!
Through this scavenger hunt you will also hear about historical figures and discover the city’s hidden nooks.
Another local’s favorite is attending a Flying Squirrels baseball game at the Diamond.
Regardless of winning or losing, it’s always fun to experience a baseball game in person, and in July and August they frequently have a fireworks show no matter the outcome of the game.
Even if you’re not a huge baseball fan, feasting on hot dogs, cotton candy, and curly fries is always a good way to spend an evening!
Free Festivals and Events in Richmond
While there are many festivals and events to attend in Richmond throughout the course of the year, there are a few standouts that you have to see if you’re in town!
River Rock Festival
If you’re looking for something that’s still fun but a little more laid back, be sure to check out River Rock Festival!
This festival takes place on Brown’s Island, which is located right next to Belle Isle.
It happens in the middle of May, and it’s the perfect way to enjoy the newly warm weather.
Bring your dog and watch the dock-jump competition, or grab a beer and marvel at the bouldering contests.
Snag some food from a food truck and camp out on the hills while you watch the slackliners practice their tricks above the canal.
River Rock attracts one hundred thousand people a year, so don’t miss it!
Shamrock the Block
Shamrock the Block is a festival that happens towards the middle of march, typically on the weekend closest to St. Patricks Day.
It takes place in Scott’s Addition, which is chock-full of breweries and hip restaurants, which makes it the perfect place to celebrate the holiday.
It is extremely rowdy, and the streets get absolutely packed with people decked out in green clothes and cheesy accessories.
Shamrock The Rock also features in our guide, the best places to visit in the US in March.
Free Things to do in the Winter
If you’re lucky enough to visit during the holiday season you are in for a treat!
There are tons of free, christmassy things to do in Richmond.
Dominion Energy Gardenfest of Lights
Located outside the city limits, but still well worth a visit, are the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.
Every year, they completely deck out every inch of the gardens with millions of lights, which creates the most lovely holiday atmosphere.
Bring some gloves and hand warmers and enjoy a walk through the gardens and greenhouses!
Centered around Kanawha (8th & Canal Street), there is a massive collection of Christmas lights that you simply can’t miss.
Herds of glowing reindeer (see if you can hunt down rudolph!), hanging snowflakes, and oversized Christmas trees fill the plaza, and the holiday cheer even spills into the lobbies of neighboring banks, with miniature train sets, a fun penguin display, as well as a lifesized gingerbread house adding to the extravaganza.
Tacky Lights Tour
When it comes to festive light tours, Richmond has you absolutely covered.
There’s usually a map created yearly that will take you on a self-guided car tour of the city’s tacky Christmas lights.
We’re not being rude calling the lights tacky, this is what they are known as in Richmond and they will absolutely blow your mind.
One neighborhood communally commits to putting on a spectacular show, and every house participates.
Fun fact: It’s so highly regarded that realtors are obligated to tell buyers of this tradition if one of the houses ever goes for sale!
Where to Stay in Richmond on a Budget
If you want to stay close to the action, expect to pay around $200-300 per night for a hotel during high season.
Check out The Berkley Hotel for a historic city center hotel.
If you are happy to travel 6-10 miles to get into the center, you can find rooms for $150 in summer at the likes of the Best Western or Comfort Suites.
How to Get Around in Richmond, Virginia
While there is a bus system that runs through Richmond, it is a very walkable city.
Taxis are not that common, but calling an Uber or a Lyft is very easy and inexpensive.
Additionally, if you’re up for more of a thrill, electric scooters can be easily found everywhere and are lots of fun!
Thus concludes this comprehensive list of all the best free things to do in Richmond, Virginia!
Richmond is such a unique city, from the river and its rapids, to the restored warehouse breweries, to the gorgeous skyscrapers and the free outdoor rock walls.
It is an incredible mix of excitement that the outdoors bring as well as all the city necessities such as cute brunch places and stunning boutiques.
Richmond should, without a doubt, be the location that you travel to next.
About the Author
Emma Sturgeon is an adventure enthusiast and travel blogger, who runs the show over at emmasdaydream.com.
Although she is currently living in and exploring South Korea, she was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, giving her 20 years of experiencing all that the city has to offer.
Follow Emma on Instagram.