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 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.
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.
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.
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.
— Laura Rowley