Richmond, Virginia’s state capital, is a revolutionary city—literally and figuratively. At Virginia’s oldest wooden church, St. John’s, in one of Richmond’s oldest neighborhoods, Church Hill, a young Patrick Henry gave his rousing speech “give me liberty or give me death”, convincing his peers that the American Revolution was the answer to England’s tyranny. And, although the lively urban downtown area is studded with more than 80 historic attractions, today Richmond’s food and art scenes are making history.
Touted by several national magazines as a culinary “must-see”, the city has become a foodie destination with a burgeoning farm-to-table locavore mentality that’s attracting celebrity chefs from around the world. The campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, known throughout the world for its art programs, is spread across downtown, as are many local art galleries, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, after a multi-million dollar renovation and expansion, is truly one of the country’s most magnificent art destinations. The area also offers an abundance of recreational parks and outdoor adventures including Class IV rapids that run through the center of the city, as well as an array of performance venues featuring everything from alternative rock bands to Broadway shows, ballet and opera. For sports aficionados, the Richmond International Speedway is a must-see for NASCAR fans, while the Richmond Squirrels delight baseball fans and the NCAA teams at VCU and the University of Richmond draw scores of locals and visitors alike. Unique accommodations in the heart of downtown include the Linden Row Inn, an antebellum collection of row houses and the five-star Beaux-Arts landmark, The Jefferson Hotel.
One of the main points of entry for slave trade from Africa, Richmond, as the capital of the Confederacy, was at the epicenter of the Civil War and still struggles with its painful and complicated history, striving to achieve a balance between cultural sensitivity and an accurate accounting of one of the most devastating periods of American history. History buffs will want to visit the Confederate White House and several battlefields and museums, including Richmond National Battlefield Park and Hollywood Cemetery. The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar interprets the Civil War from three perspectives: Union, Confederate and African American, while The Richmond Slave Trail and Slave Reconciliation Statue tell the story of the abomination of the slave trade in the city. Museums like the Maggie L. Walker National Historical Site celebrate African-American leaders and entrepreneurs. Best of all, many of Richmond’s cultural and historical attractions are free!
Richmond is also a city of firsts, home of the first hospital and the first television station in the South, the first African-American governor in the country, Douglas Wilder, and the first African-American tennis player to win the U.S. Open, Arthur Ashe. The diversity, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of Richmond residents infuse this capital city with a dynamic energy that walks hand-in-hand with its rich history.
Richmond has a relatively temperate climate, although summers can be hot and muggy and winters often bring snow and ice. The annual Garden Week in the spring is popular with visitors, as are NASCAR events and sporting events at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond.
Since VCU is spread throughout downtown Richmond, traffic congestion during the school year is frequent, especially around events at the school’s Siegel Center. In addition to basketball games, the center is used for most area high school graduations so beware of traveling on that stretch of Broad Street in early to mid-June.
During the summer, there’s an outdoor concert or festival almost every weekend, as well as annual events including the Hanover Tomato Festival and the Carytown Watermelon Festival. Seasonal holiday events include the annual tree lighting at the five-star Jefferson Hotel on the Monday after Thanksgiving, a lighted boat parade, a downtown ice skating rink and the annual Festival of Lights at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.
January (1st): New Year’s Day
January (third Monday): Martin Luther King Jr. Day
February (third Monday): Presidents Day
May (last Monday): Memorial Day
July (4th): Independence Day
September (first Monday): Labor Day
October (second Monday): Columbus Day
(not the same as Native American Day, which is only celebrated officially in two states, on September 25th)
November (11th): Veterans Day
November (fourth Thursday): Thanksgiving Day
December (25th): Christmas
Richmond is located in the Eastern time zone.
To check the local time in Richmond, click here .
Daylight Savings Time (DST) happens in the spring (on the second Sunday morning of March at 2 a.m.). It’s when clocks are advanced one hour so there is more daylight later into the evening. In the fall (on the first Sunday morning in November at 2 a.m.), clocks shift back one hour to standard time. The entire U.S. (except Hawaii and most of Arizona) participates in this ritual of ‘springing forward’ and ‘falling back.’
You could spend an entire weekend exploring Richmond and not spend a dime, as many of the historical attractions and museums in Richmond are free to the public. The world-class Virginia Museum of Fine Art, the Visitor Center at Tredegar—where NPS rangers lead free tours and kids can participate in a junior ranger program—and many other Civil War sites and memorials are absolutely free. On Sundays, professional costumed interpreters recreate Patrick Henry’s fiery “Give me liberty or give me death” speech at St. John’s Church…an entertaining and educational show…and yes, it’s free too!
Of course, there are many worthwhile attractions that charge an entrance fee. The Valentine’s many history tours, which include the Confederate White House and other period homes, are well worth the admission if you’re a Civil War buff and there’s even one called History Hounds that welcomes curious canines. Taking a ride on the Class IV rapids that run through downtown Richmond, visiting area wineries, catching a national show or concert at one the many performing arts venues or chowing down at one of the city’s many critically-acclaimed eateries are all worthy of opening your wallet. Sports enthusiasts may want to catch a NASCAR event or a minor league baseball game in the spring or summer, or some NCAA basketball in the winter.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in $US.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11–25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person
$ => Rooms less than $150 for a double
$$ => Rooms $150–$300 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double
$ => Up to $15 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$ => $16–22 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$$ => $23 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11–25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person
Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings.
