Richmond: History Meets Fun
Richmond, Va., is one of the most historic cities in the Southeast, but convincing the kids to turn vacation into a living social studies class might be a tough sell.
Fortunately, the capital of Virginia is a city that offers a lot more than a history lesson. Richmond is alive with Civil War and African-American history. It’s a city where the writer Edgar Allan Poe lived for several years, but it’s also very family-friendly with enough kid-accessible attractions and activities to keep children and parents busy.
Erin Bagnell, the public relations manager for the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, grew up in Roanoke, but used to visit Richmond as a child to attend museums and see shows. “The great thing about Richmond is there is something for everyone,” she said. “It’s a very historical city, and so it’s very educational and great for kids, but it’s also fun.”
If you’re looking for a low-maintenance vacation or a weekend getaway this summer, you might consider Richmond. The city is about a four-hour drive from the Triad and is very accessible from the highway. Bagnell says that tourism in the city is pretty well balanced between business and leisure travelers with families making up a large portion of the latter.
She says that any family planning a trip to the area has several places they must put on their itinerary.
· Maymont Park. Bagnell says this is the one place in the city families can’t afford to miss. It’s a 100-acre Victorian estate in the heart of the city. There, you’ll find Maymont Mansion, an arboretum, gardens and a petting zoo. “For families, Maymont is such a treasure and it’s so unique,” she said. “There is nowhere else on earth where you can tour a Victorian mansion, see black bears and otters and take a stroll through beautiful Italian gardens. “For kids who love animals, there’s the Maymont Children’s farm, which features animals indigenous to the state such as sheep, pigs, donkeys and rabbits. There are also carriage and tram rides that can take you for a tour of the property.
· Science Museum of Virginia. Built on the site of the old Broad Street train station, the museum is a hands-on, interactive experience for all ages. There are hundreds of exhibits covering a range of scientific topics. Plus, the museum has an IMAX Dome theater as well.
· Children’s Museum of Richmond. Right next door to the Science Museum is a very different type of museum. Like most children’s museums, it’s geared toward younger children, but there are activities for all ages. One of the museum’s most recent and popular exhibits is a 3,000-square feet town square for kids with seven different stations including a grocery store, TV station and school house.
· Kings Dominion. For some families, summer vacations have to involve roller coasters. If that describes your family, then just about 15 minutes north of Richmond is the amusement park Kings Dominion. You want thrill rides? They got ’em. There’s the “El Dorado” where you swing like a pendulum in a convertible car. Then, there’s “The Dominator,” which is billed as the largest floorless coaster in the world. You’ll hit speeds up to 65 mph on the 4,210-foot ride. If you don’t feel the need for speed, there’s Nickelodeon Central, an area of the park where kids can meet and greet characters such as Dora the Explorer and Spongebob Squarepants. You might also try “The Avalanche,” a bobsled-type ride. But before you go, don’t forget to go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower replica that is the center of the park. It may not be Paris, but it does offer a great view of Richmond and the surrounding area.
You can find history on just about every street corner in Richmond. Drive down historic Monument Avenue, and you’ll feel a bit like you’ve stepped back in time with its cobblestone streets and Victorian houses. Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War, and so Monument is dotted with massive statues of Civil-War figures such as Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and others.
However, the city has embraced its African-American heritage as well in the recent years. Tennis great Arthur Ashe was a Richmond native. A statue of Ashe was added to the others along Monument in the last decade. There’s also the historic Maggie L. Walker Home and National Historic Site. Walker grew up in post-Civil War Richmond and was the first woman in the United States to charter a bank.
“I think a lot of people know Richmond as American history as well as Civil War history, but it’s been interesting for me to learn how much African American history there is as well,” Bagnell said.
If you have a Civil War buff in the family, you might want to visit the Museum of the Confederacy with its artifacts and exhibits from the war itself as well as the post-war era.
You might also consider celebrating the 200th birthday of Edgar Allan Poe by dropping in at the Poe Museum. There are events all year long celebrating Poe’s life in Virginia. At the museum, you’ll find artifacts from Poe’s time and a model of the city as it looked during Poe’s day.
Bagnell points out that Richmond is a history lover’s dream. Whether you walk through the shops in Carytown, visit historic Hollywood Cemetery or stop by St. John’s Church to hear a re-enactment of Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” speech, the city is alive with its past.
“We don’t just speak history, we are history. It’s a neat place to explore all the neighborhoods. History seeps into everything,” Bagnell said. “[Richmond’s] accessible, affordable and very authentic.”
If You Go
Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau
401 North 3rd St.
2201 Shields Lake Drive in Byrd Park
Hours: Visitor center, grounds, wildlife exhibits and gardens open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Maymont Mansion hours are Tuesday-Sunday noon-5 p.m.
Science Museum of Virginia
2500 West Broad St.
Hours: Science Museum Galleries hours are Tuesday–Saturday, 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sunday 11:30 a.m.–5 p.m.
Admission: $9 for youth and $10 for adults. IMAX movies are $8.50 per person.
Children’s Museum of Richmond
2626 W. Broad St.
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday Noon- 5 p.m.
Admission: $8. Children under 1 are free
Exit 98 off Interstate 20 miles north of Richmond
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. beginning June 19
Admission: $31.99 for single-day admission
Michael Huie is a Winston-Salem-based freelance writer and father of one.