Richmond Introduction Walking Tour, Richmond

Richmond Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Richmond

After settling Jamestown in 1607, several expeditions up the James River led to an interest in the area inhabited by the Powhatan Nation. But the first European settlements didn’t come for more than a hundred years when in 1737, planter William Byrd II had the original town grid laid out.

He named the town “Richmond” after an English town. He felt the view of the James River was similar to the view of the River Thames from Richmond Hill, near London. It was incorporated in 1742.

The town had a starring role in nearly all early US events. Patrick Henry gave his famous “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech here in 1775. The city was attacked and burned by the British during the Revolutionary War in 1781, forcing then-Governor Thomas Jefferson to flee.

But the city recovered quickly afterward, and Jefferson designed a new capitol building. It’s a beautiful structure that is used to this day as the capitol of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Standing in the center of Capitol Square, it is a must-see sight in Richmond.

Richmond again played a pivotal role in the American Civil War as the capital of the Confederacy. The American Civil War Museum and the White House of the Confederacy are great stops to learn more about this period in Richmond’s past.

Today the city is a vibrant river-front town with lots of history to explore and things to do. Don’t miss Carytown, a boutique shopping and dining experience, along with the restored Byrd Theater, a 1920’s movie palace. Nearby Byrd Park is a great place to walk and enjoy the view of the James River, as is the neighboring Maymont estate and gardens. If you love history, don’t miss The Valentine, Richmond’s oldest museum, or the Hollywood Cemetery, where thousands of Civil War-era soldiers and several US presidents lie in rest.

Richmond has something for everyone, so put on your walking shoes and take a tour of this beautiful city.
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Richmond Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Richmond Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Richmond (See other walking tours in Richmond)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.7 Km or 2.3 Miles
Author: damon
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Capitol Square
  • Virginia State Capitol Building
  • Governor's Mansion
  • White House of the Confederacy
  • The Valentine
  • Tredegar Iron Works and American Civil War Museum
  • Hollywood Cemetery
Capitol Square

1) Capitol Square

The area in the center of Richmond that surrounds the Virginia Capitol Building is known as Capitol Square. The Square is roughly bounded between Broad and Bank Streets and Ninth and Governors Streets. Besides being the center of the Commonwealth's governance, the square contains several monuments to prominent Virginians. The Square encompasses roughly 12 acres and is bounded by one of the oldest wrought iron fences in the country, installed in 1818.

The most notable monument is the George Washington Equestrian statue, built in 1858 by Jean-Antoine Houdon. It's a life-size marble statue of Washington atop a horse; you can't miss it. Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, "Stonewall" Jackson, and many other notable Virginians are commemorated in the plaza. The bell tower was built in 1825 for the Virginia Public Gaurd. It is used each day to call the General Assembly into session. There is also a Virginia Civil Rights Memorial, built in 2008, and Voices from the Garden-The Virginia Women's Monument, which was begun in 2018. Adjacent to the Capitol Building is the Executive Mansion, where the governor resides. There are also several departmental headquarters.

When visiting Capitol Square, start your tour at the Capitol Visitors Center off of Bank Street. When you include all of the public buildings and outdoor spaces, Capitol Square contains more than 130 pieces of artwork, from paintings to sculptures. The Square is one of the oldest planned parks in the country, older than Central Park in New York. It was laid out and designed by Maximilian Godefroy in 1816 with geometric precision reminiscent of 18th-century French courtyards. It was further developed in 1850 in the picturesque English style; the result is a modern-day green space that is a pleasure to stroll around and is a central part of the Commonwealth's political and social heart.
Virginia State Capitol Building

2) Virginia State Capitol Building (must see)

Only two state capitol buildings in the US were designed to recreate ancient world architecture. In Vermont, the State House has elements based on Athens' Temple of Hephaestus. The Virginia State Capitol Building's design was credited to none other than Thomas Jefferson, who worked closely with architect Charles-Louis Clérisseau to recreate an ancient Roman temple from southern France, Maison Carrée at Nîmes. It was the first modern building in the New World to be designed based on a classical Roman temple. It was also the first state capitol building built in the US after the Revolutionary War. A statue of Jefferson stands in the plaza of the Capitol Extension.

The building was completed in 1788, with the first General Assembly meeting held inside the building in 1792. During the Civil War, the building also served as the capitol building of the Confederacy. The building has been renovated several times in its history, with the most significant changes occurring in 1904 when two large wings were built to allow space for the growing assembly. When even more space was needed, a considerable expansion project was commenced underground to preserve Jefferson's original building's beauty. The 2007 project added 27,000 square feet of space and cost $104.5 million.