Have Car, Will Travel
Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.
There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.
Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities and college towns in the U.S., Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transportation, so you don’t need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You can’t go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Open the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. You need to apply for membership and download the app in advance. Memberships cost about $7 a month; rentals are about $8 to10 per hour; gas and insurance are included. Foreign drivers can apply and you don’t need to pay a monthly fee if you’re an occasional driver (from $25 per year for a membership).
Ride-sharing companies, Uber and Lyft, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.
Money Saving Tip: Costco, because of its behemoth size and price negotiating power, offers great low prices for most major car rental companies. Yes, you need to purchase an annual Costco membership first, but it more than pays for itself with what you’ll save with a typical week’s car rental (i.e. searches turn up a mid-size car through Costco for $225 and a comparable car through another aggregator for $325.)
Did You Know: Budget Car Rental offers drivers residing at the same address (i.e. unmarried partners or BFFs) complimentary extra driver coverage. Other car rental companies charge upwards of $10/day. By the way, when renting in California, there are no additional driver fees by law.
Hopefully, your trip to (or within) the U.S. goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?
Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:
Trip Cancellation: About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical: Health services in the U.S. are expensive for the uninsured. This is a major reason to consider purchasing insurance. Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.
Trip Interruption: For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.
Travel Delay: Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Baggage: Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.
Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.
Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If you’re traveling to a hurricane-prone area during hurricane season, for example, you’ll probably want some coverage “just in case” … no matter what.
Your English language skills are also an important factor. Insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.
How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework; check around.
The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregator sites like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).
If you have pre-existing health conditions: Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
Credit card insurance: If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.
For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.
U.S. dollars come in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. They are all the same size and color, so non-Americans have an understandably tricky time telling them apart. The $2 bill is in circulation but rarely seen.
Coins in wide circulation include the penny (one cent), nickel (five cents), dime (ten cents) and quarter (25 cents). The 50-cent and one-dollar coins are seen occasionally.
Smaller businesses may not accept $50 or $100 bills, so have twenties or smaller bills in hand. ATMs usually dispense $20 bills.
Tipping is a cost you must build into the budget for any U.S. travel experience, whether urban or rural. Tipping is most relevant to dining out and hotel stays, but other costs should also be taken in to consideration. General guidelines include:
For excellent service, plan to tip 20% on the total bill, before taxes. For less-than-stellar service, 10-15% is customary, as an imperfect experience is often not solely the responsibility of the server. In many states, servers work for below minimum wage and live mostly on tips, so consider the ramifications of your tipping decisions.
To complicate matters, many restaurants in the major metropolitan areas — New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco — are moving to a no-tipping model in which service is included. The verdict isn’t yet in on whether this new model will stick, so be sure you understand the tipping policy at each restaurant you visit.
Oh, and one more complication: Sometimes a tip is automatically included, usually for groups of six or more people. But at least it will be itemized in plain sight on the bill, if you look closely for it.
Most bell staff receive $1 to $2 per bag they assist with; if someone carts all of your bags up to your room, expect to tip $5 to $10.
Tips for housekeeping are also good form. The rule of thumb is $2 to $3 per day and about $5 per day in higher-end properties.
At properties with concierge services, consider tipping concierge staff who assist you in planning activities, making reservations or acquiring tickets around $10 to $20 per day. Concierge staff do not normally expect a tip for simply orienting you with driving directions or public transportation info. Car valet staff expect $2 when returning your car. Spa employees (massage therapists, aestheticians, etc.) usually see 20% tips on their services, whether performed at the spa or in your room.
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and drug stores will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.
Sales Taxes, Lodging Taxes & Resort Fees
In Virginia, the combined total for state and local taxes on all retail goods and services varies from 5.3% to 6%, depending on where you are. In general, cities have higher taxes than rural areas do. Taxes are not usually included in display prices, unless otherwise stated.
Lodging tax also varies by location in Virginia and includes both a city and state transient lodging tax, ranging from 2% state tax to 6.5% city tax. This tax applies whether you are staying at a private vacation rental, a bed-and-breakfast, or a full-fledged hotel. Taxes are not usually stated up front in the advertised room rate. Neither are the mandatory nightly “resort fees” being charged by an increasing number of hotels. Sometimes this fee covers internet access, parking, and a few incidentals, while at other times it’s merely a surcharge for amenities that should be free. Beware that third-party booking agents, especially online, often don’t include resort fees in their reservation charges, so you may be unhappily surprised by the final bill when you check out.
The Richmond region, a transition point between Virginia’s Tidewater region and the rolling hills of the Piedmont, is within a day’s drive ofhalf of the U.S. population and an easy drive from several of Virginia’s most popular vacation spots: 50 miles from the Historic Triangle, 100 miles south of Washington, DC and just a few hours west of the Atlantic coast.
The city sits at the intersection of Interstates 95(north-south) and 64 (east-west). I-295 is a beltway loop around the city, while SR 288 runs from I-95 in Chesterfield County to US250 (also known as Broad Street in town) in Goochland. Toll roads include the Downtown Expressway and Powhite Parkway, with fees ranging from 20 cents to $2.70 (EZ Pass is accepted).