Marker painted on the ground designating the Richmond Liberty Trail, a 6.2 mile walking loop focusing on the historic landmarks and points of interest in downtown Richmond.

I recently had an overnight in Richmond, Virginia with only a couple hours to explore the city before catching my first flight of the day. With such a short amount of time I stuck to sites in the capital district along the Liberty Trail in downtown. There are two stand-outs worth experiencing if you have at least two hours in Richmond: the Virginia State Capital and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

How to get there: Downtown is only 10 miles from the airport. Take bus #7 from Williamsburg and Airport Square to Broad and 10th — it takes about 35 minutes and costs $1.50 exact change. After getting off the bus, cross Broad St. and walk along 10th one short block until it dead ends into the Capital State Grounds. If you’re tight on time, an Uber from the airport will cost about $20 and take only 15 minutes. Ask to be dropped off at the capital’s visitor entrance on Bank Street.

Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, VA.
Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, VA built in 1788.

Virginia State Capital: Similar to the California and Texas state capitals I’ve recommended for Sacramento and Austin, respectively, if you’re in Richmond, the Virginia State Capital is the perfect place to give a quick context for the city’s illustrious and complex history, heritage, and culture. Free guided tours are available Mon-Sat 9am-4pm, and Sun 1-4pm. Tours last about an hour. If time permits, I suggest taking a guided tour because the pamphlet for self-guided tours is scant and dry by comparison. I came in-between tours with not much time, so the docent working at the visitor’s desk told me I could join any of the tours upstairs already in progress. Some of the tour’s highlights included a Carrera marble sculpture of George Washington from the late 1700s, the Old House and Senate Chambers, and lots of revolutionary and civil war era history.

According to my tour-guide Sharon, this Jean-Antoine Houdon sculpture of George Washington is one of only two that were made while Washington was still living.
According to my tour-guide Sharon, this Jean-Antoine Houdon sculpture of George Washington is one of only two that were made while Washington was still living.
This tour group was a class of 4th graders studying state history. They were invited to sit in the VA House of Delegates, while listening to their representative explain some of the important decisions that had happened in that room: including the passing of the Virginia Declaration of Rights (the basis for the country's Bill of Rights).
This tour group was a class of 4th graders studying state history. They were invited to sit in the VA House of Delegates, while listening to their representative explain some of the important decisions that had happened in that room: including the passing of the Virginia Declaration of Rights (the basis for the US Bill of Rights).

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church: Similar to many churches in Europe, but less common in the US, St. Paul’s in Richmond is open daily 10am-4pm for anyone who cares to wander in. This makes it an ideal spot to break from the noise and crowds of the city to enjoy some tranquility. Built in 1845, the Greek Revival architecture is pleasant enough, but the real jewels are the beautiful stained glass memorial windows from the late 1800s, ten of which are Tiffany glass.

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Stained glass memorial window in St. Paul's, Richmond, VA.

Sights for more time: If you have a little left over time, consider checking out other Liberty Trail stops in the area: the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial, Virginia Washington Monument, and Old City Hall. The half-hour tour of the Virginia’s Executive Mansion is not as impressive or interesting as the state capitol, but worth it if you have time for both. It’s the oldest continuously used governor’s residence, has been used as the Oval Office set in several movies, and boasts an impressive collection of old Naval battleship silver.

Virginia Washington Monument on VA state capitol grounds, with the Old City hall in background.
Virginia Washington Monument on VA state capitol grounds, with the Old City hall in background.
Because Virginia's current governor resides in its Executive Mansion, visitors must sign in, show ID, and get wanded before entering.
Because Virginia’s current governor resides in its Executive Mansion, visitors must sign in, show ID, and get wanded before entering.

A tourist information office located in an old brick bell-tower on capital grounds offers even more info and possibilities along with free maps, self-guided tours, and “Virginia is for lovers” stickers.

The tourist information office is located in an old brick tower on VA State Capital Grounds.
The tourist information office is located in an old brick tower on VA State Capital Grounds.

— Laura Rowley

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Written by Laura Rowley

I am an artist, flight attendant, and travel blogger.

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