Why You Should Visit:
The Virginia State Capitol building is one of the most beautiful and unique state capitols. The design, chosen by Thomas Jefferson, was drawn from a plaster model he had made of the first-century Roman temple in France.

The building itself was featured in a national TV documentary and named one of the "10 buildings that changed America." If you're interested in history, architecture, or government, this tour is a must-see.

The Capitol Building houses many portraits and artworks of famous Virginians. In the central Rotunda, you will find Jean-Antoine Houdon's marble statue of George Washington. This is the only statue made while Washington was alive. The 6'2" statue was considered to be a perfect likeness.

You can tour the building on your own but plan on joining one of the free guided tours for the best experience. Guided tours include the Rotunda, the Old House and Old Senate chambers, and one of the 1906 legislative chambers. Group tours are available for parties of ten or more. Inquire at the Visitors Center for information about tours.

If your a fan of Virginia or just historic buildings, don't miss the Virginia Shop on your way out. Meriwether's Café offers made-to-order fresh food and takeout service if you get hungry.
Governor's Mansion

3) Governor's Mansion

The Virginia Executive Mansion was built in 1813 and is the oldest governor's house in the nation that is still used for its intended purpose. Best of all, the mansion can be toured on a limited basis. For details, see the Capitol Visitors Center. Tours of the mansion are completed with docents in each room and last about 30 minutes. The current governor and his family do live here, so there is a chance you will see them out and about.

The home is a classic example of Federal-style architecture, designed by Alexander Parris. The house has been beautifully restored to appear as it did in the 1830s, but it not features more living space and is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The house is full of history. Three US presidents have resided here at one time or another. Both Presidents Monroe and Tyler served as governor of the Commonwealth before their time in Washington, while William Henry Harrison lived there as the son of Benjamin Harrison. Interestingly, Governor Tim Kaine's wife, Anne Holton, lived in the mansion twice. She happens to be the daughter of former governor A. Linwood Holton Jr.

The gardens around the mansion are impressive too, and they host many events throughout the year. The house has made several appearances on popular TV over the years, including when Virginia First Lady Anne Holton hosted an American Idol finalist from Richmond and when Bob Vila featured the remodeling work on Home Again. Many distinguished visitors have stepped through this house's doors, including Queen Elizabeth II, many US presidents, and Charles Lindbergh. The home is a National Historic Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
White House of the Confederacy

4) White House of the Confederacy (must see)

Tucked away in the Court End neighborhood not far from Capitol Square is the Jefferson Davis Executive Mansion. During the Civil War, the house was considered the Confederate States of America's counterpart to the White House in Washington, DC. Jefferson Davis was the sole president of the Confederacy, and he lived here from 1861 to 1865.

The house was built in 1818 and is a gray stucco mansion built in the neoclassical style. Robert Mills designed it for John Brockenbrough, president of the Bank of Virginia. Being so close to the State Capitol, the neighborhood was full of high-level politicians and wealthy townspeople. Brockenbrough sold in 1844, and the house changed hands several times. It was eventually sold to the city, who rented it to the Confederate government for use as the Executive Mansion.

The Jefferson family and their staff abandoned the house as Richmond was evacuated in 1865. The house was taken intact, and President Lincoln toured the home and held several meetings with local officials. Lincoln spent several hours touring the home, but he did not go beyond the downstairs floor as he felt doing so would be an invasion of privacy.

When the city announced that they planned to destroy the building in 1890, the Confederate Memorial Literary Society was formed to save the mansion. It became the Museum of the Confederacy for over 80 years. After a complete restoration in the 1980s that returned the entire structure to its wartime appearance, the building became known as the White House of the Confederacy and is part of the American Civil War Museum, which is located off-site. Today the house stands alone, surrounded by the VCU medical campus.

Why You Should Visit:
The house has been masterfully restored to appear as it did during wartime. The exhibit House of the Lost Cause explores the history of the Confederacy through Jefferson Davis and his daughter, Winnie Davis, with some of their personal items on display.

Plan to spend about 45 minutes or so touring the mansion. Since you're visiting the area, consider combining this tour with a visit to The Valentine, Richmond's history museum.
The Valentine

5) The Valentine

While many museums and attractions in the city focus on particular time periods, The Valentine is an attraction dedicated to preserving all of Richmond's history. It was the first private museum in town, established in 1898, and it includes the Wickham House. The museum was founded by Mann S. Valentine II, a wealthy entrepreneur who made his money selling a health tonic called Valentine's Meat Juice. Like many wealthy entrepreneurs of the Gilded Age, he became a collector. His interests spanned anthropology, archaeology, and the arts. He began creating a museum one year before his death, but the museum was completed and opened in 1898 per his wishes. Mann's brother Edward served as the museum's first president.

The museum's primary exhibition explores Richmond's history through personal stories and unique artifacts from The Valentine's massive collection. The museum also offers rotating exhibits, so check their website for their current showings. Previous exhibits have focused on big themes like the Great Depression in Richmond or small details like the gowns worn at inaugural balls by Virginia's first ladies.

The Wickham House was built in 1812 and is restored to how it would have appeared in the Antebellum period. Through a dialogue-based guided tour, you will learn the stories of the Wickham family and the home's enslaved occupants. The museum and the house are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tredegar Iron Works and American Civil War Museum

6) Tredegar Iron Works and American Civil War Museum (must see)

Situated right on the James River near downtown, the Tredegar Iron Works was founded in 1837. It was one of the country's biggest industrial sites before the Civil War, manufacturing everything from locomotives to ships. During the war, it supplied about half of all of the Confederacy's artillery and the iron plating for the Confederacy's first iron-clad vessel, the CSS Virginia. The ironworks survived the burning of Richmond after the war and continued production well into the 20th century.

Today the ruins of the ironworks buildings house the American Civil War Museum. The new facility has been built in a modern building attached to the original ironworks brick warehouse. The site's permanent exhibit, A People's Contest, features theater showings and original artifacts to share the story of the war from many points of view. The museum presents all sides of the Civil War and explores lingering issues.

Why You Should Visit:
The Tredegar Iron Works has been restored for self-guided tours. The Foundry Building has been converted into a multi-use space for events.

The American Civil War Museum is dedicated to interpreting and presenting the war from all possible perspectives, including Union and Confederate views, slaves, free African Americans, and everyday families.

The museum is one of the most complete collections that tell the entire history of the war from start to finish. Their masterful use of personal stories and interactive displays is as compelling as it is educational. This museum isn't just for war buffs—everyone will walk away having learned something about what the nation has gone through to get us to this point in history.

Plan to spend between one and three hours touring the exhibits.
Hollywood Cemetery

7) Hollywood Cemetery (must see)

Next to the Oregon Hill neighborhood, you'll find the Hollywood Cemetary, a sprawling site next to the James River. The cemetery was started in 1847 and was planned in the French tradition of garden cemeteries that added more park and green space to urban centers. Indeed, the founders of the Hollywood Cemetery were inspired by Boston's Mount Auburn Cemetery. The name comes from the holly trees found on the property.

Why You Should Visit:
The cemetery is the final resting place of many important figures from Richmond's history. Two US presidents rest there, James Monroe and John Tyler, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The 1869 Monument of Confederate War Dead is found at the cemetery. This 90-foot high granite pyramid stands in tribute to the more than 18,000 enlisted men from the Confederacy that are buried at the cemetery.

The cemetery is one of Richmond's top tourist attractions; it has history, character, and legend. Ghost stories abound. Many different tours are offered, so plan to visit during off-peak hours if you're looking for a quieter stroll. You can walk or drive through the cemetery.

Be sure to stop by the chapel at the entrance, which serves as the office. They have a map that points out the highlights. You can also download a map from their website.

Walking Tours in Richmond, Virginia

Create Your Own Walk in Richmond

Create Your Own Walk in Richmond

Creating your own self-guided walk in Richmond is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Maymont and Carytown Walking Tour

Maymont and Carytown Walking Tour

Maymont, a picturesque and spacious Victorian estate in Richmond, Virginia, is a popular outdoor attraction nestled in the very heart of the city.

Home to the beautifully landscaped Japanese and Italian gardens surrounding the opulent, historic Maymont Mansion, it represents a remnant from America's Gilded Age. Nature enthusiasts can also explore the Maymont Wildlife Center, home to...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.0 Km or 2.5 Miles
Historical Homes Walking Tour

Historical Homes Walking Tour

Being one of America’s oldest major cities, the capital of Virginia, Richmond, is rich with historic homes, dating back well into the 1800s and beyond. Those passionate about storied buildings will surely find plenty to their taste here.

The Edgar Allan Poe Museum, The White House of the Confederacy – home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis during the Civil War, and the John Marshall...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.1 Km or 1.9 Miles